In the week since posting just a couple of things about the LDS Church's General Conference, I've become aware of church president Russell Nelson's closing talk, and like those other things, it pissed me off, and I didn't have much else in mind to write about this week. I'm not criticizing his remarks just for the sake of being negative or disrepecting my friends and family members who believe he's a prophet, but because I sincerely believe that these remarks and others like them are toxic and manipulative, and that's a lot easier to recognize from the outside and I wish I had been able to recognize it a lot sooner. So without further ado:
"Here is the great news of God’s plan: the very things that will make your mortal life the best it can be are exactly the same things that will make your life throughout all eternity the best it can be!...
"The Lord has clearly taught that only men and women who are sealed as husband and wife in the temple, and who keep their covenants, will be together throughout the eternities."
These quotes are a few paragraphs apart, but I juxtaposed them to highlight the absurdity of the first one. According to the church's teachings, in order to qualify for the eternities, gay people need to either marry someone of the opposite sex whom they aren't attracted to or remain alone and celibate until they die, at which time God will presumably fix them and let them marry someone of the opposite sex. Both of these options demonstrably make most gay people miserable, even suicidal. They do not make mortal life the best it can be. But I don't think Nelson is being disingenuous here, just thoughtless.
"Thus, if we unwisely choose to live telestial laws now, we are choosing to be resurrected with a telestial body. We are choosing not to live with our families forever."
The mention of telestial bodies reminded those who are familiar with obscure historical Mormon weirdness of Joseph Fielding Smith's assertion in the January 1962 Improvement Era that men and women who go to the telestial kingdom will probably lose their genitals to prevent them from having sex in defiance of God's eternal marriage requirement. "Is not the sectarian world justified in their doctrine generally proclaimed, that after the resurrection there will be neither male nor female sex? It is a logical conclusion for them to reach and apparently is in full harmony with what the Lord has revealed regarding the kingdoms into which evidently the vast majority of mankind is likely to go." Because of this hypothesis, the phrase "TK Smoothie" has entered the ex-Mormon lexicon.
"So, my dear brothers and sisters, how and where and with whom do you want to live forever? You get to choose."
I certainly don't want to live with the LDS version of God for any length of time.
"As you think celestial, you will find yourself avoiding anything that robs you of your agency. Any addiction - be it gaming, gambling, debt, drugs, alcohol, anger, pornography, sex, or even food - offends God. Why? Because your obsession becomes your god. You look to it rather than to Him for solace."
I wonder how many eating disorders this quote exacerbated. I wonder how many addicts now hate themselves even more. I wonder why God is offended by so many things. Maybe he should have listened to David A. Bednar, who taught, "To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else."
"When someone you love attacks truth, think celestial, and don’t question your testimony. The Apostle Paul prophesied that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.'
"There is no end to the adversary’s deceptions. Please be prepared. Never take counsel from those who do not believe. Seek guidance from voices you can trust - from prophets, seers, and revelators and from the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, who 'will show unto you all things what ye should do.' Please do the spiritual work to increase your capacity to receive personal revelation."
So this is the part that I really and truly hate. For the sake of civility and precision, I've tried to refrain from calling the LDS Church a "cult," but quotes like this make it really hard. Anyone not already indoctrinated into the church would see it as a massive red flag. If you went to buy some kind of expensive product, and the company told you to disregard all the negative reviews and lawsuits because those people are deceived by Satan, you would run the other way. If you knew that the directors of the company had made several grievious errors of judgment that called their competence into question and been caught in multiple lies and scandals, and instead of apologizing or making restitution of any kind they just acted like that didn't happen and told you to trust them anyway, you would run even faster. Russell Nelson, with the rest of the First Presidency, knew about and approved the church's dishonest and illegal behavior that got it in trouble with the Securities Exchange Commission earlier this year. He's also misrepresented or stretched the truth a few times in his public utterances.
Reducing arguments against the LDS Church's truth claims to "the adversary's deceptions" is especially ludicrous to me because the most damning ones are literally just quotes from its own "prophets, seers, and revelators" that we're supposed to trust. Is the adversary the one who inspires them to say those things then? Is the adversary the one who inspired Brigham Young to say on multiple occasions that Black people were cursed by God and unfit to hold political or eclessiastical power, that mixed race couples and their children should be put to death, that Adam was God, and that polygamy was the true order of marriage and a requirement for the celestial kingdom? If God's prophet can't tell the difference between God's voice and Satan's, he's not very trustworthy, even if he's honest. And I want to give Russell Nelson and the other LDS Church leaders the benefit of the doubt that they really believe in it, but now it sure seems like he's aware that it can't hold up under scrutiny. If it could, it would welcome criticism from all sides. This quote is a far cry from J. Reuben Clark saying, "If we have truth truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not truth, it ought to be harmed." (Though that quote was actually a bluff, because before he made it, Clark had abandoned his intellectual pursuits after they almost turned him into an atheist.)
As far as the Holy Ghost, the jury's still out on that as far as I'm concerned. I want to believe that God will direct my life. There have been times when I believed that God directed my life. I now know, however, that people in every religion, including suicide cults, receive "spiritual witnesses" of the correctness of their religion that, to an outside observer, look essentially the same. And I've learned for myself that feelings are not a reliable guide to truth. Russell Nelson isn't a prophet just because some people get powerful emotions when he speaks. He would be a prophet if he ever did anything prophetic.
"As you think celestial, your faith will increase. When I was a young intern, my income was $15 a month. One night, my wife Dantzel asked if I was paying tithing on that meager stipend. I was not. I quickly repented and began paying the additional $1.50 in monthly tithing.
"Was the Church any different because we increased our tithing? Of course not. However, becoming a full-tithe payer changed me. That is when I learned that paying tithing is all about faith, not money. As I became a full-tithe payer, the windows of heaven began to open for me. I attribute several subsequent professional opportunities to our faithful payment of tithes."
I was taught that the church needed money from American tithepayers to finances its operations in the developing world. That was woefully misinformed at best. I can't imagine why God would prefer, as a matter of principle, that people give a set percentage of their income to one specific organization that doesn't need it and won't use it ethically as opposed to, you know, actually doing good things with their money. And to paraphrase what I said last week, there's a vast disparity in the amount of faith being demanded here. It takes little faith for a millionaire to pay ten percent of their income. In order to really be changed, they should pay at least ninety percent. (I have nothing against millionaires, really. I hope most or all billionaires rot in hell, though.) The best part is this footnote to the quote that most members will never read: "This is not to imply a cause-and-effect relationship. Some who never pay tithing attain professional opportunities, while some who pay tithing do not. The promise is that the windows of heaven will be opened to the tithe payer. The nature of the blessings will vary." So again, the promise is so vague as to be unfalsifiable, and if you can't see the blessings, that's your fault. Just keep giving the church your money, no matter what.
Of course Nelson ended his talk by announcing twenty more temples that the church won't be able to fill or staff. At this point I really think he's just showing off and solidifying his legacy over Gordon Hinckley's like he did by turning "Mormon" from a badge of honor into a slur. On the other hand, I am glad that members in developing countries who already sacrifice ten percent of their income to be able to attend the temple won't have to make as many additional sacrifices in travel. So I'll end on that positive note. And you can forget everything else I said because it was just the adversary's deceptions.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.