I stopped following r/latterdaysaints on reddit after I was banned for encouraging critical thinking and intellectual honesty. I was legitimately trying to help; I'm not such a jerk that I'll go into people's safe spaces for the purpose of tearing down their beliefs. For example, in a discussion about young people's loss of trust in institutions such as the LDS Church, I explained the real reasons for young people's loss of trust in institutions such as the LDS Church. One would think that anybody who wants to address a problem would want to understand the real reasons for it instead of a straw man. But no. So now I'm done trying to help and I'll just content myself with watching the church shoot itself in the foot over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. But the other day someone in another subreddit shared a screenshot of part of a post in r/latterdaysaints and I was going to write a post here explaining why it was wrong, but then I went and read the whole thing and several of the comments and I decided to just copy-paste them here and add my commentary in bold.
What is an "Anti-Doctrine?"Anti-Doctrine is my term for a doctrine or teaching that is said to be part of our shared beliefs only by those who do not believe.
"anti-doctrine" then, has a double meaning because it refers to both the opposite of doctrine - something that we do not teach instead of something we do teach - and it also refers to its use by "anti-Mormons" [emphasis in original]
Common usage by antagonists to faith
These anti-doctrines are often presented as "What your religion REALLY teaches" or as some sort of secret that was covered up and never revealed to you, the unsuspecting believer.
(insert snarky tone How kind of the non-believer, then, to reveal what you were secretly believing all along!)
How to recognize Anti-Doctrine
Because the word "doctrine" just means "teachings," anything taught by church members in any positions of authority could be called "doctrine." This can create confusion and, indeed, openings for antagonists to use to attack our faith. However, Elder Neil L Anderson guides us with a better standard for finding out what The Church really teaches:
There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many.
Therefore, long-ago statements by church leaders, no matter how important they were, may not qualify as a doctrine of our faith if those statements haven't survived to be taught today by our leaders.
In other words, "what the church really believes" is what it teaches in public today, what the majority of members actually believe, and what we practice. It's not the random thoughts, speculation, or interpretation of cherry-picked statements from other flawed humans - even when those words are found in scripture! It's certainly not the ill-willed proclamations of antagonists who want to extend the words or actions of an individual to be indicative of our entire belief system.
A Few Examples of Anti-Doctrine
The list goes on. Anybody trying to tell you what "Mormons Really Believe" is making an effort to load more and more into your "Truth Cart" so it's easier for them to tip it over.
There is no standard, consistent, accepted definition for what constitutes "doctrine" in the LDS Church, which is why nobodies on reddit have to go into long-winded explanations like this. (I don't mean to insult OP by calling them a nobody, but simply to differentiate them from the men in leadership positions whom one might think would be the proper source of such explanations.) The challenge is to craft a definition that includes all the parts that the current prophets and apostles teach but not the parts that past prophets and apostles taught that the church would rather forget about. Members commonly say doctrine is the stuff that never changes, which is useless circular logic because we don't know what's going to change until it changes. And this whole exercise is a pet peeve of mind because the word "doctrine" just means "teachings." I was surprised and impressed by OP's intellectual honesty in pointing that out. I was going to argue that most of these things used to be doctrine by any reasonable definition even if they aren't anymore, but I actually don't think OP would dispute that. I also like their acknowledgment that some things aren't true even if they're found in scripture, though I certainly was never taught that level of nuance in any church setting and had to get it from Ben Spackman's blog instead.
I would agree that most of LDS Church's doctrine, unlike its history and finances, was never hidden from me. But there was the small matter of women covenanting in the temple to obey their husbands. When a friend from high school asked me about that, I had no idea what she was talking about, but I believed my church's doctrine that men and women were equal, so I told her it wasn't true and didn't give it another thought until January 2019 when the media reported on the removal of that part of the temple ceremonies. It felt like a punch in the stomach.
In addition to dozens of statements by church leaders for over a century that certainly exceed any threshold of being "random" or "cherry-picked," the "skin color is a sign of a curse" thing is canonized in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. (What a strange coincidence that this teaching isn't in the Bible but it is in two books produced by Joseph Smith.) I was in my freshman year of college before I recognized how racist it is to believe that God gave the wicked Lamanites a "skin of blackness" to dissuade the "white and delightsome" Nephites from marrying them. In the last couple decades or so apologists have argued that this skin color change should be read metaphorically, but that certainly isn't what generations of (white) leaders taught and even now I doubt it's what the majority of (white) members believe. So okay, OP did say "even if those words are found in scripture." Fair enough. But this "anti-doctrine" has a more authoritative basis than the others on their list.
I will comment on some other items from the list as opportunities present themselves.
I was taught approximately a third of these as a convert, by several sources and leaders, and they were presented as doctrine. I understand my experience is not universal, but it is frustrating when members tell me I should have known they weren't "doctrine".
This is the top comment and I appreciate it.
I'm a recent convert (less than 6 months) and I've been taught a few of these things and yes they have been taught to me as doctrine, so I'm confused by this post.
This is a reply to the top comment and I appreciate it.
Can you list which ones you were taught? I also think this is tricky because the actual answer may be a variation of some of the statements given.
This is another reply to the top comment and I appreciate it.
Sure, and agreed, sometimes it's a variation.
I was taught as a kid that I would get to create planets, by a guest speaker at a youth activity who joked that he would create a planet full of ski resorts. He never said I would be limited to just one. Then as an adult the church came out with an essay claiming that "Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets" and "few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet." So even as a believing member that was kind of annoying. Just last week I found this quote on its website by accident while reading about aliens:
"Nothing is more basic in the restored gospel than these truths that, because of recent events of space travel, are so timely. The great hope of the gospel for us is that we may come to a oneness with our Lord and our Father and partake of this same work and glory and godhood. Being joint-heirs of all that the Father has, we may then look forward to using those powers to organize still other worlds from the unorganized matter that exists throughout boundless space. Creating other worlds, peopling them with our own eternal posterity, providing a savior for them, and making known to them the saving principles of the eternal gospel, that they may have the same experiences we are now having and be exalted with us in their turn—this is eternal life. No wonder this possibility continues to fascinate and inspire Saints of all ages. This hope is what inspires members of the Church to seek eternal marriage and to seek in all things to be one with our Lord Jesus Christ, because we want to be with him and participate in all the marvelous things of which Paul the apostle said: 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'
Pretending for the sake of argument that this is the only quote about exalted Latter-day Saints creating worlds (which it isn't), we could say that it's a prime example of "anti-doctrine" because it's just an assistant BYU professor writing in the church's youth magazine. But we would still be well-advised to ask why the church approved it for publication and where he even got the idea that "nothing is more basic in the restored gospel" than this "great hope of the gospel for us" which "continues to fascinate and inspire Saints of all ages." Or do we just need to split hairs about the difference between creating a world and receiving a planet?
I had an institute teacher who said that Black people's skin color was caused by the "curse of Cain" as recently as 2015. The Come Follow Me manual for 2020 included this quote: "The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing [see 2 Nephi 5:21-23; Alma 3:6-10]. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord [see 2 Nephi 5:20]. . . . Dark skin . . . is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. , 3:122-23)." After an uproar from Black members, it was replaced with something entirely different in the digital version. Setting aside the fact that they edited this quote to completely misrepresent what Joseph Fielding Smith actually wrote (hint: it was more racist), it's kind of bonkers that the manual writers apparently didn't think it would offend anyone because it says that dark skin isn't a sign of a curse anymore. They're in their own little world sometimes.
I am surprised people are still being taught that polygamy is required for the highest level of celestial glory. I've heard members offer their opinion that we'll all have to practice it because a lot fewer men will be in the celestial kingdom, but nobody asserted it as a given. On the contrary, I was blessed with institute teachers who assured us that it isn't true just because Brigham Young taught it.
This is confusing to me (as a lifelong member). I have heard many variations of the “polygamy is required for salvation” conversation. If polygamy ISNT important, than why is it canonized in D&C? I grew up being told polygamy would be happening in the celestial kingdom, and that has become something I’ve grown to include in my belief system.
Well for me, due to the lack of comment from current leaders, I chose to follow past teachings & scripture and believe that polygamy will be a huge part of the celestial kingdom. I think too many members are saying, “polygamy won’t be required” simply because they don’t want it to be. But again, past teachings and scripture seem to tell it in a much more black and white way. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but that’s just how I accept polygamy in the church.
It would be difficult to overstate the centrality of polygamy to LDS doctrine in the nineteenth century. The prophets and lay members of that era would unequivocally reject the church's current stance that the Lord's standard is monogamy and he only commands exceptions on rare occasions. For example, in August 1862 the Deseret News reported Brigham Young preaching, "Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire…. The scarcity of women gave existance [sic] to laws restricting one wife to one man. Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. 'And is that religion popular in heaven?' it is the only popular religion there..." This wasn't the first or last time he denounced traditional marriage. But I'm sure the current prophet is entirely trustworthy on that subject.
Interesting post. One issue is when those points still correspond to scripture in canon still I don’t think it can be classified as “Anti”. Like D&C 107:53 which says adam lived in the valley of Adam ondi Ahman which is in Missouri and can be found on the church website:
“Spring Hill was named Adam-ondi-Ahman by the Prophet Joseph Smith, as indicated by the Lord in revelation (see Doctrine and Covenants 116). Five weeks later, on June 28, 1838, the third stake of Zion was organized there. An 1835 revelation identified the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman as the place where Adam blessed his posterity after leaving the Garden of Eden (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:53–57).”
Leaders don’t really talk about this anymore but it’s still there. So what do we do with it?
The issue isn’t the garden it’s that Adam the first man lived in Missouri when the rest of the Bible narrative was in the Middle East. When did he get over? You have believe in the literal flood to get them over there or some other migration and a lot of people want to believe that’s metaphorical or regional but it doesn’t work if Adam lives in Missouri. Next if there was a flood when did the native Americans from Asia get over to this land and how did they get here if not for the Bering straight? It makes sense if the Book of Mormon is the story of all the descendants but science puts the Asian migration at 15 thousands plus years ago.
Joseph Smith caused a lot of problems for his church by doubling down on the literal historicity of people who didn't exist and events that didn't happen. Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, and the Tower of Babel are all myths and were understood as such by the people who wrote them down. Joseph Smith misunderstood them through his nineteenth-century American worldview and codified his misunderstanding as doctrine. Many members today take more nuanced views of them, but the other three books in the LDS scriptural canon (and some other supposedly prophetic teachings) fall apart if they aren't literal history. No Tower of Babel = no Jaredites.
Well shoot if I was there thousands of years ago, I could tell ya. Stories from the old testament have been passed down over thousands of years surely with details forgotten and others exaggerated.
To be honest, in the bigger picture, it doesn't matter whether or not the garden of Eden was in Missouri or not. It has no bearing on our eternal salvation, and is likely why 'leaders don't talk about it anymore'.
Even as a member I hated when other members fell back on "That's not important to my salvation" as a way to avoid thinking about legitimate questions or issues. How many hours a day do you spend on things that aren't important to your salvation?
Do you consider (up-to-date) instructions in the church handbook to be doctrine? As a transgender person, I know some members who have rejected handbook instructions regarding trans people as being church teachings/doctrine (both to claim the church is more welcoming or less welcoming to trans folk, in fact).
Though to be fair, I think in most cases they simply refused to believe I was telling them the truth about what's in the handbook.
I just thought it was cool that a transgender person was participating in this thread. I bet fifty thousand dollars they'll be out of the church within five years.
If "doctrine" means "teaching," then there really is no separation between policy and doctrine. Handbook instructions, letters from the first presidency, and the like might all be considered doctrines.
But we must not put too much weight on the word "doctrine." Too many people treat that word like it means "eternally true forever and perfect" when it still just means "our current understanding"
Elder Maxwell used to speak about this occasionally, suggesting that there is clearly an as-of-yet unrevealed hierarchy of truths, ranging from the "true but unimportant" to the "true and of eternal significance." To say "the handbook is doctrine" doesn't really solve anything unless the person saying it and the person hearing it have the same understanding of what the word doctrine means.
Here, OP rejects the useless circular logic definition that annoys me so much, and I appreciate it. I also agree that the supposed distinction between policy and doctrine is pretty pointless. Supposedly they both come from the Lord.
Some of these things were certainly fringe ideas, but others were accepted beliefs taught and understood by most of the church at one point or another.
Once widely accepted:
Between 1967 and 1978, a churchwide policy (as opposed to a fringe idea) based on the First Presidency's interpretation of scripture (as opposed to, oh I don't know, revelation or something) prohibited women from praying in meetings at all. It seems the church was "inspired" to remove this policy by ERA activist Sonia Johnson, who wrote in her memoir, "Apparently what happened was that my testimony before the Senate subcommittee - in which I quoted church leaders' affirmation of the 'exalted role of woman in our society,' and pointed out that they considered women too 'exalted' to offer prayers in sacrament meetings - began circulating immediately and widely underground in Utah, alerting many Mormons for the first time that women had been officially cut off from such prayers for a long time.... Most Mormon women, accustomed to having so few rights in the church, had not even noticed, and besides, not allowing women to pray in sacrament meeting had been well on its way to becoming standard practice in many localities of the church before the directive....
"One woman in Provo, Utah, read the testimony and vowed that she would not sing in church until prayer privileges were restored, because 'the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God.' Several faculty members at Brigham Young University were shocked into action and demanded an accounting from church headquarters. In the end, so much hue and cry was raised that President Kimball was forced to admit that the policy was not in accord with scripture and could not stand..."
I’m sorry if this comes off wrong, but I have to be blunt concerning the quote from Elder Neil Anderson. It has bothered me since he said it at General Conference. His definition of ‘doctrine’ is not straightforward. Theoretically, in order for his definition of ‘doctrine’ to be taken seriously, all members of the Q15 need to repeat this teaching, right? But which Q15? Is it all living 15 at one time? Is it all 15 over a certain period? What if 14 have repeated the teaching, and the remaining one passes away? Do we hope the next one continues the tradition? Does everyone need to start over then? Are we all supposed to carry little notebooks with running tallies of who taught which doctrines when hoping we reach BINGO on our score card? Is this how we identify God’s doctrines? What do we have to hold onto that has been revealed by all members of the Q15? This list has got to be short and I would love it if anyone who has done the work tracking the individual teachings of all members of the Q15 to share it with me.
I am more inclined to follow the well established definition of ‘doctrine’ in our theology: a teaching conveyed by a member of the Q15 (prophet, seer, and revelator, witness of the name of Christ, whether in public or private, in the right context). Yes, this definition provides a litany of contradictions and forces us to conform nuance, but we are at least left with some doctrine to interpret. The ‘doctrine’ described by Elder Anderson leaves us nothing to hold onto.
It's especially silly when you consider how many LDS beliefs are based on one or two verses of scripture.
Mistakes are a certainty.
Science has shown over and over again that our politics are a greater predictor of our moral stance than our religion, and that's pretty obvious. Tell me you're a "Christian" and I know less about your view on some moral issues than if you tell me you're a staunch Republican or Democrat.
By implication, then, we can't rely on our own ideas of "church" or "doctrine" to keep us grounded. We will tend to either read our own philosophy into the scriptures (like when one person in my ward started blabbering about how capitalism is at the heart of the Proclamation on the Family) or we will have thoughts like "that's not doctrine, it's policy" or "that's just his opinion, not speaking as a prophet" or "They're just a local leader, not a general authority," or "the prophet made a mistake."
Our political and ideological bubbles are so thick sometimes that we are actually unable to recognize when we're the ones drifting on the wind. Has the world drifted to the right or the left, or have we? Has the church changed, or is it us? Our psychology, in a self-defense overdrive, tries to protect us from "being wrong" by making it impossible for us to consciously see what the truth may be.
As social pressures shape various churches and believers, we have something to anchor ourselves to: Prophets. Our prophets, speaking as a united quorum of diverse backgrounds and political leanings, can become an anchor during perilous times. Will they be wrong sometimes? it is a certainty. Will they be wrong less than you? Almost certainly.
But most important, they will continue to hold the keys of salvation.
I've been wrong about many things, but I try to keep an open mind so I can eventually realize when I'm wrong and change my beliefs. LDS prophets don't do that. Like, ever. They don't back down, they don't retract, they don't apologize. Therefore I consider myself a much more reliable spiritual guide for myself than they are. The current prophet and his wife have doubled down on perpetuating the falsehood that he speaks for the Lord every time he opens his mouth, and even though members are allowed to say "prophets aren't infallible" in an abstract sense, they're told that they can't pick and choose which of the church's teachings to follow, and they're told that if they ever receive personal revelation that the church is wrong about something, their personal revelation is wrong because the church said so. Members who argued against the priesthood and temple ban on Black people before 1978 were wrong until suddenly they weren't. The lack of an honest and coherent solution to the serious problems of prophetic fallability was the final straw that drove me out.
My grandmother, one of the most faithful people I’ve ever known, very much believed that she was destined to make babies for eternity and she was not looking forward to it. She even wrote a poem about her dissatisfaction with the prospect of “eternal increase”.
I’m not saying that means it is doctrine. But I am saying she did not get the idea from “anti-Mormons”.
I'm sure this was an isolated anomaly, right? Right?
I’ve been in the church 40 years and many of these were definitely taught as doctrine, even by Elder Anderson’s definition. I’ve been surprised that many now see some of them as ‘not doctrine’
Others, I agree we’re [sic] never doctrine, and other still, we’re [sic] definitely taught as doctrine, again, by elder anderson’s definition, but are no longer doctrine and in fact have been renounced by the church.
Anti-doctrine definition may help you, and that is great, but clearly this has seemed to create significant confusion over what is really doctrine.
Not much to add here, but "by the mouths of two or three witnesses" and all that.
There is a fairly clear precedent in the history of the church on how the church has made significant changes in doctrine.
In 1835, Joseph Smith and the general assembly of the church voted unanimously to print the “Lectures on Faith,” in the Doctrine and Covenants, in order to provide a sure foundational doctrine of the Godhead.
Almost 100 years later, in 1921, a council of leaders in the church felt the doctrine laid out in “Lectures on Faith” contradicted the then current acceptance of the teaching that man becomes like God, so with the new printing of the D&C, the lectures were removed.
Today, it is rare to find someone in the church that is familiar with Joseph’s Lectures on Faith.
I read the Lectures on Faith for the first time last year, having heard that they were really profound or something. They were okay, I guess. And yes, they do contradict current LDS doctrine, for example by asserting that the Godhead has only two members, the Father and the Son.
By definition, doctrine is what is generally taught by a religion. Granted, most of these things are not acknowledged as “doctrine” today, but at one point many of them were taught. My parents, in their mid-70’s still believe we’re all going to have to trek to Missouri. When I told my mom that isn’t taught anymore, she couldn’t believe it! Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s a lot of these were taught to me.
My sixty-something bishop in a YSA ward in a college town in 2021 had missed the memo that married women are allowed to have careers now. Kidding, there was no memo.
The idea that women will be eternal baby makers is unsupported. We have no evidence that pregnancy is required to make spiritual bodies. We have no idea what that process entails. Its a farce to claim mormons believe women will be eternally pregnant in the CK.
I know firsthand that some mormons believe it and some don't. I had an institute teacher who asserted that this is the reason why men can be sealed to multiple women but not vice-versa. I've seen a guy claim that his wife looks forward to it. I agree that it's an absurd and disgusting belief, but it's a pretty logical extrapolation from the church's doctrine that physical bodies and heterosexual marriage are requirements for exaltation in the CK. That's not "no evidence." On the other hand, Brigham Young taught it, so that's pretty compelling evidence that it isn't true.
Yeah that one drives me crazy as well. The ultimate, core doctrine of all our beliefs is, as best I can tell, "God is Love." If God loves his daughters perfectly, would he ever turn them into machinery or in any way seek to turn them from whatever path each of them wants to travel through the eternities? Would a celestial husband, seeking to be like Jesus Christ, be a part of making his other half a mechanism for fulfilling this insane idea of doctrine?
It's literal nonsense that preys on fears and exploits our inability to understand what awaits us in the life to come.
If the LDS Church's view of women is meant to be representative of God's view of women, they have good reason to be afraid. For most of its history it's treated them as little more than baby-making machines. The first quote that pops into my head is this gem from Spencer W. Kimball that was quietly deleted from the Eternal Marriage institute student manual last year: “Supreme happiness in marriage is governed considerably by a primary factor—that of the bearing and rearing of children. Too many young people set their minds, determining they will not marry or have children until they are more secure, until the military service period is over; until the college degree is secured; until the occupation is more well-defined; until the debts are paid; or until it is more convenient. They have forgotten that the first commandment is to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28.) And so brides continue their employment and husbands encourage it, and contraceptives are used to prevent conception. Relatives and friends and even mothers sometimes encourage birth control for their young newlyweds. But the excuses are many, mostly weak. The wife is not robust; the family budget will not feed extra mouths; or the expense of the doctor, hospital, and other incidentals is too great; it will disturb social life; it would prevent two salaries; and so abnormal living prevents the birth of children. The Church cannot approve nor condone the measures which so greatly limit the family” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 328–29).
Perhaps most pertinent is Doctrine and Covenants 132, the section of canonized scripture that coincidentally outlines both polygamy and exaltation as if they're somehow related, wherein the God of Love references women as objects that are given to and taken away from men as he sees fit. If he has the slightest concern for their agency or happiness, he chose a strange way to show it. Now of course, the scriptures themselves may contain anti-doctrines, but I'm not sure that can apply here seeing as this entire section is attributed to the Lord himself in the first person and wasn't even translated from another language. We'd better pray that Joseph Smith made it up.
Antagonists will do this intentionally. Many people may simply be misinformed and think they are true. I’m confident many of our members also share anti-doctrine about other faiths. It’s also difficult to say some of these things were never presented as “doctrine” but your point on frequency and recency is well-noted.
Yep, I've been in multiple Sunday school lessons where we mocked mainstream Christians for supposedly believing that God the Father and Jesus Christ are the same person and that Jesus prayed to himself. That's not how most of them understand the Trinity at all. In fact, as I've said before, I can't understand how three persons in one substance are significantly different from the LDS doctrine of the Godhead. The Book of Mormon states multiple times that there's one God, most Mormons would insist that they only believe in one God, and most Mormons would also say that Jesus is God just as much as Heavenly Father is God. But that's none of my business.
When I saw these tweets on r/NewIran, no joke, my first thought was astonishment at how much Iran's theocratic dictator sounds like an LDS prophet. I didn't bother to mention it because most Iranians have never heard of the LDS Church and I see no reason to change that, but some of these statements could have come almost verbatim from a conference talk or Ensign article not very long ago.
Of course, I don't mean to insinuate for a moment that LDS prophets are exactly the same as this man or that they should also be publicly executed. Much of my astonishment over the similarity stems from the fact that this man is talking about mothers and housewives to sidestep the more pertinent subject of him having women imprisoned and abused for refusing to cover their hair. But other than that weird bit of misdirection, the tactic of defending oppressive gender roles by praising women, even by claiming they're superior to men, is identical to what the LDS Church has done countless times. And while we're on the subject, the LDS preoccupation with "modesty" stems from exactly the same place as the Muslim hijab requirement - namely, the toxic doctrine that women have a moral obligation to protect men from sexual temptations. One can easily imagine Ali Khamenei, or whoever writes his tweets, telling women without hijabs, as Dallin Oaks told women who don't follow the LDS dress code, that they are "becoming pornography to some of the men who see you." But as the Islamic Republic soon will be, the LDS Church has been forced to back down on this issue a lot.
You know who isn't backing down? Missouri Republicans, who recently voted to require female lawmakers to keep their arms covered. (Insert obvious joke about the right to bare arms here.) No, I can't believe this is real life either. The Republican Party is a cancer.
I recently read Wife no.19, or the story of a life in bondage. Being a complete exposé of Mormonism, and revealing the sorrows, sacrifices and sufferings of women in polygamy by Brigham Young's ex-wife Ann Eliza Webb Young. While I was reading it I met up with an old friend and she asked what I've been reading lately and I didn't mention this book because I assumed she was still a member of the church, but it turns out she's an atheist going through the motions for her parents' sake, so that was kind of funny and reinforced yet again how screwed the church is. Anyway, I had been aware of this book's existence for quite some time but somehow not curious enough to read it. I had an institute teacher who mentioned Ann Eliza Young in his church history course. Mind you, this teacher was/is in most respects a really great and thoughtful and compassionate and funny guy, so I regret that this one anecdote gives a negative impression, but he just dismissed her as a gold digger and portrayed it as funny that she lost her alimony lawsuit because Brigham successfully argued that she had never been his wife because polygamy was illegal. And for some reason that was good enough for me. But I recently was reminded of her book's existence and realized that now I had no reason not to read it.
It's no secret that my feelings toward the LDS Church at this time are primarily negative, but this book's portayal of it is so overwhelmingly negative that I couldn't help being skeptical. Surely Brigham Young wasn't that evil. Surely Mormon vigilantes didn't murder that many people. Surely Utah wasn't hell on Earth for all women. Granted, this wasn't the first time I'd heard claims of Brigham swindling people in business or missionaries lying to European converts about polygamy. After reading it, I went to see what FAIR had to say about it, curious whether LDS apologists could legitimately call Ann Eliza Webb Young's credibility into question or disprove any of her claims about historical events. FAIR has no article about the book and only so much as mentions it a few times, usually to cite it as evidence that even "a later wife of Brigham Young's who divorced him, published an anti-Mormon book, and spent much of her time giving anti-Mormon, anti-polygamy lectures" believed that Joseph Smith took Fanny Alger as a plural wife before Emma caught them having sex in a barn. So I guess I'm free to assume the accuracy of everything she wrote.
I just want to share a couple of quotes that hit my heart especially hard. Page 395: "When flippant newspaper correspondents, after a visit to the valley of the Saints, go away and write in terms of ridicule of the Mormon women, calling them fearfully ugly in looks, they little know what bitter, hard, cruel experiences have carved the deep lines round the eyes and mouths, and made the faces grow repulsive and grim, and taken from them all the softness, and tenderness, and grace which glorify a happy woman's face, even if she be ever so plain of feature. If these men, who write so carelessly, could only see the interior of the lives that they are touching with such a rough, rude hand, they might be, perhaps, a little more sympathetic in tone. It is no wonder that the women of Utah are not beautiful; there is nothing in all their lives to glorify or beautify their faces, to add at all to their mental or physical charm or grace. They are pretty enough as children; as young girls they can compare favorably with any girls I have seen in the East; but just so soon as they reach womanhood the curse of polygamy is forced upon them, and from that moment their lives are changed, and they grow hard or die - one of the two - in their struggles to become inured to this unnatural life. This system either kills its victims outright, or crushes out every bit of hope and ambition from them, leaving them aimless and apathetic, dragging out existence without the least ray of present happiness or future anticipation to lighten it."
This claim of polygamy making women ugly would easily be dismissed as her subjective opinion if not for the fact that, as she mentions, outsiders noticed and commented on it - most famously, Mark Twain in Roughing It: "With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform [on polygamy] - until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically 'homely' creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, 'No - the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure - and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.'" Not so funny anymore, is it?
After escaping from Utah, initiating divorce proceedings, and going around speaking against polygamy with the help of Gentile friends, Ann Eliza Webb Young writes on pages 589-91: "I had felt [polygamy's] misery; I had known the abject wretchedness of the condition to which it reduced women, but I did not fully realize the extent of its depravity, the depths of the woes in which it plunged women, until I saw the contrasted lives of monogamic wives.
"I had seen women neglected, or, worse than that, cruelly wronged, every attribute of womanhood outraged and insulted. I now saw other women, holding the same relation, cared for tenderly, cherished, protected, loved, and honored. I had been taught to believe that my sex was inferior to the other; that the curse pronounced upon the race in the Garden of Eden was woman's curse alone, and that it was to man she must look for salvation. No road lay open for her to the throne of grace; no gate of eternal life swinging wide to the knockings of her weary hands; no loving Father listened to the wails of sorrow and supplication wrung by a worse than death-agony from her broken heart. Heaven was inaccessible to her, except as she might win it through some man's will. [Outside of Utah] I found, to my surprise, that woman was made the companion and not the subject of man. She was the sharer alike of his joys and sorrows. Morally, she was a free agent. Her husband's God was her God as well, and she could seek Him for herself, asking no mortal intercession. Motherhood took on a new sacredness, and the fatherly care and tenderness, brooding over a family, strengthening and defending it, seemed sadly sweet to me, used as I was to see children ignored by their fathers....
"Women are the greatest sufferers. The moral natures of men must necessarily suffer also; but to them comes no such agony of soul as comes to women. Their sensibilities are blunted; their spiritual natures deadened; their animal natures quickened; they lose manliness, and descend to the level of brutes; and these dull-witted, intellectually-dwarfed moral corpses, the women are told, are their only saviours.
"What wonder that they, too, become dull and apathetic? Who wonders at the immovable mouths, expressionless eyes, and gray, hopeless faces, which tourists mark always as the characteristics of the Mormon women? What does life offer to make them otherwise than dull and hopeless? Or what even does eternity promise? A continuation merely of the sufferings which have already crushed the womanhood out of them. A cheering prospect, is it not? Yet it is what every poor Mormon woman has to look forward to. Just that, and nothing more."
Oof. Until reading this passage, I had believed that the LDS Church was progressive on women's rights in the nineteenth century and had merely gone astray by refusing to progress further with the rest of society during the twentieth century. Ann Eliza Webb Young says otherwise. This could, again, be her subjective opinion, but I have no reason to doubt it. This isn't presentism. She wrote contemporaneously. She didn't look back through decades of hindsight, with the benefit of modern assumptions about women's equality founded on multiple feminist movements, to condemn the church. She looked around at what was, for her, the here and now, and she saw that the LDS doctrine that men intercede between their wives and God, which was explicitly taught in the temple ceremonies until 2019 (and arguably remains implicit in some ways), was already sexist by the standards of 1876. That's pretty damning. Of course, if some apologetics for this doctrine are to be believed, it's really placing an extra responsibility on men because women are superior to them. Ali Khamenei, or whoever writes his tweets, would be proud.
If I had a nickel for everyone who's asked me if I have a Christmas playlist, I'd have two nickels, which isn't a lot, but it's weird that it's happened twice. I hadn't actually bothered to make one because I feel like I hear enough Christmas music without making a concerted effort to do so, and I had some Christmas music on some of my other playlists and that satisfied me. But I made one just to make these two people happy. The title is a placeholder for something clever that will probably never come to me. The picture is from "The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives" (1933), a really great cartoon if you can look past the racist bits, which I admit is easier for me because I'm not the subject of them.
After last week's post it should come as no surprise that I'm agnostic about Jesus. Not about whether he lived - scholars are almost unanimous in the affirmative on that point - but about whether he said and did the things the Bible says he said and did. I don't want to be agnostic about Jesus. I want to love and follow Jesus. But if I'm honest, I have to hold everything to the same standard of scrutiny right now. The Christmas story itself has some issues that I once regarded as little more than interesting bits of trivia but now must take into real consideration. Apparently nobody had ever heard it until it was written down decades after Jesus' death, the timing of the Roman census doesn't line up with his birth, and the word translated as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 really just means young woman. None of these disprove his divinity, of course, but they raise questions. How important is it for the details that have been passed down about Jesus to be accurate? Can we really know him if they aren't?
These last couple days, I'm unexpectedly believing in him more after I read Return from Tomorrow, George G. Ritchie's account of a near-death experience. I've heard that near-death experiences can be explained by hallucinogenic chemicals flooding the brain. He explains why he doesn't believe his was a hallucination but acknowledges that one can never know for certain, that there's still an element of faith involved. In any case, it was powerful to read and the world would be a better place if all of us hallucinated such things. I'm not going to make it the foundation for my spiritual views but I do take it quite seriously. I love his initial description of Jesus: "He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but a Man who had entered the room, or rather, a Man made out of light, though this seemed no more possible to my mind than the incredible intensity of the brightness that made up His form.
"The instant I perceived Him, a command formed itself in my mind. 'Stand up!' The words came from inside me, yet they had an authority my mere thoughts had never had. I got to my feet, and as I did came the stupendous certainty: 'You are in the presence of the Son of God.'
"Again, the concept seemed to form itself inside me, but not as thought or speculation. It was a kind of knowing, immediate and complete. I knew other facts about Him too. One, that this was the most totally male Being I had ever met. If this was the Son of God, then His name was Jesus. But... this was not the Jesus of my Sunday School books. That Jesus was gentle, kind, understanding - and probably a little bit of a weakling. This Person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met.
"Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me - the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean, selfish thought and action since the day I was born - and accepted and loved me just the same."
At a minimum, Jesus is real in the same way that Santa Claus is real, and I don't mean that derisively. I mean that he represents something good and beautiful and inspiring. And I frankly feel that the idea of Jesus surpasses what's actually in the Bible. We have no record of Jesus advocating social change. Some scholars argue that as an apocalyptic preacher, he saw social change as a waste of time because the world was about to end anyway. Yet now many of us take for granted that because he loves everyone infinitely and equally, he would support sweeping measures - not just individualized acts of kindness - to make life better for marginalized people. We believe we're following him when we do so. The nineteenth-century abolitionists believed they were following him even though, so far as is known, he never once spoke against slavery. I, for one, see social justice and true religion as inseparable. I think it's pretty useless if not straight-up dishonest to preach that all people are equal before God without being actively concerned about police murders of Black people, sexual harassment and assault, or anti-LGBT hate crimes. I hope Jesus is, after all, more than a symbol for the best impulses of humanity, but I can't say he is with the certainty I once could, so I have to take as much as I can get.
I feel like I was a little premature in writing about Indiana Jones 5 last weekend because if I'd just had a little patience, I would have waited for the trailer to come out and give me more to work with. Now it's out and I think I'll go ahead and analyze it. I've never analyzed a trailer before and I don't expect to do so as skillfully as the YouTube channels dedicated to that sort of thing, but I think it will be fun. For me, at least. I can't promise it will be fun to read. Everything here is either my own speculation or information from official channels. I have no desire to ruin the movie for myself. Director James Mangold did see fit the other day to debunk one particularly stupid internet rumor from mouth-breathing misogynists who claim that Indiana Jones will use time travel to erase himself from existence so his goddaughter can take over the role. This is particularly stupid because he's seventy years old and could just, you know, retire, at which point I would have no objection to his goddaughter taking over the role and starring in additional movies that would at best be great and at worst fail to ruin the great movies that already exist. Good grief.
So here's the trailer on YouTube, but it looks much better on Disney+. The first four Indiana Jones movies aren't on Disney+ because Paramount still owns the distribution rights, but fear not, that will be moot in the near future when Disney buys Paramount. In the meantime I suppose this will be the only movie that doesn't open with the Paramount logo dissolving into a real mountain or a mountain etched onto a gong or a CGI prairie dog hill.
First things first: I'm not crazy about the title, which was already rumored and is now confirmed. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. As much as I appreciate alliteration, I just don't think it conveys the proper sense of scope and awe for an Indiana Jones movie, especially one that's meant to cap off the franchise. Across the titles we have an ark, a temple, a crusade, a kingdom, and now... a dial. But whatever; the title won't make or break it. Visually, I think it looks great and I can tell it will be a thrill to watch even if the plot and the dialogue and the acting suck. Some of the CGI looks a bit dodgy, but with seven months left until release I'm sure it will be finessed further. Most of the cinematography and effects of the movies from the eighties still hold up and feel timeless while I'm watching them, but then the cinematography and effects here are still a vast improvement, more visually interesting with more kinetic energy. This particularly stands out in the shots set closer to the timeframe of the originals - but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The trailer opens with a voiceover from Sallah reminiscing about the desert and the sea, and we see shots of the desert and the sea. He didn't do anything with the sea in his original movies but it's implied here that he had several more adventures with Indy. He had some in the books and comics, of course. I don't know how seriously Disney is taking the tie-in materials. It didn't explicitly purge them from canon like it did with Star Wars. Some of them contradict each other, of course, but unlike the contradictions in the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, I like that because it contributes to the feeling of Indy as a larger than life, almost mythical character. Anyway, the desert shots show a bit of a chase sequence including Indy and his goddaughter Helena and some other people, and then there's a shot of him in New York City (actually Glasgow in costume) even though Sallah doesn't mention missing the city, and then there's a rearview closeup on a couple of divers (probably Indy and Helena) and then an old barnacle-encrusted skeleton is destroyed by some eels swimming out of its mouth. Will eels be the creepy crawlies of this movie? Granted, they neither creep nor crawl, but they're basically underwater snakes, which could present some entertaining possibilities.
Sallah keeps talking and makes it sound like he used to go on an adventure with Indy every day. That's a bit much. I didn't see him in India (actually Sri Lanka in costume) in 1935. Indy's in a classroom lecturing students about some kind of alien spacecraft or diving bell, and it's a nice little lecture hall with rising seats, nicer than his previous classrooms, but this is 1969 and he's old and his students, far removed from the days when they would write "Love You" on their eyelids, probably think he's, like, not a groovy cat at all, man. Then Indy and Helena walk over a bridge in a cave and look down at the outstretched hand of a statue. Then all of a sudden it's 1944 and a couple of Nazis - okay, really they're just German soldiers who may or may not be formally affiliated with the Nazi Party, but at best they're Nazi enablers and that's bad enough - are dragging a prisoner with a bag over his head while a castle explodes behind them. Who could it be?? Then a wide shot of someone running across the top of a train on a foggy night. Who could it be?? Then a rear view of a motorcycle approaching a parked plane in the rain in the dark. Who could it be?? A lot of build up here. If the shots weren't so quick, the suspense would be unbearable. Someone walks between the shelves of what looks like a museum storage room, and fortunately he comes into the light so we can see that he's none other than Indiana freakin' Jones!
Now the trailer does the clever trailer trick where it switches from a voiceover over a bunch of different shots to the actual scene that the voiceover is coming from. We see Dr. Jones up close and personal for the first time since he turned seventy (actually eighty in costume) talking to Sallah in front of what appears to be an airport. Sallah is once again played by John Rhys-Davies. Nowadays casting a Caucasian British man as an Egyptian would probably be frowned upon, but he's been grandfathered into the role. Indy says to him, "Those days have come and gone." He turns away and starts walking toward the airport. Sallah says, "Perhaps - perhaps not." Indy, apparently just waiting for the flimsiest pretext to persuade him to do what he really wanted to do anyway, stops, turns back, and manages a bit of a smile as the scene fades out. Mic drop. Here we see clear evidence of James Mangold's script revisions. Originally, aside from a few jokes it didn't address Indy's age or how he's become obsolete in a changing world. It was just another adventure and didn't serve to cap off his career as neatly as it could have. James Mangold may have fixed that - or he may have been too heavy-handed with the idea. These brief snippets of dialogue seem kind of heavy-handed. But eh, at least they weren't written by George Lucas.
Then old Indy shines his flashlight on a statue that kind of looks Greek except that it has arms and isn't naked. Then young Indy and his assistant played by Toby Jones stand atop the train and brace themselves as a Nazi emerges from the fog, but we don't get a good look at them yet. Then we get our first closeup shot of Helena, looking concerned about something as she runs to the edge of something in New York City. I actually don't watch a lot of the movies that normal people watch, so I still associate Phoebe Waller-Bridge with a woke robot that makes weird innuendos, and I hope this character will be completely different. Now, holy crap, the guy with the bag over his head is tied to a chair that appears to be inside the castle (before it exploded?) and someone takes the bag off and HOLY CRAP IT'S LIKE HARRISON FORD TIME TRAVELED! The de-aging looks phenomenal, at least in the brief glimpses we get here. Some people are concerned that he'll still move like an eighty-year-old man, but I don't think eighty-year-old Harrison Ford even moves like an eighty-year-old man, and if they did use a stunt double for most of these scenes I don't even care. Whatever it takes. Now here, in 1944, is where I think the contrast with the cinematography and effects of the originals really stands out in a good way. It's the best of both worlds - twenties technology with eighties Harrison Ford. (Not to be confused with eighty-year-old Harrison Ford.)
Now we get a succession of quick shots. Voller, the main villain and unequivocally affiliated with the Nazi Party, opens a box as two other Nazis look on. I was only half-joking when I predicted that Mads Mikkelson would be a villain as soon as his casting was announced. A big machine gun turret on the back of the train fires and burns. Antonio Banderas looks up suspiciously as he sits in his humble abode with a banjo and some other stuff nearby. I saw him earlier this year in Uncharted and couldn't help but notice that even at his age he remained sexier than either of the young female leads. Someone walks across an airfield in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot and then Voller, probably on the same airfield, looks up majestically. Young Indy turns around inside the train and gives us another good look at his unnatural face. Twenty-five years later, his aged hands pick up some kind of mechanical disk artifact that just might be the titular dial, although tossing it in here so casually doesn't exactly rectify the title's lack of awe. Helena shines a flashlight over the statue's arm. Indy and Helena fall into a canal with broken Gregian pillars on either side. The shot is too quick for me to tell, but I think they're standing in the water and the canal floor suddenly gives way.
Through all of this, Indy - perhaps still talking to Sallah, perhaps not - gives a voiceover: "I don't believe in magic. But a few times in my life, I’ve seen things, things I can’t explain. And I’ve come to believe that it’s not so much what you believe...." And he leaves us hanging for a moment before concluding, "It's how hard you believe it." This addresses a couple weird details of the quasi-reality that is the world of Indiana Jones. First, essentially every religion, myth, and legend is true. Second, in spite of this, he spends much of his career being skeptical every time someone tells him about a new magic artifact. One has to assume that as a scientist, he looks for the most naturalistic explanation and evaluates everything on a case-by-case basis. It wouldn't be professional to start with the assumption that the Holy Grail is real just because Sankara stones and the Ark of the Covenant are real. But even so, by 1957 he's seen enough to say, "I believe, sister. That's why I'm down here." Now with this line in the trailer he seems to grant some validity to all supernatural beliefs without embracing any of them. He maintains an agnostic detachment, but long gone is the outright skepticism of his younger years. One can imagine him hastening to add, "Sallah, I've been from one side of this planet to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything."
But before he finishes talking - I had to go a bit out of order to preserve a more coherent flow of ideas - there's a few shots of the ticker tape parade in New York City on August 13, 1969 in honor of the "astronauts" who made the "moon landing." It marks an interesting shift in the movies' approach. The first four don't disclose specific dates, and they remain sufficiently detached from the real world that you could pretend they actually happened without interfering with known real history. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series took a very different approach. Episodes were named after years and months, and Indy constantly participated in historical events and interacted with historical figures (actually actors in costume). This movie brings in some of the latter approach. Voller works for NASA by this point and that's going to tie into the prologue and the artifact somehow. Maybe they'll have their final showdown in space, a bold original move that I'm sure wouldn't upset anyone. In a quick series of shots in the middle of this parade, Indy rears up on a horse, Voller's sycophant Klaber pulls up on a police motorcycle that he probably borrowed from one of his fellow white supremacists, a beauty pageant winner looks frightened as her unpleasant-looking driver brings her car to a halt, and Indy rides his horse at high speed. Then Indy picks up his hat and whip from a table as lightning flashes offscreen and he finishes the aforementioned voiceover. Mic drop.
Now the trailer blasts into full gear. Nazi motorcycle, falling boulder, exploding floor, Indy punches a Vietnam War protester, Indy punches a Nazi enabler, Klaber fires his gun into the air and makes parade viewers get down, Toby Jones yells "Indy!" atop the train, a Nazi gets pulled into a motorcycle as something explodes behind him, an airplane cockpit provides a beautiful view of a stormy sky reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace, Indy whips a gun out of the train Nazi's hand, someone swims away from something exploding underwater, car chase, train chase, car chase, closeup of Helena apparently gripping an old person's neck through the shattered back window of a car, Indy rides his horse down a subway tunnel toward an oncoming train and ducks aside just in time, all backed by the Hidden Citizens Epic Trailer remix of the Raiders March: DUN-DA-DUN-DUNNN, DUN-DA-DUNNNNN! How can something sound so cool and so much like self-parody at the same time? I doubt this rendition will appear in the movie itself, and I have mixed feelings about the possibility that it will. It would sound kind of cheesy and dated, but fresher than an identical repetition of the motif we've heard in three movies already. I can live with or without it. TITLE SCREEN! Meh, I'm still not sold on it.
Now we're in the home stretch. In some wretched hive of scum and villainy, a Middle Eastern gangster-looking guy asks, "Who is this man?" Indy, looking annoyed, says, "I'm her godfather" while Helena, looking perhaps embarrassed, says, "He's... mildly related." Who is she severely related to anyway? Someone British. Marcus Brody would be nice, but for storyline purposes, it's probably Toby Jones' character from the prologue. Now Indy draws his whip, cracks it thrice over a dozen people's heads, and snarls, "Get back!" But in a karmic reversal of his hilarious casual murder of the Cairo swordsman, the dozen people all pull guns on him. He gets a panicked look. They graciously give him time to duck under the table before they all fire at the spot where he was standing. This bit of ridiculousness justifies itself by being funny, but I wouldn't be surprised to see in the movie that they don't really want him dead anyway. I bet they're just putting him in his place before offering him a mutually beneficial alliance that they intend to break at the first opportunity.
Missing from the trailer, as far as I could see, was CIA agent Mason, played by Shaunette Renée Wilson. Not a good look, Disney. Also missing was Mutt, who's been confirmed to not appear in the movie, and Marion, who hasn't. Seeing as Marion is Indy's wife, liked by fans, and played by an actress who's alive and well, she should at least get a couple lines to explain that as much as she'd love to come on Indy's final adventure, she's already committed to a series of bra-burning rallies. And Mutt probably died in Vietnam. Come to think of it, even though this is meant to be Indy's final adventure, and even though every franchise doesn't need to be kept on life support forever, he's such an interesting guy that I wouldn't mind watching more movies about his everyday life as a grouchy old man. I would pay money to see him walk out of a screening of Star Wars and complain about what an obnoxious ass Han Solo is.
I left the church but, as prophesied, I can't leave it alone. I watched General Conference for a few reasons - because I was curious how differently it would come across with my current perspective, because it's given me comfort and inspiration in the past and I was open-minded enough to see if it would still do so, because I have two nieces (so far) who will be raised in the church and I maintain an interest in the church's development for their sake if nothing else, because it gave some structure and purpose to my lonely weekend, and because I've written about every General Conference since I started blogging weekly on this platform and I might break that tradition but there's no need to do so yet. Here are my jaded, cynical, faithless observations and opinions.
Dallin H. Oaks talked about the monetary value of the church's humanitarian aid, which is being disclosed in unprecedented detail in obvious response to criticism about how little per capita the church gives in humanitarian aid. He gave a total of almost a billion dollars annually, which is almost one percent of the value of the Ensign Peak "rainy day" fund at the time whistleblowers leaked it in 2019. I'm not knowledgeable enough to criticize the church's financial priorities much, and unlike a lot of people I recognize that charitable donations are not the primary reason why religions exist, but I just wish members would recognize that context before jumping to the conclusion that almost a billion dollars is a lot of money. He talked about partnering with good people of other faiths, and the fact that God works through them because one church can't do everything alone. I liked that. I also liked that he didn't feel the need to remind everyone that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The For the Strengh of Youth pamphlet, which I critiqued slightly a few months ago, got an overhaul beyond what I ever would have anticipated. Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed the new edition and totally threw all the previous editions under the bus. Since it first came out in 1965, it's been a list of do this, don't do that. Some of the this's and that's have changed in fifty-seven years but the overall approach has not. Now that's all been scrapped in favor of generic principles to guide the youth in making their own choices. For example, the sexist list of "immodest" clothes that girls shouldn't wear and the stupid injunction against multiple ear piercings have been replaced with, "Heavenly Father wants us to see each other for who we really are: not just physical bodies but His beloved children with a divine destiny. Avoid styles that emphasize or draw inappropriate attention to your physical body instead of who you are as a child of God with an eternal future" and "The Lord’s standard is for you to honor the sacredness of your body, even when that means being different from the world. Let this truth and the Spirit be your guide as you make decisions - especially decisions that have lasting effects on your body. Be wise and faithful, and seek counsel from your parents and leaders." Based on my anecdotal observations, I think this is the church's way of capitulating to the reality that its young female members are wearing whatever they want and getting as many piercings as they want anyway.
As I anticipated, the bit about homosexuality has been revised: "I am attracted to people of my same sex. How do these standards apply to me? Feeling same-sex attraction is not a sin. If you have these feelings and do not pursue or act on them, you are living Heavenly Father’s sacred law of chastity. You are a beloved child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember that the Savior understands everything you experience. Through your covenant connection with Him, you will find strength to obey God’s commandments and receive the blessings He promises. Trust Him and His gospel." This is a nicer way of saying that God expects you to be alone until you die or marry someone you aren't attracted to and will probably divorce, and that you're better off dead because God will make you straight in the next life. (Never mind that no human has ever said the words "I am attracted to people of my same sex.") I know or know of scores, maybe hundreds of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who were miserable in the church and became happy after they left. That's why I stopped believing what the church teaches about them. Why didn't they "find strength to obey God's commandments and receive the blessings He promises?" Am I supposed to believe that every single one of them just didn't have enough faith? Even the ones who still attend church with their same-sex partners?
The pamphlet also includes this gem: "Is it wrong to have questions about the Church? How can I find answers? Having questions is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. In fact, asking questions can help build faith. The Restoration of the gospel started when 14-year-old Joseph Smith asked questions with faith. Seek answers in the scriptures, in the words of God’s prophets, from your leaders and faithful parents, and from God Himself. If answers don’t come right away, trust that you will learn line upon line. Keep living by what you already know, and keep seeking for truth." I never heard this kind of stuff as a youth, but it's all over the freaking place now that the church is facing an unprecedented retention crisis (especially among the youth). I like that questions are framed as a positive thing, but also the constant emphasis on "questions" per se has really started to irk me. I didn't leave the church because of my questions, I left because of the answers. A big question I had was "Why did the church tell women not to have careers and then quietly stop telling women not to have careers?" And the answer was, "Because its past leaders were sexist and attributed their sexism to God, and its current leaders can't admit that its past leaders were ever wrong about anything because that would call their own reliability into question." The church promotes a circular assumption that the answers to the questions will always vindicate it and put it in a positive or at least tolerable light, and that simply wasn't the case for me.
Tracy Browning, the first black woman in a general presidency, became the first black woman to speak in General Conference. For those who say it doesn't matter, yes it does, for reasons I know you know, so shut up. She talked with a normal voice instead of a patronizing General Conference voice. I liked that. She hasn't been assimilated yet.
Russell M. Nelson spent much of his first talk condemning abuse. While he didn't directly allude to the recent Associated Press articles and child rape scandal that obviously motivated his remarks, it was nice to see the prophet kind of respond in some capacity instead of continuing to hide behind anonymous PR employees. It really annoyed me that the First Presidency delegated this issue to them while taking the time to write a letter about changing the name of tithing settlement to tithing declaration. He immediately went on to talk about truth and how we need to be careful about who we trust, which seemed to be a way of calling into question the integrity of Pulitzer-winning journalist Michael Rezendes in a way that won't get him sued for slander.
Kristin M. Yee's talk resonated with me the most, as she spoke about the difficulty of forgiving people who never apologize or accept responsibility for wronging you, a category that might, hypothetically, include ex-neighbors, police officers, so-called healthcare workers, deadbeat parasites, and/or elementary school administrators, hypothetically. In the absence of justice, my resentment feels like the closest thing I have. Giving it up feels like pretending that what happened was okay. I know I need to reorient my thinking for my own mental health. It kind of helps and kind of just pisses me off when I remember that many, many people have been abused and discriminated against far worse than me and never received any justice. This planet needs to burn.
Ulisses Soares spoke about the equality of men and women that doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church, throwing in the obligatory patriarchal language to obfuscate the church's drastic evolution on this topic in the last fifty years. In all seriousness, I think he's a great guy who means what he says, I'm just annoyed at how the church teaches different things and then pretends it's always taught the same things. D. Todd Christofferson spoke about belonging and inclusion and diversity, which again doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church but I guess that's why he needed to speak about it. The church would have less work to do in this regard if it had started rooting out racism in 1830 instead of 2020.
Gérald Caussé spoke about our need to use resources wisely and be good stewards of the Earth. Though not unprecedented, this kind of environmental message is almost unheard of within the church. It hasn't been a priority at all and it directly contradicts the political views of a majority of its American members. He said that left His creation incomplete and gave us the opportunity to contribute with art and music and I don't remember but I'm going to assume he said writing too. This came dangerously close to contradicting the political views of a majority of the church's American members, namely that artists and musicians and writers should have majored in something useful and don't deserve to afford to be alive. But this concept of being co-creators with God is a really great one. It first occurred to me in 2013 when I got chills from a slideshow of stars and nebulae set to the David Arkenstone track "Stepping Stars." God had left space silent and David Arkenstone had filled the silence with the sort of thing that we all somehow know space should sound like. That particular video is gone but this one is close enough.
Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about why Latter-day Saints don't (usually) use the cross as a symbol. He made the interesting claim that because the earliest Christians didn't use the cross as a symbol, this is an evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Christian church. Actually, Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century often wore or decorated with crosses. They became less popular in the twentieth century and were made officially taboo by David O. McKay in the late 1950s, in part because he felt they were "purely Catholic." Holland expressed empathy for several of the various struggles that people face, including the struggles of LGBTQ people that are caused by the church.
David A. Bednar gave a talk that came across to me as a thinly-veiled passive-aggressive condemnation of the increasing number of members who don't wear their temple garments every day, mostly because he shared a parable about a guy who wasn't wearing garments and he said the word "garments" over and over. I thought the church was lightening up about that sort of thing.
Russell M. Nelson spoke again. I don't buy the narrative that the world is the worst it's ever been. I recently read a history of the 1970s, and talk about a decade that I'm grateful I didn't live through. I don't buy the teaching that the 0.2% of people in the world with access to temple ordinances in mortality have a degree of access to God's power that no one else does. That would make God a respecter of persons. And then I didn't pay much attention to the last session so I'll skip ahead to his final talk where of course he announced 18 new temples. I used to get so excited about new temple announcements because they meant that the church was growing and expanding throughout the world. Nowadays most of them mean nothing of the sort. Nelson keeps announcing them for areas where active membership isn't even large enough to staff them, let alone use them in appreciable numbers. The church will be scrambling to find a lot of senior missionary couples in the near future. At this point it feels like he's just showing off. He didn't announce 18 new temples because the church needs 18 new temples, he announced 18 new temples so the church can boast that it now has 300 temples operating or in planning stages, even though its annual membership growth has fallen from 2.19% to 0.85% in the last decade. But at least none of them were in Utah.
General observations: A higher percentage than usual of women (which isn't saying much) spoke and prayed, obviously in reaction to criticisms about the low percentage of women who speak and pray in General Conference. Bonnie H. Cordon was announced with her proper title of "President," not "Sister," which is such a small thing that shouldn't have taken until 2022 to implement but here it is and it's good. Most speakers continued the disturbing trend of quoting and fawning over our beloved prophet President Russell M. Nelson to a degree that I never observed with his two most recent predecessors. Neil L. Andersen was the most egregious. This prophet worship, coupled with the reality of how many things past prophets have gotten wrong that we're supposed to just not care about, was a big part of why I left.
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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.