Saturday was one year since the Islamic Republic murdered Mahsa Amini for not wearing a hijab, sparking protests throughout Iran. After a few months, the Western media largely ignored these protests or straight-up lied that they were basically over, but the truth is that they aren't going to stop until the Islamic Republic is dead. The Islamic Republic has passed the point of no return. It's lost its legitimacy, it's become desperate, and its collapse is a matter of when, not if. The sooner the better, of course. The US and the EU need to hasten that day by growing some spines and treating it like the global pariah that it deserves to be. Down with all dictatorships, down with all theocracies, down with all religious extremism, and down with all misogyny and other forms of bigotry, no matter how much they wrap themselves up in the supposed respectability of faith.
Today I went for a hike in Tony's Grove with members of the local Unitarian Universalist congregation and three dogs. I was the youngest human there by a wide margin. The next youngest human was a mother of adults and teenagers, and everyone else had white hair, or in one case would have had white hair if she hadn't dyed it purplish red. I didn't remember where Tony's Grove was and I didn't realize the drive and the hike combined would total four and a half hours, but I'm not mad. Just tired. The temperature was perfect and the views were gorgeous. Susanne Janecke, a geologist from USU, told us about the caves and the rocks. Supposedly some of the latter were shaped by the ocean before life existed on land. I'll take her word for it. I felt, as I often do these days, insignificant against the scope of this planet's history, and since we'd just had a presentation on climate change by USU hydrologist Patrick Belmont earlier that day, I thought about the possibility that my entire species might not be here much longer, and I wondered why we evolved to be so stupid and whether there's any real purpose to the suffering we've inflicted on ourselves and our home. But mostly I just appreciated the views.
If God is all good and all loving, it must be pure constant agony for him to restrain himself from snapping his fingers and erasing men like Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei from the face of the Earth. I'm neither all good nor all loving but I wouldn't be able to restrain myself for a millisecond if I had that kind of power. It drives me out of my fucking mind to be powerless while these demons on the other side of the world are destroying millions of lives with impunity. I don't deny, of course, that God may have perfectly valid reasons for not stopping them, like agency and whatever, but I certainly can't be expected to believe this is the same being who struck people dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant and turned them into pillars of salt for I don't even know why. I'm not ready to give up on God yet. I hope all the people who have given up their lives so other people can have basic human rights someday have gone home to him, and I hope he's treating them really well to compensate for having been oppressed, tortured, raped, beaten into comas, etc. I hope they didn't just cease to exist when they were murdered by Russian soldiers or Islamic terrorists.
Reminder that by installing the Snowflake browser extension, you can help Iranian revolutionaries and other oppressed people circumvent government censorship.
Here are some pictures I found on r/NewIran that I think are superior to whatever impotent words I might otherwise churn out. I like this one because it works on multiple levels. I hope the artist doesn't get murdered.
These girls' regime-sucking parents made them do this PR stunt that very few people in the world are stupid enough to buy...
First I think this one is beautiful, and then I think I must be really sick for thinking that. It's not beautiful that these women had their eyes shot out by Islamic terrorists for demanding basic human rights to which they are entitled by birth, but their indomitable spirits really show in this picture. And those indomitable spirits are why the Islamic Republic is boned. I just wish I could be a part of that, damn it.
Then I saw this last night. I don't know much about Iranian politics except that the Islamic Republic is a blister on Satan's testicles, but Reza Pahlavi is the Crown Prince who would be in charge right now if the Islamic Republic hadn't come to power, and he's emerging as a de facto figurehead for the current revolution. Of course not all Iranian revolutionaries like or support him but the general consensus is that they should send Khamenei back to hell now and worry about their differences later. Anyway, I don't know if any rallies or marches will happen in Logan, Utah, which has few Iranian expatriates, but I will certainly participate if I become aware of any. I considered stepping way out of my comfort zone and trying to start some but I don't think that's my place and I don't think it would be any more successful than my previous attempts to make a difference in the world.
...because it's impossible to hide the truth.
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.
Extricating myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a rather gradual process, as I've held onto as many bits and pieces as I could in an attempt to minimize the existential crisis and convince myself that my twenty-one years of membership weren't a waste. So, for example, I stayed subscribed to the r/latterdaysaints subreddit until I got banned for encouraging nuanced thinking and intellectual honesty. The other day I took another step forward by getting rid of several LDS books that I'm never going to read again and in a majority of cases never read the first time. I'd already tossed my old "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and my old "To Young Men Only" pamphlet (based on Boyd K. Packer's anti-masturbation General Conference talk that was quietly removed from the church's website a few years ago) in the recycle bin weeks earlier, but destroying actual books rubs me the wrong way unless the books themselves rub me the wrong way. I think the only books I've ever intentionally destroyed was Wizard's First Rule, that I burned after the delusional neighbor who loaned it to me stabbed me in the back and set in motion the worst day of my life, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, which I encountered at my old book warehouse job and surreptitiously tore the cover off of because I didn't want to sell it for reasons that should be obvious to decent human beings.
But just because these books no longer mean much to me doesn't mean someone else shouldn't benefit from them, so I chose to gave them away. Most of them, anyway. A few were gifts from family members or belonged to now-deceased family members so I'll keep them around for that fact at least. But the majority I took to the local YSA ward yesterday a couple hours before stake conference started. I set them up on a table outside the north chapel because it was empty and I've paid enough tithing to entitle myself to use it. The table outside the south chapel was covered with little papers and things, including a stack of little orange advertisements for stake conference that had obviously missed its chance to be of any use to anyone. At least I was able to give one of them a second chance.
Here, then, are brief descriptions of these books because I lack the motivation to find anything better to write about today. I'm sorry.
They Lie in Wait to Deceive Volume 1 - I picked this up a few years ago at the Logan Institute even though I had already read all four volumes in this series online. In this volume, Robert and Rosemary Brown strike back at professional critics Jerald and Sanda Tanner and some guy named Dee Jay Nelson who, in the seventies and early eighties, pretended to be a leading Egyptologist and went around giving lectures against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. The Browns painstakingly documented all his lies about his credentials and experience, and were so successful that his career ended and today he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. I consider that a worthwhile effort even though real Egyptologists have also said plenty against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
The TRUTH About "The God Makers" - As I write this I've just remembered that I got this book from my now-deceased grandmother, but it wasn't a gift per se, she just had it laying around and didn't need it anymore, so I guess that's all right. This one is also available online. "The God Makers" is the title of a book and movie by evangelical countercultist Ed Decker, and both are regarded as laughable sensationalist garbage even by most other critics of the LDS Church. Their most lasting legacy is an excerpt posted on YouTube under the inaccurate title "Banned Mormon Cartoon." (Years ago I asked "Banned by whom, exactly?" I'm still waiting on a response.)
The Church of the Old Testament - I think I got this from the book warehouse on one of the days when they let us take free books home. I never read it. Presumably it attempts to root modern LDS practices in the very different practices of the Old Testament. Latter-day Saints and Christians in general read a lot of things between the lines of the Old Testament that Jews don't, and I suppose until we can ask the authors about it in person we won't know who's right. I'm more skeptical nowadays, but the author did have a BA in anthropology, a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies, an MA in linguistics, and an MA in Middle East studies (Hebrew) with minor in anthropology and archaeology, so he wasn't just some hack writing faith-promoting drivel for Deseret Book.
Mark E. Petersen - Virtually the only thing anyone remembers apostle Petersen (not Peterson) for is his insanely racist pro-segregation speech to BYU faculty in 1954. I picked up this biography by his daughter from the book warehouse in hopes of discovering that he had some redeeming qualities. I never got around to reading it, and since I'm no longer required to convince myself that he was a representative of Jesus Christ, I see no reason to do so in the future. I did, however, read Church Historian Leonard Arrington's diary a couple years ago, and I learned that Petersen was one of the leaders who fought Arrington at every turn when he tried to publish balanced and transparent history. So now I remember him for two things. That's an improvement. (Incidentally, after his death in 1984, Arrington remarked that his BYU speech "was one of the most bigoted and narrow-minded talks ever given by a 'disciple of Christ.')
On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar - I wanted to be a disciple-scholar. I wanted to be a paragon of faith and intellect working in harmony. Strange, then, that I never made the time to read this relatively short book. I must have been too busy arguing with strangers on the internet.
Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work - I bought this my freshman year of college at the peak of my enthusiasm to convert the world, even though it's available online. David Stewart was and is a believing member, yet the issues he raised in this book and elsewhere threatened my testimony quite a bit. As I grew up, claims about the church's spectacular growth were ubiquitously touted as proof that it was true. He pointed out with solid data that its growth rate had steadily fallen since the late 1980s and that a solid majority of members on the rolls no longer associated with the church in any capacity. (This has now become so obvious that it's common knowledge among people who aren't completely out of touch with reality.) What's worse, he pointed out how Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and evangelical missionary and/or church planting programs (aka the ones that don't claim to be led by living prophets) have consistently and dramatically outperformed the LDS missionary program (aka the one that does claim to be led by living prophets) in terms of numerical growth and retention. Now look, I don't expect an "inspired" missionary program to have no room for improvement or nothing it can learn from other groups, but I do expect it to not necessitate some random guy outside the church leadership structure writing a book about why it sucks. So that was a faith crisis shelf item for a long time.
Saint Behind Enemy Lines - This is the story of Olga Kovářová Campora, a convert to the church from communist Czechoslovakia. I was going to read it earlier this year and then I didn't. I'm sure it's very inspiring and I don't begrudge her finding peace and/or joy wherever, but even as a believer I couldn't help thinking about how atypical her experience is for Eastern Europe. Today, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the church has fewer than 3,000 members in the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined. A few years ago it had more Slovak members in Sheffield, England than in Slovakia. Maybe it still does, but the Slovak branch in that city was closed after not very long (with none of the fanfare that accompanied its opening, of course), so I don't know.
Sunshine for the Courageous Latter-day Saint Soul - Stories to make one feel warm and fuzzy, I'm sure. I suspect that many of them are drivel, but only having read one and found it tolerable, I shouldn't assume.
Brother to Brother - I stole this one from the book warehouse. It had been rejected, so we couldn't sell it and I was supposed to toss it in the recycle bin, but as one who had been obsessed for years with everything I could get my hands on about the church's (usually but not always abysmal) history with Black people, I had to read it. I snuck it home with me and read it. Co-author Rendell Mabey was one half of one half of the two senior missionary couples sent to Ghana and Nigeria in late 1978 following the revelation that made Black people eligible for priesthood ordination and temple ordinances. This is his story, and it's a faith-promoting story that has the benefit of being true. Between 1946 and 1978, tens of thousands of West Africans had obtained literature from the church and desired to be baptized. They knew about the priesthood and temple ban, of course (though additional stuff like Mark E. Petersen's BYU speech are another story), but tended (and still tend) not to care the way African-Americans tended (and still tend) to care. Many of them were still waiting when the missionaries finally arrived and baptized them.
Counseling With Our Councils - I got this from the institute when I was part of the Leadership Committee of the Latter-day Saint Student Association. I "won" it somehow, out of all the people there, but I don't remember how or why. With that being the case I feel kind of bad that I never read it because it looks really boring, but now it can be put to some use.
Then there's the little stack that I would have just recycled if they'd been all I had, because they're not real books, just manuals - three copies of Gospel Principles (I think the small one is an older edition, but I didn't care enough to look) and two volumes from Teachings of Presidents of the Church (Gordon B. Hinckley and Joseph Fielding Smith, the latter carefully curated to omit any of his teachings on race or science). I really ought to get rid of more books since I'm most likely going to move to another state next year, but I'm not sure I can bear to do that unless I apostatize from science fiction.
When I was about twelve I decided to read the Bible all the way through, and I did, except for a few chapters of Leviticus that bored me beyond my capacity to endure. I learned pretty quickly that there was a lot of stuff in the Old Testament besides the usual stories I'd heard eight billion times. If I recall correctly, the first time I thought "What the $#@%?" was during Genesis 19. This is not an obscure chapter. It includes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but I never had and still never have heard the parts before and after discussed in Sunday school. At the beginning of the chapter, Lot invites a couple of angels or holy men to have dinner and spend the night at his house.
4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:
5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know [have sex with] them.
6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known [had sex with] man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
Lot doesn't exactly sound like a contender for Father of the Year. Fortunately, the would-be gang-rapers aren't interested in his daughters, and it becomes moot when the angels smite them with blindness so his family can escape before the city is destroyed by a meteor. He flees with them, his wife gets salty about leaving their home behind, and his daughters have their revenge.
31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.
Biblical scholars now believe that "wine" should have been translated as "margarita", because it sounds like Lot was wasted away again in Margaritaville, searching for his lost pillar of salt. Eh? Anyway, you can imagine that by the end of this chapter, twelve-year-old me was like
Muslim apologists have suggested a few creative and possibly legitimate interpretations of the first passage that don't actually involve Lot offering up his daughters to be gang-raped. So far as I can tell, the Christian approach to the passage, besides ignoring it, is that yes, Lot did offer up his daughters to be gang-raped, but this action was simply wrong and unjustified, even though neither God nor the author of the text shows the slightest hint of disapproval. Here's one area where Joseph Smith's revision of the Bible comes to the rescue. In his version of Genesis 19, the mob demands to have sex with the angels and Lot's daughters, and Lot refuses on both counts. (And the number of angels is three, not two, because that matters for some reason.) So maybe that's what really happened, or maybe the Muslim apologists are right but Joseph Smith figured that was too complicated to try to explain. He also interpolated that Lot's daughters "dealt wickedly" and "did wickedly" when they raped their drunk father to get themselves pregnant, removing any ambiguity as to whether the Bible endorses that sort of behavior.
If only that were the only issue. To modern readers, the Old Testament is full of weird and disturbing stuff that requires a lot of contextual knowledge that most people don't have in order to be of any value whatsoever. In my experience, instead of providing that contextual knowledge, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and most of its members - like most Christians in general - go out of their way to cherry-pick around the stuff in question and pretend the authors and characters of the Old Testament were just like us. Yet the Church exhorts people to study the scriptures, including the Old Testament, without so much as warning them about what they'll find. That sounds like a recipe for atheism to me. Third-party sources, including some by Latter-day Saints, are of course available to make sense of these things, but I sure think the Church should take a more proactive role in explaining one of its own canonical texts that it wants everyone to read.
It doesn't help that the Church's curriculum writers lean conservative and anti-intellectual. Of course, it does help them with their assignment to dumb the curriculum down so it can be translated into dozens of languages with relative ease and used by used by a convert of two weeks to teach a class, but it has its obvious drawbacks. And my faith in them was shaken a little more last year when the Come Follow Me manual for the Book of Mormon included a racially insensitive quote from Joseph Fielding Smith about dark skin. It was, admittedly, pretty tame compared to most of the things he said about dark skin, but I still find it concerning that the curriculum writers didn't realize it would be a problem. And the Old Testament institute manual that hasn't been updated in forty-one years devotes quite a bit of space to quoting a Seventh-day Adventist anti-evolution tract. Based on these facts, I half-expected that the Come Follow Me Old Testament manual, in addition to continuing to cherry-pick around the weird and disturbing stuff, would strongly denounce evolution even though the Church has quietly but unmistakably moved away from ever doing that in the last decade or two.
The manual is already out, so instead of paying attention in Elders' Quorum one week, I skimmed through it (specifically the one for individuals and families because I'm an individual and/or family). This was by no means a thorough reading, but here are a few things of which I took notice.
An introduction called "Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Reading the Old Testament" gets off to a promising start. It says, "These writings come from an ancient culture that can seem foreign and sometimes strange or even uncomfortable. And yet in these writings we see people having experiences that seem familiar, and we recognize gospel themes that witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His gospel." Vague, but a most useful and necessary warning. It continues, "If you wonder whether you and your family can find personal meaning in the Old Testament this year, keep in mind that Lehi and Sariah's family did. Nephi shared stories about Moses and teachings from Isaiah when his brothers needed encouragement or correction or perspective." I'm not sure this is a good comparison when Nephi was at best a century removed from Isaiah, immersed in a similar cultural background to the Old Testament writers, and not dependent on a seventeenth-century English translation of their writings.
"Don’t expect the Old Testament to present a thorough and precise history of humankind. That’s not what the original authors and compilers were trying to create. Their larger concern was to teach something about God - about His plan for His children, about what it means to be His covenant people, and about how to find redemption when we don’t live up to our covenants. Sometimes they did it by relating historical events as they understood them - including stories from the lives of great prophets. Genesis is an example of this, as are books like Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Kings. But other Old Testament writers did not aim to be historical at all. Instead, they taught through works of art like poetry and literature. The Psalms and the Proverbs fit in this category. And then there are the precious words of prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, who spoke the word of God to ancient Israel - and, through the miracle of the Bible, still speak to us today." Boom. Here the manual acknowledges that the Bible is not historically accurate in all respects and that its books are written in different genres altogether. Many people will be learning these concepts for the first time.
A note at the bottom of this introduction says, "These [first five] books, which are attributed to Moses, probably passed through the hands of numerous scribes and compilers over time. Still, the books of Moses are the inspired word of God, even though they are - like any work of God transmitted through mortals - subject to human imperfections (see Moses 1:41; Articles of Faith 1:8)." This is a short and sweet attempt at reconciling Moses' traditional authorship of the Pentateuch with the scholarly consensus that it has multiple authors. While church curriculum doesn't need to address every academic controversy or criticism in detail, it needs to engage with them instead of promoting a bubble of ignorance, and this is a good start.
Moving on, I was gratified by the lack of evolution-bashing. The manual remains as vague as possible about the methodology of creation. It says, "While there’s a lot we don’t know about exactly how the world was created, ponder what you learn about the Creation from what God has revealed in Genesis 1:1–25; Moses 2:1–25; and Abraham 4:1–25." I'm still going to nitpick a little because that's what I do. I would have said, "While there's a lot we don't know from the scriptures about exactly how the world was created..." (emphasis added) God has allowed us to learn a lot about how the world was created through the scientific method, and while this knowledge is beyond the scope of the manual, I kind of hate when we act like it doesn't exist and any speculation on the subject is equally valid. Just because the scriptures don't tell us how old the planet is or how its current diversity of species came to be doesn't mean those things are mysteries.
The manual does acknowledge at least one little controversy. "What does it mean that Adam was to 'rule over' Eve? This passage of scripture has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that a husband is justified in treating his wife unkindly." It kind of sidesteps the actual issue here - normal people in the twenty-first century are repulsed by the notion of husbands "ruling over" their wives at all, not just unkindly. A husband who "rules" benevolently, while of course preferable to an abusive one, is still an insult to any grown woman with a functioning brain. I think this is a more subtle example of the writers being out of touch. Within the memory of many people still living, the Church taught that while he should be kind and considerate and involve his wife in decision-making, a husband had final say because he held the priesthood and God had chosen him to preside in the home. His was the tiebreaker vote if the couple couldn't come to an agreement. I suspect that some of the manual writers still subscribe to this way of thinking on some level, and that while they would never use the wording "rule over" themselves, they can't bring themselves to denounce it either.
"In our day," the manual continues, "the Lord’s prophets have taught that while a husband should preside in the home in righteousness, he should see his wife as an equal partner (see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” [ChurchofJesusChrist.org])." It gives no reason for the obvious discrepancy between this teaching and what the passage of scripture says. One cannot "rule over" an "equal partner," and the only reason one can "preside" over an equal partner is that we've redefined "preside" to no longer mean what the dictionary says it means or what we obviously meant when we said it fifty years ago. The only persuasive argument I've seen for this passage - supported by the original Hebrew and better translations - is that it isn't saying how marital relations should be, it's warning about how they will be in a fallen world. But then, since the passage itself has been used countless times to justify the very thing it warns against, it seems like God should have just not said anything.
In a note on the historical books of the Old Testament, the manual says, "When reading the Old Testament, as with any history, you’re likely to read about people doing or saying things that, to modern eyes, seem strange or even troubling. We should expect this - Old Testament writers saw the world from a perspective that was, in some ways, quite different from ours. Violence, ethnic relations, and the roles of women are just some of the issues that ancient writers might have seen differently than we do today." Like true historians or anthropologists, the manual writers don't assert that these views on violence, ethnic relations, and the roles of women were wrong, just different. That's fair. We want future generations to be patient and understanding with us too. And it's still a big deal - for many readers, this will be the first indication they've ever gotten that people in the scriptures were not just like us and didn't get their entire worldviews straight from the mind of God, let alone that the scriptures themselves contain unenlightened ideas we should reject.
The note also says, "Sometimes the passage may be like a puzzle piece that doesn’t look like it has a place among the other pieces you’ve already assembled. Trying to force the piece to fit isn’t the best approach. But neither is giving up on the entire puzzle. Instead, you may need to set the piece aside for now. As you learn more and put together more of the puzzle, you may be able to better see how the pieces fit together." I think the manual underestimates the number of pieces that don't appear to fit, but still, acknowledging them at all is a big and much-appreciated step. This manual isn't perfect but it is a breath of fresh air.
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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.