Last weekend was that time of year again, the semi-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where I, being the imbecile that anyone who knows me can tell you I am, go to get brainwashed again. This time around I was able to watch it with my beautiful wife, Felicity, who is not yet a member. Praying for her. And it was possibly the best conference I've ever been to, because I did what I was supposed to and came with a question in mind, a question that I've pondered and prayed and fasted and sought advice on for months. And the heavens opened in an incredible way. I also felt inspired and committed to be a better person. I want to be more humble. I want to be more patient. I want to be kinder to my many enemies. I want to stop robbing liquor stores, selling crack, and running over schoolkids in my car. (Bonus points if you get the reference.) But let's be honest, I probably won't.
Between sessions I got into some arguments on Facebook. Filled with a love for my Savior, I tried really, really hard not to insult anyone directly, but alas, the flesh is weak and I failed to avoid dripping with sarcasm. For every intelligent person I can respectfully disagree with, there are a hundred, shall we say, less intelligent people whose confidence is inversely proportional to said intelligence. Whenever I see a comment on an LDS topic that consists solely of the word "CULT!!", I stare and marvel and wonder how long it took this genius to come up with that on his own. One of them deigned to explain his superior logic: "It's a cult, and cults are bad. It should be banned." Yeah, I was just reading the other day about how this cult is installing water filters in scores of Indian villages to save them from fluoride poisoning. Screw this filthy rotten cult. Also, one particularly insightful free thinker blocked me after I called him out for resorting to ad hominem attacks after I refuted his assertion that an "entire generation" is leaving the LDS Church. He really showed me the error of my ways, you bet.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - A Yearning for Home
The Saturday morning session started off strong with the second most charismatic speaker available (sorry, but Elder Costa has him beat), and he in turn started off strong by talking about animals. I love animals. I hope I prove worthy to meet my dog again someday. My revelation began already with this talk my ears pricked and my heart warmed at some of his words that could be applied out of context to my own more personalized yearning. "Those who heed the inner call and seek God," President Uchtdorf said, "those who pray, believe, and walk the path the Savior has prepared - even if they stumble along the path at times - receive the consoling assurance that 'all things shall work together for [their] good.'" After this talk I felt inspired to keep doing what I'm already doing - trusting God as I pray for help every day, one step at a time, without seeing the outcome yet.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks - The Plan and the Proclamation
I must admit I have no particular strong feelings on the doctrines espoused in his talk and have struggled with some of them at times (see this essay, for example). I accept them because they're part of the package, and selectively rejecting doctrines in a church like this is logically untenable. But I enjoyed this talk because I love a good controversy, and I knew that by repeating the same things church leaders have been saying for many years, Elder Oaks would generate one. I wasn't disappointed. By taking such unpopular stances and holding firm to them in the face of backlash, setting aside the question of whether they're even correct, Elder Oaks and other General Authorities prove themselves to be men of courage and integrity - certainly more so than most of their critics who require very little to express the rage at them from behind electronic screens. However, unlike many members, I won't pretend to be unaware of why many people find these teachings legitimately painful. But that doesn't make them untrue. There are some things I know to be true that I find very painful myself. Oh, do I ever.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland - Be Ye Therefore Perfect - Eventually
One billion dollars. One. Billion. Dollars. It was just very impactful to me when put in those terms.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband - By Divine Design
This topic was unique enough to keep my attention even if it hadn't been another confirmation of my ponderings on my own dilemma. I have felt that certain individuals are in my life for a reason, and that I need to figure out what it is. I wish God would just tell me what it is. I think I know what it is, but what if I'm wrong? At least this talk tells me I'm on the right track. "Through the experience of my own life’s journey, I know that the Lord will move us on that seeming chessboard to do His work. What may appear to be a random chance is, in fact, overseen by a loving Father in Heaven, who can number the hairs of every head." I know this does not mean, as many think, that God micromanages every detail of everything that ever happens. Rather, he allows events to play out and people to exercise their free will, and foresees that and weaves it into His plan and carries out His purposes one way or another, because come on, He's not so rigid and inflexible that His plan will be ruined if you go left instead of right one day.
President Russel M. Nelson - The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like Without it?
I have known the Book of Mormon was true for as long as I've read it. It's just been perfectly obvious to me. I never bothered to pray and ask God if it was true. Then I figured that if I was going to go on a mission and tell people to ask God if it was true, I should have done the same thing, so I tried it - but I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to ask "with full purpose of heart, with real intent" because it seemed pointless to ask a question I already knew the answer to. While I have had many doubts at various times about other doctrines, policies, or events, I could never dismiss the Book of Mormon without lying to myself. Of course this caused quite a bit of cognitive dissonance before everything was resolved. Having said that, am I phenomenal at actually studying it? No. After this talk I hope I will be able to do better, and I am reassured that if I do I will be able to receive more guidance in my aspiration.
President Henry B. Eyring - The Lord Leads His Church
Several weeks ago I met with my bishop for a blessing regarding my issue, and afterward, although he said he couldn't promise what the outcome would be, within the space of a few minutes he told me not once, not twice, but thrice not to give up on it. He said discouragement comes from the devil. I accepted this somewhat easily because it was what I wanted to hear anyway. But I felt that it was a big leap of faith for me. I study a lot of church history and am aware of several of the mistakes that church leaders have made. If even prophets are fallible, I thought, how much more so is a bishop? How can I fully trust him? I made the leap of faith and told God I was making a leap of faith and hoped it would be validated. It was in this talk, where President Eyring explained that "if you have faith that the Lord leads His Church through revelation to those imperfect servants He calls, the Lord will open the windows of heaven to them, as He will to you."
Elder M. Russell Ballard - The Trek Continues!
The greatest thing about this talk was that Elder Ballard gave a nod to one of my church history crushes, Jane Manning James. Her remarkable story is of course more extensive than he could do justice in such a limited time. He was also the one who dedicated her grave marker with the Genesis Group in 2003, and that gives a bit more of an overview. (Her birth date given as 1882 is obviously an error; it should say 1813.)
I was confused for a long time because both Jane's brother and her husband were named Isaac, which must have been awkward, and after the latter abandoned her she lived with the former until her death. She and her brother Isaac were some of the last people alive who had known Joseph Smith, and so they were treated with great respect and had reserved seats at the front of the Tabernacle. When she died, her obituary was on the front page of the Deseret News, a treatment usually reserved for General Authorities and prominent Utah politicians. President Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. But she was largely forgotten until the racial controversy of the 60s and 70s sparked a renewed interest in black Mormon pioneers. Her temple work was done for her in 1979 by one of the women who wrote about her for the Ensign.
Elder Tad R. Callister - God's Compelling Witness: The Book of Mormon
General Authorities have acknowledged the critics more and more often in recent conferences, and dabbled a bit in apologetics, but I believe this is the most apologetics-heavy conference talk in church history. And most of it's just common sense. From my perspective, secular attempts to explain the existence of the Book of Mormon are frankly pathetic, absurd, laughable, and insufficient if not impossible. I attempted to mock them myself in my less-than-stellar short story "Moroni Saves the World". Despite constant (ridiculous) assurances that there was nothing special about Joseph Smith writing the Book of Mormon, not one critic has ever attempted to meet Hugh Nibley's challenge and duplicate his achievement. Or if they have, they've been too embarrassed by their inevitable failure to mention it to anybody.
Where Elder Callister gives two examples of Book of Mormon details that were unknown in Joseph's day and later vindicated, he could have given scores more. See, for example, the listing in "Boomerang Hits and the Book of Mormon", and then read Mormon's Codex if you're really ambitious. At some point it stretches credulity past its limit to suggest that Joseph Smith made so many lucky guesses, yet that's exactly what critics insist happened. They also still point at a list of alleged anachronisms in the book, ignoring the fact that it used to be much longer, and assuming that we know everything now - just like they did in Joseph's day. The reality is that a very small percentage - 2 or 3 percent if I recall correctly - of Mesoamerican sites have even been excavated. Yes, compared to the alleged alternatives, the story of the angel and the gold plates is far easier to believe. I couldn't help clapping after this talk. I didn't need it, but I liked it.
Elder Stanley G. Ellis - Do We Trust Him? Hard is Good
You know, I'd said to God a few times, in essence, "I'm perfectly willing to endure any pain, make any sacrifice, and wait any number of years to make this thing happen. I will rejoice in my suffering. But if it's not going to happen, then I'd sure like to know that now, and not bother with it." This talk validated my eagerness in an incredible way. Elder Ellis said, "Hard makes us stronger, humbles us, and gives us a chance to prove ourselves." Yes, I thought, let me prove myself! I'll prove myself with the proofiest proof that every proofed!
Elder Neil L. Andersen - The Voice of the Lord
Well, you know, confirmation bias happens to the best of us, and also to me. And the things I was noticing through the Spirit also happened to be the sort of things I wanted to hear anyway, and I was taking some of them out of context. So I worried just a bit that this wasn't a legit way to approach things. And then what did Elder Andersen do in the very last talk of the conference? Related an anecdote of a woman using the Spirit to pick out something he said and apply it in a different context. It was so reassuring my mouth fell open a little, and was the perfect endcap to all the guidance and reassurance I had received up to that point. If you've never had an experience like this, of approaching General Conference with a specific question in mind, you really ought to try it.
I believe that the natural man is to be subjected, not destroyed, and so I feel impressed upon to use my sarcasm for good. A point can often be made far more impactfully through sarcasm than just by stating it. To that end, I created these pages earlier this week, which admittedly are both mostly just quotes with a little bit of commentary:
The Demise of Mormonism
The Hugh Hefner Memorial Page
Next week on this blog: The "Alvin and the Cracrofts" Star Wars Extravaganza