Mormon Leader Decides Contradictory Accounts Are Great

In an incredible show of cognitive dissonance, Richard Maynes (presidency of the Seventy), has declared that the various differing and contradictory accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision actually lend credibility to the event rather than detract from it. Can you imagine a lawyer in court making that conclusion about a witness who changed his or her story multiple times?

So let’s back up a minute and clarify what’s being discussed. Here are the main facts:

  • Joseph claimed the vision happened in 1820.
  • No record of it existed nor indication of the event until 1832.
  • Though Maynes mentioned four accounts, there were actually 10 accounts that all differed in significant details from each other.
  • For over 150 years, the Mormon church really only addressed or published one account, given 18 years after the supposed event. After the other accounts became easy to find on the internet, questions surfaced and the church started addressing the various accounts.
  • In the “official” account, Joseph claimed to have seen two physical beings: God and Christ.
  • In most of the other accounts, he claimed to have only seen one and sometimes saw angels in addition to or instead of the figures.
  • The accounts also differed in terms of why he was there, what the message to him was, whether or not his sins were forgiven, whether or not other churches were corrupt, whether or not churches are corrupt, etc.

Despite being a very active, believing Mormon my whole life, I didn’t even know about the other versions until I was 30 years old. As soon as I discovered them, I realized how crazy it sounded. If I had witnessed one of the most incredible events in the history of mankind, I would remember the details better and I wouldn’t wait 12 years to write it down.

Let’s break down what Mr. Maynes said:

“It is a blessing to have these accounts,” he said. ” … They together tell Joseph’s consistent, harmonious story.”

Ummm… excuse me? The accounts are dramatically different from each other. There is nothing consistent or harmonious here, which is probably why your church only ever talked about one account until the internet exposed the other ones for everyone to see.

“When an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years,” the essay states, “each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details.”

The problem isn’t the emphasizing of different details or the unique details of each story, it’s that the stories directly contradict each other in major details.

As S. Dilworth Young, a General Authority, stated, “I can see no reason why the Prophet, with his brilliant mind, would have failed to remember in sharp relief every detail of that eventful day. I can remember quite vividly that in 1915 I had a mere dream, and while the dream was prophetic in nature, it was not startling. It has been long since fulfilled, but I can remember every detail of it as sharply and clearly as though it had happened yesterday. How then could any man conceive that the Prophet, receiving such a vision as he received, would not remember it and would fail to write it clearly, distinctly, and accurately.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Young is dead or perhaps he would be questioning Mr. Maynes’ assertions himself. First Vision

The Extreme Positions of Ted Cruz

Though it is growing increasingly unlikely that Cruz will be the GOP nomination, it’s rather frightening that he has come this close. As I run down his positions on various policies, I find myself strongly disagreeing with him on nearly every position he takes. A few of them, like his anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage positions I have covered before. But some others deserve a brief mention as well.

1.  Taxation

On taxes and his strict opposition to the minimum wage, Cruz shows his true colors as a defender of the ultra-wealthy. His proposals to completely eliminate the estate tax and to implement a flat tax are downright evil. With wealth and income inequality at incredibly high levels, doing either of those would be catastrophic. Though Cruz refuses to actually choose a number for his flat tax rate, any amount that wouldn’t financially cripple the US government would be a dramatic increase for a huge portion of Americans while simultaneously severely cutting the tax rate for the wealthy.

Ironically, even though a flat tax rate would raise taxes on millions of Americans, Ted Cruz signed the extremist anti-tax pledge of Norquist. I don’t pretend to know how he makes sense of that contradiction.

2.  Education

Not only has Cruz refused to address the growing college student debt problem in any substantive manner, he has proposed completely demolishing the United States Department of Education.

3.  Healthcare

Though Cruz has once again refused to give any details or even a general proposal for his health care plan, he adamantly opposes the ACA. Multiple times he has attempted (and once successfully) to shut down the government in his quest to repeal it. By simply opposing it without providing an alternative plan, he has firmly established himself as an obstructionist.

4.  The Supreme Court

Further cementing his position as an obstructionist, Cruz refuses to do his Constitutional duty to provide advice and consent regarding the most recent Supreme Court nominee. He also held that states should not follow the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and supported Kim Davis, who refused to perform her duty as a government employee based on her personal opposition to the ruling.

All this not only speaks to his stubborn obstructionism and refusal to reach across the aisle, it also contradicts his frequent claims that he is a great defender of the Constitution.

5.  Climate Change

Joining nearly all of his Republican colleagues, Cruz flatly denies humanity’s contribution to climate change, despite voting for an amendment stating that climate change itself is real. He likened environmental activists concerned with climate change to flat-earthers, people who believe the planet is flat rather than round. His refusal to listen to scientific experts in favor of his wealthy oil and gas SuperPAC donors speaks volumes for his inability to rationally and objectively approach important subjects.

6. Fascism

With all the people comparing Trump to Hitler, Cruz is adamant that he also be compared in the same manner. Following the tragic attacks in Belgium, he stated, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

Let’s just for a moment remove the word “Muslim” there, the world’s second largest religion, and replace it with the world’s largest religion. Even though Christian terrorists commit more acts of terrorism than Muslims in the US, can you imagine a politician proposing active policing and targeting in “Christian neighborhoods”?

Cruz is a fascist, xenophobic hate-monger. He embodies the worst of the extremist wing of the Republican party, choosing to divide our country rather than unite it. I have a strong aversion to Trump, but thank goodness he’s beating Cruz.

Forced Confessions

When I left Mormonism, I was extremely upset upon discovering things that church leaders, teachers, and curriculum had left out of the narrative. Why, in 30 years, hadn’t I been told that some of the Book of Abraham papyri had survived and that the translation didn’t remotely match what Joseph wrote? Or that the First Vision account was actually one of many accounts that contradicted each other?

When I asked those questions, nobody would offer any answers. They would claim the church was open and honest, yet couldn’t point to where such things were mentioned. Yet somehow, in their minds, their church wasn’t hiding anything.

Well, a guy named M. Russell Ballard just busted that myth. In his address to the Church Education System employees, Ballard stated, “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.”

Oops. I knew the internet and its freely available wealth of information would eventually force the Mormon church to change its tactics, but I didn’t expect them to confess to the two most common tactics used when I had questions myself.

But Ballard’s speech got even more strange. “It was only a generation ago that your young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life… Please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretation of gospel doctrine, the scriptures, our history and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.”

This idea of inoculating a student against information from other sources screams CULT! but perhaps that’s just the skeptic in me. Fortunately, there is an authoritative source to set both Ballard and myself straight. Instead of M. Russell, we’ll go to Russell M.:

“Jesus chooses not to inoculate, but to indoctrinate. His method employs no vaccine; it utilizes the teaching of divine doctrine—a governing “eye within”—to protect the eternal spirits of his children.” -Russell M. Nelson, April 1995 General Conference, “Children of the Covenant”

So there you have it. In one Deseret News article, a top Mormon leader admitted that his church used to tell students not to worry about tough questions or would bear their testimony in order to avoid the issue. He then went on to call for inoculation, despite another leader plainly stating 20 years ago that inoculation was not Jesus’ method.

The internet is forcing the Mormon church to be more open about its history, which is great. But it’s rather sad that, after more than 150 years, it had to be forced into such a step.

Obstructionism

So Scalia died. In an election year. Nominating new Supreme Court Justices is perhaps the most important role a President has and is vital to maintain a balance of power between the three branches of our government. This is middle school social studies stuff.

The current President has nearly a year left in office. No nomination has taken longer than 2 months in the last 40 years. So surely the President will be able to replace Scalia, right?

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next supreme court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Mitch, the American people did have a say. They elected a President to the role. He has a year left in office.

“Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.” -Senator Ted Cruz

Really Ted? You constantly repeat that you are a staunch defender of the Constitution. Have you even read it?

“[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court…”
—United States Constitution, II.2

So before the President even nominates anyone, the Republican leaders in the Senate are already shooting him down. Reprehensible politics.

Planned Parenthood Videos – End Result

Oops. It seems that their plan backfired.

“Over a period of two months, the grand jury reviewed the investigation into misconduct by Planned Parenthood and cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.”

“The grand jury did indict David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt who were involved in making allegations against PPGC through covert recordings from April 2015. Daleiden and Merritt with a governmental record. An additional indictment was issued against Daleiden for prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs.”

So Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong. The videos were heavily edited to mislead viewers into believing PP was breaking the law. The radical anti-abortion activists who made the videos are now in trouble for breaking the law themselves.

But of course, the damage has been done. And those who believed the videos were truthful and accurate are unlikely to even see this news.

Shame

Republicans should be deeply embarrassed. Trump is leading a very large field by a huge margin. He is polling at 45% nationally, more than triple his nearest competitor. He still really only has a moderate chance of winning the nomination and a much smaller chance of winning the actual presidency, but that doesn’t change the fact that he currently has nearly half of Republicans behind him in a field of 11 candidates.

Today, Trump decided to unironically retweet a criticism of Jeb Bush from a neo-nazi who is calling for “white genocide”. It makes Romney’s 47 percent statement look tame. But for Trump, this is just another bit of nonsense in a very, very long line of insane actions.

Republicans: whether or not Trump wins the nomination, the fact that it has come to this should be shameful to you. Your party is off the rails. You are the only major political party in a first-world country to deny climate change. You have debates about who would be better at at starting a war with Russia and China. You frequently invoke mythology into political discourse as a reason for tax schemes, war, and government intrusion into bedrooms. For the past seven years, you have accomplished absolutely nothing politically in your never-ending hatred of and opposition to Obama.

Trump is a symbol. But he’s not a symbol of how terrible politics has become or how much people distrust politicians. He’s a symbol of how fractured and insane the Republican party is.

The Bundy Bunch

After every major terrorist attack committed by Muslims, some of my xenophobic facebook acquaintances passive aggressively question why moderate Muslims don’t speak out. The implication is that the actions of a few radical extremists speak for the entire religion. Of course, countless moderate Muslims do speak out against the violent radicalism. But that doesn’t fit the narrative, so it is ignored.

I’m no fan of Islam (or religion in general). I abhor particularly its sexism, propensity towards violence against those who leave or criticize, and general lackadaisical attitude for progressing human rights. But I find it incredibly hypocritical that many Christians lambast Islam for not doing enough to combat Islamic terrorism while simultaneously ignoring Christian terrorism, which is both frequent and deadly. Attacks against health clinics like Planned Parenthood are reprehensible, yet are largely ignored by right-wing conservatives in their war against Islam.

The most recent example is from Mormonism itself. Though the religion has a long and storied history of violence, culminating in one of the deadliest terrorist incidents in United States history, it is perceived in recent times to be a peaceful religion. Yet active, believing Mormons such as the Bundy’s continue to break the law and attempt to get into a violent shootout with government agents.

Yesterday’s news that two Bundy’s illegally occupied a federal building in Oregon and plan on defending themselves by killing any federal agents is frightening. But it leaves me wondering why the Mormon church, both its members and its leaders, are not speaking out against such threats and actions. When women like Kate Kelly are excommunicated simply for wanting gender equality, why are the Bundy’s treated with institutional silence and allowed to remain members?

My tongue is firmly in my cheek of course, but does this mean that the Mormon church endorses and encourages such violent, illegal measures?

Domestic Terrorism

The Islamic terrorist attacks, especially deadly and frequent as of late, are reprehensible. People are rightly outraged. Unfortunately, many are proposing unreasonable measures in the name of safety, such as shutting down mosques and refusing refugees from Syria.

We are often blind, however, to our own terrorism: the home-grown type. The kind of terrorism that is, at least in some part, caused by prominent political figures and the people who vote for them.

There is one particular target that has been the favorite of domestic terrorists. Between 1977 and 2006 there have been seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism (source).

So what is that target? Well, it’s a national chain of about 700 health clinics. It provides cheap or free cancer screenings, tests for STDs, and helps prevent countless unwanted pregnancies. About 3 percent of what these health clinics do, however, is vehemently opposed by a very large and irrational portion of our populace despite being completely legal. Yes, I’m talking about Planned Parenthood of course.

And while details are still coming in about the attack in Colorado at a Planned Parenthood clinic yesterday in which multiple people were killed in a six-hour shootout with police, it seems fairly likely that yet another act of domestic terrorism will pass by without any changes to prevent future attacks. We won’t change our gun laws. Conservatives won’t stop inciting anger towards a health clinic. Politicians whose words started the whole thing won’t take responsibility and their constituents won’t hold them accountable.

People are screaming for war in Syria, eager to send hundreds of billions of dollars and American soldiers into a conflict that will ultimately end up just spawning another terrorist group or two. But this, home-grown terrorism, we choose to ignore.

Sometimes it’s depressing to be a human being.