Sunday in Outer Blogness: Books edition!

Yay, Mormon Alumni Association Books is finally taking off! I just got the first proof copy of our first book in the mail:

mormon_erotica_photo banta_low_res

Now I need to do some work on updating the website — the current list of books there is a list of recommended titles from other publishers — plus I would like to start contacting people about reviews, publicity, etc. And on that note, let me start this SiOB with all of the book-related items that have shown up in my LDS-interest newsfeed over the past fortnight!

For example, By Common Consent’s press has just announced a batch of new books including a version of the Song of Solomon!

Here are some other recent reviews:

And here’s the one that I just got done purchasing for myself: Dendo! My personal favorite genre to read for pleasure is comic-book memoirs about life in other countries — and this one has the bonus of being about Sister Missionaries!! (A fascinating group, tragically underrepresented in the missionary-memoir genre.)

And here’s a fantastically fun but not-quite-Mo-related (though Mormons get a mention) book discussion — Ana Mardoll is reading another book I’m dying to read: Prairie Fires, the new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, which gives a bunch of additional context to the beloved children’s series.

In news, some Mormons are not happy that the leadership of the CoJCoL-dS had such a cordial meeting with Donald Trump — and particularly didn’t like them complimenting Trump on his commitment to religious freedom, considering Trump’s attempts to explicitly discriminate against Muslims.

Also, despite lingering transparency problems, the CoCJoL-dS has also started subtly adding the infamous hat to some pictures of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon translation process! Speaking of the Book of Mormon, Alex had finally finished deconstructing the last few chapters.

Sadly, the CoJCoL-dS completely shuts women out of any say in how the church is run:

My stake president felt that Mystery General Authority actually did appreciate my effort, was complimentary about the report’s quality and not at all defensive about its content. According to Mystery General Authority, they were already working on some of the policy changes I had suggested and after reading my report, were now considering some of the other suggestions that I had made that they had not thought of before (Which suggestions? I dunno).

That General Authority’s anonymous response had been vague, kind, noncommittal and nonthreatening. It wasn’t a good response, nor was it a bad one.

But when I told fellow Exponent blogger EmilyCC about what he said, her response was perfect. “April,” she said. “How do you feel about that?”

Well, I felt frustrated. This cleverly crafted response precluded any follow-up on my part as an advocate, and any accountability on the part of priesthood leaders. Even as priesthood leaders promised change, they upheld patriarchy by excluding me.

And here’s an interesting related church news item: there’s a popular idea that universities and businesses use affirmative action to give women and minorities over white males (who get in on their merits and/or connections), but it turns out that BYU until recently had an admissions policy that explicitly favored men over their more-qualified female counterparts. But maybe things can change.

In Mormon culture, imagine living in this amazingly Mormon town! And Jeremy Runnells is putting out another version of the CES letter.

In theology, Lynette would prefer a less micro-managing God, Stephen Marsh discussed what is doctrine, Knotty mused about baptising Trump’s parents for the dead, and hawkgrrrl analysed why people go to church.

Some current and former Mormons are also talking about non-Mo-related stuff like terrible films and reading letters from the WWII archive!

And let’s close with a joke that is very timely… Happy reading!

The Ignorance of Defensive Mormons

The last time I attended a Mormon sacrament meeting was around two years ago. The principle speaker was a stake high councilman. Boasting success in his professional life, he credited his accomplishments to his compassionate approach toward the “less worthy.”

“When I mix with my worldly colleagues,” he explained, “I see them not as they are but as they could be. Dressed in white and in the Celestial Room after receiving their sacred temple endowments.”

The mental image taking form, my first instinct was to suppress a giggle. Temple robes and aprons at the corporate happy hour? For Heavenly Father’s sake! But I was also both surprised and embarrassed to discover that there are still Mormons out there who insist they are without blemish, while all the rest of us are covered in warts.

I should have known. After all, the terms for outsiders and within-the-ranks slackers are still embedded in the Mormon lexicon: “less-actives,” “inactives,” “jack-Mormons,” “liberal Mormons,” “anti-Mormons,” and, of course, “nonmembers.” And when the self-righteous fling these assignations, they seem blissfully unconcerned that they are condemning over 99% of the earth’s population.

It would follow that anyone possessing such a narcissistic worldview might take offense at even the slightest criticism. Nevertheless, I was again surprised and embarrassed when I read the recent piece in The Atlantic, “The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism” by Hal Boyd.

Boyd, who is the editorial page editor for the Deseret News, introduces his tiresome screed about “Mormon mocking” with a quote from Charles Dickens:

“What the Mormons do seems to be excellent, what they say is mostly nonsense.”

Skewing Dickens’ mildly critical praise into the height of insults, Boyd then quotes similarly “mocking” remarks from other notables. His conclusion being that it isn’t enough for “nonmembers” to merely admire the Mormons as people. They must also buy into the whole of their beliefs. Proclaim Mormonism as the “one and only true church.” Even though they’ve no intention of joining themselves.

It would also follow that Boyd has little appreciation for the trials of other faiths. Awash in self-pity, he goes on to complain:

“The Catholics got The Sound of Music; the Jews got Fiddler on the Roof, and, well, the Mormons got South Park on stage.”

Given Boyd’s narcissistic worldview, I shouldn’t be surprised by this unfounded, self-inflicted belly-aching. But I am surprised. Also embarrassed that after almost seven years since it opened on Broadway, Mormons like Boyd are still whining about the Book of Mormon. As though that adorable chorus line of tap dancing missionaries is something akin to an “anti-Mormon” version of Charlie Hebdo.

But I digress. The central target of Boyd’s venom is another article in The Atlantic: “One Blasphemer’s New Admiration for Mormons,” by Kurt Andersen. Impressed with prominent LDS Republicans such as Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney for speaking out against Donald Trump and Roy Moore, Andersen literally gushes over the Mormons’ sincerity and strength of character, attributing these gifts to the quality of the faith’s leadership and cohesive culture:

“Latter-day Saints are genuinely old-fashioned, with a strong top-down hierarchical establishment that maintains a powerful communitarianism and enforces exacting norms … In addition, while so much of politicized American Christianity is driven by loathing and condemnation, conforming to the religious scholar George Marsden’s definition—‘a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something’—Mormons tend to be more cheerfully, industriously focused on their own tribal self-improvement.”

As a “nonmember,” Andersen is unable to accept the Mormon doctrine. Nevertheless he finds value in it:

“… while I find their religious beliefs as extreme and strange as I do those of most American Protestants, Mormons seem more consistently virtuous and disciplined in the ways they live their lives.”

Sadly, that wasn’t good enough for Boyd, who accuses Andersen of granting faint praise while “simultaneously snickering” at his beliefs. Evidently he expected Andersen, an atheist, to conclude by bearing his testimony.

His unrealistic expectation unmet, Boyd composed this embarrassing screed and then submitted it to a major publication. Thus detracting from the efforts of Flake, Romney, and even the well-meaning Andersen.

H. L. Mencken wrote, “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

But then, he was a “nonmember.”

Sunday in Outer Blogness: The Mormon Moment is Over Edition!

It seems like a couple of years ago there was some LDS-related scandal practically every other week — often making national and international news. Now, not so much. I guess the CoJCoL-dS can’t compete with Trump. Those were the days.

Well, let me scrape together what Mormon news I found over the past few weeks. The highlights were mostly personal stories like Joseph’s reminiscences of love, Samantha’s path to joy, Gina’s love of her husband’s long hair, Anonymous’s experience with waiting until marriage, Jana’s list of life goals, John’s weird dream, and Laura-Denise’s tale of getting kicked out of church for standing up to racism.

In other personal journeys, Steve Otteson has decided to join the Community of Christ, apparently after listening to my brother’s thoughts on the subject.

This month folks have been remembering the discriminatory policy that the CoCJoL-dS launched two years ago; some discussing the parallel LDS exclusion policies for children of polygamists and children of gay couples; others leaving the church. Heather Armstrong spoke at the 8th annual mass resignation.

Then there were some fascinating discussion topics:

Joseph Peterson argued that the cookie-cutter LDS meetinghouse is a design triumph. Alex analyzed the mysteries in the wording sacrament prayers, plus other way the Book of Mormon’s teachings diverge from modern practice. Facsimilogos reviewed a piece from the LDS Newsroom about avoiding doctrinal deception:

Maxwell also accuses the members of the members of the church of not only being gullible but that they (we) lack doctrinal sophistication. Hmmm, I wonder whose fault that would be? If members of the church lack doctrinal sophistication – and LDS church members are highly active among church going people – where does the fault lie? Perhaps the leaders should provide a little more of that doctrinal sophistication. This highlights the perpetual behavior of church leaders towards the members. Everything is always the fault of the members! It just reminds me of dealing with a spoiled child. Nothing is ever their fault.

Sam Young is continuing his series on the problems with Mormon bishops grilling teenagers about masturbation, and some others have spoken and written about it this week as well, including John Dehlin. Nate Bagley recounted his shame surrounding masturbation as a Mormon teen, and apparently concluded that porn is the problem.

But it’s not just the really, really bad stuff that makes people leave the church. It’s also about failing to build a community that motivates people to stay:

In the 1970’s, during my teenage years at church, I had a wonderful time. This was a time of YM/YW activities that didn’t have to have a “Priesthood Purpose” . We played basketball, went golfing, chased the girls in the ward (literally and figuratively), went to trips to Los Angeles including a NBC studio tour and saw the filming of the sitcom “Sanford and Son”. Went water skiing, snow skiing, and anything else we could think of. We did road shows, and had church sport leagues, with regional games that included overnight road trips and sleeping in a hotel.

And then there’s another big hole in the church’s tent:

I remember first mulling over the reality that a ward could run without any women at all, that if all the women stayed home on Sunday, you could still have church services. (I guess the only possible wrinkle would be what to do with the male Primary children, who could still have Primary teachers—just not a Primary presidency to keep the whole thing running.) If all the men stayed home, on the other hand, there would be no church services. Full stop.

Well, let’s close with some fun, like General Conference Slam Poetry. Or a photo of Fantasy Canyon. Or — strangest of all — some Mormons took clips from Trump’s gaffe-filled trip to Puerto Rico interview and turned it into an interview about his Mormon mission! Fascinating that some Mormons still wish to claim Trump as one of their own…

See you in another couple of weeks!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Girl Boy Scouts edition!

When I was a kid growing up Mormon, I wanted to do all of the fun, cool things the Boy Scouts got to do. It wasn’t that the scouting program was ideal so much as the fact that the boys got infinitely more resources (and recognition) for their activities than the girls got. Now that the CoJCoL-dS has started decoupling its young men’s program from the BSA — and replacing some of it with a program more like the one they developed for the girls — maybe they’re making a small step towards equality. But it feels like an equality of bring everyone’s experience down to the same low level…

Meanwhile, the BSA has announced a plan to start admitting girls — to the point of allowing girls the possibility of earning the rank of Eagle. I doubt this means any girls will get to have a “Court of Honor” held for them by their LDS ward, alongside their brothers. It’s nice that the Boy Scouts are making an effort to join the 21st century, but girls are probably still better off joining the more-progressive-and-feminist Girl Scouts.

On a related note, the CoJCoL-dS has just cut the number of gender-segregated General Conference meetings in half. Yay, fewer meetings!! (for those who still watch conference…)

Then there was a very cool bit of Mormon news: New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is a former Mormon!

In the past few weeks, the blogosphere has yielded some fascinating theological discussions:

And a number of book reviews:

Life journeys!

I really didn’t want to go on a mission. Trolling through strange neighborhoods for two years, knocking on the doors of strangers, and telling strict Catholics to believe in something I didn’t ever believe in just didn’t sound like the most appealing way to spend my time. But as all my friends disappeared, and as my 19th birthday came and went, and the pressure continued to mount, I finally consented and agreed to go. I should also mention that it didn’t hurt that Mom and Dad generously offered to buy me a new car when I got back. And, no. It was not a bribe. It was a kickback from two very generous parents for giving such a big part of the best years of my life to the Lord. Okay. It was definitely kind of a bribe. And I took it.

Plus a couple of somewhat Mormon-interest topics:

So, is everyone ready for Halloween? I’m not sure I am… I just had a major increase in workload and stress at my job, which is why I skipped SiOB last week. These will probably be a little more sporadic until the end of 2017, but the Brodies and the X-Mormon of the Year awards will be on schedule! Happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Conference Fallout Edition!

Did you get a chance to watch or listen to the latest General Conference? If not, you can get some of the highlights from Alex. Or listen to the Infants’ usual parody. (Or maybe listen to their ghost stories instead.)

Brooke W didn’t care for the message that everything is part of God’s divine plan:

The idea that God’s design includes every aspect of my life makes me uncomfortable. I don’t believe that God sent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, etc. as special tests for the people most affected by them. I don’t believe that people lose their jobs so God can see how well they handle running out of money. And I definitely don’t believe that my infertility is some grand test sent to me to make me a better person.

Some other messages were also questionable.

Perhaps the biggest discussion point this time was the re-iteration of gay people’s status in the CoJCoL-dS, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Their situation doesn’t change much. But it’s important to be aware of the damage such teachings can do to people’s lives:

We have a suicide youth crisis occurring in Utah… and to continue this cultural bias and unfortunate “tradition of our fathers” promoted as revealed doctrine from God is at best irresponsible… and in my eyes, has taken the following step towards knowing abuse. I am sure you have been alerted to the statistics we are currently dealing with as a people. I hold you responsible for this knowledge and yet choosing to continue in this direction.

Of course some people are just going to hate gay people….

Then, in a surprise move, Elder Ballard condemned racism, sexism, and nationalism! What could it mean?

In church history, here’s the tale of how the Quorum of the 12 got its power, and grindæl explained the origin of the baptism for the dead doctrine. And don’t miss these five myths about Mormons and money!

In US politics, the president is a vulgar man with a decrepit soul, the latest tragic shooting may help pass a bump fire ban, and are we still writing poems about players kneeling down?

In other church stuff, Hawkgrrrl enumerated the ways the church lost her, Michelle found imagery of the divine feminine, and Martin contemplated a Mormon sociopath.

Also, here’s another candidate for this year’s X-Mormon of the Year: Nobel Prize winner Kip Thorne.

In random life, Monica is setting of on a Tinder adventure, Joseph Broom spent a gay day in Berlin, So Says Me is not ashamed to be a fighter, Petra described what it’s like to be the only woman in the room, Sam Young recounted a strange dream, Tracy recounted a sad departure, Rosalynde is changing her perspective on housework, the Pearce family spent five weeks in Europe, and Froggey shared some beautiful photos of pumpkins and roses.

Have a great week!

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: Two LDS Romance Reviews

A DATE WITH DANGER
By Kari Iroz
256 pp. Covenant Communications, Inc. $15.99

PRIDE AND POLITICS
By Britanny Larsen
272 pp. Covenant Communication, Inc. $16.99

As I was adding finishing touches to my upcoming LDS romance novel, I picked up a couple of Deseret Book titles, curious to see if the stock Mormon rom-com formula had changed. You know the story:

Good Mormon boy (or girl) falls for a non/inactive member because she’s so refreshingly different. Then, after a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and one chaste kiss, the girl converts/reactivates, the boy pops the question, and they live happily ever after, even though she’s now become the sort of girl that bored the boy in the first place.

Think Shirley Sealy’s Beyond This Moment or Jack Weyland’s Charly or Kurt Hale’s film, The Singles Ward.

I’m happy to report that, based on my two chosen titles, the LDS formula may be on its way out, replaced by the more enduring influence of Regency England.

In A Date With Danger, a Utah Valley college coed, Jacklyn (Jack) Wyatt, teams up with FBI Special Agent Damon Wade to catch a stalker on “Eter-knitty Online Dating,” an LDS forum Jack recently joined. Since it’s unclear which of her contacts might be the culprit, she is ordered to date each of the suspects, while Damon monitors her encounters via hidden microphone.

—Yes, I know. But this is romantic comedy not true crime, and it’s hardly the silliest example of the genre. Think Pretty Woman.

Moreover, with her numerous references to Mr. Darcy, the author is really channeling Jane Austen. Predictable, yes, but Iroz’s writing is solid. Her heroine, Jack, has a strong, witty voice, adorably ditzy in the manner of a good Mormon girl who is more intelligent than she lets on.

Jack’s love interest, the FBI agent, is also a well-drawn character. He’s a lapsed Mormon who makes it clear from the start he’s not coming back to church. Not because he no longer believes. (This is Deseret Book, after all.) But also not because of a petty complaint or a desire to sin. The actual reason is a serious one neither Jack nor the reader can fault.

The two fall in love and then have a falling out over the Church (of course). Then, at the urging of her believing Mormon father, Jack goes back to him even though he’s inactive because—now get this—she loves him! (Cough.) Yes, I just said that. And at the end of the book he’s still inactive and they’re still together! (More coughing.) Has Deseret Book gone astray?

Maybe. Maybe not. They still haven’t lost that chaste kiss requirement. The “lovers” in A Date with Danger have two kissing scenes, one at the end, and another that Jack describes as neither “demanding or even passionate.” Sigh. If it were my book the ex-Mormon would be a much better kisser. Still, I can’t help but admire the real life conclusion.

“It’s not that I’d lost faith in my religion. More that I’d lost faith in the people who practiced it. Or claimed to,” says Summer Knight, author Brittany Larsen’s Elizabeth Bennet clone in Pride and Politics.

Feisty and intelligent, Summer naturally catches the eye of snooty Ivy League Mormon, Benson Hardy. But he isn’t tempted, telling his friend Chase, “First of all, I think you’ve got dibs on the best-looking girl here. Second, she doesn’t go to church. Third, mind your own business.”

Why mind his own business? Because Summer is something far worse than inactive. She’s a Democrat. And not just any Democrat. She’s the daughter of the Democratic senator from Arizona, the arch rival of Benson’s uncle who is soon to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Not long after this initial encounter, Summer obediently returns to church. But that’s not to say the novel follows the old formula. Unlike a more conventional LDS plot that exists within a sheltered Mormon cocoon, Pride and Politics is set in the real world with people who are comfortable in it. We’re definitely not in Happy Valley anymore.

Larsen sticks closely to the story, featuring all of Austen’s beloved characters in interesting—and not necessarily wholesome—manifestations. My favorite is the Lydia Bennet character, Lindsay, who enters the plot when she loses her ecclesiastical endorsement for BYU-Idaho after a public episode of under-aged drinking. There are all the same scenes, only through an LDS lens in Southern California and Washington D.C., with a mock British accent thrown in here, riding breeches and scones thrown in there.

Imagine the ball at Netherfield transported to the Newport Beach LDS Stake Center. Mr. Collins, who needs to marry before he can begin his job as an LDS seminary teacher, foppishly begs Elizabeth Bennet for her hand. She manages to escape, only to be confronted by Darcy who woos her with awkward conversation and caffeine-free Coke. Until they are interrupted by a scantily clad Lydia who jiggles her bodacious cleavage under Darcy’s disapproving gaze. —Now that’s a scene worthy of Amy Heckerling.

Speaking of Lydia’s cleavage, there’s a healthy dose of sexual tension in this book. Enough to shock/titillate a number of Mormon sisters, confound some of the Brethren, and make a 19th century literary realist roll her eyes.

Describing their first kiss, Summer says, “The heat of his (Benson’s) lips made me forget about the cold … my only thought was, More, please.” And then later, when they were dancing, “the synapses in my body were tingling from his touch”

Of course it all ends with a delicious snogging scene for Benson and Summer. The Mormon Republican is elected president. (I’m guessing that was a concession to Deseret Book.) And Lindsay is home from her slutty affair in Mexico, repentant and reformed for life. (Nah—she’s barely warming up.)

Perhaps Deseret Book will favor us with more worldly Mormon romances? I hope so.

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

Sunday in Outer Blogness: BYU Coke edition!

In my day, “caffeinated pop” was one of those sinful beverages that good Mormons avoided. Then it became a point of controversy, and then President Newsroom announced that there’s not actually any rule against it. And now Brigham Young University has finally started allowing the sale of Coke with caffeine on campus! Which, naturally, takes all of the fun out of it.

The other bit of Mo-news was that the CoJCoL-dS purchased the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ for $35 million. Many were shocked, but I can’t bring myself to be remotely surprised that the richest branch of the Mormon tradition bought a valuable historical artifact from another branch in need of cash…

General Conference season is upon us, so it’s time for exciting activities like voting opposed! The first controversial development so far is that Joy D. Jones explicitly mentioned “Mother in Heaven”! Maybe talking about Heavenly Mother will one day be allowed again, like Coke.

There were some interesting scripture-study topics, including :

At no point does anybody say, “hey, we went from millions to less than a hundred, let’s stop and think about this.” At no point does someone say, “I’m getting out of here to live on my own before these animals destroy everyone.” At no point does anyone say, “Maybe the fact that we keep fainting from the loss of blood doesn’t bode well.” It’s just continuous fighting, with occasional breaks for sleeping and for fleeing to other made-up place names between battles. When did they have time to prepare and ingest food to fuel more fighting? How is it that one side didn’t win by attacking while the others slept?

None of this makes sense. None of this feels like the behavior of real people—although, admittedly, it would make one seriously badass action movie (Jason Statham IS…Coriantumr. Coming summer 2018). No one is this obsessed with victory or vengeance, but even if there are people like that, what are the odds that the last hundred or so warriors of a nation numbering in the millions would ALL be that kind of person?

But you know what’s even more ludicrous? After these millions of Jaredites have hacked each other to pieces, the last two combatants after every single other person has died are the two leaders of the armies. The final inning is a showdown between Shiz and Coriantumr.

Gimme a break.

Then there were a bunch of other interesting LDS-interest discussion topics:

As soon as a white Mormon man decides to ‘reimagine’ Eve as black, she is naked and up for auction.” Likewise, Bryndis Roberts, a Black convert to the church who practices law in Atlanta, told the Salt Lake Tribune that “this depiction with more of a focus on her breasts than her face is far too similar to pictures of black women on the auction block.”

But Richards did not listen.

In personal journeys, we have some literal ones and a poignant live journey:

There were so many things I didn’t know that day as I knelt at an altar and agreed to the LDS vows of a forever marriage. For example I would have been devastated to know that three close family members who were present at the ceremony would die too soon. My father would only live two more years because of pancreatic cancer, I would lose my brother-in-law to lymphoma five years later, and my grandmother a decade after that. I couldn’t foresee that I would move more than 15 times in those 25 years or that the wedding gift that I received that day, of a sewing machine from my mother, would become one of the very few possessions that would travel with me for each of those moves. And of course it was completely beyond my imagination that the eternal wedding vows I agreed to that day would, seventeen years later, be erased by the action of a stake president when he excommunicated my spouse from the LDS Church, or that a year after that I would file for a civil divorce.

See you in a fortnight!!

What does the CoJCoL-dS offer me? — the wrap-up!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my series of articles analyzing the strategies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

Here they are, in case you missed any:

Now you may be wondering why this subject interests me so much. Of course I’ll start with the standard answers to the #1 exmo FAQ (If you’ve left the church, why won’t you just leave it alone?)

Being raised Mormon played a big role in making me the person that I am. That’s never going to change — I’m not going to magically, retroactively get a new past just because I don’t want to continue to practice Mormonism indefinitely. It’s a little like High School — I see no point in staying there forever, but that doesn’t mean that I hate it or that I didn’t learn anything of value from it or that I wish I’d never done it.

As I’ve said, I have every right to my own stories — and I strongly reject the believers’ claims that my perspective on Mormonism is less valid and/or more biased than theirs.

That said, there are a whole lot of aspects of my past that I don’t spend so much time analyzing, so why this one in particular?

Some of it is just random. My first experiences with socializing on the Internet were centered around ex-Mormon websites, and that led to being linked into a community of friends centered around that shared experience. Also, since I moved to Europe (and integrated myself into a new, European life), following Mormonism is a way of reconnecting with the culture I left behind.

But in addition to all of these personal reasons, I actually think that Mormonism is objectively interesting.

Some outside of Mormonism think it’s fascinating that people would believe in a prophet who’s “obviously a con-man” — but, honestly, I don’t think that part is unique at all. At best — because Mormonism started more recently than many other religions — the paper-trail is still warm. And that can help shed light on what other religious leaders might look like if we had perspectives on them written by someone other than their own followers. But I don’t think it’s that exceptional.

What I think is more interesting is that people would venerate an organization that is obviously a for-profit corporation. Just because the leaders aren’t living lives of conspicuous consumption like wealthy televangelists, believers don’t seem to mind giving 10%+ of their income to a real-estate corporation that is amassing great wealth apparently just to invest it and amass some more. That’s that point that’s kind of always in the background in all the articles in my series linked above.

I hope you’ve found my analysis interesting. I certainly had fun coming up with it and writing it all out. I welcome further discussion!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Disaster edition!

I hope all of you in Florida and Texas and other disaster-stricken regions are safe today! It is time to take climate change seriously. Runtu’s daughter and son-in-law’s home was flooded by Hurricane Harvey and they didn’t have flood insurance — he has set up a fund for them here.

Surrounding the hurricanes, prosperity-preacher Joel Osteen was shamed for not sheltering people, and a Texas professor got fired for making an insensitive remark.

Let’s have a look at this week’s Mormon discussion topics!

In life journeys, Brooke W recounted some adventures with fertility. Andrew Hackman’s son just turned 16. Paul Sunstone lost his mother. David Johnson shared some thoughts about the CoJCoL-dS and his mixed-faith marriage. Dad’s Primal Scream participated in a discussion of divorce and gay parenting. Ben came out to his new ward, and Alexis’s cousin had an unusual gay Mormon experience:

We were led to believe that he suffered with a mere lack of direction in his life which compelled him to spend hours at a time in front of the family’s living room television, thoroughly engaged with Food Network programming. Richard’s fascination with all things related to Bobby Flay did not escape the attention of his mother, who honestly believed she could change her son’s true nature to what it should have been according to LDS teachings by the simple act of cancelling her family’s cable TV connection.

And I could relate to Bethany Jane’s experience of not connecting with one of the central components of Mormonism:

It took me until my late twenties to realize that I am not a spiritual person. I don’t feel things in church or when I pray or when other people are. The only time I feel something is when music is involved and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the pioneer hymns of Mormonism. When you are not a spiritual person and frankly most religious things make you incredibly uncomfortable, it is virtually impossible to try and gain faith in things you feel nothing for and are super confused by. I deal primarily in logic and not feelings; religion is not logical. When I told my bishop that I was not a spiritual person he tried to assure me that isn’t true and of course I am; I do not see this as a fault but just how I was made.

This week’s Book of Mormon lesson was pretty fun:

And it came to pass that his high priest murdered him as he sat upon his throne.

Again!? I’m starting to think that if the FBI developed a time machine and used it to track American crime statistics back a few thousand years, they’d discover that about 80% of all homicides in this country prior to European invasion took place on either a throne or a judgment seat. It’s literally the most dangerous place for any character of the Book of Mormon to be at any given time.

Or maybe Joseph Smith just wasn’t that creative when it came to dreaming up scenarios for the assassination of government officials (luckily for Lilburn Boggs).

Then there was quite a lot of discussion about books:

Good luck to all, and happy reading!

A Mormon Liar’s Wild Ride: “Through His Eyes and Lies” by C. L. Jackson

eyes_lies_cover Through His Eyes and Lies is not an ex-Mormon novel or an anti-Mormon novel. It’s kind of a Mormon-adjacent novel. Though the majority of the book’s events take place in Provo, Utah and religion does play a role in the story that unfolds, Mormonism itself is more the setting than the central focus. The church is Middle-Earth, not the One Ring. For anyone hoping for a juicy attack on LDS values in a millennial coming-of-age format, you’re going to be disappointed. Otherwise, there’s plenty of meat on the bone here.

Though author C. L. Jackson does take a few subtle and less-than-subtle swipes at Mormon foibles here and there, the story itself is a character study of a pathological liar (who is also a borderline alcoholic) as he searches for love and a sense of purpose between Maryland and Utah. He bounces from one short-lived romance to the next and staggers from one liquor bottle to the next, never really having a good handle on what he wants or who he is—which should make this a painfully relatable struggle for many.

The narrator is well-drawn, managing to maintain a delicate balance between being sympathetic and being despicable. He’s flawed, and there were plenty of times he needed a good solid punch in the nose, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clearer that he’s a good-hearted person whose best qualities have been obscured by the loss of his identity. When he starts to find out who he is and who he wants to be, the urge to punch dissipates quickly.

My only real complaint about Through His Eyes and Lies is the abundance of sexual encounters. While each has significance to the progression of the story and the development of the characters, it’s astonishing how easily the narrator is able to entice women into what are often one-night stands. Perhaps I merely don’t possess his womanizing attitude (or his devastating good looks), but it begins to feel very unrealistic as he cuts through the inhibitions and the brainwashing with relative ease in order to sleep with a staggering number of women in, of all places, Provo.

The sex is still an essential part of the narrator’s experiences and growth, however. His character arc is agonizingly drawn out at some points, but this quality is the book’s most realistic representation of human nature—change takes time, and we tend learn at a speed that, to outside observers, is much too slow. If anything, this makes his progress in the end all the more rewarding and all the more satisfying.

Jackson also layers the text with a pervasive if understated sense of humor. All of the film references, for example (especially in the chapter titles), are a fun little treat to keep you perked up even when the hero is at his lowest points. And though the book appeals to a wider readership, those with experience in Mormonism should be able to deeply connect with the narrator’s quest for a new identity and a life of authenticity.