Risky Rescue

I don’t read The Ensign, but I do read Zelophehad’s Daughters.  It was “To the Rescue,” an entry on ZD from last week, that clued me in to an essay by Thomas Monson from the October Ensign called “Our Responsibility to Rescue.” You can pretty much figure out the whole essay from the first paragraph:

For Latter-day Saints, the need to rescue our brothers and sisters who have, for one reason or another, strayed from the path of Church activity is of eternal significance. Do we know of such people who once embraced the gospel? If so, what is our responsibility to rescue them?

About the same time I read that, a good chunk of my Facebook friends posted links to this piece from Robert Kirby about his wife’s decision to leave the LDS church and join another and what that meant for their marriage:

I make it sound easy. It wasn’t. When a shared faith is one of the original pillars of a relationship, it doesn’t get removed without consequences. There were a lot of those, not the least among them was which of us was going to hell now?…

What’s your religion worth to you? Is it something you’d die for? Lots of people say they would lay down their lives for their faith. Would you kill for it? How about your marriage? Would you divorce your spouse over your faith?…

Keep in mind that if you stay, you can’t just agree to disagree about religion. At some point you’ll have to disagree AND shut up about it. No wound — whether emotional or physical — ever heals if you keep picking at it….

In the end it came down to this for me: I believe the most important thing for which I’ll be judged is how I treat my wife rather than my church.

When I saw an interesting conversation developing after a friend linked to Kirby’s piece, I couldn’t help asking what he thought of Monson’s, given that they are in such sharp contrast.  My friend said that he thought that they weren’t as contradictory as I might think, since Monson’s article is about a particular type of person: someone who still believes in the church and misses its influence in their life, not about people who have truly stopped believing and are happier outside the church than in it.

The problem, of course, which we went on to discuss, is that no one and nothing official in the church ever acknowledges that anyone can be happy–much less happier–outside the church than it.  The rhetoric in Monson’s talk might not be quite as condemning, but its basic attitude is not really different from this discussion of apostasy and its effects on marriage from Spencer Kimball:

To be really happy in marriage, one must have a continued faithful observance of the commandments of the Lord. No one, single or married, was ever sublimely happy unless he was righteous. There are temporary satisfactions and camouflaged situations for the moment, but permanent, total happiness can come only through cleanliness and worthiness. One who has a pattern of religious life with deep religious convictions can never be happy in an inactive life.  The conscience will continue to afflict, unless it has been seared, in which case the marriage is already in jeopardy. A stinging conscience can make life most unbearable. Inactivity is destructive to marriage, especially where the parties are inactive in varying degrees.

Religious differences are the most trying and among the most unsolvable of all differences.

The harshness of Kimball’s stance–that if a spouse leaves the church, s/he has basically destroyed the marriage–is one reason that “When He Stopped Believing,” an article by Name Withheld from the July 2012 Ensign about a woman who decided to stay with and love her apostate husband, was such a big deal.

But things like this article from Monson make it difficult if not impossible for Name Withheld to truly accept and love her husband for who he is. Instead she is encouraged to try to change him–told him that it’s her religious duty, in fact, to change him, to rescue him, and that if she doesn’t try valiantly to do so, she’s failing him, herself, her church and her god.

This is why I never believe any official statement from the church about how it respects people of other faiths.  It doesn’t.  It sees them as people who not only need rescuing, but are often too fallen and blind and deluded to realize just how badly in need of rescue they are.

You know what’s really corrosive to a relationship?  A palpable sense that the other person is somehow broken and has to be fixed–and that you and your church are the ones who can do the fixing.



(It also bugged me that Monson’s article refers to artist JMW Turner as Joseph Mallord William Turner. Yeah, that’s his full name, but it’s not his professional name.  One more way the church can’t let people determine who they are or how they express themselves in the world.)






The “We Won’t Tolerate Imperfection” Club

Facebook is all agog about The Not Even Once Club, a new children’s book by Wendy Watson Nelson, whose credentials include a PhD in family therapy and gerontology and 25 years as a professor of marriage and family therapy, plus being married to a general authority.  Here’s the official plot summary:

In this LDS children’s picture book, Tyler moves into his new ward and meets his new Primary class. Tyler’s new friend, Kyle, invites him to their Primary class tree house and gives Tyler the secret password: “Not Even Once.” When Tyler sees how cool the tree house is, he’s thrilled to be a member of the club. But first, Tyler will need to pass the test, and keep the club promise. This book shows, in a fun and effective way, how Tyler and his new friends are great examples about keeping the Word of Wisdom and living the other standards of the Church. • The perfect book to help reinforce LDS standards to young children. • Full-color illustrations by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman. • Includes a link to download your own personal copy of the “Not Even Once” poster, which reads: “From this moment on, I will never break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, gossip, procrastinate, dress immodestly, break the law of chastity, in any way. I will never intentionally look at anything pornographic on TV, the Internet, a cell phone, a billboard, or in a magazine or a movie.”

I put procrastinate in bold because I’m not used to thinking of it as a sin or something that you must promise never to do, not. even. once.

I admit I haven’t read TNEOC, though I think I might stop by Deseret Book before too long so I can see for myself if it’s just as bad as many of my friends insist.  I read the accompanying study guide; it’s pretty awful.  It asks kids to imagine Jesus going through their closets.  I wonder if kids should imagine him poking through their underwear drawers too?

Complaints center on the rigidity of the message, that even small children have to strive for abbsolute perfection and have no room to mess up.  Of course there have been defenders, people saying that it’s a terrific book that teaches important gospel principles and arguing that it’s not nearly as rigid as it seems:

As far as promise to never break the commandments, the teaser on LDSLivings featured titles says it says promise to DO YOUR BEST to not break the commandments, not even once.

“Illustrated in beautiful color, this LDS children’s picture book tells the story of a young boy named Tyler who, after moving, makes a new friend, Kyle, at church in Primary. Tyler wants to join a tree house club with his classmates, but first must make a solemn promise: he must do his best never to break the Word of Wisdom and other Church standards. Not even once.”

But the the “Do Your Best” part isn’t emphasized; it’s not called the “Do Your Best Club.” It’s not the “we value striving club.” It’s the “We don’t tolerate imperfection club.” Given that that’s what the church really is, it’s good to have it stated explicitly. But it’s unhealthy, unkind, and unchristian.

As for the “do your best” part, I remember very clearly what the White Book I had to read over and over on my mission said about that: “Don’t say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ Say, ‘I’ll do it.'”

Doing your best isn’t considered respectable or good enough. If an action is approved by the church, you must do it always; if it’s condemned, you must never do it, not. even. once.  So what do people who want to stay in the club do when they mess up, as they inevitably will? they lie.

People have also complained about the creepy club element, that the kids have to know the password to getinto the club and that chanting and other weird stuff happens inside the club.  I don’t see how that can bug anyone who really believes that temple ordinances are necessary to salvation, but maybe that’s just me.

The book is being panned on both Amazon and Deseret Book.  Here’s a review on Amazon I liked, and here’s the best on the Deseret Book site:

I love this book! My children and I have read it over and over together. Sister Nelson has written a perfect allegory for Satan’s plan in the premortal life. The primary teacher that bribes the children with creature comforts, banishment for failure, utter lack of grace, and obedience-for-reward ethic all fall perfectly into the plan proposed by the Evil One. The critics may complain, but they clearly don’t understand the author’s intent. With its cute illustrations and foreboding message this book is destined to become an LDS classic for generations! Perhaps in her next book Sister Nelson can write about the Atonement.



LDS Doubt in the NY Times

Well, this should be interesting.  The NY TImes has a story published on the web yesterday discussing the ongoing brouhaha in Sweden involving members who have had a crisis of faith. There is a bullet-pointed list of major concerns:

■ Why does the church always portray Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates, when witnesses described him looking down into a hat at a “peep stone,” a rock that he believed helped him find buried treasure?

â–  Why were black men excluded from the priesthood from the mid-1800s until 1978?

â–  Why did Smith claim that the Book of Abraham, a core scripture, was a translation of ancient writings from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, when Egyptologists now identify the papyrus that Smith used in the translation as a common funerary scroll that has nothing to do with Abraham?

â–  Is it true that Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders, to the great pain of his first wife, Emma?

There’s also a video interview with former Swedish area authority Hans Mattsson in which he says, “What I felt kind of sad about, and I felt II didn’t really like, was that they said that  you’re not supposed to talk to your wife, your children; you don’t talk about these issues in church.”

The story isn’t exactly news for anyone here, but it is news that the matter is getting such high-profile attention.




Because They Couldn’t Very Well Say “Sorry We Insisted You Waste All that Time and Money”

As pretty much everyone already knows, today the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and ruled that the private sponsors of Proposition 8 in California didn’t have the legal right to step in and appeal the ruling by a federal court that Prop 8 was unconstitutional when the state of California declined to do so.

From what I understand, this means that gay marriage will probably soon be legal again in California, and that gay couples in the states that recognize gay marriage can soon get federal benefits, including (I assume? I hope?) green card status in marriages where one spouse is not a citizen. (The immigration thing really upsets me.  I know the tax thing is a drag, but at least you can still live with your chosen partner if you’re both US citizens.)

It only took the church an hour or two to issue a statement lamenting the court’s actions:

“By ruling that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring this case to court, the Supreme Court has highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates. Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens.

“In addition, the effect of the ruling is to raise further complex jurisdictional issues that will need to be resolved.

“Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children. Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states.”

I saw people on Facebook reacting with surprise at the snark in the statement.  Personally, I think snark is a step up for an institution that has regularly condemned people as evil and tools of the devil and destined for everlasting punishment.  Way to go, LDS church!  You’re ever so slightly less nasty now!

So that’s the official response.  I can’t help wondering, though, about the response from people like Pam and Rick Patterson, the Folsom, CA couple of modest means who in 2008 for emptied their savings account so they could donate $50,000 to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign.  What are they thinking now?

I posed that question on Facebook.  Several people suggested that the most financially generous Prop 8 supporters are hardened in their resolve that they did the right thing, that they feel persecuted for righteousness’ sake and closer to celestial glory.

And maybe they do, because they need to justify their enormous sacrifice.  It’s hard to admit something so costly and destructive was an easily avoidable mistake.

But I’m willing to give it time.  I know people who donated to earlier fights (the one in Hawaii, for instance) who now feel shame and rage at the church. It was one thing after the defeat of the ERA–the church won that fight–but they have lost this one, and spectacularly. I think a lot of people who donated will quietly concede the matter, and having seen their money and time so wasted, will be much more reluctant to fund the next battle.

As for “supporters of traditional marriage” who didn’t write checks, just made plenty of homophobic statements in public forums, I bet a lot of them will just shrug and say as little as possible now.

And I will add that it delights me to see people who claim to have the gift of prophecy so screwed over by their own bad choices.



“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream”

Read this deeply bizarre cover story from Psychology Today.  Entitled “Confessions of a Sociopath,” it tells the story of a female Mormon law professor with an undergraduate degree from BYU.  Here’s the most relevant part about the church:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream. Mormons believe that everyone has the potential to be godlike—I believe this includes me. Every being is capable of salvation; my actions are what matters, not my ruthless thoughts, not my nefarious motivations. Everyone is a sinner, and I never felt that I was outside this norm.

When I attended Brigham Young—where students were even more trusting than the average Mormon—there were myriad opportunities for scamming. I stole from the lost and found, saying I lost a book, but then I would take the “found” book to the bookstore and sell it. Or, I’d take an unlocked bike that sat in the same place for days. Finders, keepers.

But I am functionally a good person—I bought a house for my closest friend, I gave my brother $10,000, and I am considered a helpful professor. I love my family and friends. Yet I am not motivated or constrained by the same things that most good people are.

The essay is excerpted from a book entitled Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by someone named M.E. Thomas, a pseudonym for someone who who started this awesome website for sociopaths and went on the Dr Phil Show to promote her book.  At that point, people had some decent clues to work with in trying to figure out who she is.

Turns out she’s probably someone named Jamie Rebecca Lund. And not only is Ms. Lund Mormon, but she was set to join the faculty at BYU law school–which church leaders are now apparently trying to undo.

We’re actually late to this party–it’s been parsed on Facebook and Mormon Discussions.  There are debates about whether she’s really a sociopath or just a narcissist–I saw comments from someone who saw her segment on Dr. Phil; apparently she kept claiming she had such and such a trait, which was a hallmark of a sociopath, and Dr. Phil kept saying, “No, it’s not.”

Anyway, it’s a funky story to begin with, and the Mormon angle just makes it too salacious to resist.




He Puts Us in a Shark Suit

My last post asserted that God is a jerk.  I think the evidence supports that assertions pretty well.  But maybe he’s a jerk with a really great sense of humor?  Maybe everything seems so ridiculous to us because it amuses him to watch us run around and be scared and look utterly goofy?  Maybe we are to him what a cat in a shark suit on a roomba terrorizing a duckling is to us?

Anyway.  Just turn off all other media, turn the sound up on your computer, enlarge this video to full screen, and take the 78 seconds required to watch it.  You’ll be glad you did, even if it doesn’t help you understand God.

Once You Figure Out God Is a Jerk

So, I heard some years ago that religious people tend to be happier and healthier.  It didn’t especially jive with my experience, but hey, it’s what the scientific data say, right?

Here’s an interesting piece from the NY Times, corroborating and explaining some of the benefits of “religious attendance — [or] at least, religiosity” the reasons for which are “not entirely clear”.  Some of the benefit derives first from “social support [which] is directly tied to better health” and second from “healthy behavior” (” on average, regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others”).

But the author also suggests a third factor, something rooted in the imaginative and intellectual experience of creating a relationship with an immaterial being:

I want to suggest that this is a skill and that it can be learned. We can call it absorption: the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health.

For example, in one study, when God was experienced as remote or not loving, the more someone prayed, the more psychiatric distress she seemed to have; when God was experienced as close and intimate, the more someone prayed, the less ill he was. In another study, at a private Christian college in Southern California, the positive quality of an attachment to God significantly decreased stress and did so more effectively than the quality of the person’s relationships with other people.

She goes on to posits possible benefits even beyond those who want to believe in God. Perhaps it

may teach us how to harness the “placebo” effect — a terrible word, because it suggests an absence of intervention rather than the presence of a healing mechanism that depends neither on pharmaceuticals nor on surgery. We do not understand the placebo effect, but we know it is real. That is, we have increasingly better evidence that what anthropologists would call “symbolic healing” has real physical effects on the body. At the heart of some of these mysterious effects may be the capacity to trust that what can only be imagined may be real, and be good.

I find this all pretty intriguing, because I have had some remarkable experiences with an unseen world that I cannot and frankly prefer not to explain.  I mean, it’s unseen!  I don’t know enough about it.  It might be this externally verifiable thing, or it might be just an idea that is very real to me.

I believe in the realness of ideas.  Fictional characters are not real people, but they are real ideas.  Heavenly Mother is, to me, a real idea, a real idea with real potential.  So is Edward Cullen.  He’s a bad idea, but he’s a real idea.  Elizabeth Bennet (the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, in case you don’t know) is a terrific idea!  Cinderalla is a hyper-real idea–she’s so real she’s an achetype for us.  All these ideas, although they are only ideas, have had real effects on the world.

We can see the same thing with political ideologies.  Consider the idea that one race is superior to others, that one gender is superior to the other(s), or all that men are created equal.  These are all real ideas, and they become more or less “true” as we believe in them more or less.

The problem with the character of God as he exists in the Mormon fiction about him is that he’s an asshole.  It takes an act of willful blindness not to see this.  And once you see this, praying to him creates greater and greater psychic and “psychiatric distress,” as the author put it.

Furthermore, in Mormonism he’s such a nasty, vicious douche that even once you realize that there are nicer versions of him out there–versions where he’s not racist, misogynist and homophobic, anti-intellecual and obsessed with the minutea of dietary codes, pruriently obsessed with his children’s sex lives, and gleefully sentencing to hell women who hate polygamy–the taint of his cruelty and barbarity lingers on. It’s really HARD to replace that asshole with a kinder, gentler version.  After all, the whole atonement thing, the requirement that some of his children execute his favorite son as a condition of anyone being able to hang out with him, is pretty barbaric and cruel.  The idea that the atonement shows love is somehow real, despite being absolutely nonsensical.

Once you figure all that out, it’s easy, even when you read an article like this one, to do the math: “Let’s see: going to church can add up to three years to your life.  Three times 365 is 1095 days.  But you have to go to church every Sunday.  If you started going to church as an infant and live to be 75, that’s 3900 days.  Even if you skip a few Sundays here and there, that’s still at least three times as many days that you LOSE to church throughout your life as you GAIN BACK from at it at the end.  Hmm.  I’ll stick with having Sunday off, thank you very much.”


Maybe Conservativism Is Hurting Religion After All….

Given that the “liberal churches are losing members because they’re liberal; conservative churches are growing because they’re conservative” argument is invoked every so often here at MSP, I thought people would be interested in this article from Religion Dispatches analyzing some of the problems with that claim.  An excerpt:

Hout and Fischer released a study this year with Mark A. Chaves, which seemed to show that the trend continues. Their original findings have been partly confirmed by the Pew Forum, which found in 2012 that the nones overwhelmingly saw religious organizations as “too focused on rules,” “too concerned with money and power,” and “too involved in politics.” Not on the list: a desire for a stricter moral code. Along with another major study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, the Pew Forum found that Americans without religious affiliation strongly identified with the Democratic party and liberal social positions.

All of which tends to indicate that Hout and Fischer were right when they said that disaffiliation is driven by a rejection of the religious right. It seems perverse to say that members of liberal denominations show their displeasure with religious conservatism by walking away from their own churches, but that seems to be exactly what’s happening.

On the surface, this might seem like a point in Eberhardt’s favor. “Orthodox” churches keep their members in line; liberal ones can’t. But how then to explain that the most liberal of the liberal denominations—the Unitarian Universalist Association—is in fact growing? For that matter, one might argue that Catholics have more to lose by alienating liberals than they have to gain by growing conservative families. The bishops seem to have decided just that when they put together their “Catholics Come Home” a d campaign showing a “kinder, gentler version” of the faith.

Mormon Trolls, Gorgons and Orcs, and Being Tired of Good People

Currently the most posted story in my Facebook feed is this excellent NY Times op-ed from Ta-Nehisi Coates, entitled “The Good, Racist People.”  Coates uses the recent frisking of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker as an opportunity to analyze the racism of “good” people:

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

The same principle applies to homophobia.  There are “good” people who argue that their homophobia isn’t really bigotry because they’re not actually afraid of gay people, plus their reasons for wanting to prevent gay people from marrying aren’t anything objectionable–they’re deeply held religious beliefs!  Besides, these good people know and are polite to gay people when forced to interact with them.  They manage to have entire conversations where they never once tell a gay person that they think she’s both symptom and cause of our society’s moral decay and destined for hell.  These people are too good to deserve a label reserved for bad people–you know, bigots.  Plus, they’re right.  God told them they’re right.  That means they’re automatically not bigots, because what they’re expressing is not a human prejudice–it’s god’s will!

The same principle applies to sexism and misogyny.  There are “good” people who argue that their misogyny isn’t really bigotry because they don’t actually hate women–they are a woman, or they married one, or they’re related to a bunch!  They just have deeply held religious beliefs that tell them that women are, by divine decree, ordained to hold a somehow subordinate-but-equal status to men in every human social group from the nuclear family to the local church congregation to God’s supposedly world-wide organization for caring for his children’s needs on earth.  They just have deeply held religious beliefs that entitle them to tell women what they are allowed to do with their bodies and how they must dress, what types of goals they are allowed to have.  These people are too good to deserve a label reserved for bad people–you know, bigots.  Plus, they’re right.  God told them they’re right.  That means they’re automatically not bigots, because what they’re expressing is not a human prejudice–it’s god’s will!

Here’s the thing: If you try to deny another group of people rights you claim for yourself–the right to buy a sandwich without getting frisked, the right to marry another consenting adult, the right to preside–then you’re a bigot, and you deserve to be called one.  You  might have a great sense of humor and many people, me included, might have laughed at your jokes.  You might be admired for the generosity you show your family and respected for your intelligence, by all sorts of people, including me.  But just as you deserve to be recognized for the way you have chosen to develop the traits of humor, generosity and intelligence, you deserve to be recognized for the way you have chosen to the develop the trait of bigotry.

Obviously, I’m discussing current defenses of Mormon homophobia and misogyny.  Obviously, not all Mormons are bigots.  Obviously, some Mormons are.  For some Mormons, it is their faith–their belief in the universal availability of God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice–that makes them oppose bigotry in all its forms, even and especially within the church.  For some Mormons, it is their faith–their belief in racist doctrines from the church’s past, their trust in homophobic beliefs and political agendas of current leaders, their reliance on well-entrenched but still unjustified gender assumptions–that makes them bigots who defend the church’s continued bigotry.

South Pacific, the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, had an agenda.  In particular, it tackled racism.  There’s a song called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” that goes

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Bigoted Mormon adults pass their bigotry on their children, very, very early.  Consider this guest post at the Cultural Hall from Marie Brian, the amazing Cotton Floozy:

My daughter is nine years old. ‘Why haven’t you been baptized?’ the kids asked her. ‘Don’t you know that you will go to hell unless you get baptized?’

And so now my daughter goes to church with her grandparents. She is doing better now that she fits in — now that they won’t tease her for being different.

Sister Floozy concludes with some pretty sound advice:

I didn’t stop going to church because of the whole murky history thing. I stopped going because I felt that the church stopped teaching the Doctrine of Love…

As long as we teach that feminism, gayness, and intellectualism is a sin, I cannot be a part of such an institution. As long as we condone exclusivity over inclusivity, I cannot raise my hand in sustaining. As long as we teach our children that being gay is bad and only church-approved socially-constructed ideas of a perfect family are good, I cannot send my daughter to church without stressing the eff out….

If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, acceptance, and love, they wouldn’t have to worry about the members who are leaving the church in droves. They would keep the members, because people would instinctively love to attend, to bask in the warmth of a Jesus-like atmosphere, to share the pews with anyone and everyone — those pants-wearing ladies, the gay couples, and the transsexual children of God. That is the kind of church I want. Maybe, this is wishful thinking. I hope not.

If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, “good” Mormons wouldn’t have to defend themselves against the charge that they are bigots, because they very likely wouldn’t be bigots.

And before anyone gets all “Yeah, well, you’re being bigoted against bigots!” on this post, let me use Coates’ example to point out that there’s a big difference between saying, “You treated my friend like a criminal when he tried to patronize your business, so I’m not going to patronize it anymore” and saying, “Hey, you’re trying to shop while black!  I don’t trust you!”  Let me use Marie’s example to point out that there’s a big difference between saying, “You’re pretty much a mean jerk who says awful things about people I love when we hang out, so I don’t want to hang out with you anymore” and saying, “I don’t approve of how you spend your Sundays, so I’m going to be mean to you during the week.”

Removing yourself from someone’s company and explaining why you don’t want to keep that company is not the same thing as treating someone badly when you are forced to interact.  Allowing people to do their own thing and doing your own thing away from them is not the same thing as trying to deny someone the right to do their own thing because you don’t think they deserve a right you claim so readily.

And those two essays explain, in case you wondered, why so many people conclude that they are “tired of good people, that [they’ve] had all the good people [they] could take.”







The Tree-Hating Insane Inorganic Alien Trying to Destroy the Earth

Several years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I read Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief by John Lamb Lash. It was a very, um, interesting book. Actually I guess outlandish might be a better term, but it certainly held my attention.  In the weeks after I read it, I talked about it to anyone who would listen, because it was so provocative and downright odd, and made for fun conversations.

Basically, it argued that the god of monotheism aka Yahweh aka Allah aka Heavenly Father etc did not create the earth.  Instead, the earth, Gaia, a goddess herself, was somehow moved into a different plane of existence (I forget how Lash explained it) and ended up with all these creatures on and around her, trying to control her.  The most aggressive of these was an insane inorganic alien–yes, an insane inorganic alien; I’m not making this up–who showed up and starting announcing that he had created the earth and that people were actually created in his image, after which he set about trying to remake them in his image and turn them into insane inorganic creatures too.

To that end, he commanded those who worship him to cut down trees and get rid of groves.  In fact, the first line of the book was something like “The god of the Old Testament hates trees.”  (Sorry that I’m paraphrasing rather than quoting; I got the book from the library and can’t verify the exact wording.)

That was the part of the book that I found not just bizarre but truly insightful and useful.  I had taken an old testament lit class as an undergrad and read the entire OT on my own.  But it had never sunk in just how hostile Yahweh is to trees, to groves, to forest, to nature.  He may or may not be inorganic, he may or may not be an alien, but his hostility to all things arboreal certainly exceeds rationality.  It comes up over and over, as in:

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: Exodus 34:13

God, you see, lives not in forests or groves but on rocky mountain tops–that’s where Moses had to go to find him.  God can’t be evoked by the imagery of forests; instead, his imagery is fire, that which consumes and destroys the forest.

But despite that monotheistic hostility to sacred groves (heh!), a reverence for them was already built into proto-indo-European, the language that was the ancestor of the Hellenic, Romance, and Germanic languages, just to name a few–as well as a few languages of the middle east, including HIttite and Tocharian, but not the ancestor of Hebrew.  I follow several language blogs, and today one of them posted a bit about the etymology of the word temple:

The word ‘temple’ comes from the root ‘tem’, to cut – a forest clearing. The inspiration of those who made civilization’s first temples and churches all over the world, was the forest. You can see it in the pillars, the arched roofs, the decorated ceilings. For the gods walk in the forest.

That passage is from a memoir about life in the Lake District of England; the blogger verifies its accuracy:

The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition, in its appendix of Proto-Indo-European roots, says *tem- had a suffixed form *tem-lo from which we get “Latin templum, temple, shrine, open place for observation (augury term < ‘place reserved or cut out’), small piece of timber.” It’s a gratifying connection.

Goofy, I admit, but I found it interesting and satisfying that despite the efforts of the old testament god to eradicate nature worship, vestiges remain even in the words we use for Mormon worship.