Let’s present scriptures for our edification

I’m going to ask you to do something. Something you may not have done in a long time. Pull out a set of scriptures, wherever you can find them, and search for a scripture.

This is my clever way of getting people to confront the scriptures. But don’t think I’ve gone off the deep end and become a prosylyter. Rather, I want you to find a scripture that has some kind of idea or precept or concept that — as far as you can tell — when it is taken in the proper context is rather disagreeable to you. And then, present why or why not.

So, I think we all can do this. I don’t think it would necessarily be difficult for us. And as I ponder this experiment, I wonder which one I’m going to choose. Picking out Old Testament instances of God’s seemingly spastic morality seems like a low blow to me, so I avoid those things. And I avoid as well scriptures that I don’t feel I have a full grasp on — obviously, if my beef with a scripture is do to a misunderstanding on my part, then that’s no good.

But I think I have one. I’d like you all to turn to Alma 32.

Alma 32 has a famous (at least, in my mind) analogy of faith to a seed…If we look at Alma 32:28, for example…

Now, we will compare the word unto a aseed. Now, if ye give place, that a bseed may be planted in your cheart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your dunbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselvesIt must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to eenlighten my funderstanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

So far, so good. This provides a challenge, and one that seems reasonable. Perhaps someone tells me that if I rub the tummy of a frog three times counter-clockwise, then a light will turn on. I might be incredulous at first, and I might not even be willing to try. After all, it just doesn’t seem intuitive that rubbing the tummy of a frog three times would turn on a light. Faith as a seed would be willing to put aside my unbelief and skepticism for one second and be willing to attempt this experiment.

And it seems later that Alma 32:32 provides us a reasonable out:

Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.

So, if I rub the tummy three times and a light indeed turns on (gotcha! That frog was a mechanical frog that is charged through static electricity, but you just couldn’t tell!)…then this seems akin to the seed growing. If the frog does not turn on, then I should be able to cast out that idea. Fool me once, shame on you…

So far, so good.

But this is a set of scripture I do not like…why?

It’s what is said later on.

36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.

37 And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.

38 But if ye aneglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your aground is bbarren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the atree of life.

Err…so from here we see a divergence between testing things in the real world and testing spiritual precepts. Spiritual precepts, we are led to believe, only work if you continue to believe. And in fact, they may appear not to work. Because this scripture combines frequently with admonitions to “endure to the end.” If you aren’t getting a spiritual experience, then you just need to be more patient! You just need to endure to the end! Etc., All of a sudden, you are stripped from your logical alternative: to go somewhere else. Your failings are yours, not the doctrine’s.

Not to mention, this kind of scriptural procedure has disturbing implications. You could redirect it to anything. For example, couldn’t you direct it to another faith? So what if Catholicism doesn’t appear to be working for you…maybe you just need to continue in faith. Maybe you need to endure to the end.

See, there is a distinction between real-world thinking and this kind of scriptural thinking. In the real world, we rely on results. So, if the thrice rub doesn’t give us a particular result, we start changing variables. Not only that, but in the real world, things that are true or things that have causal relationship do so regardless of our state. If there truly is an electrical mechanism in the frog, then it should operate regardless of if we are incredulous about the thrice rubbing. Yet the scriptures hit us with a one-two punch…it won’t work unless we believe, and even if we believe, it still might not work, because we are being tested until the end.

Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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30 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    That’s interesting. I hadn’t read this part recently enough to realize that the complete instructions were spelled out here — including the part about how to tell whether you’ve set up the conditions of the experiment right (i.e. if you get our claimed result, then you did it right; if not, try again!)

    Not exactly the scientific method, is it?

  2. Andrew S says:

    exactly right, chanson. Because I too hadn’t originally gotten further than what is commonly given as instruction…for example, get a burning in your bosom -> good job. Get a stupor of thought -> drop that belief. That made me think that the theology was somewhat rational…so I could assume that everyone who believed did so because they had that confirmation and if they did not, the church would be ok with people leaving.

    Of course, that’s not the case. And it’s because the later parts of this scripture. It’s a very clever set of scriptures, all in all.

  3. aerin says:

    I’ll have to think about this – because there are definitely scriptures I could talk about, but nothing off the top of my head.

    Putting the OT off limits isn’t fair – that’s where I would go first! (But most people, aside from fundamentalists from some religions, would agree the OT is more “allegorical” than something to take literally).

  4. Andrew S says:

    The OT isn’t really off limits, but like, it’s a copout. Everyone expects it and already has defenses for it. It’s kinda like hitting the PoGP for Mormons — everyone expects it because there’s just so much to pick at.

    But hitting the BoM? The NT? This is gold if you can find something from these that sticks. I think that hits the heart of most Christian denominations or of the church.

  5. Matt says:

    Very nice point. Thanks, Andrew.

    This is totally consistent with the whole BoM test … the book is true because it says it’s true and we have only to pursue the circular logic until we agree, anything shot and _we_ have have failed.

    And you led me to this thought:

    The book challenges us to find it’s truth via a path that begins with shocking claims about the real world and requires that one verify it by a journey into the spiritual world followed by a conviction to live in the real world according to the spiritual witness. It’s a powerful formula for brain-wash that turns the physically verifiable into the untrustworthy and the spiritual as the only arbiter of both spiritual and physical truth. So you no longer trust your own eyes but you do trust your imagination. Then anything is possible within the confines of the church’s authority and nothing is to be trusted without. A highly controlled delusion of will.

    See, some folks say it took a genius to write the BoM, if no god. But I say human ingenuity is at it’s finest when the subjugation of others is the prize. And Mormonism is just a more recent pulp re-imagining of a very ancient story.

  6. aerin says:

    well, still thinking about verses describing the rapture – but John 10:16 is an interesting verse. This is the KJ version (at least, it claims to be on the internets):

    10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, [and] one shepherd.

    When you google it, the NIV has “sheep pen” instead of “fold”.

    This is usually seen as a defense of the Book Of Mormon, and interpreted to mean that Christ was talking about the Book of Mormon. Personally, I’m not sure that’s the case. How could he not be talking about the Romans, the Russians or the Chinese?

    I think the idea is that different peoples will be united with the faith of Christ.

    Not that there was necessarily another testament of Christ (what the BOM claims to be) – where Christ visited after being crucified. YMMV, of course.

    This is just my interpretation of this scripture, comparing to what I was taught.

  7. Andrew S says:

    Good analysis, aerin.

    It seems to me that the verse allows for anyone to take it however they want, depending on presuppositions. For example, Mormons can say, “Aha! Obviously referring to the Nephites, Lamanites and Jesus’s ministry to them.” But this already supposes the historicity of these things…

    And of course, if you do not suppose that historicity, it doesn’t make the scripture wrong. Rather, it can simply refer to other cultures which had not heard of Christ at the time.

  8. leisurelyviking says:

    This one bugs me:
    2 Nephi 9:28-29
    28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
    29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

    So learning is good, but only as long as it doesn’t change your beliefs.

  9. Andrew S says:

    leisurelyviking, that one gets me too in a very big way (maybe it’s because it’s another of the freakin’ scripture masteries…so that’s a scripture that is at the precipice of seminary learning).

    Really, I think its the pithiness of verse 29. It is summed so matter of factly…it is gross. “Oh, it’s obvious that to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God, so that’s all we’ll say about that.”

  10. chanson says:

    Aha, again the Book of Mormon recommends starting with the conclusion when doing your research!

    How can you tell good learning from evil learning? Why, it’s just a question of whether your conclusions agree with this book. If your learning leads you to the conclusions claimed here, then it’s good; if not, it must be foolishness.

    Pretty simple formula, actually. It’s certainly a lot simpler to apply than the scientific method…

  11. And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. (Ether 12:6)

    This is another scripture mastery scripture that transgresses against solid empirical methods.

    It suggests that we should suspend our doubts until we receive a witness. First our ability to ignore our doubts will be tested at an indefinite future time by an indefinite means.

    The result is that those willing to swallow this scripture will indefinitely suspend their disbelief. If someone never receives a witness, it is because they haven’t passed the test yet. Honest doubt has been transmuted into a sin, a weakness of character.

  12. Matt says:

    Alma 30 — The story of Korihor (and virtually every strawman construct of the skeptic and atheist in the BoM) …

    The message being, if you reject Christ, if you reject God out of your so-called “skepticism” and “for lack of evidence” … if you point out the deceits and failings of theocratic authoritarianism, you are obviously as the day is long, one or more of the following:

    – an idiot
    – a fool
    – a liar
    – a deceiver
    – an insufferably condescending, elitist ass
    – a
    – a Libertarian (ha, ha, ETB you tool! 🙂
    – an anarchist
    – a willful and vicious nihilist
    – in conscious league with Satan
    – doomed to defeat, ignominy, and destruction

    Other points here are:
    – the sorry-assed, fan-fictional nature of a theocratic society that punishes adultery but cherishes freedom of belief (and presumably, freedom of speech).
    – the obvious net result that when the cherished freedom begins to actually gain traction, turning large segments of the culture into evil, reviling mobs — that then something must be done anyway
    – a church and priesthood that is conveniently not guilty of the crimes of avarice and abuse it is accused of, even though nearly every church in history, including the Mormon church, very murch resembles that which Korihor describes.

  13. Matt says:

    PS. Net-net, bottom line … Alma 30 so clearly demonstrates the admittance of the insufficiency of these so-called obvious truths through caricature of the opposition, mistrust of the average person to embrace it on it’s merits, and ultimate failure of reason and fall-back on appeals to authority and other logical fallacies, and ultimately to force my magical means.

  14. tn trap says:

    I think in some of these cases you are reading Mormon culture back onto the text. For example, with the faith-seed experiment, it does not say that you must endure to the end before you notice the seed is a good thing; it says that if it is good, it will begin to grow within you and you will recognize the goodness of it (you recognize the goodness of it before enduring to the end). If you nourish it, it will continue to grow; if you dont, it will stop growing. In this case, the text says that enduring to the end is something to be done after you recognize that the seed is good.

    In Moronis promise, the truth of it is usually implied to mean the historical truth of the record; but a case can be made that the truth of it refers to the truth of the teachings (the book could be a fake, but it teaches true things in a moral or religious sense, like Aesops fables). Of course, Mormon culture accepts both ways it could be true: it is a factual record and it teaches true things. I do agree, the sincere heart with real intent clause provides a considerable out for those pesky cases in which the truth of it is not revealed.

    I especially like leisurelyvikings suggestion of the anti-education scriptureBut to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God, as if not hearkening unto the counsels of God isnt something you need to bother with if you arent learned. Of course, if a certain professor of antiquities looks at an example of the Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics from your ancient text and declares that the hieroglyphics are actually a jumble of fabricated symbols and characters from non-Egyptian languages, I can see why one might want to incorporate a few anti-intellectual sentiments into the text.

    Major Book of Mormon prophets were learned and the Doctrine and Covenants promotes the importance of reason and knowledge so it is, I dont know, interesting? ironic? that Mormon culture has latched onto the anti-intellectual sentiment of 2 Nephi 9:28-29. It seems to me, if you really have faith in something, you wouldnt be very threatened by intellectual scrutiny. That the LDS church does feel threatened by intellectual scrutiny, in my mind, this signifys a lack of faith. Further, isnt intellectual scrutiny, in a sense, a trial of faith? Do LDS leaders really allow the church to have a trial of faith?

    I suppose I am totally off topic nowthough this is one of my major criticisms of the LDS churchthat it appears to have little faith in its members and in its own teachings. How can you believe in something that doesnt really believe in itself?

  15. leisurelyviking says:

    A close family member sent me a letter comparing me to Korihor when I was questioning the truth of LDS doctrine and leaning toward leaving. I had discussed my thoughts openly with this person, and the letter made it clear they didn’t understand my reasons for leaving. It may have been the most offensive thing I’ve ever experienced.

  16. Andrew S says:

    re: Korihor

    I agree with everyone who brought up Korihor in that it seems to be a rather convenient BoM strawman for all nonbelievers and atheists. I don’t really see Korihor as a good comparison to me (so the arguments against Korihor that Alma presents also seem to fall flat against me, even though some members believe them to be conclusive counterarguments).

    But I think someone phrased it well…I can’t remember where or who said it, but someone had put it, “Korihor never seemed like an atheist to me. He seemed like a religious liar.” I liked that.

  17. Andrew S says:

    re: tn trap,

    I think you may be correct, and that’s what I was kinda worrying about as I thought about my post. But at the same time, I feel that Mormon culture *is* imbued into the texts by the way certain passages are interpreted and used in common rhetoric. (I think this is also a problem between the LDS and other denominations…non-Mormon Christians will have rather different cultural interpretations of certain Biblical documents, so when they raise the claims against Mormons, they run into a wall, because Mormons interpret the same sentences in ways that don’t threaten the church).

    That being said, I think there is something to your analysis. I would question though how many members would concede that it is possible for the LDS ‘seed’ to be found to not be initially good, and if so, would they continue along the vein of thought and say that one who has that conclusion should drop it?

  18. Matt says:

    “Religious liar” is interesting. However, that rather plays into the whole straw man doesn’t it? The only point where Korihor resembles anything other than a vocal skeptic to me is at the author’s unveiling. A plot twist that’s incoherent and self-serving.

  19. tn trap says:

    re: Andrew S.

    I agree; Mormon culture is all over the text, but that isnt the fault of the text. I guess my point is, I dont think it is fair to blame the text in that instance. If the texts are interpreted to say something that clearly isnt there, the blame lies with the interpreter. Im not disagreeing with the observation that, in the case of the LDS seed, Mormons to some extent tend to find some defect in the person putting the seed to the test if the results dont come out as they ought. Id place that partially with human nature and partially with teachings of the Mormon leadership.

  20. Andrew S says:

    re 18: It only plays into the strawman because many Mormons believe that atheists *are* religious liars.

    But there is a key difference. A religious liar, being religious, believes there is a God, but simply rebels. That’s why Korihor *does* break down and “unveil,” so to speak. This wouldn’t happen (at least, not in this way) to an atheist. An atheist that converts would never say something like, “Oh, I always knew!” (e.g., Alma 30: 52). An atheist would not say, “Yep, you guessed it; the devil had his grips on me the entire time.” (verse 53) At best, an atheist-turned-theist might say, “Oh, I used to not believe, but then x evidence turned me the other way.”

    Yes, the passage is very clever to have some nice catch phrases that can be identified by believer’s as the atheist’s “devil talk,” but a true atheist would not be as flimsy as Korihor, and true theists don’t quite have the luxury of divinely silencing their opposition.

    re 19:

    That makes sense, now to think about it. I’ve been looking at literary works too much by the interpretations put upon them after they are written, when original or literal meaning and after-press interpretations should be kept separate.

  21. Matt says:

    re: 20: I think we’re getting wires crossed here. I’m speaking as an observer and critic of the author’s fiction. My point is that the author depicts an atheist’s POV in an accurate manner but then ascribes many irrelevant attributes to the poor sap, ultimately turning him into a religious liar, as if this is the lesson to be learned. To say that “Korihor is religious liar” is merely to agree with the author and I find no critique or insight here. Is this what you mean to do?

  22. Andrew S says:

    re 21: My point is that the other attributes ascribed to the poor sap aren’t so irrelevant (and in fact, when you listen to people argue, they don’t think these attributes are irrelevant), and so they actually change the depiction and make it inaccurate.

    The insight I’m providing is that a religious liar is significantly different than an atheist, or even an atheist who becomes a theist. The religious liar has that trait (a meaningful one) that he always knew God existed, but simply rebelled against it. This is not an accurate depiction of atheism, yet believers might think that. Believers might similarly take atheists to be like Lamans and Lemuels, who had plenty of encounters with the divine, and yet claimed not to see any such thing, or have any confirmation of the things their father spoke. So the common believing response is to suggest, “Oh, everyone has spiritual confirmations and everyone sees evidence of religious truth inherent in the universe…some people just lie, ignore, and rationalize it.”

    This is wrong and I want to point this out, whether it is with Laman and Lemuel, or with Korihor. It is insulting and diminishing to atheists to classify us in such a way.

  23. Matt says:

    “This is wrong …”

    Agreed. Ah, well. So long as Mormons hold the BoM as holy writ then atheists will always be no more than the worst kind of liars. Fortunately the rest of the religious world lacks such canonized specifics. None that I’m aware of anyway.

  24. Andrew S says:

    I dunno, perhaps it’s a useless task, but my one (well, maybe not only) goal would be to show that atheists are more than the “worst kind of liars.” So, I establish firmly that though Korihor may say some things atheists might say, his M.O. is totally off, and we can compare experiences to suggest it.

    When people have misinformed views, it’s good to try to change these views instead of just lying down.

  25. Matt says:

    You planning to produce some competing scripture? 😛

    FWIW, I believe Mormons will change their views (in fact many already have) and this change will include a gradual admission that the BoM is an artifact of the human mind … That’s change I can believe in.

  26. Andrew S says:

    I believe that demonstrated evidence can one-up things in some cases.

    All I can do is suggest through my actions and words that atheists aren’t how they’ve been taught to think about us

  27. Matt says:

    Good on you. Yet, doubt creeps in … The story of Korihor is one whose mind was only revealed by the power of prophecy. If I were a true believer I’d take the lesson of Alma 30 as one which teaches me not to trust the external deeds and words, ’cause behind those are the truth that only god can reveal to his chosen prophets. I’d chose to follow the prophet and the holy scripture.

    You’re expecting that some people will turn away. This is totally valid. Yet, just like Korihor, you’re leading people away. Thankfully, JS isn’t the author of how this story will end. 🙂

  28. Andrew S says:

    In the end, I’m not trying to deconvert people (and I realize that if that is my goal, then my arguments are shockingly ill-suited). I’m just trying to get people to realize 1) other people don’t see the church or god in the same way, 2) the subjective experiences are not indicative of objective reality (e.g., one person’s belief in a spiritual experience doesn’t tell us that god truly exists), 3) atheism is not weird, evil, or a ‘lie’ but is actually reasonable even if 4) your personal mileage may vary (because of *subjective* experiences).

    tbqh, if someone is happy in the church, I really don’t care. But I would like each member to know that 1) this tells more about subjective experiences, not the objective truth or falsity of the church, 2) others aren’t happy in the church, and in fact, if someone is in the church and they aren’t happy, then instead of considering this a personal fault, they should realize that instead the church is not fulfilling the role it should be, so they should drop it like they would any other malfunctioning, vexing product or service. They should consider that they too can be happier outside of the church even if the church would tell them otherwise.

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