Sunday in Outer Blogness: See you in court edition!

Sunday in Outer Blogness

I want to remind you that you only have a few more days to campaign and get in your votes for the Brodies. But Brodies’ season has been overshadowed by an astonishing bit of news: Thomas S. Monson — the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has been summoned by a British court to answer charges of fraud!!

Others have already posted summaries, analyses of the merits of the case, and link round-ups, so let me just highlight some of the trending ideas. Some people have popped popcorn and are having fun with the story. After all, a prophet should be able to stand up to an Earthly court of law.

The UK fraud law might explain why Thomas Monson hasn’t talked about doctrine in a few years or why they’re finally moving towards actual service missions.

On the plus side, the case helps highlight the difference between an actual charity and a for-profit corporation (One clue: the money), and maybe what the CoJCoL-dS is doing really does constitute fraud, especially considering the UK government supplements charitable donations.

Another group that thinks trying to take Monson to court is a big mistake. It’s a problem for Tom Phillips to continue running the MormonThink website while pursuing legal action against the CoJCoL-dS. In general, it is advisable for people involved in a pending court case to stop making public statements about it (but if you want to hear from those involved, look here, here, and here), and the whole thing damages Mormon Think’s credibility:

The frustrating thing to me is that I like the MormonThink web site. It’s as fair and balanced as anything out there, and yet they will forever be associated with Tom Phillips, who is anything but objective about the LDS church. Fairly or not, Mormons will now dismiss MormonThink as the site run by the guy who wanted to put Monson in jail. And that’s a damned shame.

Ledhead0501 helpfully pointed out Exmormonism can’t have bad PR because it’s not a movement. It’s more like a party.

After Bill Nye (representing team Science) debated Ken Ham and the creationists, you might be curious to know what Mormons believe about problematic stories from Genesis. Does the CoJCoL-dS teach that the Noah’s Ark story really happened?

Apparently they do, judging from a recent article by the prophet Noah in the church’s official magazine, the Ensign. On the other hand, the anonymous-and-unpublicized topics articles on the official website contradict the Genesis-as-real-life-history belief. Daniel explained why this is a problem:

We’re at a weird point in LDS doctrine as of last week. That’s when the First Quorum of the Anonymous released its ‘Book of Mormon and DNA Studies’ essay, which uses sources that acknowledge that people immigrated to the American continent 10,000 years ago, which is a few thousand years before Adam and Eve. So what’s the story here; thousands of years, or millions?

What’s happened is that, because of the Church’s failure to clarify its own doctrine, two parallel streams of doctrine have grown up in the last several decades: a literal one that’s taught in Sunday School, and a figurative/metaphorical one that’s accepted in apologetic circles and on the Internet. The parallel approach has worked out well for the Church; they don’t have to go out on a limb officially, and everyone gets to believe what they want. It works for them, as long as — like we learned in Ghostbusters — you never cross the streams. Because crossing the streams is Bad. But in the DNA essay, what we saw is the Church crossing the streams.

In my years writing this blog, I’ve found that — while apologetic excuses can bolster the faith of those looking to have their faith bolstered — they often have the opposite effect on people who are really looking for answers. Before they “crossed the streams” people who were put off by the apologetics could just tell themselves “That’s just some speculation by some random guys at FAIR.” It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Plus, we have a bunch of newly opened questions about the people who used to be “Lamanites” or the seed of Cain. The current edition of the Book of Mormon still has the stuff about the skin-darkening curse in it — is the CoJCoL-dS planning an edited version soon?

In Mormon reminiscences, Heather’s story continues with what she learned in the temple. Lizeverything recounted the shame about sex that she learned as a teen. (The Mormon shame around masturbation is not only creepy, but also has some doctrinal problems.) And this picture brings back some (not-Mormon-related) memories of growing up in the Twin Cities.

In random stuff, Knotty made a good case for taking Woody Allen’s side in the latest scandal eruption while Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks made a counter-argument about who should get the benefit of the doubt. And it turns out that his story has some big holes in it.

There was also some sporting event with lots of free entertainment which some Mormons avoided on religious grounds.

Have a great week, and don’t forget to vote!!!

11 thoughts on “Sunday in Outer Blogness: See you in court edition!

  1. Before they “crossed the streams” people who were put off by the apologetics could just tell themselves “That’s just some speculation by some random guys at FAIR.” It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

    Now wait a second. I’m a bit confused. I thought you’ve been saying for a long time that the Church is trying to make its doctrine as jello-like as possible.

    But these LDS.org essays seem like the Church is trying to create some sort of solid form.

    I’m scratching my head in terms of what’s happening exactly.

  2. Thanks for the link! I wouldn’t say I think people should necessarily take Woody Allen’s side, per se. It’s more like I think they shouldn’t just jump on the Woody bashing bandwagon without giving the situation some thought. I don’t actually know what happened to Dylan Farrow and neither does anyone else who wasn’t there on the day the abuse supposedly happened.

  3. Now wait a second. I’m a bit confused. I thought you’ve been saying for a long time that the Church is trying to make its doctrine as jello-like as possible.

    I don’t think the Church (or individual leaders) have an intentional strategy of trying to make the doctrine as jello-like as possible. I think the mixed messages are a result of a vacuum in real leadership.

    That’s why we’re seeing “official” articles that contradict each other: the BoM DNA piece that affirms research showing that people lived long before Adam (for the Internet savvy) and a series of real-life biographies of Old Testament patriarchs for the old-school Mormons.

    The problem is simply that President Anonymous Q. Newsroom is writing the doctrine now, and he’s composed of lots of different people with different agendas.

    But these LDS.org essays seem like the Church is trying to create some sort of solid form.

    Well, sort of. The theme of the essay on BoM DNA was “We don’t know which people are/were the descendants of Lehi, nor where they were or what happened to their DNA, but you can’t use DNA to prove they didn’t exist!” While tentatively floating the idea that maybe the Book of Mormon isn’t really a historical record.

    @2 So true. We really can’t know what happened, so we shouldn’t be rushing to sharpen our pitchforks.

  4. President Anonymous Q. Newsroom

    lol.

    I think there’s some kind of coordinated strategy, and these things aren’t necessarily appearing without higher-up authorization. Everyone was complaining before that the Church wasn’t transparent about thorny issues, and perhaps enough people were falling away due to what they discovered on the internet. So, the articles were deemed necessary interventions.

  5. @4 I think these things are appearing with higher-up authorization, but I don’t think they’re part of a coordinated strategy.

    Specifically, I think the committee that decided that the CoJCoL-dS needs to address thorny issues and the committee that decided that it would be a good idea to start publishing biographies of Adam and Noah in the Ensign are completely different committees. And I think they each got rubber-stamps from higher-ups who are basically going with the flow instead of coming up with a coherent strategy on what should be taught as Mormon doctrine.

    The alternative is that some top leaders intentionally proposed a strategy that looks something like this: Let’s use official channels to teach the literalist believers that the Adam and Noah stories are true, while using different official channels to tell the Internet-savvy folks that we actually agree with the modern, scientific understanding of human origins. That way we have a satisfying answer for everyone, and everyone can believe that their own preferred belief is ‘official doctrine’ — and the tithing dollars keep rolling in!”

    Scenario B is possible, but I think scenario A is more likely, on the principle of “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.”

  6. I thought most Mormons are okay with the idea of “preadamites,” but also consider the Biblical times to be true. At least, that’s how I was raised. I was very into dinosaurs as a kid, though now that I think about it, I do remember someone saying that fossils were planted by Satan. Hugh Nibley had this to say on the matter, which strikes me as most Mormons resolve it:

    Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation — for our scriptures allow them such. Nor am I overly concerned as to just when they might have lived, for their world is not our world. They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared. God assigned them their proper times and functions, as he has given me mine — a full-time job that admonishes me to remember his words to the overly eager Moses: “For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.” (Moses 1:31.) It is Adam as my own parent who concerns me. When he walks onto the stage, then and only then the play begins.

  7. Much is made by apologists about the complexity of population-blending over long historical periods, a dodge designed to reduce DNA science to “white noise” or to a rigged game of “Where’s Laman?”

    In truth, only a Mormon prophet (like a patriarch) can clearly identify a “Lamanite.” Prophets used to identify “Lamanites” wholesale, whole populations! Patriarchs did and still do it retail. Once found in manner to which Mormons are obliged to pay attention unless they’re willing to repudiate patriarchal powers, “Lamanites” can have their DNA tested.

    Patriarchal blessings over time have identified many Native Americans as “Israelites” of one sort or another. Can’t willing blessing recipients be DNA-tested to prove that either the science is bogus or the prophecy is bogus? Or, alternatively, that Western-Hemisphere Israelitish blood is of such refined Jell-O that it is inaccessible to the methods of science? Like “spirit” to molecular science?

    In the last case, apologists should be encouraged to stop impeding science and restrict their efforts to the worthy field of pure theology. Crossing crossed streams is always perilous. Has anyone done such a comparison of Patriarchal Blessings and DNA testing? Southerton might know.

  8. @6 Yes, I understand that’s one of the popular explanations. In other words, there were people (of a sort) before Adam, but they didn’t have any souls. That’s apparently the apologetic explanation favored by the LDS population geneticist they cited most often.

    That’s a pretty questionable explanation, though, for a lot of reasons. (Are Adam and Eve the parents of all people? Or just all of those with souls?) It’s perhaps even worse that the theory that when God cursed the Lamanites with dark skin, he changed their DNA too (skin color is determined by DNA, after all…).

    You’re right that the BoM DNA article still leaves a bit of wiggle room for apologetic theories that maintain the Book of Genesis as a historical record. Maybe they’ll post a new topics article clarifying the “issues” raised by their earlier topics articles! 😀

    Patriarchal blessings over time have identified many Native Americans as “Israelites” of one sort or another. Can’t willing blessing recipients be DNA-tested to prove that either the science is bogus or the prophecy is bogus? Or, alternatively, that Western-Hemisphere Israelitish blood is of such refined Jell-O that it is inaccessible to the methods of science? Like “spirit” to molecular science?

    Good point. I wonder how many Mormons have been identified in their patriarchal blessings as children of Lehi. If the church’s official position is that they don’t know which people are the Lamanites, why not use patriarchal blessings as a guide? They can be trusted to be accurate, can’t they?

  9. @8, that’s true…it just raises more questions. But as I mentioned elsewhere, the goal is not to resolve the issue, because resolution would undermine faith. Rather, the goal is to provide just enough rationality to ensure the “absurdity” doesn’t feel like “insanity.”

  10. @8
    Sorry to disappoint you, Chanson, and I know this will shock you, but, despite assurances to hundreds of thousands of recipients of PBlessings, they actually can’t “be trusted to be accurate,” because I’ve just been told by a renowned student of LDS history, whom I will not name, that: “Unfortunately the Mormons weasel out of everything. They now say the linage identification in a pat. bless. can mean either by adoption or by literal blood descent. So when an Indian’s DNA didn’t show Semitic ancestry they would just say he was adopted into the linage, or he was from such a mixed line that the Semitic line didn’t show up.”
    Of course, “black is white unless it’s expedient that it be chartreuse” in the land of Jell-O. I should have known. Before DNA, however, I’m sure there was less ambiguity about Patriarchal Blessings. And this is a rock cut from a mountain without hands? Was it the Big Rock Candy Mountain?

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