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I Believe in Angels in the Age of Railways

I take you back to the fall of 1986, where I’m living in a tiny dormitory one the second floor of Marks Hall for Deans Scholars on the campus of the University of Southern California.

Across the hall lived a gaggle of very loud film students, and it was very hard for them to find any privacy, especially in matters of luuuv, if you know what I mean. One guy would constantly bring the phone – pre-cordless era, of course- into the hallway to whisper sweet telecommunicated nothings into his girlfriend’s ear. The problem was that he usually leaned up against my door, which is where my the end of my bed was, along with my head most of the time. So I heard every bit of his often lurid conversations, much to my inexperienced embarrassment.

One night, I heard the conversation proceeding as usual, except every time luuuv matters came up, the person on the other end of the line wanted to change the subject to religion. The guy in the hall was clearly an atheist, and he kept offering up reasons why religion was silly, why the Gospels in the New Testament conflicted with each other and were historically unreliable, and why the idea of all of us descending from a single Adam and Eve from some garden in Africa was absurd on its face. By the time he got to that point, the conversation sounded something like this.

“Oh, you don’t think the Garden of Eden was in Africa, then?”


“Well, so where do you think it was?”


“Independence, MISSOURI?!!”

Yep. I knew he had a Mormon on the other line.

Mormons actually believe this, and we’re often mocked for it. Except that if you believe the Garden of Eden really existed and was actually a place and not just a metaphor, then why is Jackson County, Missouri any more ridiculous than Addis Ababa or some other far flung location? (If it makes you feel better, we don’t think it was called Independence or Jackson County back then. As far as we know, the Garden of Eden was unincorporated.)

The problem, then, is the idea of what Charles Dickens called “angels in the age of railways.” The distance of antiquity allows people to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, but the proximity of the now makes it very difficult for people to believe that a modern Moses could part anything but his hair. That kind of silliness is what makes it very easy to make the Mormons look ridiculous in light of modernity, which is one of the reasons why the rancid Book of Mormon musical is such a comedy smash.

I’ve said much about the Book of Mormon musical on this blog – see here and here – but I thought I’d take a moment to get more specific. See, there’s much in the musical that’s offensive to decent people of all faiths – who else wants to sing along to that catchy ditty titled “F@#% You, God?” – but the one song designed to hit Mormons squarely between the eyes is the rousing anthem titled “I Believe,” which is designed to show that all Mormons are gullible idiots who have talked themselves into swallowing angels in the age of the Bullet Train.

The song actually starts off well, with a prologue that parodies The Sound of Music’s “I Have Confidence” with lines like “A warlord who shoots people in the face? What’s so scary about that?” It takes a wrong turn at the chorus, which is where the pseudo-missionary starts listing his catechism of stupidity.

I believe that the Lord God created the universe…

OK,  fine so far.

I believe that He sent His only Son to die for my sins…

Even better! Something to shut the “Mormons aren’t Christians” people up. But then we get to the third-time-pays-for-all punchline…

And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America…

Hmmm. That’s followed by the all-purpose summation:

I am a Mormon
And a Mormon just believes.

Ha ha! What a silly thing to believe! Golly, them Mormons is a hoot. Do they actually believe this Jews-in-Sailboats stuff? (And haven’t the ever ridden the Monorail at Disneyland?)

Well, here’s the deal. We do believe that, pretty much. (Quibbles: They were Israelites from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, not Jews; they came to the Western Hemisphere, but not the USA specifically.)

So we have three ideas: God creating the heavens and the earth; Jesus suffering and dying for the sins of all humanity, and sailing Jews on the way to Pittsburgh.

One of these things is not like the other.

The first two of those ideas guide my life on a daily basis. Comparatively, and to the extent that it’s true, the third is little more than trivia. Of course, the structure of the song gets a huge laugh by implying that Idea #3 is at least as important, if not more so, than Ideas 1 and 2.

You can make any faith look ridiculous using the same formula.

Consider this one:

I believe that the Lord God created the universe
And I believe that one day the Messiah will come to deliver us
And I believe that one day’s supply of oil fueled eight day’s worth of lamps and therefore guided the Maccabees to a military victory…
I am a Hebrew
And Hebrews just believe.

Ha ha! Those zany, kooky Jewish folk! (It also works with Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists – the whole enchilada. It’s especially effective with Scientologists. Just toss a reference to Xenu in there. Comedy gold!)

The song then tells us that “You cannot just believe part way/You have to believe in it all.” Again, the implication is that we not only have to believe all this nonsense, we have to believe it without perspective or emphasis. We ought to spend at least as much time thinking and talking about ancient Semitic sailboats as we do about Christ’s sacrifice.

But we don’t. From my point of view, we’re the only ones who approach this religion thing with consistency. We believe that God existed before railways, and that He still exists afterward. We believe that in all years of time, He interacts with His children and never leaves him alone.  If that makes me a target for mockery, the same way it did to the folks in the pre-railway age, then I’m in good company.

(There’s more of the song to pick apart, but I’m about to fall asleep. So consider this one of those two-part, “To Be Continued” sort of dealies…)

Here Come the Republicans. (*sigh*)
I Believe in Angels in the Age of Railways: Part Deux

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  1. All of these beliefs stem from revelation. Other than the current president of the LDS, whose revelations steer the direction of the Church as a whole, I’m under the impression that members also experience personal revelation, but that its content is supposed to apply to a more local vicinity, i.e. their family and their personal path in life. Are there instances where members experience revelations, concerning the direction of the Church, and if so, do they keep it to themselves, or is their a hierarchy to move through to bring attention to their revelations to TPTB? Do you personally have revelations where Jesus and/or the Heavenly Father make their will known to you?

    • Yes, but they communicate by means of the Holy Ghost. (Have I had the Father and/or the Son personally appear to me? No.)

      Your impression is correct. Revelation focuses on stewardship. I do not have stewardship over the entire church, so I am not entitled to receive revelation for such. If it were any other way, the church would be a mass of confusion.

      • I completely forgot about the Holy Ghost. I have never experienced a revelation, ever.

        According to David Bednar, “The spirit of revelation is available to every person who receives by proper priesthood authority the saving ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost—and who is acting in faith to fulfill the priesthood injunction to “receive the Holy Ghost.” This blessing is not restricted to the presiding authorities of the Church; rather, it belongs to and should be operative in the life of every man, woman, and child who reaches the age of accountability and enters into sacred covenants. Sincere desire and worthiness invite the spirit of revelation into our lives.” According to this, revelations from the Holy Ghost can only occur if you receive these two official LDS ordinances. This immediately puts me in the camp of exclusion right away.

        Mr. Bednar goes on to say “…over time they increasingly understood the spirit of revelation typically functions as thoughts and feelings that come into our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost”. So, at first, I thought revelations consist of “thoughts and feelings”, which is vague enough that pretty much any old thing could be construed as a revelation. But then he goes on to say, “…the Holy Ghost frequently is described as “a still small voice” and a “voice of perfect mildness”…” and “Revelations are conveyed in a variety of ways, including, for example, dreams, visions, conversations with heavenly messengers, and inspiration.”

        Now we’ve escalated to “hearing voices”, “visions”, and “conversations with heavenly messengers”. Is this how you experience revelations?

        • Elder Bednar is referring to “the gift of the Holy Ghost,” which is conferred upon members of the church at baptism. This is somewhat different from the personage of the Holy Ghost, who provides revelation to people both inside and outside the church. With the gift of the Holy Ghost, a member of the church is promised that they can have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, provided they honor their covenants and attempt to live righteous lives.

          I have heard the “still, small voice” innumerable times, but calling it a “voice” can create confusion. The Holy Ghost speaks in pure ideas directly to the heart, not with clumsy words piped into the ears. As this phrase itself demonstrates, sometimes language is inadequate to express knowledge with perfect accuracy.

          People often speak of “promptings.” Joseph Smith spoke of the Holy Ghost communicating by means of “pure knowledge.” These ideas come from outside ourselves with a stillness and simplicity that is easily overlooked, but is undeniable and irrefutable. Calling it a “still, small voice” doesn’t quite explain it, but I can’t explain it any other way.

          As for dreams, visions, and heavenly messengers, I have admittedly had far less experience in those areas. What experiences I have had, however, are not for public consumption. I find that those who boast of such things have never really experienced them, or, if they have, will likely not experience more of them because they have treated what they have received far too lightly.

  2. “The Holy Ghost speaks in pure ideas directly to the heart, not with clumsy words piped into the ears…Joseph Smith spoke of the Holy Ghost communicating by means of “pure knowledge.” These ideas come from outside ourselves with a stillness and simplicity that is easily overlooked, but is undeniable and irrefutable.”

    Ok, then you don’t “hear voices”, and your description is hazy and sufficiently fuzzy enough that I can safely put it back under the subjective “thoughts and feelings” category that I mentioned earlier. Regarding the “dreams, visions, and heavenly messengers”, you don’t want to get into that since you don’t want to jinx it. Understandable.

    All of this is completely alien to me. As a skeptic, and non-believer, I can offer you…absolutely nothing; only a probability of nothing happening after death. Your church, on the other hand, offers the company of your family, surrounding you, when you awaken from your first resurrection. That’s a powerful promise, an alluring, and comforting, brass ring. My carousel just stops, and breaks down.

      • lol — I’ll bet you know more than two who’d be willing to pedal on over. I’ve already met quite a few pairs, of crisp laundered white shirts, and, you can report back to TPTB, they were always extremely polite and considerate.

        Unfortunately, I must respectfully decline your generous offer.

  3. I have experienced the things that Stallion has experienced–the promptings, the still small voice, the thoughts and feelings that are from the Holy Ghost. The things that Stallion discussed are discernable, meaning that the promptings of the Holy Ghost I feel can be distinguished from my own thoughts and feelings.

    So, an external force is influencing you, a distinguishable force separate from your own “thoughts and feelings”. How do you know it’s not Satan?


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