The Natural Man Blues

Well, I wake up in the morning and I start to sin
Seven o’clock’s about the time I begin
I think of pouring some coffee, maybe downin’ some tea
Ain’t no hot drink that’s off limits to me

They say a natural man’s
An enemy to God
That’s sure one slippery iron rod

I can peaches on the Sabbath, it’s a thing that I do
I go to church every Sunday when I’m wearin’ no shoes
I feed pigeons with bread left on the sacrament tray
I don’t use middle initials when I name the GAs

Oh, I’m a natural man
You know what that means
I watch General Conference in my T-shirt and jeans

BRIDGE:
All my button-down shirts are every color but white
I might applaud in a chapel when there’s somethin’ alright
My special musical number uses trumpets and drums
I have eight CTR rings on both of my thumbs

Well, I never reached Eagle – Second Class to this day
And I’ve never once chuckled at ol’ John Bytheway
I don’t bring refreshments; I don’t put away chairs
I sing the wrong hymn until the chorister swears

‘Cause I’m a natural man
Resigned to my fate
I’m Bruce R. McConkie’s Deadly Heresy Eight

[Insert self-indulgent heavy metal guitar solo here]

I’m still in my PJs at each P.E.C.
I ingest Diet Coke intravee-nee-ously
I’m the reason the red punch has all disappeared
Got a brand new beard card but won’t grow a beard

‘Cause I’m a natural man…
[Guitar Solo]
Oh, I’m a natural man…
[Odd bass solo]
Natural, natural, natural…
MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Thank you very much.

What It Means

“Love wins!” “A great day!” “Finally! Personhood and dignity for all!” “Love is love!” “So proud to be an American today!” “Good on ya, Supreme Court!”

Just a sample of the jubilant Facebook posts swamping my current newsfeed as the nation processes this landmark Supreme Court ruling. I have no desire to step on anyone’s jubilation, even though my own reaction is decidedly more mixed, and the future is far cloudier than the plethora of rainbows would suggest.

On the merits of the case, however, there’s absolutely no question in my mind that the court did the right thing.

Marriage between a man and a woman has been a bedrock institution of civilization for thousands of years, which is why I’ve been less than eager to welcome a redefinition thereof, mainly because it further erodes the standard that children are best served when raised in an environment with a mommy and a daddy. Yet that does not change the fact that the Supreme Court was correct to overturn the blatantly unconstitutional elements of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), despite anyone’s reservations about the decision’s long-term policy implications.

At this level, policy is irrelevant. The Supreme Court should be in the business of interpreting law, not making policy. A justice recognizing their proper role should be willing to uphold laws with which they disagree as long as the legislation passes constitutional muster. Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that principle in his controversial opinion re: the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare. On that occasion, he stated that since the Constitution permits the law, “it is not [the Court’s] role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.” Or, as Justice Antonin Scalia has put it, “A lot of stupid stuff is perfectly constitutional.”

By the same token, laws supporting policies with which we agree can still be perfectly unconstitutional. Such was the case with DOMA. It was written specifically to subvert the part of Article IV of the Constitution known as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause,” which demands that “[f]ull faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Under DOMA, that plain constitutional language couldn’t be applied to marriage contracts between people of the same gender, so Utah remained free to ignore gay marriages that originated in Massachusetts. Regardless of one’s opinion about gay marriage in principle, it’s clear the Constitution doesn’t allow that kind of exclusion in practice.

One of the most cynical aspects of DOMA is that many lawmakers who supported it thought it to be unconstitutional at the time, yet they voted for it anyway. President Clinton has since admitted that he signed the act fully expecting the Supreme Court to strike it down. Seventeen years ago, when DOMA became law, public opinion was firmly united against gay marriage, whereas in 2013, the political pendulum has swung the other way. But constitutional principles should remain inviolate, regardless of public opinion or policy preferences. That was true then, and it’s true now.

Constitutionally, the Court had no other choice than to decide how they did. And what’s stunning to me is that none of the conservative bloc was able to recognize this.

How can John Roberts, the same John Roberts who excoriated Obamacare while simultaneously upholding it, now essentially adopt the position that the policy enacted by DOMA is reprehensible enough that it precludes its constitutionality? How can Antonin Scalia, who thinks dumb and constitutional aren’t mutually exclusive, write a scathing opinion denouncing gay marriage? This wasn’t a debate about gay marriage – it should have been a debate about the applicability of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which should be valid whether we’re talking about marriage or shoes or dental chairs. Yet, once again, this clause, and the entire Constitution, is now subject entirely to the whims of Anthony Kennedy, as neither the conservative nor the liberal bloc on the court is willing to overlook rigid ideological thinking to impartially consider the law, and Kennedy, who has no ideology to speak of, is always going to vote with whatever side looks cooler on any given day.

But it is what it is. And this time, it’s right on the legal merits. Big deal. What does it really mean?

It means that the free exercise of religion in this country is essentially over. Any opposition to gay marriage is now the equivalent of using the N-word in polite company. Churches that refuse to grant equal status to same-sex couples will become pariahs much like the Ku Klux Klan. It is only a matter of time before such groups lose their tax-exempt status, and, perhaps, their incorporated right to exist as legal entities at all.

Scalia, whose dissenting opinion is dead wrong legally, is right on the money when he describes the far-reaching practical implications of what the Court has wrought. He notes that the majority opinion paints DOMA’s opponents as “unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob” and that anyone raising any objections to same-sex marriage is trying to “‘demean,” to “impose inequality,” to “impose … a stigma,” to deny people “equal dignity,” to “brand gay people as ‘unworthy,'” and, ridiculously, to “humiliate their children.” Scalia points out that the majority has now labeled anyone who opposes gay marriage at any level and for any reason as “beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement” and “enemies of the human race.”

Quoting Scalia at length now:

In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad. A reminder that disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage can still be politically legitimate would have been a fit task for what in earlier times was called the judicial temperament… Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat.

He’s absolutely right. And it’s already happening. My Facebook friends cheering love’s victory have implicitly branded the losers as love’s opponents. That will be one of the kinder labels that will be applied to anyone with any gay marriage objections in the days and years ahead.

UPDATE: Over on Facebook, an actual lawyer had this to say:

“Your reasoning for agreeing that the court got it right is that DOMA violates the Full Faith and Credit clause of the US Constitution is is therefore unconstitutional. But the courts opinion speaks nothing about section 2 of DOMA. In fact they left that section intact. They focused entirely on section 3 of DOMA which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. The opinion actually finds that definition unconstitutional based on equal protection grounds. I would agree with you if the court had attacked section 2 as violative of the Fair Faith and Credit clause, but they didn’t do that. This was a specific attack on the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. This is judicial activism at its worst and is not a legally sound opinion.”

Interesting. I confess I made my evaluation without actually reading the decision. I still contend that DOMA is unconstitutional as a result of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, but the fact that the Court didn’t bother to approach the issue with that in mind is entirely disturbing.

UPDATE II: Another actual lawyer chimed in on Facebook with a different perspective.

“The reason this decision was not based on the Full Faith and Credit clause is because that applies to how states treat each other. So if Arizona says it won’t recognize a Calif marriage, the FF&C clause applies. And you’re right, that’s a no-brainer. States can’t refuse to recognize another state’s gay marriage anymore than Southern states could refuse to recognize northern states’ interracial marriages. Instead, this case involved the federal gov’t trying to invalidate a state’s right to define marriage. This couple was married but when one died the IRS said the other had to pay an extra $363K in taxes because the federal government didn’t consider them to be “spouses”. The SCt held that states–not the federal govt–gets to define marriage and the federal gov’t can’t bypass that authority by stigmatizing the very people states have tried to protect. Instead, gay married couples have to be treated the same in NY as other married couples and the federal government can’t create 2 classes of married people in NY–married for state laws and not married for federal laws. That’s why they applied the Equal Protection clause.”

That’s good to know, and it makes me feel a bit better about the legal reasoning, even though my explanation was entirely wrong.

The Big Twist

My nephew accompanied my daughter and me to see “Now You See Me,” a pleasant enough summer diversion in the form of a magic–themed caper movie. I won’t reveal the twist to you, except to say that it didn’t take very long to figure out what it was. My nephew, who had seen the movie already, was surprised when I leaned over to him halfway through the movie and accurately predicted what was going to happen. I reveled in my own brilliance for the rest of the night, except that it really doesn’t take an Einstein to recognize the limited “big twist” options that writers have in a two-hour piece of entertainment.

In this flick, four magicians are brought together to execute an elaborate, globe-trotting criminal plan plotted by an unknown mastermind behind the scenes. It goes without saying, then, that the movie, in order to be dramatically satisfying, has to eventually uncover the identity of the hidden genius driving the plot.

I’m not going to spoil it outright for you, but I’m now going to give you the tools to create your own spoilers. If that’s unacceptable, I hereby provide a chicken exit for you to walk out of this particular post right now. Don’t worry – I won’t judge you.

Possible candidates for the hidden genius in question are limited solely to the characters who receive the majority of screen time in the film. Essentially, that’s only eight people – the four magicians carrying out the plot, along with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and that French chick whose name I don’t remember.

Conceivably, or even probably, if this ludicrously elaborate scheme were being enacted in the real world, the mastermind would turn out to be someone else entirely. Life’s cast of characters is far too large to fit on a single movie marquee. But in a movie, that’s no fun. For a film to be entertaining and exciting, we have to care about the major players, which requires filmmakers to condense reality into a two-hour timeframe with a manageable population size of people that matter. If the twist involves someone who doesn’t matter, then the audience doesn’t care.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear very quickly that the four magicians are disqualified from mastermind status. Each of them is recruited by the mastermind, who hides his/her identity underneath a gray hoodie. If that mastermind is one of the magicians themselves, then it would require strange narrative gyrations to explain why they bothered to get someone else to hoodie up and extend the invitation.

So that leaves Caine, Freeman, Ruffalo, and Frenchy.

Caine’s character loses $150 million as a result of the plot and spends most of the movie bent on revenge, which pretty much counts him out, too. That leaves three potential candidates, and the movie goes out of its way to implicate Freeman early on. But how boring is that? They keep telling you it’s Freeman, it’s Freeman, it’s Freeman, and then it turns out to be – Freeman? No, for the twist to have any impact, it has to be somebody you would never suspect. Both of the two potential candidates left fit that description, and one of them fits the description more than the other one does.

And there it is.

Once you recognize the limitations of the cinematic form, it’s very hard not to see the big twists waiting in the wings. This summer’s blockbusters episode with them, and all them have been kind of stupid. I made the mistake of going to the Tom Cruise star vehicle “Oblivion,” which pretty much gave away the twist in the trailer. Cruise thinks that he’s on the side of the angels fighting aliens, but since Morgan Freeman, who apparently decided to spend his summer vacation in movies with lame twists, makes an appearance in the trailer, you learn that the aliens he thinks he’s fighting aren’t aliens at all. So you know even before the movie starts that Cruise is a dupe working for the bad guys. The movie offers some other, dopier twists involving clones and spouses and such, but once you recognize the basic plot structure, those twists are only mildly diverting at best.

“Star Trek Into Darkness,” however, can’t even offer mild diversion. It’s the movie with the flat-out dumbest twist of this or perhaps any season.

Tell me, how is it an exciting twist if the characters in the movie couldn’t care less about it? When John Harrison announces he’s Khan, the soundtrack strikes an ominous chord and the camera holds for a reaction shot, but Kirk and Spock are entirely nonplussed. “Okay, great, you’re Khan,” they’re thinking. “So who’s Khan? Is that name supposed to mean something to us?”

Perhaps the best twist of the summer, and one that I did not see coming, was the moment in “Iron Man 3” when we discover who Ben Kingsley really is. It works because there’s never any hint that he isn’t who he’s initially presented to be, especially since there were dramatically satisfying ways to make the movie even if the twist not been part of the plot. From my perspective, it’s only a good twist if it’s a choice, not a necessity. That’s usually the only way it can come as a genuine surprise.

And yes, I’m aware of all the fanboy rage about how inconsistent the movie was with the comic book version of this character, but I personally hadn’t read enough Iron Man comic books to mind.

I have nothing more to say on the subject. I sleep now.

Joint-Heirs with Christ

We’ve reached the tail end of my Gilbert Scharffs-esque, line-by-line refutation of Tea Party columnist Mike Adams’ lambasting of a faith he both misrepresents and misunderstands. (If you must, you can read his original assault here.) And it’s a good thing, too, because I’m getting really tired of this guy. Not the most Christlike of sentiments, I know, but I’ve wasted over 10,000 words in response to a man who took no second thought to putting himself in Christ’s place and blithely condemning 14,000,000 people to hell. That level of pride and ignorance tends to make me just a tad bit snippy.

So let’s get this over with.

I say Adams didn’t give this a second thought, but that may not be entirely accurate. In response to an earlier post on this subject, an old friend dug up a Mike Adams column from 2006 wherein he stated categorically that “The idea that Mormons are not Christians is… untenable. No one reading Romans 10:9 and John 14:6 can deny that Mormons are Christians who are saved by faith and destined for heaven.”
(Read that one for yourself here.)

So what changed his mind?

John 14:6 again, apparently. According to Adams, this verse, which insists that Jesus Christ is the only way into heaven, contradicts a statement by Joseph Smith that Adams offers as evidence that Smith was a polytheist. From the column:

I am sorry that Joseph Smith said the following shortly before his death: “(W)hen I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my father, so that he may obtain kingdom among kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself.”

This quote represents either a wildly disingenuous attempt to deceive or an error so sloppy that it’s astonishing any editor let it go to print. In either case, Adams gets this one entirely wrong.

Read the excerpt from Joseph Smith’s King Follett sermon from which Adams lifted this embarrassing blooper:

How consoling to the mourners when they are called to part with a husband, wife, father, mother, child, or dear relative, to know that, although the earthly tabernacle is laid down and dissolved, they shall rise again to dwell in everlasting burnings in immortal glory, not to sorrow, suffer, or die any more, but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a god, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to My Father, so that He may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt Him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take His place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of His Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all His children.

(King Follett funeral sermon, April 7, 1844. Emphasis mine.)

By leaving out the text before and after his quote, he directly charges that Joseph Smith was trying to take God’s place. But Joseph is speaking from the perspective of Jesus here. In modern vernacular, it’s as if Joseph were saying, “What did Jesus do? Well, Jesus said ‘I do the things I saw my father do…” etc. Every time Joseph says “I” in the paragraph Adams yanks from its contextual moorings, he is referencing not Joseph Smith, but Jesus Christ. To Adams, this ludicrously makes Joseph a “polytheist” who ignores Christ to sit on the throne of God. Behold:

I am sorry that Smith’s polytheism is not consistent with John 14:6. I am also sorry that since these are the words of Christ, polytheism cannot be Christian. Moreover, I am sorry, my Mormon friends, but the the words of Christ trump the words of Joseph Smith who will never be God.

Yet it’s the very words of Christ that Joseph is quoting here! He’s claiming that Christ is God, not Joseph Smith. No Latter-day Saint worships Joseph Smith, and no Latter-day Saint ever will. Indeed, no one in my church worships any god other than the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and Christ Himself, who, as the scriptures taught, and Joseph reemphasizes here, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” (Philippians 2:6)

In this quote, Joseph is not distancing himself from John 14:6 – he is embracing it. He is also laying claim to the promise that we are children of God, and therefore “heirs” of God – specifically ” joint-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) In this sermon, Joseph is doing nothing more or less than taking the plain language of the New Testament at face value – a very Christian thing to do.

Adams, however, doesn’t get any of this. He goes on to say:

I am sorry that Mormonism teaches that Christ was not there in the beginning, that god was just a man who became God by following a moral code he did not create, and that we may all become gods by following the same moral code that predates the existence of Jesus. I am sorry that the theological mess caused by Joseph Smith is irreconcilable with the teachings of the Holy Bible.

Talk about a theological mess – where on earth does he get the idea that Christ was not there in the beginning? Indeed, what “beginning” is he talking about? Beyond the Bible, Latter-Day Saint scripture is replete with references to Christ’s eternal nature, including repeated references to Christ being present “in the beginning” and being co-eternal with the Father. (See Abraham 3:21, D&C 93:7, Moses 6:30, Moses 2:1, Ether 3:15, Mosiah 7:27) To claim otherwise is pure nonsense.

That’s not his primary point, though – he’s attacking the doctrine of theosis, an idea with a lengthy Christian tradition that did not originate with my church but is now one of the primary reasons Mormons are branded as heretics, if not blasphemers. As Joseph Smith explained in the sermon Adams mutilated, we are all to be joint heirs with Christ. Joint heirs all inherit the same thing – because Christ paid the price for us, we all get what Christ gets. You may not agree with that doctrine, but it makes no sense to argue that it somehow diminishes the centrality of Jesus in Mormon theology. If anything, it makes us more Christian, not less.

As for whether God created the moral code or whether it “predates” him, Joseph Fielding McConkie, my mission president and the son of renowned Mormon theologian Bruce R. McConkie, wrote the following in his book “Answers:”

QUESTION: Did God discover law, or is he the author of it?

ANSWER: God is the author of law, not its creation or its servant. All light and all law emanate from him (see D&C 88:13)… He does not harness law and then use it to bless and govern his creations… True it is that God was once a man obtaining his exalted status by obedience to the laws of his own eternal Father, but upon obtaining that station he becomes the source of light and law to all that he creates.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions,” pp. 167-168)

We know nothing of God’s relationship to his own father, or what moral code may have existed then. We only know that God is our father, the only father we worship, and that the only way to him is through his son, Jesus Christ. We worship none else.

Latter-day Saints believe that we are all children of God in a very real and literal sense – Christ is the Only Begotten in the flesh, but we are all God’s children in the spirit. We believe, therefore, that we are, to be somewhat crass, the same “species” as God, and that his “work and his glory” is to impart to us everything that He has. (See Moses 1:39)

Yet this is the height of blasphemy to the Christian world. Truman Madsen, another great Mormon theologian, reported an exchange on this subject that, for me, has always perfectly illustrated the doctrinal tension that this teaching often exacerbates. He was speaking to a group of Christians who were appalled by these ideas, and he engaged in a brief Q&A with them.

“Why,” I dared to ask—and it’s a question any child can ask—”did God make us at all?” There’s an answer to that in their catechism. Basically, it is that God did so for his own pleasure and by his inscrutable will. Sometimes it is suggested that he did so that he might have creatures to honor and worship him—which, if we are stark in response, is not the most unselfish motive one could conceive. Sometimes it is said that he did so for our happiness. But because of the creeds it is impossible to say that God needed to do so, for God, in their view, is beyond need. And then the bold question I put was “You hold, don’t you, that God has and had all power, all knowledge, all anticipatory wisdom, and that he knew, therefore, exactly what he was about and could have done otherwise?”

“Yes,” they allowed, “he could.”

“Why then, since God could have created cocreators, did he choose to make us creatures? Why did God choose to make us his everlasting inferiors?”

At that point one of them said, “God’s very nature forbids that he should have peers.”

I replied, “That’s interesting. For us God’s very nature requires that he should have peers. Which God is more worthy of our love?”

That sums up my thoughts on the subject exactly.

As for Adams, he ends his distinctly unChristian column by patting himself on the back.

Finally, I am sorry that my Mormon readers have unfairly accused me of criticizing Mormonism without doing my homework. But I am glad I did.

Not sure why. I wouldn’t be glad if I did my homework and got all the answers wrong.

To sum up this past week’s worth of responses, I wouldn’t be glad to make laughably broad claims about the Book of Mormon that the book itself doesn’t make, which modern science is in no position to sustain, and which are often provably, factually inaccurate. I wouldn’t congratulate myself for botching all the details I cite about a discontinued Mormon practice that I demonstrably do not understand, historically, factually, or scripturally. I wouldn’t invert the Lord’s teachings about how to identify people as Christians when I’m attempting to pass judgment on the faith of millions, a faith I misrepresent repeatedly. I wouldn’t quote Joseph Smith and pretend he was aggrandizing himself when he was praising the Lord Jesus Christ, the very Lord I claim Mormons somehow reject. And, finally, I wouldn’t take much pride in condemning people for believing that Jesus is too generous, too grand, and too all-powerful and loving to give all that He has, insisting that Christians ought to believe in a Jesus that doesn’t honor the plain language of the Bible on the subject of being joint heirs with him, but rather one who demands we assume our proper roles as arbitrary subjects rather than potential peers.

Adams concludes by saying:

Now I understand the significance of Galatians 1:6-9.

Galatians 1:6-9 reads “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.”

Another gospel? So which gospel does Adams represent? Can we presume that it is fraught with hatred, deliberate deception, pettiness, and error just as Adams’ defense of it is? If so, I’m thrilled to keep my distance from it.

I’m so glad to be through with this. I’m going to bed.

Hellfire, Exceptions, and Rules

Happy Father’s Day!

Having recovered from yesterday’s detour into the nascent DC Comics cinematic universe, we return to the Stallionic line-by-line response to Mike Adams, whose anti-Mormon rant against the possibility that Latter-day Saints are, in fact, Christians, was built on charged assertions that are either flat-out wrong, misleading, or irrelevant.

He devotes over 450 words of his 800+ word column to polygamy as practiced by Joseph Smith, so clearly he thinks this is his trump card. But since the Bible says nothing about polygamy in general, Joseph Smith’s polygamy has to be particularly reprehensible in order to smear everyone in the church who came after him. It’s worth noting, however, that his most vitriolic charges against Joseph Smith are insinuated rather than stated. Look! Smith forced himself on young girls! Except he didn’t. Look! Joseph slept with ladies married to other men! Except he didn’t. Look! Joseph stole Heber C. Kimball’s wife! Except he didn’t. Look! Joseph kept ladies from marrying their sweethearts! Except he didn’t.

A pattern has emerged.

Adams offers just enough information to allow his readers to infer the most damning conclusion about Joseph Smith’s perfidy possible, while sliding past any details that might exonerate him. That’s worth noting as we get to Adams’ final indictment of Joseph, which includes what, at first glance, appears to be solid evidence that Joseph was, in fact, using his station to coerce a girl to marry him against her will.

Here’s how Adams describes it:

I am sorry that after her mother died, Joseph Smith approached teenager Lucy Walker with a command that she marry Smith with the threat of eternal damnation as the punishment if she refused. I am sorry that the year before Joseph Smith died, he said the following to Lucy: “I will give you until tomorrow to decide (whether to marry me). If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.”

Game over, right? Well, remember the pattern. There is much about this story that Adams isn’t telling you, because it doesn’t make for nearly as sordid a tale.

To begin with, I can find no direct quote with reference to this marriage citing eternal damnation, hell, or anything similar in either Lucy Walker’s writings or anyone else’s. It is likely, then, that Joseph said anything like that in his proposal, as, if he did, that would likely be the money quote that would prove, beyond question, that Joseph was a beast. The best Adams has got is this bit about “the gate will be closed forever.”

What gate?

The inisinuation is that this is the “Pearly Gate,” the gate to heaven, and that, if he turned the prophet down, the door to paradise would be slammed in her face. But that’s a really odd formulation, especially since Mormon theology rejects a static heaven or hell. Something else is clearly going on here.

In addition, Joseph had recently excommunicated a guy named John C. Bennett – no relation to yours truly – because this was his M.O. in picking up ladies – he tried to make them “spiritual wives” and threatened hellfire if they didn’t sleep with him. Joseph found this reprehensible and booted him out of the church. Seems unlikely, then, that he would then turn around and apply the same tactics, especially since none of his other wives reported this kind of threat.

So what’s the full story?

It begins four months prior to the supposed hellfire ultimatum. He taught Lucy Walker the principle of plural marriage and then proposed to her, and she said no, absolutely not. “Oh that the grave would kindly receive me that I might find rest of the bosom of my dear mother!” she wrote, but four months before she consented, not 24 hours. Four months. And during that time, Joseph didn’t mention the proposal at all. He finally approached her and issued the money quote with the gate in it, which Lucy Walker refused emphatically. If she truly feared eternal torment as a consequence of her defiance, it was unlikely that she would be comfortable writing, as she did, that after she shut him down she would “emphatically forbid him speaking again to me on this Subject.”

Joseph, rather than bring out the fire and brimstone, did something else entirely. From Lucy Walker’s writings:

“He walked across the room, returned, and stood before me. With the most beautiful expression of countenance, he said, ‘God almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that peace and joy that you never knew.'”

“God almighty bless you?” Peace and joy? That’s not quite “Demons will feast upon your innards,” is it?

Incidentally, Joseph’s promise, according to Lucy Walker, was fulfilled to the letter. In her own words, with her own poor spelling:

“My room became filled with a heavenly influence. To me it was in comparison like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud… My Soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that I never knew. Supreme happiness took possession of my whole being. And I received a powerful and irristable testimony of the truth of the marriage covenant called ‘Celestial or plural mariage.’ Which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life.”

So the entire case against Joseph in this case rests on one word – gate. What did Joseph mean that the gate would be forever closed? In context, it looks as if he’s talking about the opportunity to marry him. He’d given her four months; she’d put him off. He finally said, “Look, fish or cut bait.” And her refusal even on that occasion spurred Joseph’s kindness, not threats. Try as he might, Mike Adams can’t really shoehorn this experience into a John C. Bennett kind of nightmare. (Again, no relation. At all.)

So that’s it. Adams has thrown everything he can at Joseph personally, and he’s missed every time. So he sums it all up by quoting the Book of Mormon – and, in the process, shoots himself in the foot.

I am sorry that the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith claims to have transcribed from the golden plates given to him by the Angel Moroni, says the following: “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, Saith the Lord.” (Jacob 2:24).

Does anyone else notice the irony that any clear condemnation of polygamy in any Judeo-Christian scripture shows up – in all places – only in the Book of Mormon?

I love Jacob chapter 2. It demonstrates that, clearly and surely, the Lord establishes monogamy as the standard. The following verses after 24 are even better.

JACOB 2: 27-29
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;

28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or acursed be the land for their sakes.

Pretty clear, no? Everyone who tells me that all of us Mormon guys are secretly hankering for the Supreme Court to let us start marrying lots of ladies again are overlooking this scripture entirely. Adams would have you believe that Joseph was overlooking it, too. After all, how can you reconcile Joseph’s dozens of wives with the plain language of these verses?

You read on to verse thirty.

30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

Key word there – “otherwise.” There are times and places where the Lord allows and even commands polygamy to “raise up seed.” But otherwise, it’s one man, one woman. Polygamy is the exception; monogamy is the rule. Joseph knew that; Mormons everywhere know that. Mike Adams, apparently, did not.

Tomorrow we finish all this up. Hopefully.

Man of Adequacy

Please stand by for a special report.

martinansin_regular_largeWe interrupt our regularly scheduled Bible bash – I’ll pick up on polygamy et al as promised tomorrow – in order to bring you the Stallionic review of the movie that kept me up until 3:00 AM last night. I’m too old and crotchety for midnight screenings, but the Cornell clan made an exception for “Man of Steel,” which is only the most anticipated movie in recent memory and a do-or-die proposition for the future of DC Comics film adaptations. I have been quite eager to see this thing – so much so that I wrote a Deseret News column begging the producers to ensure that it didn’t suck.

And the good news? It didn’t suck. Indeed, it was altogether adequate.

That may seem like I’m damning the film with faint praise – “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s adequate!” – but that’s an incredible accomplishment when you stop and think about the weight of all the expectations burdening this movie. Remember, this flick had to redeem a faltering Superman cinematic franchise that hadn’t produced a decent film in over three decades, along with making Superman relevant to an entirely new generation of jaded moviegoers who consider the original costumed hero to be nothing more than a Big Blue Boy Scout, while at the same time providing enough fan service to the diehard Supes aficionados like me who insist that they honor much of what has gone before and not stray too far from canonical elements of the Superman mythos, all the while establishing an onscreen DC universe that will be home to a number of crossover films a la Marvel’s Avengers formula, and in the process retell the fundamental Superman origin story that everyone knows in a way that feels fresh and exciting, topping it off with enough action and adventure that the whole thing doesn’t feel like a rehash or a plodding mess.

And I’ll be darned if they didn’t pull all that off.

This film truly managed to be all things to all people, although, in the process, it spread itself too thin to do any one of those things with any degree of panache or distinction. No, that’s not true. The action sequences, of which there are scads, are uniquely effective and unlike anything ever seen in a superhero adaptation before. And, really, the music was amazingly good – Hans Zimmer had to fashion a theme as inspiring as the iconic John Williams Superman fanfare without ripping off John Williams to do it, and, against all odds, he somehow did. Plus there’s the spot-on casting – Henry Cavill is note perfect as Superman, and Amy Adams was an inspired choice for Lois Lane. Her character is integral into the story in a way that gives Lois far more weight in the narrative than was ever had by Margot Kidder’s ditzy damsel in distress. Michael Shannon’s chilling Zod, Kevin Costner’s flinty Pa Kent, Russell Crowe’s stately Jor-El – all of them work better than anyone could have hoped for.

So why the adequate label? Why not an unqualified rave?

Because the parts never quite gelled into a cohesive whole. There’s so much that happens, and on such a grand scale, that it’s very difficult to take enough of a breath to gain any perspective on it. The film does have introspective moments – I was particularly struck by the poignancy of Clark’s childhood freakout when he can’t stop hearing and seeing everything in the world – but there’s not enough time to savor them. There’s just too much ground to cover, and you always get the sense that the production has miles to go before it sleeps. The film is very exposition heavy, and poor Russell Crowe spends most of his screen time as a Kryptonian Hermione Granger, spewing off plot points at a dizzying pace in order to bring everyone on and off screen up to speed. And even with all that, you never understand what Zod is so upset about – something about a Kryptonian codex that is mentioned early on, but not in a context that would give the audience a reason to care about it – until right before the last third of the picture, which sets aside narrative for sheer spectacle and bombast.

But, oh gosh, wow, do we get some nifty spectacle and bombast. One of the many complaints about 2006’s ponderous “Superman Returns” was that Brandon Routh’s Supes only lifted heavy objects and kicked no butt. In contrast, Cavill’s Man of Steel gets to really and truly beat people up. Hoo boy, does he ever.  Guys get punched through skyscrapers at supersonic velocities. It’s pretty cool. There’s just so, so much of it that it threatens to overwhelm and overshadow everything else.

And maybe that’s my biggest beef with this picture. It’s powerful, but it’s not particularly endearing. The Christopher Reeve series devolved into camp pretty quickly, but “Superman: The Movie” had an easy charm that seldom undermined the attempts at verisimilitude. The things you remember from that first film aren’t the big action set pieces, but rather the smaller character moments.  Clark giving an open phone booth the once over. “You’ve got me – who’s got you?” “Fly. Just… fly.” “Do you… eat?” “I like pink very much, Lois.” There was a respectful-yet-playful approach to the source material. In “Man of Steel,” there’s plenty of respect, but there’s not much in the way of playfulness. That makes you feel every minute of the movie’s 2-hour-and-23-minute running time.

With all that said, I walked away satisfied, not disappointed. I didn’t consider it a great film, and while I would certainly have preferred a great film, I think this movie has done enough heavy lifting that it has paved the way for great films down the road. The follow-up has all the groundwork laid for it, so it should be able to breathe a little easier than this one did.

I also think that, beyond the inevitable “Man of Steel 2,” the next logical step for DC is not a Justice League movie, but, rather, a World’s Finest movie – just Superman and Batman. There were rumblings not long ago that bringing back Christian Bale’s Dark Knight into this universe might not be out of the question, and, even though that character’s status post-TDKR presents some dramatic challenges as well as real-world financial ones, I think melding that world with this one would be a very smart and lucrative way to go. Rebooting Batman when you’ve already done the character so well and so recently would require a movie with the kind of expositional backstory dump you find in “Man of Steel,” and nobody needs another dose of that.

But don’t let me scare you away from this one. I don’t think I could if I tried. It’s worth seeing, and it’s worth supporting this movie despite its flaws, because it’s a first step in what could be a very promising direction.

BEWARE: SPOILER-FILLED ADDENDUM

Steer clear of this section until after you see the movie. Spoilers ahead. Severe ones.

Ready?

Still here?

Good gravy, but Jonathan Kent’s death was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. There’s a tornado bearing down on him, and he gives his life… for the dog? How about, you know, letting the dog die? Or, better still, how about saying, “Hey, my invulnerable son – howsabout grabbing Fido on your way out? It’s not like this twister can even mess up your hair. Me, I’m going to hightail it over to the overpass with the rest of the mere mortals.” But, no, Jonathan just stands there and insists that Clark, who could have whisked him out of harm’s way in the blink of an eye, watch his father martyr himself for the greater good of a mutt too boneheaded to get out of a car. This was so mind-bogglingly asinine that it almost sank the movie for me. But since the film zipped along so quickly, I got over it. Sort of.

Why do Kryptonians have an entirely different written alphabet than earth does, but they still speak English? Granted, this is how it works in just about every science fiction film, but would it have killed them to throw in some kind of universal translator technobabble to smooth things over? They threw in every other kind of technobabble, so it would have fit right in.

They went out of their way to define the S shield as a Kryptonian symbol of hope, but did they ever explain the significance of the suit? Why was it in that ship in the first place? Kal-El put it on awfully quickly for no apparent reason. And the idea that that was a Kryptonian colonial scout ship wasn’t made clear until long after it would have been nice to know.

Is Jenny, the intern caught in the rubble, supposed to be a gender-shifted Jimmy Olsen? What a waste. Jimmy was missed. So were Clark’s glasses, although I’m glad we got them before the end. But how did Clark get a job at the Daily Planet? Newspapers aren’t hiring people off the streets these days, especially one in a market like Metropolis. Clark has no relevant experience or even any verifiable professional background. Except Superman tells that U.S. military dude that he grew up in Kansas, and, given all the eyewitnesses to the bus incident, it wouldn’t be hard at all to make the connections. In this iteration of the Supes mythos, the idea that only a pair of spectacles can provide any disguise at this point seems more ridiculous than usual, and it was always pretty ridiculous.

I didn’t miss the red external underwear, although I think the costume design in the new line of comic books, which includes a red belt, works better than the weird wing-like pattern down the sides of Cavill Superman’s abs. I missed the classic spit curl, but I think we got a hint of it near the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dangling in front of Cavill’s forehead when the sequel comes around.

Did I mention Pa Kent’s death was stupid? Because it was stupid.

Many geeks are in an uproar over Superman breaking Zod’s neck. I had read the spoilers, and I was prepared, as a good little geek, to be upset myself. It didn’t bother me at all.  Superman did everything he could to prevent Zod from zapping those innocent people in Grand Central Station, and if he hadn’t done what he did, those people would have died. Classic self-defense. And Superman’s anguish at being forced to take a life was entirely consistent with who he is. I don’t think it compromised the integrity of the character.

Many think Clark’s confession in front of a stained-glass church window was symbolic overkill. I thought it was terrific. Religion is a huge part of many people’s live, but it doesn’t usually show up in summer blockbusters. But of course Clark would feel comfortable in a church – he grew up on a Kansas farm, for heaven’s sake. And I like the fact that the minister gave him thoughtful, appropriate advice and wasn’t portrayed as a buffoon.

According to Pa Kent’s gravestone, he was 46 when he died. Kevin Costner is 58, and I’m almost 46. I hope I don’t look nearly as old as Kevin Costner does.  And Costner did an outstanding job, even though his character’s death was really stupid.

That’s all for now.

His Name Shall Be Had for Good and Evil

As I continue to dissect Mike Adams’ assault on my faith, I find myself stuck on the words of Joseph Smith as he described his visit from an angel.

“He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me,” Joseph recalled. “[He told me] God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”

So Joseph Smith, an impoverished, functionally illiterate 19th Century farm boy of 17, predicted that the entire world would know his name? Such chutzpah! What’s more, his name would be “had for good and evil,” which I interpret to mean that people would either love him or despise him. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that anyone’s name would achieve that level of recognition, but Mike Adams is a direct fulfillment of that prophecy.

Make no mistake – Adams has it in for Joseph, and the bulk of his column is spent cataloguing his various crimes against heaven and humanity. I mentioned the first anti-Joseph indictment yesterday, when Adams said the following:

I am sorry that among the 33 well-documented plural wives of Joseph Smith, there were close to a dozen unions in which the wife was already married to another man.

I would quibble with his headcount – Wikipedia, for instance, says the number of total wives is 27, not 33, and very few of them could be described as “well-documented,” especially those where the women were married to other men – but that seems, to me, to be beside the point. What if the actual number were half, or perhaps twice that figure? It wouldn’t really mitigate the underlying problem, which is that Joseph married lots of women, and some of them were, in fact, already married at the time. Yet Adams doesn’t tell you that in plural marriages where Joseph married other men’s wives, the supposed cuckolds knew about this arrangement, sanctioned it, and, what’s more, went on to live with their wives as they had before Joseph Smith came on the scene. Never mind Joseph Smith – what husband would allow such a thing? What on earth was going on?

The answer comes from an understanding of the difference in Mormon theology between “marriage” and “sealing.”

Even today, Mormons who solemnize their weddings in LDS temples refer to the ceremony as a “sealing,” wherein a couple is sealed together for “time and all eternity.” The word “seal” comes from the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), a collection of revelations given to Joseph Smith throughout his life. In D&C 132:45 the Lord says to Joseph Smith, “[W]hatsoever you [i.e. Joseph Smith] seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens.” This “sealing power” is thought by Mormons to be identical to the authority given to the apostle Peter in the New Testament as written in Matthew 18:18 – “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Latter-day Saints believe that binding/sealing a couple with this authority perpetuates family bonds beyond the grave.

The word “sealing” is often synonymous with “marriage,” but not always. Children, for instance, are “sealed” in temple ceremonies to their parents. Joseph saw all of this as part of his role in the “restitution of all things” mentioned in Acts 3:21. That included restoring both the sealing, or binding, power mentioned earlier, along with the ancient practice of plural marriage.

Evidence suggests that what happened in these instances was that Joseph drew a distinction between sealing and regular marriage. Some married women were sealed to Joseph, but, in this life, they stayed faithful to their husbands. Many more women, including my own great-great grandmother, were sealed to Joseph after his death. There is no evidence to suggest that Joseph slept with the women who remained married to other men. Those who claim that the doctrine of plural marriage was a convenient outlet for Joseph’s libido overlook the reality of how Joseph actually conducted himself in living this principle.

There were no orgies or harems. A large number of his plural wives got a wedding ceremony and nothing else. Offshoots of the mainstream LDS Church, notably the Community of Christ, insist Joseph couldn’t possibly have been a polygamist. After all, how could a man could be married to over two dozen women and father children with none of them? The answer is that Joseph did not view polygamy as a license for licentiousness, and how he lived this doctrine defies the modern caricatures that have sprung up around it.

Again, understand the narrowness of my point. I’m not saying polygamy is wonderful, and I concede it is strange and disturbing. What I am saying is that it wasn’t the sexual free-for-all that Adams implies, and that it needs to be understood in its proper historical and theological context. I’ll get into that a bit more when I respond to Adams’ Book of Mormon quote on the subject.

I am sorry that in his lifetime, Joseph Smith married four different pairs of sisters. I am sorry that Joseph Smith married a young woman and also married her mother.

Well, at least they had someone to talk to at family reunions! Honestly, how does this make polygamy even worse? This is just piling on for the sake of piling on.

I am sorry that some of Joseph Smith’s marriages were the result of religious coercion secured only after he told the prospective bride that marrying him would ensure the bride’s place in heaven.

“Some” of his marriages? Which ones? Were the other ones OK, then? Adams seems to have greater access to the mind and intentions of Smith and his wives than any number of reputable historians do. Because most of Smith’s marriages were conducted in secret, there is precious little hard documentation about any of them, and neither Joseph nor his wives offer much in the way of first-person commentary. That leaves an awful lot of room for wild speculation, which is what Adams is engaging in here. To charge “religious coercion” requires evidence from either coercer or the coercee. Such evidence doesn’t exist one way or the other.

I am sorry that Smith also coerced teenagers into marrying him by promising their families a place in heaven.

Another explosive-yet-entirely-unsubstantiated charge. How about some specificity, Mr. Adams?

I am sorry that Joseph Smith kept fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball from marrying her sweetheart Horace Whitney because he wanted to marry the teenager instead.

Ah! There we go! Specificity! Also, alas, inaccurate. Kimball wasn’t Whitney’s “sweetheart” when she was sealed to Joseph – she didn’t develop a relationship with Horace until after Joseph Smith’s death. She did, in fact, marry Horace Whitney, and the couple had eleven children together. They were married for the remainder of their natural lives. She was also an ardent supporter of the practice of plural marriage throughout her life. At least, that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

It’s notable that the most incendiary accusations – Joseph was forcing himself on impressionable girls! – have no names attached to them. It is doubtful that’s a deliberate choice on Adams’ part. If he had names, dates, and places to populate his smears, he would provide them. But he doesn’t have them, so he has to smear without sources. Of course, it may also be a case of covering his tracks – as demonstrated with his Kimball/Whitney mistake, the more specific he is, the easier he is to refute.

I am sorry that Joseph Smith also asked Helen’s father Heber C. Kimball to give him his wife.

Now this accusation is entirely true. It is also entirely vicious. Notice that Adams doesn’t claim that Joseph Smith married Vilate Kimball, Heber C. Kimball’s wife, because he didn’t.

Well, why didn’t he?

The most logical explanation would be that Vilate and Heber C. turned him down. But they didn’t. Joseph did ask for Vilate, and Heber and Vilate agreed, after which Joseph broke down in tears when he realized that his friends had that much confidence in him. He immediately confessed that this was a test of their faithfulness, and that he never had any intention of marrying Vilate. He had even given Heber C. a blessing prior to this unusual request promising him that he and Vilate would never be parted in this world or the next. Context makes this a very, very different story than the one Adams is peddling.

But it turns out that Adams isn’t finished bungling the story of Helen Mar Kimball.

I am sorry that before he eventually married Helen, Joseph Smith gave her a 24-hour deadline to give in to his offer of a place in heaven. I am sorry that two years after the death of Joseph Smith, Helen married her old sweetheart Horace Whitney. I am sorry that the marriage between Helen and Horace was only temporary because Helen was already “sealed” by marriage to Joseph Smith for eternity. I am sorry that Horace Whitney was “sealed” to an already dead Mormon woman before his “temporary” marriage to Helen.

Where to start? It’s all wrong to one degree or another. Joseph didn’t propose to Helen directly; Helen’s father imparted Joseph’s intentions, with no record of any deadline or hellfire threats. Promises of heavenly blessings came only after Helen had accepted the proposal. Adams mentions Helen’s marriage to Horace Whitney, inaccurately calling him “her old sweetheart” when their courtship didn’t begin until after Joseph’s death. Adams claims their marriage was “only temporary” even though they spent their entire lives together as husband and wife. Horace wasn’t, in fact, sealed to anyone prior to his marriage to Helen – a detail of minor import, except it demonstrates that Adams is comfortable being sloppy with the facts.

Adams’ complaint that the marriage was “temporary” is of special interest. A casual reader would infer that they were divorced at some point, which they weren’t. If Adams truly believes, then, that this marriage was temporary, he then accepts the efficacy of the sealing power restored through Joseph Smith. Should I fill up the baptismal font for you, Mike?

More polygamy tomorrow, with a helpful summation on the subject courtesy of the Book of Mormon.

Good Fruit from Rotten Roots?

Continuing my line-by-line response to Mike Adams’ incendiary anti-Mormon column, we begin today with a passage from the New Testament.

I am sorry that my Mormon readers have put all their eggs in one basket by constantly writing to me quoting Matthew 7:16.

Matthew 7:16 is a statement by Jesus wherein the Savior establishes the criteria by which his followers could be identified. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” the Lord says. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

We have no access to the specific reader complaints that Adams is referencing, yet it seems odd that Adams would see repeated callbacks to the Lord’s own criteria for Christianity as an attempt to “put all their eggs in one basket.” Remember, the catalyst for this facetious apology was Stacey’s complaint that Adams identified Mormons as non-Christian. Shouldn’t a Christian turn to Christ to determine the standard by which Christians ought to be judged? Matthew 7:16 provides perhaps the simplest explication of that standard in all of Scripture. Doesn’t the Savior himself repeatedly say that he is the only way to heaven, and, to continue the metaphor, the only basket in which we should place our eggs? If he were consistent, Adams would be congratulating the Mormons for recognizing the importance of this biblical yardstick as opposed to relying on the authority of some other source.

I’d be very interested to read some of the messages that Adams received privately. If so many of them reference Matthew 7:16, it’s likely they also provide specific examples of ways in which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have effectively emulated the example of the Master. My church has blessed and continues to bless the lives of millions of people, both spiritually and temporally, whether or not their names can be found on church membership rolls. Critics of my church’s doctrine are often forced to concede that, in practice, Mormons are a force for good in the world at large, and that, in most instances, Latter-day Saints strive to follow Jesus’ example in their personal lives. Objectively speaking, it would be very hard to find a way to argue that the fruits of Mormonism are anything but overwhelmingly positive.

Somehow Mike Adams found a way.

So I am sorry that I must now apply that verse to the very first Mormon.

Adams makes a hard shift here, and, if you listen closely, you can almost hear the gears grinding. In an act of breathtaking audacity, Adams contends, for well over half his column, that Mormonism can’t be any good because the first Mormon was so very, very bad. This is a precise inversion of Jesus’ counsel in Matthew 7:16. Where Jesus says you’ll know them by their fruits, Adams says ignore all that good fruit and focus on the rotten root. Apparently, in Adams’ world, thorns grow great grapes, and this year’s thistle harvest will yield figs to die for.

I am sorry that among the 33 well-documented plural wives of Joseph Smith, there were close to a dozen unions in which the wife was already married to another man.

Now we get to the heart of Adams’ objections – polygamy, a widely misunderstood practice discontinued by my church well over a century ago. While I will get to each of Adams’ accusations re: plural marriage in due course, a couple of things are important to note here at the outset.

The first is a reminder that Adams’ brief was prepared to prove that Mormons are not Christians. In order for any discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy to be relevant to that thesis, one of two things has to be true:

1. The practice of polygamy disqualifies any polygamist from legitimate Christian status.
2. Joseph Smith’s personal polygamy was uniquely and egregiously wicked in itself, disqualifying him and any of his followers from laying claim on the blessings of the Gospel.

Adams proceeds as if both these arguments are identical. They are not. Yet all of Adams’ “apologetic” references to polygamy focus exclusively on how Smith practiced it, presumably in the hopes that the perceived excesses of the church’s founder will shock the sensibilities of his readers. How else to explain his outrage at the fact, for instance, that “Joseph Smith married four different pairs of sisters?” Would Adams have been mollified if Joseph Smith had, instead, married eight women with no siblings? No. So why bring up irrelevant family connections? Either polygamy is disqualifyingly unChristian, or it isn’t. If it is, then any eight concurrent marriages would offend the Lord. If it isn’t, then Adams’ extra level of familial detail only serves as an attempt to make Smith’s unions just a little more creepy.

So what about it? (Polygamy, I mean.)

Personally, I’m not a fan, and I know of no Mormons who are. I think it would be a miserable way to live. Nothing I write here should be construed as advocacy for the practice or eagerness for its return to Mormon theology. I’ve catalogued my personal feelings about polygamy here, and those interested ought to refer to that previous post if they want to know how I personally reconcile a disturbing historical practice with my own modern faith.

My focus here, then, will be a narrow one. I will only be responding directly to the issue raised by Adams – specifically, is polygamy definitionally impossible to reconcile with Christianity?

Well, if it is, then it’s not looking good for a whole bunch of those Old Testament guys. Adams mentions David and Solomon, but he ignores Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and a host of lesser names, all of whom were married to more than one woman, sometimes following a direct command of the Lord to take another wife. None of them faced any divine opposition to their actions. Indeed, there is no condemnation of the practice anywhere in the Bible. Even in the New Testament, polygamy isn’t mentioned at all. Josephus and other contemporaneous observers note that polygamy was still prevalent among the Jews at the time of Christ, yet there is no recorded counsel from either Jesus or the apostles on the subject one way or the other.

How, then, can Adams biblically exclude all polygamists from the body of Christian believers?

He can’t. Neither can anyone else. So, instead of citing authority he doesn’t have, Adams invokes outrage at a practice that modern society, by and large, still finds repellent. It’s an effective technique; after all, I’m a Mormon, and even I find the practice repellent. But I find a lot of things repellent. If I made the rules, you wouldn’t be able to get into heaven if you use your cell phone in a movie theater or you say “lay down” when you should say “lie down.” But I don’t make the rules; Christ does. And, as far as I can tell, poor phone etiquette and atrocious grammar don’t keep people from being Christians. And, if you adhere strictly to the Bible, as Adams claims to do, polygamy doesn’t disqualify you, either.

But what about Joseph Smith? He wasn’t just a polygamist; he was a scoundrel, too, wasn’t he? Surely his behavior was so vile that he couldn’t possibly be considered a leader of Christians, right?

We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Refuting Adams’ Sorrow

Mike Adams’ anti-Mormon opus is titled “My Apology to Mormon Readers.” This title is problematic, as we will see soon enough.

He begins by addressing a woman – girl? – named Stacey, as follows:

Dear Stacey:

You have written demanding an apology for my recent characterization of the Mormon religion as “non-Christian.” I am happy to write a public letter of apology to you and to the countless Mormon readers who responded negatively to my characterization.

What follows is not an apology. It is, clearly, anything but. Given that his thesis stems from the premise that Adams is a Christian yet the average Mormon is not, one is left to question the Christlike nature of an “apology” designed, in exceptionally sarcastic and condescending language, to inflict the greatest offense possible upon its intended recipients. Had Jesus taken a similar sneering approach to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4, it seems unlikely that she would have had much interest in what the Lord had to say.

I am sorry that so many of my Mormon readers have brazenly accused me of ignorance of their religion and suggested that I read the Book of Mormon. I am sorry that they were unaware that I read the Book of Mormon back in 2006.

If he read the Book of Mormon, and there is no reason to doubt that he did, he drew conclusions from it that cannot be sustained by the original text. In his first salvo against my faith, he launches what he likely considers to be one of the most devastating arguments against the book’s veracity. In reality, it’s pretty weak sauce.

Behold:

I am sorry that the science of genetics has refuted claims made in the Book of Mormon concerning the relationship between Native Americans and Semitic people. These refutations undermine the entire historical premise of the Book of Mormon.

Adams employs two false premises here. In the first place, the science of genetics hasn’t refuted anything related to the Book of Mormon, and, in the second, the Book of Mormon makes no claims that the science of genetics is in any position to refute. Thus the “entire historical premise” of the Book of Mormon faces no challenge whatsoever .

To understand this, we have to dive into DNA stuff, which could get a bit dull for a few paragraphs. The truth isn’t nearly as sensational as Adams’ sweeping claims, and, in fact, is a little bit boring.

The findings in question that have been seized upon by Adams and his fellow opponents of Mormonism involve mitochondrial DNA tests which show Asian DNA in Native Americans, but, so far, no Semitic DNA. The nature of the research does not preclude the possibility of any Middle Eastern ancestors; it only demonstrates that Semitic ancestors cannot currently be found by means of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA markers, which are sorely limited in the information they can provide.

Consider a 2003 study, conducted on an entirely different population by non-Mormon researchers, which determined that the majority of people living in Iceland descend from 19th Century ancestors that cannot be identified by these markers, even though written records of these unidentifiable people still exist. (Cited in “Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research” by John M. Butler.) Given that the Book of Mormon narrative ends well over a millenia and a half ago, it’s ludicrous to assume that the same DNA tools would be able to conclusively demonstrate the totality of Native American ancestry. No credible geneticist would ever make that claim.

This leads us to the second false premise – that the Book of Mormon claims that Native Americans would all have Semitic DNA.

It doesn’t. Not even close.

The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention genetics at all. What it does mention are several migrations by people from the Old World to the New, the first of which is conducted by an Asiatic people called the Jaredites, thousands of years prior to any Semites showing up on the scene. While Semitic descendants of the family of Lehi get a starring role in the Book of Mormon narrative, they do not arrive on an uninhabited American continent, and their genetic material ends up combining with that of any number of indigenous peoples in ways likely to be undetectable by current genetic identification techniques. Plus, if, as Adams seems to believe, the book’s “entire historical premise” is that all, or even the majority, of Native Americans are exclusively Semites, it probably ought to have said as much and avoided muddying the waters with an Asiatic population that had a several-thousand-year head start.

I am also sorry that while archeological discovery supports the claims of the Bible it clearly does not support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Battles that were supposed to have occurred in specific locations in North America simply never took place. The archeological evidence just isn’t there.

Isn’t where? The Book of Mormon names no “specific locations” that correlate with any modern map, at least not in the Americas. This is the same problem scholars face when trying to pinpoint many Bible sites. Where was the specific location of the Tower of Babel? Mt. Sinai? Sodom and Gomorrah? Nobody knows. Using Adams’ criteria, that means they didn’t exist. Adams also fails to mention that the Book of Mormon does identify an Old World burial site by the name of Nahom that wasn’t discovered until a century after the Book of Mormon was published. Lehi’s journey to the shores of what is now Oman is well documented with plentiful archaeological evidence that Adams chooses to ignore.

I am sorry about the plagiarism of the Holy Bible that runs through the Book of Mormon.

This is an absurd charge, because the Book of Mormon cites its sources. “And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words.” (See 2 Nephi 11:2) Plagiarism involves lifting passages from other works without acknowledging where they come from. That’s not how it works in the Book of Mormon, so, needless to say, plagiarism can hardly be labeled a practice that “runs through” the book.

I am sorry that Mormons cannot see that Joseph Smith’s refusal to reveal the golden tablets is strong evidence of their nonexistence.

This is an irrelevant aside, but I don’t understand why enemies of the church always insist on referring to the Book of Mormon’s golden plates as “tablets.” I’m not sure how this is significant, but neither Joseph Smith nor anyone else within the church ever used – or uses – that word, but it seems like everyone attacking the church does. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, mind you; it’s just an odd term to apply to thin metallic sheets bound together by three large bolts.

Regardless, since its first printing up until the present day, each copy of the Book of Mormon has included written testimony from eleven men to whom Joseph Smith did, in fact, show the plates. The first three witnesses were also visited by the angel and shown other items pertinent to Book of Mormon history. Each was, at some time in their lives, deeply disaffected with the church and Joseph Smith in particular, yet not one denied his testimony, even in the face of public ridicule. David Whitmer, who never reconciled with the church and went to his grave insisting that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, still felt it necessary to reaffirm his eyewitness testimony of the “tablets” on his deathbed.

In any case, applying this standard to Biblical events causes a number of problems for Mr. Adams. Just as there were eleven witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates, there were eleven apostles left who had seen the risen Lord upon his return. Does the fact that Jesus didn’t make personal appearances to confirm the testimony of the apostles provide strong evidence that he never rose from the grave? The story of the golden plates is entirely consistent with the Biblical pattern that requires all followers of Christ to walk by faith.

The heavy plagiarism in the Book of Mormon puts the lie to the rest of the story of Smith, the former seeker of the lost treasures of Captain Kidd.

The demonstrable lack of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon precludes the possibility of “heavy” plagiarism. Even if you call quoting the Bible “plagiarism,” the clearly-labeled-as-such Isaiah passages make up about half of one of the fifteen lengthy individual sections that constitute the book in its entirety, providing less than five percent of the Book of Mormon’s total text.

As for Joseph and Captain Kidd, the sole source of that accusation seems to be from a document written four decades after Joseph Smith’s death. Among all the accusations about Joseph Smith’s treasure hunting, no contemporaneous documents exist to support a flimsy allegation about a Captain Kidd obsession made by a very old man long, long after the fact.

There’s more, but I want to stop and ask the question that Adams goes out of his way to avoid:

What does any of this have to do with whether or not Mormons are Christians?

That’s the issue Stacey and “countless Mormon readers” raised in their objections to Adams’ inaccurate dismissal of our church. Even if the Book of Mormon were nonsense, why would that mean the people who believe in it aren’t Christians? If someone believes in both Jesus and the Easter Bunny, are they disqualified, too? If so, young children dyeing eggs every Spring are putting their salvation at risk.

More tomorrow…

How to Be Anti-Anti

A commenter on my last post brought Mike Adams and his diatribe against my church to my attention. I had never heard of the good Mr. Adams, a syndicated columnist who apparently has quite a following among Tea Party types. I could have gone my entire life and not been exposed to Mr. Adams’ bile and counted myself a lucky man. He is the embodiment of all the reasons why I find Tea Party types so odious. For far too many of them, their supposed love for constitutional government takes a back seat to their irrational loathing for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hey, Mormon Tea Partiers – this guy, and legions just like him, may agree with your idiosyncratic view of our founding documents, but you also ought to know that he, and a legion of bigots like him, hates you for what you believe.

Seriously. He really, really hates you.

In reading his screed, I recalled my experience as a freshman at the University of Southern California, where I was first exposed to the foulness of anti-Mormon literature. I read “The Godmakers” from cover to cover, which described a church with a history and doctrines far darker and more sinister than the relatively dull one in which I had spent the entirety of my life. I also ended up listening to a “Christian” radio station which broadcast the rantings of one Walter Martin, who had made a living as an “expert” on “cults” and the “occult,” a world in which Mormons supposedly play a starring role. In reviewing the work of these people who had made tearing down my faith their mission, I found myself feeling frustrated, frightened, and powerless – frustrated because I knew that a good chunk of what they were saying was flat-out wrong, frightened because I wasn’t sure if the stuff they claimed that I didn’t recognize was actually true, and powerless because I was in no position to offer any substantive rebuttal.

I returned to Salt Lake over Christmas break and, out of the blue, was given a copy of “The Truth About ‘The Godmakers,” a book by a man named Gilbert Scharffs that took “The Godmakers” and refuted every charge in it, line by line, with ample documentation. (You can now read the whole book online – no charge.) I later met Mr. Scharffs after I returned home from my missionary service in Scotland, and I thanked him for his thoughtful reply. What struck me, beyond the saliency of his arguments, was the patient, Christlike tone with which he wrote. Where “The Godmakers” had been inflammatory and insulting, Scharffs had been reasonable and kind, with no attempt to attack or defame his supposed enemies personally.

That is the tone I will try to emulate as I respond, line by line, to every charge Mr. Adams made in his original piece.

I recognize that there is often little value in being “anti-anti,” as it usually generates more heat than light, and the exchanges are seldom, if ever, accompanied by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The commenter who brought this column to light alluded to a scripture in the Book of Mormon, where Jesus states that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (See 3 Nephi 11:29-30)

I’m sad to report that I’ve had my share of contentions on subjects like these, and I have no desire to deliberately reproduce that experience here on anywhere else. But I will be forever grateful to Gilbert Scharffs for offering solid answers to a young kid who was looking for them when the “Godmakers” authors were eager to destroy my faith. If there is a single kid, or adult, who reads my next few posts and feels a little less frustrated, frightened, or powerless, then writing this will be worth it.

With that as prelude, we begin with the Adams column tomorrow. Line by line, Scharffs style! Boo-ya!