Corroding the Container

Good heavens.

The amount of traffic this blog has received since my last post is five times the average I usually get when I put up something new. And the comments and pingbacks are startling – and most of them not fit for a family blog, if you know what I mean. The kindest ones were merely insulting and rude. A relative few had the vocabulary to express anything but bile.

The message I’m getting is that, by and large, the people who hate my faith are just not very nice.

And nice matters, people.

In any field of persuasion, whether it be religion, politics, or just trying to get the kids to decide what the family should eat for dinner, the tone of the message is at least as important as the message itself. Politicians who lose their cool end up losing elections, regardless of whether they’re right on the facts. Any married person will tell you that once one spouse raises their voice, it doesn’t matter what the disagreement is about anymore – the hard feelings come from the yelling, not from what spurred the yelling.

Hatred, even if it’s justified, is always ugly. Belittling. Squalid. It makes the hater appear small and petty. As Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming once told me, “Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.”

I’ve gotten a chance to see that firsthand these past couple of days.

Look, I get it. Some people think what my church teaches is so vile, so wicked, so purely evil that extreme measures are called for in order to bring it down. But it never occurs to the people on a mission against the Mormons that their hatred is hurting their cause. People compare the kind-hearted Latter-day Saint to the street preacher on Temple Square screaming at the top of their lungs and damning everyone to hell, and they assume the one headed for Hades is the one who seems to have already been there in order to provide a firsthand report. If you want to pry me loose from the clutches of Satan, you probably shouldn’t be brandishing a pitchfork to do it.

No, if you want to influence someone, that can be accomplished, but only “by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, [b]y kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” That’s D&C 121. Say what you will about Joseph Smith – he sure got that part right.

I’m convinced, too, that the Mormons have to be on to something to inspire such white-hot loathing among our detractors. If what we taught didn’t matter, then haters wouldn’t get so worked up about it. Nobody gets this hot and bothered after they drop out of the Rotary Club.

That’s all. I know this comes as no great surprise to most people, who are turned off by snarling zealots. And I know snarling zealots will probably just snarl harder. But if you wrote a comment telling me what a blankety-blank I am, and you’re wondering why it never got posted, here’s your answer.

A Conversation with Mike Norton

Mike Norton, AKA “NewNameNoah,” the temple cinematographer I made reference to in yesterday’s post, has found me out! This morning, he commented on what I wrote, and, as I was preparing a response in the comments section, I thought it might be a good idea to bring this to the front page. After having bashed him in absentia yesterday, it seems only appropriate that I give him a broader forum for his response.

Mike’s comments are in green, the color of life. Mine are in black, the color of darkness.

Jim, apparently I “dared” you to call me. Let’s state the facts now.

Yes, let’s! I’m impressed that you found me, sir. I’d be thrilled to know this wasn’t your first time here.

You posted the following comment on my “Behind The Veil” video under the pseudonym “Jim Gloober”, “Clearly those of you who “comment here on a regular basis” are looking for an outlet for rage and hatred that makes this a place where we Mormons are going to be treated with disdain. I simply submit that any who think such hatred is either Christian or intellectually constructive may want to recognize that it is neither. As for me, I have no interest in returning to a place where I am so clearly despised. Live and be well.”

Yes.

I responded with the following, “Jim Gloober, I’m sorry that you feel like the comments here are filled with “rage and hatred” and that we treat Mormons with “disdain.”

I can assure you, nobody here “despises” you. You simply haven’t said enough to warrant being despised. Come back anytime or stay away for forever. It makes no difference to anyone here.

Feel free to call sometime if you desire the truth more than you desire the church to be true: (801) 971-8661

We hate the beliefs, not the believers.”

Does that sound like a “dare”?

Sure. As per your invitation, I should only feel free to call “if [I] desire the truth more than [I] desire the church to be true.” The implication is that I would be too cowardly to call, because I couldn’t bear to have my erroneous assumptions challenged by the truth that you wield. I don’t think “dare” is a mischaracterization of that kind of challenge.

The comments are still there in the video comments for anyone to verify that I didn’t “dare you” to call me.

And they’re now here, on the front page of my blog. As to their daring nature, that’s a subjective decision readers will have to make for themselves. In any case, I didn’t realize that the term “dare” was so loaded or inflammatory.

You also states in this blog, “My favorite bit was a shot of an LDS temple’s baptismal font, which is something that the LDS temple provides high-res pictures of same on their own web site.

Behold! Secret Mormon things revealed – from the church’s own website, no less!”

Reality: I don’t use ANY “high-res pictures…from the church’s own website, no less” in my video.

And I never claimed you did. The picture I posted “from the church’s own website” was exactly that – a picture from the church’s own website. My point was that the shots of the baptismal font in your video don’t constitute any kind of scoop, given that the church posts such pictures on the web and in its literature. I thought it was clear from the context that the picture I posted yesterday didn’t come from one of your videos. If it wasn’t, I apologize for the confusion. If anyone else other than you took that as a claim that that picture came from your video, I’m happy to correct that misconception now.

It was filmed entirely INSIDE two Mormon temples with a hidden camera and it shows the actual baptisms for the dead as well as footage from the super “sacred not secret” temple endowment ceremony that, until now, nobody has ever witnessed outside of the temple.

That would date your footage as being previous to the anti-Mormon films that were all the rage prior to the Internet’s creation, many of which included big chunks of the ceremony, if not the whole thing. The endowment has been published and broadcast by critics of the church in a variety of media as long as there has been media. Since the advent of the web, the temple ceremony has been all over the place and easily accessible. Are you suggesting that you are the first person to film the ceremony and reveal it to the public? That defies credulity.

You then write, “In the age if the Internet, it’s rather foolish to presume that the church has any capacity to hide any aspect of its practices or history from the world at large, so it always amazes me when people who hate the church, as they fixate on something that church does or did that they don’t like, act like they’ve uncovered something nobody else has ever seen or heard about. That was certainly the case with the purveyor of this particular video, who claimed all this stuff was “never before seen… until now!” (Apparently, the guy doesn’t watch a lot of Big Love.)”

Reality: I would hardly compare a three minute re-enactment of the temple endowment ceremony on a fictional television show to a 78 minutes video of the entire endowment ceremony (both the movie AND live versions) filmed inside working temples with a hidden camera. Nice way to steer attention away from my videos. “Nothing to see here folks. This is all from the church’s own website folks. Show’s ovah…move along.”

Again, I never claim that the endowment can be found on the church’s website. For someone who insists that he’s only interested in facts, those are some pretty goofy words to be putting in my mouth.

You then write, “Well, I think there’s quite a bit more evidence, both internal and external, than enemies of the church will admit. Didn’t get a chance to say any of that, though – he tore through his spiel under the assumption that I’d never heard such things before…”

Reality: You asked me what caused me to leave the church and I asked you pointedly if you were aware of the Kinderhook plates. I didn’t go into any detail about them because he said he was familiar with the story. I NEVER “assume” that Mormons who call me “had never heard such things.”

Forgive me for making inferences about your assumptions that you didn’t explicitly state. I made those inferences based on the premise that you had never heard of such things prior to your investigation of church history. As I recall, the Kinderhook Plates led you to Joseph Smith’s polygamy/polyandry, and you, and subsequently your mother, were shocked and appalled by what you discovered, which led you to leave the church. Given your dare/non-dare, as well as a private message where you claim that you had verifiable proof the Book of Mormon was a fraud, I assumed you thought yourself in possession of knowledge that I didn’t have. I don’t think my inference represents any brazen departure from logical reasoning.

Jim writes, ” The oddest complaint he had, the only one which I have not, in fact, heard from anyone else, was that Gordon B. Hinckley wasn’t a prophet because he didn’t act like Moses coming down from Sinai when Larry King interviewed him.”

Reality: I told Jim that I was disappointed when Mormon Prophets, I used Hinckley as an example, waste opportunities like the Larry King interview to give half ass answers to the question, “Are you a prophet of God?” with answers like, “I am sustained as such.” WTF is THAT?!?!

WTF indeed. I don’t see where I’ve mischaracterized you at all here. I had never heard the complaint that President Hinckley’s appearances on the Larry King show constituted prophetic disappointment, so I said so in my post.

Jim, at least you were honest when you stated, “I’ve been accused, therefore, of not having an open mind on this subject. And I think there’s more than a grain of truth to that.”

Not only do you not have an open mind, you also seems to have a poor memory and a tendency to blatantly lie about the facts of a conversation.

“Blatantly lie?” Strong words indeed.

To sum up your grievances with what I wrote, I characterized a confrontational challenge to call as a “dare,” and I posted a picture from LDS.org that you mistakenly claim was attributed to you when it was clearly not. I made a logical inference based on the context of our exchanges that you believed yourself to be in possession of information I had never heard before, and I claimed you were disappointed in Gordon B. Hinckley’s prophetic performance.

Which one of those constitutes a lie, let alone a “blatant” one?

I never “dared you” to call me but I WILL challenge you to allow my response to this inaccurate article to remain up. If you’re going to lie about a conversation, at least allow the other party to tell the truth.

Done. I’ll leave it to this blog’s readers to determine the veracity of both of our positions.

Why I Am A Mormon

I’ve stolen the title of this post from a book written by my grandfather over fifty years ago. Yet the content of the book, which serves essentially as a primer to basics in Mormon theology, has very little to do with what I’m about to write about, which might be more aptly described as “Why I’m Not an Anti-Mormon,” or, perhaps, “Why Anti-Mormons Don’t Shake My Faith.” Because, for whatever reason, I seem to be bumping into a lot of anti-Mormons lately.

Of course, a great deal of it is my own doing.

My latest encounter came as I looked at the suggested videos on YouTube following this gem, which is a gentle spoof on the speech patterns of prominent Mormon leaders.

One of the videos that was suggested was one called “Behind the Veil,” which shows surreptitiously filmed footage of Mormon temple ceremonies accompanied by spooky music. My favorite bit was a shot of an LDS temple’s baptismal font, which is something that the LDS temple provides high-res pictures of same on their own web site.

Behold! Secret Mormon things revealed – from the church’s own website, no less!

Maybe this guy didn’t have the big scoop he thought he had.

In the age if the Internet, it’s rather foolish to presume that the church has any capacity to hide any aspect of its practices or history from the world at large, so it always amazes me when people who hate the church, as they fixate on something that church does or did that they don’t like, act like they’ve uncovered something nobody else has ever seen or heard about. That was certainly the case with the purveyor of this particular video, who claimed all this stuff was “never before seen… until now!” (Apparently, the guy doesn’t watch a lot of Big Love.)

I made the mistake of commenting on his video, saying something along the lines of “Yes! Because nothing’s more Christian than mocking someone else’s faith!” That led to a series of pointless exchanges, and then the guy posted his phone number and dared me to call him. Not having learned my lesson from past experiences calling Internet cranks, I gave him a buzz.

He was very friendly at the outset, and remained friendly even as he launched into a 45-minute diatribe against the church, all of which was stuff that I’d heard before and have talked about on this blog beyond the point of endurance. Did I know all about the seedy elements of Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Well, yes. What about the Kinderhook Plates? Yeah, haven’t written about them, but they’re no big deal. What about the lack of external evidence for the Book of Mormon? Well, I think there’s quite a bit more evidence, both internal and external, than enemies of the church will admit. Didn’t get a chance to say any of that, though – he tore through his spiel under the assumption that I’d never heard such things before, and I just listened as he recited them as he has likely done dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. The oddest complaint he had, the only one which I have not, in fact, heard from anyone else, was that Gordon B. Hinckley wasn’t a prophet because he didn’t act like Moses coming down from Sinai when Larry King interviewed him.

Watch and judge for yourself – I found him pleasant and inspiring, but maybe he should have parted some large body of water or something.

In any case, this dude claims to have fifteen different temple recommends under assumed names, and he was in the temple “just last week” filming more footage for his next Internet opus. Such activity requires him to lie every time he enters the temple, and then lie again repeatedly as he makes covenants that he violates in the very act of making them. Seems like kind of a miserable way to live your life to me, but to each his own.

He’s not unique, though, much as he thinks he may be.

I’ve found that people who leave the church experience an almost debilitating sense of loss, and one of the reasons they obsess over it is that they’re looking to fill the hole they’ve created in their lives when they abandon their faith. A fellow who sneaks into temples probably devotes more time and energy to being an anti-Mormon than he ever did to being a Mormon. In a perverse way, it’s satisfying the same fundamental spiritual need that the church did when he was a believer.

I thought about all this as I read this latest piece from the New York Times about a doubter, who, this time, is someone who actually held a high ecclesiastical position in the church and yet still didn’t know Joseph Smith was a polygamist, which kind of blows my mind. Seriously, how could he not know? There isn’t a missionary in the church that doesn’t know, but this guy, raised in the church and an Area Authority Seventy, finds out online and acts like someone’s been keeping secrets from him. I don’t get it at all.

Regardless, it rehashes all the same stuff – polygamy, Book of Mormon questions, and the usual issues with racism and the like, and, once again, it’s all treated as if it’s some kind of remarkable, amazing discovery about a church that’s been around for 183 very well-documented years. Fact is, people have been asking – and answering – these questions for decades, if not centuries. I occasionally get annoyed with the presumption that someone like me would never have thought to examine these issues with a lifetime in the church, but that’s because I’m still something of a jerk, and I need to become more Christlike in my approach to those who feel it necessary to tear down the faith of others in order to justify their own doubts.

I’ve been accused, therefore, of not having an open mind on this subject. And I think there’s more than a grain of truth to that.

After all, when presented with the latest “new” argument against the church, which is invariably just a recycled old one, my first instinct is not “Gosh! All the amazing spiritual experiences I’ve had, my personal relationship with my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, the remarkable good works and powerful bonds of fellowship and faith that I’ve seen in my church over a lifetime of service thereto – it’s all nonsense because of some comments about forged bell-shaped plates in Kinderhook, Illinois!”

If that’s a closed mind, I plead guilty.

My encounters with deity, some of which are too sacred to relate in a public forum, are more potent, powerful, and, yes, true to me than anything else I’ve had the opportunity to experience in this life. I’m not going to uproot or abandon them on the basis of something that is usually a misrepresentation, a misunderstanding, or an outright fabrication. I’ve seen too much that is undeniable to get unnerved when the latest critic comes up with the latest distortion designed to undermine the things I already know.

As Gordon B. Hinckley, a prophet regardless of what armchair TV critics might think, so eloquently stated:

We have those critics who appear to wish to cull out of a vast panorama of information those items which demean and belittle some of the men and women of the past who worked so hard in laying the foundation of this great cause. They find readers of their works who seem to delight in picking up these tidbits, and in chewing them over and relishing them. In so doing they are savoring a pickle, rather than eating a delicious and satisfying dinner of several courses.

We recognize that our forebears were human. They doubtless made mistakes. … But the mistakes were minor, when compared with the marvelous work which they accomplished. To highlight the mistakes and gloss over the greater good is to draw a caricature. Caricatures are amusing, but they are often ugly and dishonest. A man may have a blemish on his cheek and still have a face of beauty and strength, but if the blemish is emphasized unduly in relation to his other features, the portrait is lacking in integrity.

There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much. …

I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts in their proper context, with emphasis on those elements which explain the great growth and power of this organization.

There is promise, given under inspiration from the Almighty, set forth in these beautiful words:

“God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 121:26.)

The humanists who criticize us, the so-called intellectuals who demean us, speak only from ignorance of this manifestation. … They have not heard it because they have not sought after it and prepared themselves to be worthy of it. …

Do not be trapped by the sophistry of the world which for the most part is negative and which seldom, if ever, bears good fruit. … Rather, “look to God and live.” (Alma 37:47.)

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s why I’m a Mormon. And I can’t say it any better than that, so, for now, here’s where I stop.

I Hate It

The Zimmerman case has me in a funk, and not for the reasons you might expect.

Outside of elections, current events usually don’t have much of a bearing on my day-to-day life. I’m happy to argue for or against, but in practical terms, I still have to take out the garbage and do the dishes and put the kids to bed, and, say, the latest provocation out of North Korea doesn’t really have any bearing on what I do in the real world.

This case, however, has officially gotten to me. And I’m finding it hard to define the reasons why.

It has little to do with the actual events. It’s a tragedy, surely, but there isn’t a day that goes by where you can’t find a slew of news stories about murders of one kind or another. Were I to take up a constant vigil for every person who loses their life as the result of human cruelty, stupidity, or some other preventable and unnatural cause, I’d do little else but mourn. This was not an event that you or I are in any position to fully understand or retroactively prevent. Rehashing the evidence just exhausts me.

No, the national tragedy, in how it impacts me, is that this case, more than even the election, starkly illustrates how thoroughly we, as citizens of this nation, hate each other.

Hate. Strong word? Yes. Accurate? Yes again.

Those outraged by this verdict have decided that all of us who are not are racists. Period. We hate black people. We would shoot them if we could. We are all George Zimmerman now, and they don’t mean that in a justifiable-self-defensey kind of way.

At the same time, I’m pretty uncomfortable with anyone celebrating this verdict. I don’t think Zimmerman is a hero. A young man is dead who wouldn’t be dead if Zimmerman had stayed in his car. How is that a triumph of good over evil? There is no joy to be had here.

Yes, I do think that, legally, rationally, and dispassionately speaking, this was the right verdict on its own merits. That doesn’t make this case any less of a tragedy or George Zimmerman someone worthy of emulation. It does, however, make me a de facto racist.

I’m not cool with that.

But it doesn’t matter if I’m cool with that. We’ve reached a point in America where we can’t disagree without presuming that the disagreements are rooted in malice. It’s not enough that I be proven wrong; I have to be evil besides.

And, lest you think I’m claiming moral superiority and an above-it-all-ness, I concede I’m as guilty as anyone else. See? I can hate, too. My ire is aimed at a media that chose this one case out of thousands to put in the spotlight because they hoped it would deepen the hate. I see nothing but bad faith in how this case was covered, and it sometimes makes me so angry that I feel physically ill. I can’t spend more than five seconds on MSNBC while flipping channels without shouting at my television using my army vocabulary.

Maybe it was always this way, and I just didn’t bother to notice. Or maybe I hoped it wasn’t as bad as all that. But it is. And it’s depressing as all snot.

Have a nice day.

Of Skittles and Media Stupidity

I saw this graphic pop up on several friends’ Facebook feeds this past week.

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It doesn’t seem to matter to any of them that none of this is verifiably true. Trayvon’s school has kept a tight lid on his records, so we don’t know what his GPA was. He was too young to be applying for colleges, and nobody can identify the specific school to which he supposedly had a “full-ride. ” As for his community service and churchgoing, those are conveniently impossible to confirm.

But okay. Let’s presume all this is true. Let’s also presume that George Zimmerman is, in fact, the genocidal racist the media initially told us he is, and that he hunts black kids for sport and gets extra points if they have a hoodie and Skittles.

What would this tell us about the state of the nation?

The answer is that it would say that in this nation, there exists a racist with a gun that committed a murder, and both racism and murder are terrible things. 72 similarly terrible things happened just over the 4th of July weekend in Chicago alone. Odds are, however, that you don’t know anything about the racial makeup of the perpetrators or the victims in those killings. That’s because none of those cases are being held up as emblematic of a return to lynch mob justice the way the Zimmerman trial is.

But why not? Why on earth does this incident in Florida somehow define a collective latent murderous intent on behalf of the entirety of White America? At what point did anyone elect George Zimmerman as America’s creepy a** cracker-in-chief?

I have studiously avoided this trial for a number of reasons, the main one being that it’s the product of manufactured outrage. The only thing it has to say about the nation’s race relations is how eager the media is to portray us as a country of Klansmen, and, in the absence of real racism, how they’re more than happy to make some up.

So NBC airs a tape where Zimmerman sneers that Martin “looks black,” and this kid is gunned down in cold blood because a trigger-happy white dude was on the move. Yet within days, it becomes clear that just about every element of the story is severely skewed. Zimmerman the white dude is actually Hispanic, and NBC doctored the recording to omit that he only mentioned Martin’s race because the 911 operator asked him what it was. Zimmerman sustained serious injuries as a result of his encounter with Trayvon, and from what I can garner from the news reports I haven’t managed to dodge, it looks like the guy’s going to get off, because the evidence points more to self-defense than it does to murder. At least, that’s the opinion of most of the talking heads who seem unwilling to talk about anything else. I have no interest in rearguing the merits of the case, which, as I say, I have not followed closely. I am just parroting the conventional wisdom, which is that it’s likely Zimmerman will walk.

When that happens, we’re told to expect riots. Riots! And for what? For a case that has been woefully misrepresented from day one, surrounding a series of circumstances that don’t speak to national trends other than the hateful influence of an irresponsible media. And as the Middle East burns and Obamacare crumbles and record high unemployment continues to simmer, America turns its lonely eyes to a regional trial being cynically exploited for television ratings generated by an entirely fabricated premise.

If there are riots, NBC ought to be prosecuted for incitement.