Monday, June 28, 2010

fire insurance and magic underwear

I was a Mormon once. Still am, if not going counts. I even went on a mission. While there I developed an immunity to confrontational swearing Aussies, which in part might explain why I live t/here now... PTI

READER BEWARE (inside info): Mormons like me self have a cute nickname for not getting atomically scorched off the face of the earth when Jesus comes again. It's called paying your "fire insurance". For only 10% of your income each year, you can rest easy in the thought that only shouts of joy and not abject agony will be emanating from your mouth when good ol' JC finally gets around to that second coming (while your infidel friends burn to death all around you). & why would the Tiger Woods of compassion institute such a policy? Because he's God silly.

...Back to the mission. It so happened, that a group of elders and I were gathered at one of the our flats, celebrating another successful day at having annoyed a lot of people, when I felt a mildly warm sensation come over my back. Was this the legendary holy ghost of NT fame? Had he finally come to his senses and descended upon me in the form of a dove?

No. It turns out I was sitting next to an open(ish) flame gas heater and my favourite t-shirt set on fire. We all had a good laugh. Which is understandable because I was only seconds removed from almost having become a flamed grilled whopper without cheese.

"Miraculously" my temple garment, the proper term for my magical underwear (Quick PTI> inside info: Mormon garments possess special properties of protection which are activated by the wearers personal righteousness), which I wore under my t-shirt was unscathed and so was I. High fives all round.

If I were a 19th century Mormon and if they actually payed tithing back then and I knew what insurance was, I may have been wont to respond thusly: I, Loren, having been true and faithful in all things, was miraculously preserved by the hand of Lord on this day. Spared from the fiery darts of the adversary through obedience to the word of His holy prophet, the anointed mouthpiece of the Father, even Joseph Smith. Like Meshack, Shadrack, and Abednego before me, I was mercifully delivered from the flaming furnace. An honest tithe payer, I stand now as prophecy fulfilled etc, etc. That was suitably hyperbolic I think. Man that felt good.

Gentle reader was this a miracle? Mere coincidence (yep, probably) or destiny? This cost me my best t-shirt, I hope one day to figure it out.


Justin said...

Guy (not sure if you know the guy by surname Holland out Papakura/Drury way)I know used to work in a steel mill, one day there he got knocked right into a pool of hot water. He recieved severe burns (I forget what degree)to every part of his body that got submerged. Except, of course, where his garments were. Perhaps just a co-oincidence, then again maybe not.

Urban Koda said...

I think Mormons - or any religious type people - like to look for and find miracles in every day life. We might have 100 instances which end differently, but 1 where is seems like there might be divine intervention, and that would be the one we remember and use to back up our faith.

I suspect there is probably a perfectly rational reason as to why your garment top was OK. Different fabric composition, angle of your back at the time of ignition or a whole host of other things.

You might find this blog post I did last week interesting...

Loren said...

Hi Justin, don't know him, interesting story. It seems strange to me that God wouldn't protect the whole of a person, but literally only the parts that are covered by the garment. If Guy had some 19 century length temple garments (yes, they've gotten shorter over time for some reason), he would have been far better off, which just seems ludicrous to me.

The thing is too that if any stories come up where something did happen to someone affecting any of the areas where the garments cover (of which there are no doubt numerous instances), then it would be written off as it wasn't Gods will that they were protected, or they were living in sin or something. It seems so capricious. I mean if we set up a double blind test, which would be very tricky, somehow monitoring the people "living righteously" with garments and other people and the results were statistically significant then I'd probably change my mind about the subject. I think though, that Mormons and everyone else seem to have about the same level of luck both good and bad.

Hi Urban Koda,
It's always interesting to hear from someone new. Cool video. I think you're right. Our minds pick up patterns sometimes even when they're not there, I think it's called diagnosis bias. Of course it cuts both ways, I may get stuff wrong because of my biases, that an orthodox Mormon might not, but in this case I think coincidence is far more likely. If someone shot me at point blank range and I was unaffected I'd be a lot more inclined to interpret that as a miracle ala Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.

Justin said...

Can't think of a particular reason right now why I'm posting this, but it sticks out in my memory. A recount of Daniel C. Peterson follows:

"Many years ago, as a missionary in Switzerland, another elder and I met a woman at the door while we were tracting. When we told her that we represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she smiled quite oddly and, even more oddly by Swiss standards, invited us in. She immediately fetched her husband, and asked us to tell him the name of the Church that we represented. He too smiled oddly when he heard it, and I began to wonder what sort of people we had found. But then he explained that he was a Yugoslavian-born physician who had once been a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in our Church. And he told us a story that, I confess, I have never checked since; I may have some of the details wrong, but the gist of it is as follows: Decades before, he had served as a counselor to a priesthood leader in his native country as the communists were consolidating their power there. Several times, he said, this priesthood leader had dreams warning him that members of his congregation needed to flee because the secret police would soon be coming for them. And the man was right every time. However, the former counselor, with whom I was speaking, had eventually made his way to medical school in Switzerland, where his studies had taught him that revelation was an illusion. But how, I asked, did he account for his former priesthood leader's remarkably accurate record of forecasting visits from the secret police, a record of which I knew (and know) nothing but what he had told me? "Brain chemistry and chance," he replied. There was, in other words, no substantial or necessary link between the various brain states of the priesthood leader and external events. That they coincided was just sheer good luck for those who thereby escaped the clutches of the commissars. (I might add that the German missionary with whom I was working that particular day, a converted German merchant sailor who was, to put it mildly, plain spoken, thereupon asked if he could visit the home again with his tape recorder, because, he said, this man furnished an unforgettable specimen of how Satan deceives people. Visibly surprised by such bluntness, the man agreed that he could return.)"

Justin said...

As Loren says it does cut both ways. If you look at the arguments of skeptics/antagonists/non-believers vs. arguments of proponents/apologists/believers it's common that both sides will have remarkably detailed and creative theories or evidences. Whether it's evolution vs. intelligent design or athiest vs. thiest, or criminal guilty vs. criminal not guilty.

As far as I can tell, the video explains as much about why some people are not religious as why some people are religious. Everybody likes to be right about their beliefs, and if they hve enough dopamine and creativity to put forth a persuasive explanatin for their beleifs then so much the better for their ego.

Does this video address spiritual experiences? To an extent yes, but to an extent no. Quite often it requires more creativity to explain why a spiritual experience is actually invalid than it does to explain why it is actually a genuine spiritual experience.

More later.

Justin said...

Regarding validity of firsthand spiritual witness this is well worth reading. Comments welcome.

Justin said...

Sorry, the full URL didn't show up above, don't know any HTML to create a link.

The video format can be found here:

Loren said...

I remember reading this article a couple of years ago. It gave me some comfort during my "dark night of the soul". It's been a while though. Might check out the video version this time around. I think spiritual experiences are perfectly valid. Sill, explanations for why and how they happen is up for debate.

Justin said...

Loren wrote: "It seems strange to me that God wouldn't protect the whole of a person, but literally only the parts that are covered by the garment."

Loren, you're a writer and I know you like writing stories, so if the message you wanted to get across to your audience in your story was "the garments have protective power", which outcome would reach the audience most clearly?
1. "his whole body was protected" or
2. "just the part of his body covered was protected".
The later obviously points the garments in the spotlight; the former leaves the audience guessing and the messsage lost.

When I experience or hear of apparent miraculous events (I can think of about 5 in my own life from the top of my head, and I do distinguish these type of events as separate from direct spiritual witness), I look at them as events like in a story, events which put my focus on a particular point/message. Through a deliberate eye of faith, I see those events as scripted by God. I could choose to see them a different way of course (and occasionally I do) but I see God as a very good story writer and teacher. Double-blind-placebo-controlled studies and what-not are irrelevant in that realm (although they may be fascinating).

Loren Wrote: "If Guy had some 19 century length temple garments (yes, they've gotten shorter over time for some reason), he would have been far better off, which just seems ludicrous to me."

Comical, but I think the more crucial thing is the message to certain individuals (including myself) and their spiritual wellbeing, rather than the amount of pain experienced. God's perspective vs. our perspective, sometimes we think things should be another way but they aren't. Doesn't mean we are right though. I dare not comment any more than that. In this case, short sleeves or long sleeves, I'll let you wrestle with what's fair and what isn't.

In summary, I don't think the protection matters much, it's all about the message.

And, for the record, NO, my garments do not exhibit any heat-protective properties under deliberate experimental circumstances.

Justin said...

Loren, a bit more sideline Blake Ostler stuff here on video, supplementary to what I posted earlier.

He really is one of my favourite thinkers.

Loren said...

"which outcome would reach the audience most clearly?"

Well, let's look at it big picture style. I don't think anything that happens on earth communicates clearly that there's an anthropomorphic deity looking out for us. There are plenty of fine natural explanations for why things are the way they are, without appealing to god. Also, If you were a god and knew everything, don't you think you'd be able to come up with something more effective than the plan of salvation? Less than 0.5% of the world is Mormon, an all powerful being should have a better hit rate than that.

Then there's the profound strangeness of it all: magic underwear, secret handshakes to get into heaven (really?), no archeological evidence for the BoM (unless you're feeling generous and count Nahom) etc. People will say it comes down to faith in the end which is fine if that's what they're into, but it's not for me. Why is faith (believing in something you have no reason to) considered a virtue? Because some guy who says he's talked to god says so? Like I said I have my doubts.

Justin said...

Loren wrote:
"I don't think anything that happens on earth communicates clearly that there's an anthropomorphic deity looking out for us.... "
Why I disagree with you on this will gradually become apparent in our discussions, I hope.

"...Why is faith (believing in something you have no reason to) considered a virtue? Because some guy who says he's talked to god says so? Like I said I have my doubts."
Spoken like a true, hardened athiest. I find the definition of 'faith' that you give here a little blunt and simplistic, I prefer the one given in Alma 31.

Because no thing or outcome is 100% certain we put a certain degree of faith/trust in everything that we plan or do. Obviously different things require more faith/trust than others, but when we excercise faith we always have some degree of reason to do it. When we get the payoff for it in the form of results, our faith in that thing will either increase or decrease (depending on the result).

If a person lived a very faithful life based solely on someones word, it would only be because they had great reason to trust that person whom the word came from. Nobody simply outright trusts a person for no reason, (but they may be willing to excercise a small measure of faith/trust to put their word to the test). Having said that, I don't know any capable adult who bases strong faith solely on another persons word.

"There are plenty of fine natural explanations for why things are the way they are, without appealing to god."
And, seeing we live in a natural world (which thiests claim God created or helped to create), I wonder if a naturalistic explanation should really deter me from believing that God played a deliberate hand in a particular event.

"Also, If you were a god and knew everything, don't you think you'd be able to come up with something more effective than the plan of salvation?"
Despite cynical interpratation of surface appearance, I suspect the plan of salvation is far more effective and masterfully designed that you and I combined ever imagine. We don't know what we don't know.

"Then there's the profound strangeness of it all: magic underwear, secret handshakes to get into heaven (really?)"
And, maybe on another plane of existence there are beings who say "really?" the preposterousness of physically walking up a few steps and using a key to enter a door.

"no archeological evidence for the BoM (unless you're feeling generous and count Nahom) etc."
Yeah right (Although I must be cautious about what your definition of "archeological evidence " means)... but we'll eventually get to that.

"People will say it comes down to faith in the end which is fine if that's what they're into, but it's not for me."
And yet, you do excercise faith in the everyday secular things that you do. And that faith is based on items of information that exist in your mind. When you remember or put your 'mental spotlight' on those items of information then you are in a position to put faith in them. Sure, Atheism requires faith because it is based on items of information.

So what happens when you expose yourself to a certain type of information day in day out? your mind fills with that type of information, and seeing it dominates in your mind it's a lot easier to focus on or remember those items of information. And where that focus is, is where your faith becomes manifest.

Now I wonder, if you took away the books and web articles and podcasts etc that you have been 'bathing' in for the last year or so, then replaced that with something a little more "pro-literalist mormon" for a year or so... would your faith change and grow in a different direction?

Justin said...

Sorry Man, error came up and I ended up posting 3 times... accident. Didn't mean to make my post more significant than it really is! You can clean up the extra posts if possible!

Loren said...

I think that faith as we use it in everyday life as opposed to faith in a supreme being, the knowledge of whom always seems restricted to a very privileged few, are completely different animals. If you think using soap and water will clean your car, there's a simple way to find out if it works or not. The existence of God is a metaphysical claim, it's unfalsifiable, you can't prove it either way. Mormons will tell you pray and study the scriptures and your answers will come. This answering seems extremely subjective, never very clear at all. I found this practice redundant after a while and let it go. Faith in god is a choice, one I choose not to make, because it doesn't make sense to me on any level anymore.

Loren said...

Justin said: "Now I wonder, if you took away the books and web articles and podcasts etc that you have been 'bathing' in for the last year or so, then replaced that with something a little more "pro-literalist mormon" for a year or so... would your faith change and grow in a different direction?"

As always it cuts both ways if you exposed yourself to more anti-literalist info would your faith develop differently? Of course what ever stimuli you choose to process will colour your world view in some way. It's inescapable. You are what you eat and read and stuff.

Surprisingly, how I came to be the way that I am, is not because I one day was walking and fell into a boobytrap laced with explosive anti-mormon materials. As always there is a perfectly rational explanation...

Although on the surface I appear to be a dim-witted grunting Neanderthal, this is only a ruse. In my deep and rich and fulfilling inner life I am actually quite inquisitive (occasionally).

So it was, that over time I came to wonder about the church and its operation in certain areas. Like revelation for instance. Do the prophets really talk to God? Face to face? I think that's were it slowly began to unravel for me.

As I investigated other areas that I had questions about, always certain that eventually I'd find an answer that vindicated the church, I soon discovered that most of the answers offered were deeply disappointing.

Apologists offered consolatory explanations that frequently were at odds with the prophets. The leadership offered little more than pray, study, have faith. How long do you keep running through a maze before you realize someone's moved the cheese? That's a koan that I just
made up.

One day I realized that everything made a whole lot more sense if I gave up on the idea that the church is true, and that if there is a god it's certainly not a benevolent one. This epiphany at first was devastating and it took some time to adjust (including my attending church for a little while longer). In time I found a measure of peace with my decision. There's no going back, not ever, once Pandora's box is opened amen to life as it once was.

So even if I were to marinade in pro-lds info for the rest of eternity there's no way it would change my perspective now, because the questions would still be there and the answers would still be underwhelming. What might help is if the church actually began to practice what it preaches and tell the truth about it's origins instead of perpetuating this hagiographical nonsense that we know and love today. They're not much crazier than the stories I thought that I had a testimony of, but a bit more dodgy to be sure (which is probably why they altered them in the first place).

Desire makes the difference, and mine is to continue to learn about the world as I perceive it to be and not follow what I now consider to be a fantasy.

P.S. One of the books that I read during my de-conversion was Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, he's the foremost authority on Joseph Smith in the world, is in good standing with the church (he's his stakes patriarch) and everything in there confirmed all my fears that the church in the past has tried to cover up certain information about Joseph Smith. Even pro-lds sources wouldn't help me change. Not that I want to anyway.

Justin said...

I'm familiar with the points of your last posting, but what they personally mean to you I am (unsurprisingly) not sure of. What the points mean to me is obviously quite different. And I find that absolutely fascinating.

It's something about the numerous similarities I find between us; yet this decision about religious faith that is our key difference. At which point do we diverge, I wonder. I have theories, but perhaps I'll never know.

Anyway, your wrote:
"There's no going back, not ever, once Pandora's box is opened amen to life as it once was... questions would still be there and the answers would still be underwhelming."

Pretty conclusive. But since perception is occasionally subject to change, I'd like to finish that 'last dance' with you on the origins of the Book of Mormon that we have started. I like to finish what is started, help me out. If you're willing.

Even if neither of us change opinions about anything, at least we may somehow learn something indirectly useful.

Loren said...

sure no problem, that rant was just a little background on where I'm coming from: I find what I perceive to be a bait and switch on the part of the church as utterly reprehensible. No theodicy I have ever heard in my mind justifies the amount of suffering that is in the world. If there is an actual all powerful, all loving god out there somewhere. I have studied both apologetic and anti materials, in regard to the church, wanted the apologetics to be right, but found them severely wanting. Atheism/Agnosticism and a bastardized version of Zen have given me a way of looking at the world which is far more palatable than anything that Mormonism (uniquely) offers. Just making explicitly clear my position before we continue. How about yourself are you a literalist (a chapel mormon, which I doubt), or an apologist (internet mormon), or something else?

Loren said...

Just one point I'll quickly touch on and then never mention again (because it's not that important to the argument) is the no skeptics thing. I'm a writer and I like writing stories. If I was trying to reach an audience most potently (see what I did there hehe) when it came to the selection of a witness for the quote unquote "gold plates" viz-a-viz, having a skeptic on board like say Charles Anthon would be far more convincing than the nepotistic selection process that was conducted allegedly by god. We wont even go into (OK we will) how this would be a non-issue if we had the plates today, but they were returned to the care of Moroni never to be seen again. As usual god leaves no foot prints. The last time we did find the source material for something Joseph Translated the results were not good for the church, but we will get to the Book of Abraham in due time I'm sure. There's all these little connections between all of the foundational claims of Mormonism that for me are corrosive to faith. This (there not being any skeptics amongst the witnesses) is a minor quibble, no doubt, but it would have been nice if there'd been some there.

Justin said...

Loren, you wrote:
"are you a literalist (a chapel mormon, which I doubt), or an apologist (internet mormon), or something else?"

I can only speak for how I see myself as, not for as others may see me. I see myself as literalist. I see my views as consistant with what the general authoriies have said, so long as it is given as revelation or an authoritive statement. What is and isn't a revalation and authoritive statment may or may not always be 100% clear. Joseph Smith said along the lines that he hated to give his opinion in public because so much of what he said was interpreted as being from God when in fact it was just his opinion.

The disparity between apologists and church authorities is something I have heard a lot of, but going off memory I am not aware of specific examples.

I do know that it's easy to make assuptions about what something looked like, how something was, or what something means when we read scripture, but that is based upon our modern-day, cultural and personal understanding that we mix with the words we read. I can say that the Book of Mormon that I read today is quite different to the Book of Mormon I read 8-9 years ago. Just like the books you read today will probably seem very different if you read them again a few years from now.

Why am I saying this? There may be a few (what I consider granular) issues that I am at slight disagreement with other gospel mormons on. But I do go to church, I do pass temple recommend interviews, I do beleive the Book of Mormon is a true and historical account, and I do accept the church authority (as imperfect and prone to apostasy as people may be)that we have today.

And there are some things that I do not understand, but because of the things that I do understand, and do know are true, those questions and unknowns can wait.

From my experience, most people aren't really all that interested in esoteric and historical issues of church history, and I don't think that those things much help the three-fold mission of the church: redeeming the dead, perfecting the saints, and missionary work. So, personally, I don't think that it's something the church authorities need to spend a whole lot of time on. For example, how Joseph Smith translated the plates (looking at plates, looking at a seer stone, or looking into a hat) doesn't matter as much to most people as whether he actually did or not.

Now I've probably raised a whole bunch of issues with my above statements that could each make for lengthly discussion. But basically, my crude summary is: just because some things don't happen the way we think they should happen, doesn't negate the fundamental truths of the church. Direct witness of the spirit is the most direct and reliable way of knowing wether a truth claim is in fact true or not. When one doubts that direct witness (or memory of it) then anything can be doubted. While I'm not sure that everybody can recieve a direct spiritual witness in the way it is often defined, I believe that the church is wise to focus it's efforts in getting those people to the point of recieving that personal witness. Generally, any objections or questions should not be raised by the church (it's distracting from the churches actual puspose/mission), unless they are raised by the church members or investigators themselves. In the case where they are raised however, they should be answered as accurately and truthfully as possible (which I admit is something that could often be improved).

While I personally think I lack much sensitivity to the spirit, I know and trust enough other people who do, along with their testimonies, to be a fairly strong, active beleiver. The technical stuff we discuss on your blog is important to me, but my faith doesn't stand or fall based upon it.

As for the problem of evil/pain, there is apparently a good book on that by the same guy mentioned above. Sorry, I haven't read it yet, but I really want to.
(see book 2)

Loren said...

Good to know, before we get back to the witnesses, you'll need to endure a few posts of me trying to figure out what I believe, but don't worry we will get to them.

Just going off a few things you've mentioned here I agree the church shouldn't present problematic issues about itself to potential members. You don't try to set up a date with a girl by explaining all your poor hygiene habits as an introduction. I get it. At one point during our discussions you said Mormon Think is a whole lot of, well this claim from the church
would be more believable if things had happened more like this. Some of them are nitpicking like the skeptics as witnesses thing, but how about if the church presented as best they can what did happen. Should we expect anything less from an organisation that requires nothing but complete honesty from it's membership. Perhaps, there have been errors in how we've represented ourselves in the past, there's a tendency for people to mythologize past luminaries, but we know how things happened so why not just say so.

Why is it so hard to say Joseph was a polygamist? Practically any one who has heard of mormons makes jokes about them having more than one wife. Go to the official Joseph Smith site though and type in polygamy and you'll get zero results. He's the guy that instituted the practice! He had like 30 wives, just acknowledge it openly (leaders), so we can move on!

Joseph Smith used a stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. How about we teach that instead of the urim thumim story, would it really be all that different? Well, yes and no.

Acknowledging Joseph's marriages means you might have to deal with
awkward things like him having sex with 14 year old girls and getting sealed to already married women. The urim and thumim is less troublesome than the stone in a hat, because Joseph used the the same stone to search for magical treasures under the earth --before the gold plates-- which later got him in trouble with the law.

Now, I'm not saying that they should bring up the questionable stuff straight away, but at least say he was a polygamist and used the stone in the hat at some point. Don't just write those things out of the history. Don't just continue to perpetuate the same white washed stories because it's a more convenient means of spreading your message and getting more converts.

I went to my bishop over here with some of these issues, I didn't even go in to detail, I just said I had some problems with the history of the church. He tried to be as helpful as he could, I know he did, but his instructions were pretty much: don't talk to anyone else about these things please. That's not healthy. Just ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. At least the apologists try to address the issues, but like I say some of their answers don't gel with the prophets (one example: Book of Mormon geography). What should the church do? Be honest, just like it expects of us.

Justin said...

Loren, a request while we are on the subject of the church and our positions in relation to it. Could you make an outline list. An outline list of the bare minimum things required for the Church of Jesus Christ to be true. Just the church, and be as logical and minimal as possible when you create it.

Cheers. I believe this will make our conversations more concise and productive.

Loren said...

I don't think anything can actually prove that it's true, evidence certainly helps. My minimum requirement would be that a God like the one Mormonism describes actually exists (so he might have to make an appearance, not realistic I know) and that he has an exceptional explanation for the problem of evil.

Justin said...

Ok, so what is the God that Mormonism describes?

Loren said...

on a generous reading he is a god that cares about the little things like helping people find their keys or have nice weather for ward activities, while war, famine and other pestilence plague humanity. He used to be a man, although "I'm not sure that we teach that." (Pres. Hinckley) He has multiple celestial wives and impregnates them with spiritual offspring. He talks with prophets, but hasn't told them anything new for 60 years or so (except for giving blacks the priesthood). On an ungenerous reading he is all these things except that he exists. OK, that was a bit overstated, but it's hard to pin down exactly what our God is, because the God that Joseph revealed seemed to evolve and change over time, and lately we've softened our stance on certain aspects of what god was or is. I don't know, what do you think?