Category Archives: Church

Dr. X, a friend of Hitcoffee, has warned against what some mental health professionals call the Dark Triad. This triad is, to quote Dr. X, a “personality organization that comprises three psychological traits: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.” People with that personality organization are dangerous. They are a problem that needs to be dealt with, especially if they are a coworker or in a position of responsibility.

What do we do with such people? In the comment thread to that post, Dr. X suggests that we fire them. To me, the obligation to fire implies that we shouldn’t hire in the first place. If the dark triadic person is not independently wealthy and yet can’t or shouldn’t be hired, how should he or she fend for themselves? Perhaps once properly identified–either through that person’s actions or through some sort of deep analysis–then we ought to consider civil commitment, or prison if justified. Or you can do the Philip K. Dick option: hunt down the androids and eliminate them. I reject that “solution” as does Dr. X and most (all?) others I”ve heard speak on it. But the terms of the discussion are consistent with certain conclusions.

Absent in the discussion on that thread and in the material Dr. X cites (or at least in the quoted portions of that material…I didn’t read the linked-to articles), is a discussion of whether this personality organization is just how or what someone is, or if it has a (personal) history. If people develop into that organization or develop out of it. Not to call this an illness–it’s not clear to me that the language of “personality organization” is a language about illness–but…is there a cure? Or are people just like that?

I’m obviously uncomfortable with the idea. Maybe it’s naivete or wishful thinking. If such people exist, then they exist whether I like it or not. If almost by definition such people don’t seek to change or improve or grow, then they don’t. Sometimes survival and defense of the common good are important. My wish that such people who would imperil either don’t exist doesn’t mean that they don’t.

These discussions remind me of the “mark of Cain” from Genesis. I thought it would be cool to incorporate an allusion to that story when talking about such people. But then I actually read the story, probably for the first time since I was a child. The story starts out as I remember. Cain kills Abel out of jealousy or envy or whatever. The Lord punishes him: “When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth

But it doesn’t end there. Cain complains that it “will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” To that the Lord commands that “whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And he sets a “mark” on Cain to warn people not to harm him.

I’m no expert in Biblical interpretations, and I imagine that that passage has been interpreted and reinterpreted through the ages. There’s also a point of unclarity. The referent “him” on whom vengeance is to be meted sevenfold strikes me as amphibolous, at least in the version I’m quoting: I assume the vengeance is to be meted against the one who would harm Cain, but perhaps Cain is the recipient of the vengeance?

Still, the “mark” of Cain seems on my uninformed reading to be the opposite of what I had thought. It strikes me as a mark of mercy, or perhaps mercy tempered by a warning. People are not expressly forbidden to be wary of him or to stop him from further crimes, but they are forbidden to harm him.

Again, there may be other ways to interpret that story, and one might legitimately question whether that story ought to be a guide to anything. But that story exists and I can’t shake it, just like I can’t shake the possibility that dark triadic persons exist.

John Winthrop believed inequality is a problem. In 1630, on board the ship Arbella, he made the case in the sermon “Model of Christian Charity.” Whatever one thinks of his purported explanation for why inequality exists or of his ideas for coping with the problem, he warns that the problem is real.

God, Winthrop says, has “so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission.” Among the reasons Winthrop cites:

[God] might have the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them, so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against and shake off their yoke. Secondly, in the regenerate, in exercising His graces in them, as in the great ones, their love, mercy, gentleness, temperance etc., and in the poor and inferior sort, their faith, patience, obedience etc.

That’s only one part of the sermon, but I’m going to dwell on it. I read it as saying social inequalities are justified because they’re “God’s will.”

But justified or not, inequality is a problem, Winthrop seems to also be saying. Whatever good he can see coming from inequality, its existence is a warning as well as a opportunity for providence to do what providence does. The rich could eat up the poor. The poor could rise up against the rich.

Our sensibilities here are not necessarily what we might think they are. About the poor rising up to “shake off their yoke,” we probably entertain the possibility that the uprising is or can be a good thing. Or we might be quick to point out that what Winthrop might call “rising up” is more an assertion of rights, or an attempt to survive, than anything nefarious. Still, I don’t know how far most of us would go to endorse the uprising or the collateral damage that might ensue.

To make it more personal, I’d resent it if someone mugged me even if I grant they did so only because they really needed the money or because they are a bread thief. Not that all redistribution or “rising up” is comparable to a mugging. But if ending someone else’s poverty requires me to surrender even a small portion of my wealth or occasions an inconvenience to me of some sort, and even if I agree that the redistribution is right and just, it can still hurt in the short term. (For what it’s worth, a goodly amount of so-called “liberal” reform in the US usually sold on the claim that only the very rich will be inconvenienced. See Obama’s 2008 promise to raise taxes only on those who earn more than $250,000.)

Most of us probably agree that the rich eating up the poor is a bad thing, for certain values of “eating.” (I don’t really want to do it, but (sigh) I guess I have to offer this link.) But I’m not so sure we don’t do it. Most of us who adhere to a given political orientation–liberal, conservative, libertarian, for example–concur that feeding off the poor is bad. We may differ in assessing how the poor are fed off of, who is to blame, and how to end the feeding. But most of them–most of us–at least claim to agree that it’s bad.

Still, we’ve got ours and intend to keep it. Very few of us are going to engage in a life dedicated to fixing those things. Even fewer will withdraw from society to avoid all complicity in the feeding, not that such withdrawal would be easy or helpful. Maybe we can endorse a “first do no harm” strategy: don’t actively do anything to make things worse but try to fix things when we can and when it’s convenient. That’s probably the best we can hope for unless we want to be (non-fallen) angels, and I don’t want to be an angel.

But, you might object, Winthrop’s inequality is a zero sum game. It ignores that we can increase the size of the pie so everybody gets more even if some get even more than others. You might be right. I for one am a bigger believer than I used to be that material wealth can be increased for all and that we should pause before assuming the fact of inequality is automatically a problem. The “inequality symposium” Over There a few years ago drove that point home for me. And maybe material wealth is conducive to moral or humanitarian or spiritual (or whatever you want to call it). Such seems to be one of Deirdre McCloskey’s arguments in Bourgeois Virtues. (I think. I’m only 100 pages into and am a bit unclear on what exactly she’s arguing.)

While important, that objection doesn’t address Winthrop’s point. As long as there’s inequality, some will have more than others. Those who lack will be tempted to envy and to deny the humanity of those who have. How often have I heard of a real hardship suffered by someone much better off than me and yet mocked the person because after all, they had more? I don’ t know, but I can think of at least one example (the context is a discussion of Anne Romney’s convention speech in 2012 where she disclosed she suffered from MS and had suffered from breast cancer.)

Those who have will be tempted to abuse their gifts against their weaker or less provisioned neighbors. As someone who enjoys almost the full complement of special advantages (formerly known as “privileges”) that make living in this country so much easier, I have doubtlessly engaged in enough careless or casual cruelty toward others who do not share my good fortune. If I chose to bore you with specific examples, they would probably just sound like good old fashioned white liberal guilt. Nevertheless, it’s true.

I was going to end with an admonition to question our own envy against those who have what we lack and to exercise restraint and compassion when dealing with those who lack what we have. Noble sentiments. But I suppose most people hold them anyway and my harangues probably just sound preachy.

I’ll leave you instead with this. Less inequality is probably better than more if only because it tempers the temptations to vengeance and casual cruelty. But I suspect we can never end it altogether, and  I’m not sure we ought to if we could. And I agree with Wintrhop. It is a real problem.


I’m well aware the story of my life is much more interesting to me than to others. So believe it or not, I’m reluctant to explain the parts of my personal background that inform my approach to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Still and even so, I am going to give a little bit of that background, mostly because I promised Michael Drew I would (so blame him), but also because it’s probably a good idea to lay my biases on the table. I intend this OP only as an autobiographical observation and not as an extension of my arguments. I don’t expect anyone reading this to change their minds about what I’ve written or might write in the future. In fact, I’m not even confident it will fully explain why I’m so ambivalent about Sagan. Some of you may have had very similar experiences to mine and come to very different conclusions.

This post has all the faults of any autobiographical account. I’m relying almost entirely on memory to make a representation that’s at least a little self-serving. I do promise, however, that I have no stories of Saganite hoodlums shaking me down for my lunch money in middle school so they can buy “star dust.”

Another fault of my post is that it’s long. One thing worse than reading a solipsistic post about someone else’s life is reading a very, very long solipsistic post about someone else’s life that runs more than 3,200 words. So I beg your indulgence.


Category: Church, School

A couple months ago I watched the first episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, in which Sagan introduced the series.

Some of Sagan’s statements stand out to me. He says “because the cosmos is also within us we’re made of star stuff.” He also says the “same laws of physics apply everywhere throughout the cosmos.”  [My quotations from the show are paraphrases, but I’ve tried to relate them as accurately as possible]. Toward the end of the episode, he warns us:

We can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us or we can squander our 15 billion year heritage in meaningless self-destruction.

Those statements represent to me a faith-like or religious-like approach to the universe. He employs a metaphor that is probably meant to inspire awe. We are made of matter–atoms and other things–but he renders “matter” as “star stuff.” The same laws apply everywhere. The corollary is that if they do not appear to apply everywhere, then we just haven’t discovered the right laws, or we haven’t discovered all the laws, or we have formulated the laws incorrectly. Life is assumed to be a good thing. It is a “heritage,” 15 billion years in the making, much richer than if it had been merely 10,000 years in the making. It’s possible for us to “squander” those good things and if we do, then the resulting self-destruction is “meaningless,” much worse, I guess, than a self-destruction that is meaningful.

Those statements represent certain values and starting assumptions that are not easily answered by Sagan’s approach to the Cosmos. He has to make certain leaps–not “leaps of faith” exactly but leaps nonetheless–to assume that “the same laws of physics” apply everywhere. He entertains certain values about what causes wonder and awe and expresses those values through the “star stuff” metaphors. And he also has certain values about good (“life” and “our” 15-billion year “heritage”) and about what is meaningful and meaningless, presuming that meaninglessness itself is a bad, or at least discomfiting (and therefore bad) thing.

I risk committing an error here. It’s one thing to point out that awe exists, that people speak in metaphors, that people have values, even values not easily reducible to a materialistic view of the universe or values not testable by a process we can call “scientific.” It’s another thing to take it too far, to say that because those statements are “faith-like” or “religious-like” in some ways, they are therefore expressions of something that can be answered only by or derived from faith or religion. The error is to say “gotcha” when all Sagan is guilty of is holding complicated views.

And yet there is a disjuncture in Cosmos among the scientific values, the materialist values, and the set of values that are not testable by science or not easily reducible to Sagan’s materialist assumptions. It’s worth pointing out that disjuncture if only to understand why some people are uneasy about Sagan’s project and to understand that this discomfort is not merely an expression of anti-scientific or anti-intellectual angst.

Category: Church, School

[Burt Likko’s post Over There has inspired this one.]


I was raised Catholic, but from around the time of 5th grade through high school, I experimented with what we today call evangelical Christianity although I don’t think I used that term then. I never formally left the Catholic Church and never formally joined either of the Pentecostal and Baptist congregations I frequented. But I did participate in the youth groups of both my Catholic parish and those two congregations.

Along the way, I adopted many of the positions attributed to evangelicals. I believed we needed to be “born again” in Christ and that Christ was the way to salvation. I believed in the possibility of something like the Rapture and a time of tribulations, although I never had a firm position on when the Rapture would take place or whether it would happen before or after the time of tribulations. I believed the Bible was the truth although I probably was not a literalist. I also adopted much of the social conservative agenda often attributed to evangelicals. I believed the state should recognize Christianity on some level. I believed homosexuality was wrong. I believed abortion should be illegal.

When it came to issues like evolution and creationism, I had the not uncommon ability to heed conflicting ideas at the same time. I think I insisted that if we assume an all-powerful god, then young earth creationism and special creation were at least more than possible even though I’m not sure, now, how much or whether I believed in them. And yet, I think I accepted on some level the claims made for evolution, including the claim that humans evolved from pre-humans, who evolved from the same creatures from which apes and monkeys evolved.

But I objected to “science,” or what I took to be science. For me, “science” was best represented by those who relied overmuch on a facile rationalism and who rejected anything that was not material or observable or falsifiable. I wasn’t sophisticated enough at the time to put it in those words, of course. But I had in mind people like one physics teacher in my high school who according to some of his students (I never had him) spent class time discussing how religious people were stupid to believe in god when all the evidence seemed to disprove it. I also had in mind Carl Sagan. During my teen years, I watched reruns of “Cosmos.” I resented his repeated swipes against the claims of faith. Those swipes weren’t by any means the sum total of what Sagan was doing–in fact, I enjoyed watching the series–but it’s hard to deny that attitude was there.


Enter college. As a freshman, I took a biology course that challenged those views. The course was co-taught by a biology professor and a philosophy professor ( the same philosophy professor I talked about in another post). In addition to the standard suite of introductory biology material–photosynthesis, the citric acid cycle, meiosis and mitosis, and a survey of life forms from prokaryotes to human beings–we did a lot of extra readings.

Some of these readings, like Dawkins’s Selfish Gene, an essay by Francis Crick, a book by Desmond Morris, Elaine Morgan’s Descent of Woman, and Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters,/i> seemed to insist on the (sometimes callous, almost always unquestioned) materialist worldview that I had associated with science.

But others offered critiques of this materialist view. Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions seemed to demonstrate that science is just as based on faith and the type arbitrary assumptions of which some scientists are so dismissive when they aver their disbelief in god. An essay by Paul Feyerabend seemed to argue that we give scientists too much power and too much deference to formulate public policy and we should allow other, non-scientific views. We also read a philosophical challenge to evolution. I forget the author or title of the piece, but it raised the possibility that evolution, while descriptively and historically accurate, doesn’t work well as a predictive scientific theory. This piece called evolution “the great tautology.”

In retrospect, my understanding of a lot of these works was faulty or at least incomplete. I probably misinterpreted Kuhn. I’ve since read up on Feyerabend and discovered he may not have been as “anti-science” as the piece I mentioned, taken by itself, seemed to me as a freshman. The “great tautology” piece was more a challenge to how we fit what is and is not “scientific” into neat categories and a meditation on what scientists mean when they call something a “theory.” (It definitely wasn’t the “tautology” argument you sometimes hear from young earth creationists or intelligent design advocates.)

But whatever my misunderstandings, those works taught me two things. One was that science was largely a method. The other was that not all scientists were the caricature of the raving materialists I had assumed them (all) to be, and plenty of people argued over and thought about what science is and has been, what its implications are or should be, and what it can and can’t say about the universe. And even the hyper-materialists were (at least sometimes) thoughtful people. (Whatever one thinks of Dawkins’s Selfish Gene, it wasn’t emblematic of the “irreligious right” tribe Dawkins later joined.)

There were bad things about that class. The biology professor, although a great instructor in many, many respects, sometimes used his bully pulpit and captive audience to make straw man arguments about theists, targeted especially but not solely at creationists. But being exposed to ideas you might not be comfortable with is part of what going to college is all about. And I’ve done worse.


I don’t intend this essay as “an answer to Burt Likko.” Aside from some very minor points, I agree pretty much with everything he says in his recent post. I’ll just end with saying I’m glad I didn’t skip the reading.

Category: Church

I have been meaning to post about this since the trip to Alaska, but it slipped my mind.

I didn’t have very many preferences when it came to the wedding. It was mostly as Clancy wanted it because when she wants her wants more than I want my wants, she gets her wants. She wanted to have it in Genesis, preferred that it be done by a judge. Fortunately, the things I did want were things she wanted just about as much. I wanted a crawfish boil involved, as did she. We both wanted Ben Folds’ The Luckiest played, and so it was.

One of the things I did want, though, involved the readings during the service. Specifically, I did not want the Corinthians passage played at every wedding ever (“Love is gentle, love is kind…”). Also, I wanted Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 read. They go as follows:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Sounds simple, right? Except that I got my desire on neither of these things. The judge we hired had two “services” to choose from, both of which included Corinthians. The only difference is that one had part of the verse and one had the whole verse. The decision on which one to go with was made entirely to minimize the amount of Corinthian in said service. As for Ecclesiastes, that was held up by something else.

Originally, Clancy’s two sisters were going to be her maids of honor. A friend from high school and a friend from college were going to do the reading. That became a problem with Ellie, Clancy’s middle sister and the one who was married in Alaska, announced shortly before the wedding that she was going to be getting a divorce. That was not wholly unexpected, but unfortunate nonetheless because everybody liked the guy. I didn’t realize that it would end up a problem for Ecclesiastes.

The first effect was that Ellie announced that she no longer wanted to be a maid of honor because, since she was going through a divorce, it made her feel hypocritical to be front and center in somebody else’s wedding. Ooookay, I though. No biggie. The next one, though, was that she would be glad to read. There was, however, one rule: Nothing from the Bible. At all. Now the other reader, Clancy’s friend from high school, already had something picked out that specifically meant something to her and Clancy as a part of their friendship. So that wasn’t going to budge. We couldn’t pick another reader entirely because family.

And so… no Ecclesiastes.

I have oddly had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it ever since. Nothing that prevented me from forming an absolutely great relationship with my sister-in-law. But… dangit, I just wanted one thing and her stubbornness at a couple of points prevented that from happening.

I did more or less get over it, which lead to my laughter in Alaska.

Lain hides in the wedding gown.

Lain hides in the wedding gown.

I had to leave the hall to take care of Lain, who was a getting fussy. I mean, I was kind of giddy that she was able to string together the sentence “Want to go home” but… oh well. So I took her outside. So I was only barely able to hear Clancy’s mother, reading, at Ellie’s wedding…

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—
a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Category: Church

I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to do a post on the Duggars. Mike Rice’s submission on Duggar vs Dunham has pushed me towards doing so. My thoughts don’t quite track with the fiercest critics and defenders of the Duggars, though on the whole are more sympathetic to the former rather than the latter view. This is actually expanded upon from a comment I left on Facebook.

I have a weird capacity to be able to understand and, while definitely not condone or less pass, at least empathize a bit with some pretty amoral and immoral stuff. What sometimes gets me, though, is the combination of immoral (or amoral) and reckless.

Some argue whether or not we should extend or do away with statutes of limitations when it comes to sex crimes, but regardless most of us should think twice about holding a 14 year old indefinitely accountable for their actions at that age. We shouldn’t do it for murderers, and we shouldn’t do it for rapists. Thoughts contrary to this sometimes posit that sex crimes are particularly noteworthy because of recidivism, but that’s the same mentality that have given us our inhumane sex offender registries and the like. And in the case of Josh Duggar, it’s not clear that charges would be pursued anyway.

While I cannot quite condone the actions of Jim Bob Duggar in covering up the crime, I can certainly understand them and cannot say that in his shoes, I would do anything differently. Nobody wants their kids to go to jail even if they’re out at 18. Some – with more knowledge of the system than I have – say that treatment would likely be the recourse rather than prison. I don’t know if that’s true, and notably neither did the Duggars. An imperfect handling of the situation is understandable.

And faith is a thing that… well, it’s a thing. It doesn’t go away if you’re a sinner, and for all we know this has been weighing heavily on Jim Bob and Josh for a very long time. The events here have been used to try to argue against their faith or their church, but the case against the former seems rather weak to me. The same goes with ideology, up to a point. A writer for the Daily Beast said something to the effect of “It’s always the right-wing conservatives…” and was quickly presented with an army of counter-evidence. There’s still room to talk about how subcultures deal with sexual violation, however, but we should be wary of using a really broad stroke if we don’t want to get into conversations about how multiculturalism encourages us to look the other way.

The particulars of the subculture to which the Duggars belonged are more damning, however. and this is where things start getting more tenuous. Jim Bob Duggar’s church appears to have long-been comprised of people who tolerated outrageous sexual abuse (and it’s not just that guy). For a father with daughters to be able to look at that with a blind eye, does not lend itself to much in the way of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to other sexual violation of girls. It appears that there were serious problems here, and Jim Bob was more than happy to look the other way in the interest of spiritual morality.

The combination of these things, though, paint a darker picture. And the next bit puts me over the edge: If Jim Bob Duggar truly appreciated the gravity of the situation, and put his family first, he would not have gone the moralizing celebrity route. This isn’t about disagreeing with his views on homosexuality or sexuality more general. This is about disagreeing, in the strongest possible terms, to appointing himself a messenger for these things. Putting yourself in the limelight carries with it risks. Harboring dark secrets means that you don’t get to be a celebrity. You don’t get to draw attention to yourself. You don’t get to run for public office. You are rather obligated, for the sake of your family and keeping the secret that would devestate it, to keep your head low, provide for your family, and not make yourself a target (by, for instance, stating views that would have people opening every closet of your life in search of skeletons).

That Jim Bob didn’t do this, to me, speaks volumes. It tells me that he either didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, or was willing to put his family at risk for the cause of self-glory. It’s the thing that I really cannot find it within myself to cut him slack on, and it by extension colors my view of anything and everything else his family has done. The same applies to Josh, to a lesser degree, who risked his family’s standing and privacy by making himself a target with the Family Research Council and following in his father’s footsteps. Some of that can be attributable to his raising, which leads straight back to the head of his household.

In the end, to me, it all comes back to Jim Bob.

Category: Church, Newsroom

Category: Church

Calvin Coolidge on James HanleyJames Hanley explains that contrary to what you may have heard, Oklahoma is not banning secular marriage.

The following is adapted from the comment I left there…

MRS and I spent quite a bit of time on Friday trying to hash this out Over There. It was an exercise in futility.

The amount of misinformation on this has been staggering. So many people seemed insistent on believing it because Oklahoma and because Christians.

I’m not even in favor of the law, but I still spent most of my time defending it against the notion that it was going to bar non-Christians and non-Jews from getting married (and that Common Law marriages aren’t “second class” in the context of the law, and that calling them Common Law marriages was not intended to slight gays, and… jesucristo I want my Friday back.)

For most of the day, we were arguing with the belief that judges had still been eliminated, and even then I think the law was defensible.

I actually like the affidavit thing. I am not sure if we’d have gone that route (I would have, but Clancy was pretty lukewarm on it when I explained it to her), but that was a genuine improvement. Michael Cain actually argues that the verbiage of the Quaker provision is such that even an obvious non-religious organization, such as a University of Tulsa Linux Club, could theoretically give the right to marry.

Everything else just seemed geared towards protecting the sensibilities of clerks, which I am pretty indifferent to. I actually have a fair amount of sympathy for private actors who don’t want to take part in a gay wedding, including but not limited to photographers and cake-bakers and especially pastors. But clerks aren’t private actors, and equal treatment is in the job description.

I still like the Wyoming model, where just about anyone can get the right to marry. Or the French model, where religious marriage and civil marriage are treated independently.

Clancy and I were married by a judge. Which is technically a civil ceremony but he dropped God’s names and the one biblical thing I did not want in my wedding (Corinthians) was inescapably there in the service. (I would have liked to include Ecclesiastes, but that didn’t work out.)

When Clancy came home on Friday night and asked my day, I explained that I spent a lot of it contemplating marriage. She said that she should have been a part of that conversation.

And lastly, there is a specific provision (the above-mentioned Quaker provision) that singles out religions that do not have a formal pastor that conducts ceremonies. Among the religions mentioned is Bahai, which by itself demonstrates that the Judeo-Christian provision was not enforced, as Bahai is not a biblical religion.

Among the things I discovered while debating the subject was that there is actually a Bahai temple right here in the Tri-State Area, which I would not have guessed. And apparently Bahai is a pretty big deal in South Carolina, which I also wouldn’t have guessed (though I may have read that before).

Category: Church, Statehouse

Joseph_Smith_receiving_golden_platesI was planning to go through the whole Book of Mormon and do posts on it, but that didn’t happen. Instead I just have this piece, about the First Book of Nephi, which kicks the BOM off. So though this is basically part one of one (maybe I’ll go back at some point), I thought I would share it. I read it mostly as a learning exercise. I am writing about it in a relatively neutral manner. I’d prefer comments remain respectful and not veer in the direction of “But the whole thing is a crock!” Religious diversity and tolerance uber alles.

A few random observations.

Plot: God tells Lehi to get the heck out of Dodge (Jerusalem) because there is some bad stuff coming. Lehi tries to round up his family, but a couple of his sons (Laman and Lamuel) object. God picks Nephi, the youngest (at the time) son, as his favorite. This causes much trouble and murmurring with the other brothers. Laman and Lamuel are tagged as bad apples, though God (through Lehi and/or Nephi) alternates between telling them that they are bad apples and that they should behave. There is another son, Sam, who seems to be a swing vote between good (Nephi) and evil (the other two). God gives Nephi some shapechanging powers and gives them a magic compass. After some time in the wilderness, Nephi builds a boat and they sail off to America.

Lesson: DO NOT MURMUR. Murmuring is at the root of a lot of ills. This is not a serious lesson. Mostly a reference that the word is used more than I have ever heard it used before. The real lesson appears to be that you should listen to word of God and the people who God chooses to command, though also an overwhelming sense that dissent is bad more generally.

Freedom: On the other hand, lots of talk about how great freedom is.

Observation: Bad stuff happens on the voyage, presumably because God is testing Lehi’s clan. Laman and Lamuel revolt and tie Nephi up. After that, the bad stuff that happens is because Laman and Lamuel are doing bad things.

Neat: There is a subplot involving a character named Laban, who is some sort of record-keeper or artifact-collector in Jerusalem. He is a villain who ends up getting killed by Nephi with his own sword (which he then keeps). Nephi then shapechanges and pretends to be Laban for a bit. I actually have a character in a story I am thinking of who is a thoroughly corrupt recordkeeper. I’m thinking of working the Laban name into it. I’m not going to name the guy Laban since I don’t believe in symbolic naming. But I’ve definitely got it filed away. I’m not sure why I find this bit so interesting. Maybe because the rest of the story didn’t jump out at me.

Symbolism: Some of it is actually pretty good. They go on to explain it unless you miss it. Some of the imagery is interesting.

Prophecy: America was foretold and it was foretold that America will be awesome. Actually, America isn’t named specifically. Also, the way that the settlers made their way west is because God gave them the equivalent of a GPS.

Surprise: Mormons do not believe in Original Sin, at least not in the same way that most Christian sects do. [Addendum: While I don’t remember if it came up in Nephi I, it’s noteworthy how insistently anti-polygamy the Book of Mormon is. It will later be defined as the primary failing of “the good tribe” – the Nephites – in comparison to “the bad tribe” – the Lamanites – who, despite their faults, were good on the marriage issue.]

Repetition: As mentioned before, I have heard the words “it came to pass” and “murmur” enough to last me a lifetime.

Telephone: The Book of Mormon’s origins are (as best as I can tell) Joseph Smith translating plates from Mormon, who translated from the writings of Nephi. And Nephi got some of his stuff from Lehi. It’s like a game of telephone, though presumably more reliable since it was written down rather than told from one person to the next. I’m not entirely sure how the language issue was supposed to have been handled.

Category: Church


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