Friday, June 5, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 5

This time I decided to approach the debate as a guy (since they won't talk to Angie anymore). Let's see if "Mike" can get further with this misogynist sect.

You are speaking live with Austin, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Austin: hello, how can I help you?

Me: Hi I've got a question about the devil.
Why did God make the devil?

Austin: what kind of question?
(We've got a slow reader, slow typer, or slow internet connection here.)

Me: Why did God make the devil?

Austin: we don't believe that He did
(WTF? I learn new things about mormons every time I do these chats.)

Me: I thought god created everything
Where did the devil come from?
(Pause during which I cleaned up maybe a quarter of my son's toys.)

Austin: the Bible calls the devil a "fallen angel"

Me: oh sure, of course not. but he made him when he was still an angel right?

Austin: we all have the ability to choose who/what kind of person, etc we will be

Me: Can god destroy the devil, now that he is fallen?

Austin: this part is harder for a lot of people to grasp, but we actually believe that if anything has the ability to think and reason for itself- then God did not create that reasoning part- He created a body to house that reasoning

Me: So God just makes our bodies, not our brains and minds?

Austin: well.. technically our brains are part of our bodies- but our minds, right. The part that allows us to think for ourselves and make decisions and reason, etc. That part of us is eternal

Me: So our minds are eternal, but God didn't make them? Then where did they come from?
And did the devil's mind come from the same place?

Austin: God's goal, everything He does, is that we (our intelligence or whatever you wish to call it) can become more like He is and experience the joy that He does, etc.
we don't know

Me: well, this is all very interesting. but back to the devil - since he has chosen to be fallen, or whatever, why doesn't god just smite him?

Austin: and yes, the devil is included in that. Eternity is something that is hard, maybe impossible for us to grasp. In Eternity, I don't think there is any "come from"

Me: So nothing really made our minds, they just always existed?

Austin: God has a perfect plan, which is in place. it began long before He created the world and will continue until the final resurrection. Before then, everything that needs to happen will... everything will be worked out before the end.
As far as we know, yes

Me: but if god knows everything that will ever happen, why did he let the devil tempt Eve in teh garden and make mankind fall?

Austin: the fall is actually part of the plan

Me: It is?

Austin: God knows what will happen. He doesn't stop it, but He does make a way for us to overcome it.
The important principle is agency
(Free will alert! Free will alert!)

Me: Agency?

Austin: God won't stop us from making our own decisions- and suffering the consequences
but He gives us opportunities to learn about consequences before we make decisions

Me: and he won't stop the devil from making his own decisions and letting all of us suffer the consequences, right?

Austin: He gives us the Gospel, and the Holy Ghost so that we will know which decisions will bring happiness, and which won't
that's correct. Instead, He gives us tools to use so that we can avoid the traps of the devil

Me: But after the Fall we're all cursed. We don't live in the garden, men have to work and women suffer pain in childbirth, right?
Even though only Adam and Eve had agency in that, we all suffer the consequences.

Austin: we actually look on the fall as a necessary step in God's plan
(Then it's a STUPID plan!)

Me: but why couldn't he have just I don't know made the garden without the tree or without the devil? Then people would still have agency but we wouldn't suffer from disease and pain.

Austin: if they hadn't been banished from the Garden of Eden, we know that they wouldn't have been able to have children... and none of us would be able to get a body. A physical body and a mortal life are necessary steps to becoming more like God
we must endure pain sometimes so that we can learn to fully appreciate joy and happiness

Me: They couldn't have kids in the garden? But God made Adam out of dust and Eve out of his rib. So we could still have had physical bodies without leaving the Garden.
Some pain, sure, but not kids starving to death around the world. I don't see how that helps anyone appreciate joy and happiness.

Austin: may I share with you a passage of scripture that explains this principle of being free to choose?

Me: sure

Austin: link
That becomes the question, then.. how much suffering isenough? Luckily we don't hav eto understand that. We only have to learn to trust that God is in control and that things will work out. He gives peace to our souls if we trust and follow Him.
That is one part of the power of the Holy Ghost- to bring peace to our souls despite trials, etc.

Me: Well I read the article, but a lot of it is confusing to me

Austin: I understand

Me: Why did God design a system where mankind had to fall? Why couldn't he make people able to grow and have kids and learn and progress, but still stay safe and happy in the garden? why make things so that innocent children starve to death?

Austin: this part is hard at first for a lot of people, but as you study the plan as a whole- and continue to pray and ask God for His help in understanding, etc.- it will continue to make more sense

Me: well since it makes sense to you, maybe you can explain it to me? I thought God was all powerful. Shouldn't a wise, eternal, all-powerful god be able to make a better system than this one?

Austin: you have to remember that He didn't create the part of us that is 'us'-the unique core of us. His plan is the only/best way to take us from where we were before to where we can have the joy that God has.
If He could have, He would have
this must be the best possible system
(Must be because my god is a little god.)

Me: He's limited in his power?

Austin: He can do everything that can be done, but there must be Eternal laws that GOd is subject to (must like we are subject to the laws of physics). but these Eternal laws are things like justice, balance, etc.

Me: God is subject to Eternal laws? Well, did someone or something cause these laws to exist, or do they supersede God?

Austin: we don't know. It's back to the "Eternal" thing again

Me: well this is really interesting. I've never heard this idea of things being more eternal than God.
Is God more powerful than the devil?

Austin: nothing is MORE Eternal
either it's Eternal or it isn't
I don't think there can be degrees of Eternal

Me: okay good point :)
(This is probably my own Christian childhood. I was taught we had eternal souls, from the moment of conception moving forward, but not backward in time.)

Austin: but this is really turning into a more philosophical speculative conversation than what is actually the purpose of this site

Me: Oh well I just... I guess I don't understand why a loving god would let kids starve to death for some master plan. I have one kid and I'd never let him starve no mater what

Austin: there is a lot we cannot understand about God and the Eternal nature of things- but we do know is important
and that is outlined here on this website
I encourage you to continue to read through the outlines here

Me: Maybe I just love my son more than God loves us?
(I do.)

Austin: and we can clarify any questions you have about what you read
that's definitely not the case. God's love is perfect. (NOT!)But He does understand things better than we do

Me: I don't know, I think I understand suffering better than he must

Austin: at some level- and that level might be different for different people- we have to put our trust in God's hands

Me: I do everything in my limited power to stop it, he doesn't

Austin: and understand that as Isaiah and Proverbs teach us-His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, etc.

Me: Higher or just different? It seems like Higher would mean better, and better would be less kids starving to death

Austin: I would not underestimate what God understand=)

Me: Maybe if he cures all the disease in the world, or ends hunger I'll believe. I can't understand worshiping a god that lets innocent people hurt so much

Austin: hold on a moment
I have to go help some new missionaries
would you like to wait? or can I transfer you to another representative who can teach you what we believe about how to gain trust in God and His plan even if we don't understand it all?

Me: Either one would be great

Austin: ok, one moment
Has transferred you to: Kendall

You are speaking live with Kendall, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is provided for assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Kendall: Hey Mike give me a moment to read the conversation to ceath up

Me: Sure thing

Kendall: Alright Mike so if I understand correctly you have a qusetion still about why God lets us suffer?

Me: And why he won't just destroy the devil

Kendall: there is actually a scripture in The Book of Mormon that explains this perfectly
are you familiar with the Book of Mormon at all?

Me: no, not really

Kendall: The Book of Mormon is similar to the Bible meaning that it is another witness of Jesus Christ's life and minestry. However it was written by the people who lived in aincent America, in 6000 B.C.

Me: okay

Kendall: Just like the book of James or John in the Bible, the Book of Mormon has other books such as a section called the Book of Nephi
Nephi was a prophet who was taught by God and here is what he has to say about why we must suffer.

Me: Okay - let me read this first
(Now my son wants pancakes, so the ultimate multi-tasking adventure begins)
it basically looks like it says that everything happens in balance? like there has to be evil for good to exist?

Kendall: that is exactly right
imagine never knowing pain, or sorrow
how could you then know joy and peace?

Me: well, actually I think so. Some people have pretty good lives all the way through, and they're happy. Other people have lives that are mixes of pain and happiness

Kendall: That is true, it always does seem like that on the surface. But I promise you that everyone goes through trials in their lives, they just might not be that visible to others. Do you remember the story of Job from the Bible?

Me: well okay but I'm not asking about minor troubles. I'm asking about kids starving to death.

Kendall. So why would God allow his children to die, if He loves them?

Me: yes, exactly. because I would do everything in my power to keep my son from starving or dying or suffering

Kendall: If I had a son, I would do the exact same thing. But if you were to solve every problem that your son has, then how could he learn?

Me: I'm not saying every problem. I'm saying those ones - starving, dying, and suffering. God is supposed to be more powerful than I am, but he lets people starve, die, and suffer. Why?

Kendall: Are you familiar with what happened to God's son Jesus Christ when he was on earth?

Me: yeah, and that's something else I don't get. Why kill his own son? He's the one who set up the system. Why not make a system that doesn't require a blood sacrifice?

Kendall: God created a plan so that we could return and live with Him, but this could only be possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

(Now my neighbor is here. She has a job interview so I'm watching her son for a little bit. While making debating mormons - and making pancakes. Why do I have the feeling this won't end well?)

Me: It seems like if I had been all powerful and all knowing, I'd come up with a different system. Heck, I'd do anything to avoid having my son tortured, beaten, and hung to death.

Kendall: I think for the most part we would all feel the same way. However before Christ left this life, He said to the God, "father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Even after Christ was tourtured, and spit upon, and forsaken by His own people
He still only cared about us

Me: I'm not questioning Christ's love for us. I'm questioning God's love for both Christ and us

Kendall: alright, and that is a doubt that most people have.

Me: How do you get beyond that doubt to trust him?
(Crap! Pancakes are burning. Time to take them off the stove.)

Kendall: So imagine knowing that your family is introuble, and the only way to help them is by sending your only son to them. But you know that he will suffer beyond comprehension, would you till send your son to them?
(Christian neighbor mom totally, unquestioningly answered the same. "NO!" It's a non-brainwashed thing.)

Me: No, because I'm his mother. He's an innocent and he depends on me.
(At this point, I was sure I'd blown it. They MUST realize I'm actually female - right?)

Kendall: But why did God send his son, when Christ never sinned nor did anything wrong in his life knowing of all the things that will happen to His son?

Me: I don't know. It doesn't make sense to me. Why couldn't he just make us good, or forgive us? How does torturing someone (or letting him be tortured) make the rest of us less sinful?

Kendall: Because God cannot, nor will he control us. That was Lucifer's plan. The only possible reason is Love.

Letting children starve to death is part of a plan for love? Having his own son brutally murdered is love?

Kendall: We might not understand right now, but we must first trust in God. There will always be doubts, the doubts never go away. It only becomes a probelm when the doubts overweigh the truth.

Me: How can you trust a God who allows so much wickedness as part of his plan? It just doesn't seem right to me to trust someone who has the power to stop evil, but won't do it.
Why won't god destroy the devil?

Kendall: Life would deffinetly be a lot easier, and because life would be so easy that we would not grow as much as we could if their was no trials.

Me: But maybe we wouldn't be so broken either. And kids who starve to death never have a chance to grow - they're dead. Why won't god destroy the devil? We could still grow and learn without him, and it would probably be easier to love each other and be good to one another if we weren't tempted to be wicked

Kendall: In the Bible Christ is always tell us to help the poor and the needy. Maybe it is not God but the people in the World who are letting the children starve.
(Capital "W" in World concerns me.)

Me: It's both. But people only have so much power - go is all powerful. Surely he could make more food or help crops grow better or something like that. That wouldn't even interfere with agency, it would just mean there was enough food for everybody, in all places. Can't he do that?

Kendall: Of course He could, but how could that help the world for the greater good? sure people would not be hungry or dieing, but how does that help the people who wont help, who wont donate to the needy, who wont asist the poor?

Me: Are you saying God cares more about the people who won't help than the people who are starving?

Kendall: not at all, but that that is where the bigger problem is
It is already in our power to help them
just that most people choose not to

Me: But if no one was starving, it wouldn't matter if some people weren't helping. Right now people aren't helping and so other, innocent people have to suffer. And God has the power to stop, but won't. How is that loving or just or balanced?
Do Mormons send food to starving people?

Kendall: Ofcourse we do, tons
the first sunday of every month we have something called fast sunday

Me: That's really good. I think it's important to help starving people. I just don't understand why God doesn't seem to think that it's as important as you Mormons do, or as I do. Can you explain this to me because it doesn't make sense to me?

Kendall: God does care, that is why He commands us to do it. Who better to take of the poor than their own brothers and sisters? We have all already been given so much by God that he expects us to be the one to help them.

(Boys! Quit hitting each other. One of you can bounce on the trampoline and one of you can play with the fire truck. DON'T throw the fire truck!)

Me: God would be better at it, because he could fix the problem all at once. He's all powerful. He can get into countries that have secured border, where humanitarian aid can't go. He could take care of the people he created (their bodies at least) better than we can because he isn't limited like we are

Kendall: That is why we must learn how to do it.

Me: We must learn how to do it, because God can but he won't?

Kendall: But through the people who are doing it, in a way, isn't God himself doing it

Me: No! The people are doing it. If God was doing it himself, it would be a big miracle, like turning 7 loaves of bread and 2 fish into enough to feed the crowds listening to Jesus speak. Why won't he do that with starving African children now?

Kendall: Link

Me: I think it's good and valuable that you help. I also like that the Jews, Chrsitians, Catholics and Muslims help. But why doesn't God just fix it?
And why won't he just destroy the devil?

Kendall: Our church is only 15.5 million to 6.75 billion people in the world, yet look at how much we have tried to help

Me: I think that's excellent. I just wish your god was as good to humanity as you are.
If he has the power to destroy the devil, why won't he do it?

Kendall: I can totally understand why this is such an important topic to you. And if it was just as important to you as it was to everyone else, then their would be no starvation in the world.
as for the Devil, he has no power over us. It is only when we allow him to
So why would God destroy him?

Me: Because he is evil. And evil should be eliminated, don't you think?

Kendall: He has given us all we need to over come the devil. The rest is up to us.

Me: It seems like God set us up so that most people would fail. How many people are there on earth, and how many will make it to heaven?

Kendall: He has already done his part to give us a way to make it to heaven. It is not Him, but ourselves that is keeping us from going to heaven.

But the way he gave us lets most people fall through the cracks

Kendall: It is because the people Chose to not follow God

Me: If God is all powerful and all knowing, why not make a system that fewer people fail at? If he loves us, but most of us don't make it to heaven, why doesn't he change the plan?

Kendall: The plan is perfect, does it not make sense as to why we fail?

Me: The plan where kids starve to death and his own son is a blood sacrifice is perfect? I don't agree

Kendall: But what happened to his son after his death?

Me: Well he went to hell for two days, but god sends his other children - us- to hell for eternity all the time. Which just doesn't seem loving at all to me
There's absolutely nothing my son could do that would make me torture him for even one second, much less forever

Kendall: He didn't go to hell, infact he is given everything that the father has

Me: but what about people god does send to hell. Aren't we all god's children?
(Neighbor-mom is back. Time to take the little ones outside for a minute.)

Kendall: Your questions are important to me, thanks for sharing, but I know that God's plan was perfect. He knew that His son had to suffer because he loves us. If Christ didn't pay for our sins, there would be no hope for us to even be with God.
Think about that, we sin and are so imperfect and God has provided a way for us to be clean and return to Him. Instead of criticizing his plan, we should be grateful that He has provided a way for us to return through His Son

Kendall: Has transferred you to Nathan

You are speaking live with Nathan, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Nathan: Hello, hang on a second... I have a few other people I am helping right now and I'll be with you in a minute...

Nathan: Has transferred you to Shawn

You are speaking live with Shawn, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Shawn: Hello?

Me: Hi Shawn?
(I've been outside for 15 minutes. Surely they've hung up on me.)

Shawn: Yes. How can I help you?
(Whoa! They'll stick around FOREVER if you're a MAN.)

Me: Hi Shawn. I just have one question. Why hasn't God destroyed the devil?

Shawn: Because he is necessary to our growth and learning. Our purpose on this earth is to learn to distinguish between good and evil. Choosing good leads to happiness, joy, and freedom. Choosing evil leads to captivity, and misery. There must be opposition.
There will always been good and evil because there will always be agency and opposition.

Me: Do you think it's possible to distinguish between good and evil without following the Mormon faith?

Shawn: Yes. All men have been given the Light of Christ - which is like a ingrown knowledge, or conciounce. However, when one repeatedely goes against that light and chooses to do wrong, that light dims and it is then harder to distinguish.

Me: Okay so if someone follows his moral center, and does what is right his whole life, will he go to heaven?

Shawn: Doing what is right all of your life is one necessity and step you must take, but it must be accompanied with certain ordinances. For none can enter the Kingdom of God save through faith in Christ, baptism, and repentance.
We believe in three different Kingdoms of Heaven - the Celestial (Highest), the Terrestrial, and the Telestial. All ordinances must be performed to enter the Celestial.

Me: So if someone is born in say Laos and he's a good man and kind and does what is right, but he never gets baptized or has faith in Christ - what happens to him?

Shawn: ALL men will be given the opportunity to accept Christ and be baptized. All will hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to accept Christ and the ordinances before they are Judged and placed into a Kingdom of God.

Me: Like, after they die but before they go to one of the levels of heaven or to hell?

Shawn: Yes. Exactly

Me: Well, that seems good. But then why bother to do missionary work here on earth?
If God will give everyone a chance later, maybe we should just concentrate on being good people and worry about heaven and hell after we die.

Shawn: Because this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God. That is the whole purpose of our time here. And we are the exact same after we die - we leave this world with the same knowledge, thoughts, beliefs.

Me: Wait, so we're exactly the same, then will people make different choices when they're given that last opportunity to hear the Gospel, or will they hold onto the beliefs they had on earth?
(Because otherwise, atheists are right. We can wait till we're dead to commit - the Mormon God is actually allowing for disbelief due to lack of evidence up UNTIL judgment!)

Shawn: They could do either. But their feelings they had while on earth are the same. Yet, just like hearts and attitudes can be changed here, they could be changed there as well. It is really up to the person.
(WTF? Better steer this conversation somewhere that isn't totally foreign to me.)

Me: But I still don't see why the devil is necessary for growth and learning. Good can exist without evil. Evil can exist without good.
If good depended on evil to BE good, then that would mean God depends on the devil to BE god. And that doesn't make sense to me at all.

Shawn: Could you ever know really what happiness is if you never experienced grief, pain and sorrow?
Could you know something was hot if you had never felt cold?
All things are relative to their opposition and the things around them.

Me: Yes, I think so. My son has had a very good life, and he is happy everyday.
He doesn't need to hurt to know what it feels like to not hurt. He doesn't need to starve to know that it feels good to have a healthy meal.

Shawn: Link
The highlighted verses should explain the concept

Me: Kendall sent the same verse. It says everything happens in balance, but I don't think that's true.

Shawn: If your son knew NOTHING except a good meal - did not even know there existed anything different - he could not comprehend what a bad meal was.

Me: Like I just said, my son doesn't need to feel starvation to know eating food is good. Our brains send us signals that we like food and so we eat it.
So what's the harm of not comprehending a bad meal?

Shawn: Well then he cannot be truly happy - maybe he feels he is happy, or balanced, but there is more happiness out there than he knows
Because then you cannot experience FULL happiness.
He is content, but he is not reaching the full possibility of joy, happiness and knowledge.

Me: Maybe the happiness that doesn't require suffering, starvation, pain, and death of innocent children across the world is a BETTER kind than the "full" happiness you're describing.

Shawn: Ignorance is bliss

Me: It makes no sense that you have to experience pain to be happy. You have to experience pain to be miserable, I'll grant you that.
Yes and bliss is another word for happy

Shawn: So if he only knew pain and suffering, then he should be content and blissful as well. What you are saying implies that they are opposite.
(No shit happiness and misery are opposites. Heck, Noggin cartoons establish that lesson daily before 9 a.m. Mormon = moron right about now.)

Me: NO! He'd be miserable. Pain and suffering cause misery. Safety, protection, and provision cause happiness.

Shawn: If we were all only ever sad and pained and so forth, then we would still be content
(Sheltered, brainwashed, CLUELESS Shawn.)

Me: No, we wouldn't be.
Because people who grow up in abusive homes, and don't know anything but sadness and pain, they are not content. They are miserable.

Shawn: They only cause misery because we know that we are miserable because we know we are not happy - because we know the difference.

Me: Parents who lose their children to AIDS and starvation in Africa, who only know pain and suffering, they are not happy. They are miserable.

Shawn: If there was not a difference, it would not matter what we experienced - it would be the same.
(Gee, if there was no difference rape would be as okay as not rape. Well duh! There IS a difference. The presence of lovemaking isn't what makes rape bad. Rape makes rape bad. Starvation is not what makes food good.)

Me: Shawn what you're saying makes no sense.
Pain = bad, not pain = good.

Shawn: Because they know of something different- they talk to people who are different, they see difference on tv, they know difference.

Me: You don't have to break one ankle to know that the other one is healthy

Shawn: They know difference thought because of this Light of Christ which is given to all men

Me: Why is knowing the difference more important than just being "content" in the Garden of Eden, or just going straight to heaven? Why make some people suffer unimaginable pain so that others can experience more joy and contentment?
That's not loving. That's God picking favorites. (Which He does in the Bible - chosen people and such.)

Shawn: You should pray about this, with real intent, truly wanting the answer, and you will get one. (AKA - I don't have an answer. Ask Magic Man.)

Me: Have you gotten one when you prayed about this?

Shawn: I know that God is our Father and he wants us to experience full joy. I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I know that we are here for a purpose and that God has a plan for each of us. I know that God's plan is perfect.
Yes, I have. I know it as a fact. That is how real my answers have been.

Me: What do you know of starving children who die in the desert?
or kids who are beaten in foster homes?
How is that part of a perfect plan?

Shawn: God knows and loves them.

Me: Love means taking care of someone. Love means trying to stop needless suffering.

Shawn: We do not know all things God knows.

Me: I don't claim to know all things God knows. But I know that if *I* was all powerful, I'd put an end to starvation.

Shawn: Do you attend church now?

Me: What does that have to do with the continued existence of the devil, or God's ambivalence to human suffering?

Shawn: I know that God's plan is perfect. I have no doubt. I know that God knows all things and all things will be made right in the end.

Me: So it's okay for thousands of children to suffer and die for the "greater good" of God's plan?

Shawn: I don't know. I just know God loves His children.

Me: Love means not letting someone starve to death.
If God' plan is love, then it's seriously overrated.

Shawn: Part of his love is our agency. He cannot stop us from making choices.
(Here we go again with free will...)
If a father chooses to beat his child, that is his choice, and God respects agency.
(WTF? I seriously did not see this coming!)

Me: What child born in a 3rd world country, already infected with HIV, has agency?
God respects beating your kids?
If you knew a man was beating his children, would you try to stop him?

Shawn: This life is but a small part. We will live for eternity.

Me: If you saw your neighbor beat his child, would you try to stop him?

Shawn: I know all of this is true. I have prayed, I have felt greater joy than I have ever known. It is clear we have different beliefs. I respect yours. We are both rooted in our opinions. So this conversation must come to an end.

Me: If you say your neighbor beat his child, would you try to stop him? Just please answer that
My opinion is the moral one that does not try to excuse an unjust god.

Shawn: Have a nice day!

What have I learned? Shawn was by far the most brainwashed. "I know I'm right because I know I'm right because I know I'm right." Circular logic blows. Apparently Mormons are waaaaay more off from the Christianity I'm more familiar with than I'd realized. God didn't make our "selves" just our bodies? Seems like a god that didn't do that part shouldn't get to screw with us as much as he does, in that case. He should only have jurisdiction or guardianship over the physical self. And what's up with god being subject to "eternal laws"? That's different. Of course, all religions are weird and only the one you grew up with seems semi-normal. But still, there was a lot more Scientology similarities than I'd expected. And most important of all: Mormons will spend literally 2 hours talking to a man, trying to persuade him, but will log off lickety-split from a woman who disagrees.


  1. Great post! You are very patient. I am not sure I could have made it that far without a stupid f er. It does not matter what you throw at a believer, they just keep pluggin along with, "All I know is God loves, Jesus saves , blah blah blah."

  2. Didn't manage to get through the entire post, but the missionary was correct in a few respects early in the conversation.

    Unlike the rest of the Christian world (and Judaism and Islam), Mormonism rejects creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). We do not believe that God created the universe out of nothing. Doctrine and Covenants 93:29-33

    29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
    30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
    31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
    32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the alight is under condemnation.
    33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;

    So basically, the most fundamental identity portion of human beings - this "intelligence" - was not created by God, but is co-eternal with him. Matter is also eternal in Mormon thought. Therefore, when we read the Genesis account in the Bible about God "creating" the earth, we view it as creation in the same sense that an artist "creates" a painting - by organizing chaotic matter into something new. Not by bringing things into being out of nothing.

    This stuff drives other Christian apologists absolutely nuts. The entirety of their view of God and the universe depends on him basically being the "unmoved mover" - the "ground of all being." Mormonism basically turns their whole cosmos on its ear, and undermines their entire philosophical paradigm - which is why they are generally so pissed at us.

    But anyway, this means that the typical atheist attack of "why did God create evil?" doesn't really work on a Mormon.

    We don't believe he created anything out of nothing. So we consider evil to just be a universal reality that always "just was." I always existed, and my choices are my own - not God's. Likewise Satan always existed and his actions are his own responsibility as well. Thus God is not directly responsible for it in that sense. He didn't create evil.

    Don't think I'm saying that the Mormon God is off the hook for evil yet though.

    For one thing, Mormons still hold God to be all-powerful. So why doesn't he prevent evil, even if he didn't create it? Surely, he's capable of it, right?

    For the answer, I turn, ironically enough, to the father of atheism - Friedrich Nietzsche:

    "Companions, the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. ... Companions, the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest."

    Thus Spoke Zarathustra

    I don't pretend Nietzsche had Mormon theology in mind when he said that. But it's a very "Mormon" statement to make. In Mormonism, human agency is absolutely crucial. It is the whole point of our theology. The idea is that evil must be allowed, otherwise we cannot really be said to have agency and free will at all.

    The idea of Mormonism is that God is not really seeking for "herds and believers" so much as he is seeking for peers.

    He seeks to raise each of us to the level of power, intelligence, and goodness that he possesses. He wants us as peers, not as underlings.

    Now, if God manipulated the game so that all evil choices were impossible, could you really say that he was achieving this goal?

    He wouldn't have peers in such a case. He would have puppets. Thus our brother Lucifer had to be allowed to rebel. His obedience could not be forced. Neither can ours be forced if the ultimate good of human exaltation is to be accomplished.

    So God could prevent evil. He could force you to do as he wishes. But he will not force your allegiance or your love.

    Love that is forced is not love at all.

  3. Seth I'd love to talk with you further. As you probably gathered from my post above, I'm a former protestant Christian and curious about LDS - not to convert, but just because I find religion fascinating. Could we set up a time to chat online and discuss more?

  4. You know you're hardcore when they have to transfer you more than once. Keep up the good work!

  5. It's the perfect plan? For someone who can't reason, maybe.

    You're a lot more patient than I would be, so kudos for that! :)


  6. I thought that was what we were already doing.

  7. In response to why does God let children starve to death, you may take comfort in the fact that we believe this life is far more miserable than the afterlife. And because we will live forever after this life, the suffering we experience this life is really very tiny and short.

    We feel sorry for children who die young, but they are much more happy after they pass on. The people who really suffer are the family members and loved ones who remain behind. And as the Lord told an early Mormon prophet, "Your grief shall be but a moment" (in the eternal scheme of things).

    That same prophet later taught, “the only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven [the spirit world] and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope.”

    I know that doesn't answer all your questions perfectly, but I hope it helps put things in perspective.

  8. @Bob - That's my whole problem with afterlife belief; it allows for callousness to human suffering. I don't think we'll live forever anywhere, so this life is where what we do matters. This life is all we are guaranteed to: I don't know for certain what happens after we die, but neither do you, you just claim to. Just think for a moment: If this life is it, is suffering less tolerable? Is starvation acceptable in the "grand scheme of things" if there is no heavenly reward, only life on earth cut tragically short?

  9. @Seth - while Mormons claim their God is all powerful, I see all kinds of limitations listed by your brothers in my chat up above. God is not capable of creating minds, only bodies; God is subject to eternal laws; and God needs suffering/misery/evil/death to work his "perfect" plan. That's not MY definition of omnipotence.

  10. Problem is Angie, the universe you are suggesting - where suffering is eliminated, everyone is coddled, and the whole game rigged from the start is a pretty sick universe to me too. Maybe this is part of your residual Calvinist coming out, but I reject a God that manipulates and controls everything. Such a being may be a neurotic control-freak, but he is not God.

    Pain is a part of life.

    Without it, we are nothing. Without it, the universe is nothing.

  11. @Seth - I've never been a Calvinist and actually don't believe in ANY god. I just think that if a god had the ability to eliminate suffering, doing so would be more merciful. There are many shades of reality between coddling and abandoning. I allow my son to experience some bumps and bruises in life, as he learns to walk, climb, run, and be independent, but I don't just set him down in the middle of a parking lot and allow his "agency" to run its course. I'm saying that IF god is a father, he's a negligent one.

  12. Angie, yes I see your point. Belief in afterlife might make one less motivated to do all they can to cure disease and hunger in this life. I think, however, that belief in afterlife is balanced by God's commandment to do good and do our best to ease suffering while in this life.

    Going back to what the missionaries in your post said, part of the reason for suffering is to help us learn/grow/become what we need to be. But the suffering helps not only those who experience it but also those who have to witness it. You feel charity, or love, for those around you who suffer. And charity, as one of God's attributes, is something he wants us to develop as well.

    Learning how to empathize with people is not something we could do unless there was actually suffering around us.

    That is why I think a lot of churches (including the Mormon church) are some of the biggest contributors to humanitarian efforts. Even though churches believe in an afterlife, they do a lot to ease the suffering of people living on the Earth.

    Finally, regarding your comment to Seth, the Mormon definition of omnipotence is indeed limited. Pure omnipotence, taken to its extreme, is self-contradictory (i.e. can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?)

  13. Without ultimate pain, ultimate happiness is meaningless.

    I didn't say you were a Calvinist. I am saying that he's obviously impacted your assumptions about the universe.

    So let me get this straight - you'd be OK with some evil. But only so long as it's just a little?

    Where do you draw the line?

  14. @Bob - Empathy is simply the ability to imagine how someone else is feeling. A ten-month-old child will offer you one of his Cheerios, because he thinks perhaps you might like one, not because he has seen or experienced suffering, but because empathy is an innate part of humans, as evolved social creatures.

    Many secularists contribute to charity as well, only we don't require that people listen to our worldview in order to receive it.

    Omnipotent means all powerful. Either something is all powerful, or it isn't. There is no such thing as "limited omnipotence". That wouldn't be "all" powerful, just "pretty" powerful or "kinda" powerful.

  15. @Seth - I disagree with your assertion that 'without pain ultimate happiness is meaningless'. Please provide proof to back up your claim, or we'll have to drop it. Again, even as a believer, I strongly disagreed with the concept of predestiny and the other aspects of TULIP. Calvinism was not part of my religious indoctrination and mind control, and apparently not part of yours either.

    First of all "evil" is a word we use to describe actions or attributes - I don't believe that "ultimate evil" in a nebulous form exists; it is an adjective, not a noun. Second, I'm not saying I'm okay with evil (like Mormons are); I'm saying that I accept the reality that within human existence, suffering and pain are present. However, I think reducing, preventing, and lessening this pain should be a goal of humanity, and belief in a higher power of some kind is not necessary for this goal. I think belief in a God often excuses or minimizes the experience of pain by saying it's all part of "God's perfect plan". If you don't buy the plan, you don't buy that suffering is necessary, therefore, you can start doing something about it.

    My atheism and my empathy are closely tied. My desire for justice, for fairness, for human rights and and prosperity, thrive in the absence of belief in an afterlife.

  16. It just seems to me that you are saying that if there's a God, he'd essentially have to lobotomize the human race before you'd respect him.

    I have no idea what you mean by demanding I back up my assertion. It's a purely logical statement - without the idea of "down," the idea of "up" has no meaning.

    Likewise, without evil, the concept of good has no meaning. One cannot exist without the other. Those who suffer the most deeply, from what I have seen, are also those with the greatest capacity for joy. This is not to say we should encourage evil so that good may flourish. But it's simply stating a reality of the universe we live in.

    If we are to freely choose God, we must be allowed to commit evil acts. Otherwise God is just playing a rigged game from the start.

    It seems to me that what you want isn't life - it's an MMORPG. An artificial reality where there isn't any suffering - except the cool and stylish kind. Or suffering that is convenient.

  17. I'm saying a god worthy of worship wouldn't allow HIV, Polio, child starvation, cystic fibrosis. Diseases, not human decisions.

    "Down" and "up" are both words used to describe concepts. Suffering, ie, disease, pain, starvation, is an existant fact whether we give it a word or not. Your assertion that suffering is necessary for happiness to exist makes no sense to me. Suffering is necessary for misery; not for happiness.

    From what I've seen - volunteering in social services, the idea that those with deep suffering have a greater capacity for joy is bullshit. Women whose mothers sent them out as prostitutes at 10 and 11 years old aren't very joyful, and if they do manage to escape that world and find some semblance of happiness, that's wonderful. But someone born and raised in comfort, protection, prosperity and love does not have a lessened capacity for happiness, only a lessened capacity for baggage, trauma, and nightmares.

    God, in every religion, IS playing a rigged game. "Free will" (or "agency") is an illusion. I don't know what an MMORPG is... But hey, if I was to invent my own fantasy world (like religions do! See: afterlife) yes, I would eliminate certain things of this world like starvation, war, poverty, child abuse, rape, etc. etc. In what way is that less desirable? Why is a world with rape in it BETTER? (Warning: Answer this carefully. A friend of mine was raped last week.)

  18. MMORPG is basically that World of Warcraft stuff. The fantasy characters go through hardship and all that, but it's the fashionable kind of hardship. Good clean fun hardship. No one dies of dissentary. When you get hit by a dragon, you don't lose an arm - just some hit points. When things die, they don't leave behind rotting, disease-ridden corpses. They just vanish so as not to spoil the scenery.

    Which is what you seem to be after here.

    But you don't get to pick and choose evil. Either you allow all of it, or none of it.

    Again, what you seem to be saying is that if there is a God, he ought to conduct a mass-lobotomy on the human race.

    I guess that's attractive, if you're into Stepford Wives and all that. But to me, your idea looks pretty sick, well-intentioned as it is.

    I would allow one-hundred, one-MILLION, infants to be burned alive before I would agree to a universe where the evil are subject to some sort of divine mind-control that forces them to be good.

    Such a universe would be nothing more than a great cosmic child playing with his lifeless toys. It annihilates any meaning in being human in the first place.

  19. I think it's fairly simple to say if God is omnipotent, he should be able to take away suffering and yet leave free will intact.

    To say that he "can't" do that is a cop out - Of course he can do it, if he can do anything.

    The funny part is, in order to explain god, you need to come up with a complex set of presuppositions about the nature of that god (Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Omnibenevolent, etc)... If you simply say "God doesn't exist", then we are left with the natural world, and a perfectly reasonable explanation for evil.

  20. I just found your blog and well I'll make it short..bravo. I am a 41 yr old atheist single dad and my 14 yr old is funny. I mention this because he has a LDS friend (odd because we live in MA) and she sent 2 "missionaries" to my home on a very cold Feb night this year. I have read the bible a few times and both the quoran and the book of Morman cover to cover once each and have copies sitting next to The God Delusion in my bookcase and I will open them pretty often just to keep fresh. I am well versed in the major religions and see the logic in Taoism and have studied a fair amout of the major religions and beliefs of the world. I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school until I was a freshman in high school when I was told that a secular education was probubly the best path for me (another story for another time). I put that out just to let you know I know what I am talking about when confronted with religious folks.
    On this particular cold Feb night I get the gift to have two young 19 and 20yr old LDS "missionaries" in my home to try to explain the LDS belief system to me. One of then is an Affrican Amarican which I have to question because 50 years ago he wouldn't have been allowed to sit amongst the "faithful" in any Morman church. I personally love this kind of thing so I invite them in and (I am not going to go blow by blow here just to save time) I spend the next 1 1/2 making them re-examin the foundations of the bat sit crazy belief systems. I point blank asked the black guy how he could buy into a belief system that stated he was of an inferior race and was greeted with nothing more than a blank stare and silence. This was typical of most of the religious folks that have met. If you know the foundations of the insane crap they believe you can nine times out of ten shut them up with a couple basic questions.
    You have done just that by putting the various "believers" on their heels by asking the simplest morality questions and by doing so taught everyone lucky enough to stumble here how to deal with the fundies. Never let them change the subject, stay on topic and make them tell you why. Keep up the good fight.

  21. @Seth - You're continuing to conflate things. Removing disease, and distributing food sources evenly across the globe (ya know, instead of making some places highly populated deserts with insufficient resources and others incredibly rich in natural resources, like the US) has NOTHING to do with "agency" or lobotomies. We didn't cause disease; we didn't distribute the Earth's natural resources. I say they came about naturally as part of the evolutionary process (and have SCIENCE on my side) and you say "God did it". All I'm saying is that a God who plays favorites like that - letting his white, European-descending American children live in natural splendor, and letting his black, tribal African children die of starvation and disease - is an immoral god. I'm not talking about removing people's free will; I'm talking about giving them a fair chance.

    Your willingness to "burn one million infants alive" is far sicker, in my not-so-humble opinion. Where suffering can be lessened, it should be. Humans interfere in each other's free will all the time. That's why social services will remove an abused child from the home of drug addict parents and place him in another, safer home. Because suffering ought to be reduced where it can be.

    Let me put this in terms of the parent-child relationship, since your religion claims god is our father. My son began life with NO ability to survive without help - to eat, to be safe from harm, to clean from his bowel movements. As children grow, we do less and less for them, and encourage them to do more and more for themselves. But saying "free will is so important we must never intervene" is ridiculous. Of course I want my son to grow up to be an independent, capable man. But in the meantime, he needs my assistance. I overrule his wishes and will often in a day, saying when he can go outside, insisting that he hold me hand when we cross streets, and turning down his request to eat nothing but pancakes for days on end. THIS IS LOVE. The "hands off" approach of the supposedly loving, all-powerful god of your faith would allow his children - us - to starve to death, to suffer, to get hit by cars, to eat nothing but pancakes and be sick and malnourished and as result. THIS IS NEGLECT. I cannot make this distinction clearer.

  22. The only way you are going to ensure that there is no evil is to remove human free will. As long as people have a real choice, there is going to be evil.

    So, unless you are willing to have God give everyone a lobotomy, you're stuck with this.

    And saying "God can do anything" is both ignorant and a cop out.

    Being all powerful doesn't mean you get to make a circular triangle.

    Nor does it mean you get to create coerced free will.

    But you seem to be declaring here that God could maybe just "coerce a little" - just enough to provide a little challenge, but not let things get too ugly.

    Where do you draw the line?

  23. Oh, and in response to tommy above, you might be interested in the following website:

  24. @Seth - Again, you are using the word "evil" to mean "undesirable human actions" when I am talking about Suffering, which includes things like disease. I didn't say I wanted an intervening, omnipotent God - but then, I don't claim to have one. I just said that any being who WAS all-powerful would have the ability to remove DISEASE and STARVATION without affecting free-will. Why must you continue to combine these two issues? This seems to be a common theist problem - give "god" credit for anything that goes right and blame humanity for everything wrong, then say free will is more important than quality of life.

    I never said anything about coercion. I was talking about eliminating disease and providing enough food for all his "children" instead of just the white ones.

    And I must point out again, that this is all nothing but an intellectual exercise for me, as I don't believe any god claims. But you DO believe in a god, and so must justify the world we live in despite the claims of a loving omnipotent deity. I don't envy you that task, as this world is hardly perfect. Trying to square this world with a "perfect plan" seems impossible.

  25. It's fascinating to me that Seth's perfect God would instill in us a strong desire to have sex, establish communities, etc, but not instill in everyone a strong desire to do good and make doing evil a repulsive thing - It seems rather simplistic to say "Well, that interferes with free will".

    There's alot of impulses people NORMALLY have that are interruptions in what you might call free will - Why stop there? Why make it more important for someone to procreate than give 5 bucks to a stranger in need?

  26. God didn't "instill" in us either those good traits or those bad traits.

    They just are - irrespective of anything God did or didn't do.

  27. Seth, looking above I see you still haven't answered my question about this Perfect Plan. How is a world or plan BETTER or BEST when it includes rape?


  28. Angie,

    This ties in to the rape question as well as the "free will" discussion.

    As you say, God permits starvation, and men choose to rape. But also, as you say, God permits rape to occur. Why?

    Here's one prophet's idea from the Book of Mormon. Alma Chapter 14.

    8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
    9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
    10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
    11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

  29. OK... this is going to be hard to connect with if you don't already buy into the overall narrative. So if it doesn't float your boat, I do understand.

    The Mormon cosmos starts out with God (there's speculative stuff out there too, but we'll ignore that for now to keep things simple).

    God finds himself in an already existing universe surrounded by eternal, but still chaotic and unorganized matter. He also finds himself surrounded by equally eternal and uncreated "intelligences." We don't have the details on what these are, but they constitute the most basic identity portions of what we are. So you and I already existed. God did not create the most fundamental portions of our identity.

    God, being alone, then determined to reach out to these intelligences and help them become as he is. That's why I pirated the Nietzsche quote about the "Creator" seeking "companions." This is much different than the traditional Christian God who is sitting around in the beginning basking in his own glory, and then for some odd reason decides that reality would be better with this universe in it. God seeks peers, not "herds and believers."

    So how to make them peers?

    Well, first he somehow organized the intelligences into spirit form. We don't have a lot of detail on the specifics here. But the point being, each of us had identities that did not come entirely from God. We were each capable of choices from the beginning.

    How do you unite such beings with God? Well, the Bible states "God is love," and it seems to me that if you wished for a full unity with God as an individual a perfect unity of love would be required.

    Such love is impossible if coerced. I think this limited point is fairly self-evident. Love that is coerced is not love.

    But could you really say that these spirit children had really been given a chance to truly love God or not?

    I don't think so. We may have said at the time that we loved him, but we all knew that such declarations had not really been proven. It's easy to say you love God when you are standing in his overwhelming presence and "basking in the glory" so to speak.

    But consider - God's glory (humor me and assume for the sake of argument he exists) must be overwhelming. Could any of us really feel like we had had a fair shot at freely choosing him and righteousness in all things?

    I don't think we could.

    So God proposed a test. Not just for his own benefit. But for ours. So we could have confidence in our own relationship with him. A test as Mormons typically call it.

    We would be sent to earth, given physical form (spirit form for Mormons, is less actualized than physical form, and therefore - inferior), caused to forget everything about God, and then tested to see if we would freely choose God and his way or not.

    At this point, Christ and his atonement were planned as well as a method of enacting a needed reconciliation, but for simplicity sake, let's not get into that yet either.

    (you seem to have a character limitation in place, so I need to split this comment in two)

  30. Lucifer, one our our spirit peers, rejected God's plan and proposed his own. He would act as savior and would FORCE everyone to behave themselves. All would be good, and not one of us would be lost or fail to return to God.

    This plan was fought over, and eventually God's plan won over most of us. Lucifer and "one third" of our peers cut themselves off from God in bitterness. The rest of us chose to go through with the plan, full knowing that rejecting Lucifer's plan meant that things were not going to be pleasant in mortality.

    Why did we choose this?

    It's because Lucifer's idea would have made the entire thing utterly pointless. The whole point was to freely choose God and unite with him in love. This was a complete impossibility under Lucifer's plan. He demanded, as others here seem to, that God use his own omnipotence to force us to his will. This completely violates our own individuality, our personal identity, and our free will.

    So, on earth there would be suffering. And God would not stop us from killing, robbing and raping each other. Neither would he force us to play nice.

    Mormons speak of God as our "Father." But this doesn't mean that all parenting analogies are applicable. We are well past the infancy stage here in mortality. God already raised our spirits, and we have everything within us that we need to freely choose him or not. So it's not a matter of God watching helpless babies play in the street. We are equipped with what we need and much of the help we can expect, we are to provide to each other ourselves.

    What about babies who die before they can be said to have had a fair shot? Mormon scripture acknowledges that such cannot be said to have been really tested yet. It assures that provision will be made for them - but it doesn't say what (Mormons don't claim to know everything).

    God loves all of us. And he loves all of us too much to violate our core identity by coercing good behavior in even the slightest measure.

    Such coercion would actually constitute "rape."

    A rape of the mind and the spirit. A rape far worse than any evil suffered on this planet.

    There are infinitely worse things than physical suffering. The sort of violation of spirit and mind that you are asking for are cosmic atrocities that would dwarf the sort of physical torments you've been talking about.

  31. Seth - OK, so then what's the point/use of God? If he didn't do anything, and we are capable of messing with him, why bother with him?

    Where does good and evil come from in your paradigm? Did God create the universe or not? Did he create anything at all?

    Are you arguing that we create good and evil? If so, then why do we need God?

  32. @Seth - The whole point though, is, that the idea that Man has Free Will or disease, evil and suffering in the world are mutually exclusive prospects is a FALSE PREMISE.

    Is all suffering in the world because of the decisions of mankind? No. Angie quite clearly spelled out to you exactly how that is false. Additionally, there are many impulses we have as humans that are not clear whether we have control over.

    What I'm saying is that we have plenty of tenancies that are part of our makeup AS IT STANDS. Why is the desire to do good not as universal as say, the desire to procreate?

    How about this - Why is it that there's no justice for evil in our lifetimes? Why is it that we have to wait until everyone's lives are over to receive any sort of divine justice? And why is that justice eternal, for finite acts?

    Of course, that doesn't even address how in the world that God waited so long to reveal his "final" truth to your sect - What was he waiting for? Humans have existed for nearly 100,000 years - Why wait until 150 years ago, less than one percent of human history ago?

  33. Also one wonders why a sect with such specific beliefs can turn around and say "But, we don't know everything" when the really big questions come up...

  34. @Bob - this is exactly what I mean when I say that believing in an afterlife causes people to become callous to human suffering. There is nothing good or beautiful in that story; it is absolutely appalling. I see no difference in those two "prophets" watching women burn and Nazi appeasers - Oh, it's not our place, we'll just sit back and watch. Sorry to be crude but that is utter bullshit.

  35. @Seth - Well, several things. First, god deciding to turn the intelligences into spirit bodies seems like a choice he made without consent - a violation of their free will. I thought the same at first about the whole "perfect plan" of his (the Big Test) till you said "we" chose to go along with this. Still, if he is so overwhelming that we can't freely choose to love him while in his presence, wouldn't choosing to go along with his plan constitute the same thing? How were we free to make that choice (to follow his wishes) but not the other (to love him)? Second, my main point throughout all of this has been that belief in an afterlife, an eternal spiritual self, causes people to be callous to the suffering of our fellow creatures. This is something I consider very very wrong. I'm sorry, but I don't accept that anything worth the title of god would be limited to only two possibilities - a world full of deeply DISPROPORTIONED problems (many people escape life with just a few hiccups, others suffer wasting diseases in third-world conditions and starve to death or die of diarrhea, while being raped, maimed, beaten, etc.) or no autonomy whatsoever and just skipping the whole "test". Even still, the test seems cruel. Especially since some people have much, much harder lives than others. And saying "Oh but it'll be fine in heaven or after their dead" puts no importance on this life. This life is the only one we have any real guarantee we'll ever get to live - the rest is just hope and faith (or lack, in my case). So why not make this one count more? Treat people better, and don't write off their suffering as "temporary", when it be as eternal as their brief lives are?

  36. @Seth - Also, the Lucifer stuff is pretty fascinating, from a former-Christian perspective. Frankly, the Mormon Lucifer sounds more moral than the Christian god, in my estimation.

  37. @Angie - Well, I should clarify that the two men in the story were bound prisoners. They were not physically able to save the women and children, but one of them thought they should call upon God's power to stop the awful scene. Your beef, then, is still with God in allowing it to happen, because God could have stopped it if he wanted. And yes, you have the same dilemma with the Holocaust. God could have stopped it, but he didn't. At least he allowed it to go on for a long time before it ended.

    You and I both see these events as horrendous and appalling. The one difference between our views is that you use these events to justify or support your belief that there is no God. I view these events as evidence that despite my belief in God, I do no fully comprehend God's ways. But by definition, God is greater than me, and is smarter and more compassionate than me. So if something he allows does not seem just or merciful in my limited sphere of knowledge and intelligence, I am not presumptive enough to call him a fool or dismiss him entirely.

    By the way, I disagree with your assertion earlier that someone who believes in God is required to "justify" the world we live in. We can try, but our inability to do so perfectly speaks only to our own shortcomings, and does nothing to prove or disprove the existence of God.

  38. @Bob - well, one of the men in the story still claimed calling upon god was unnecessary/not the best choice, so beef with the man still persists. And I don't use the events of the Holocaust or other forms of malicious action or suffering to support my lack of belief in a god. What I use them for is to show that the god-claims of various religions (in this case LDS) show an uncompassionate, malicious god.

    How do you know god is more compassionate than you? By what standard do you compare his and your levels of compassion? By my standards, I am more compassionate than the mormon god. What standards do you use to determine he is more moral than you are?

    I do believe that if you go around claiming that this planet is part of a perfect, loving, all-powerful god's plan, then you need to account for the imperfection of the world. Saying "His ways are higher than our ways" is a cop out, and more often than not, at the root of it the true sentiment is "Might makes right. I believe he is stronger, and therefore we should go along with his plan, no matter how detestable it seems to me in my human understanding." In other words, yielding up your own moral sense, in deference to a stronger force. Which is morally detestable to me.

    And I never claimed to be able to disprove the existence of god, just as I never claimed to disprove unicorns.

  39. Angie, you mentioned that if God is so overwhelming that we can't freely choose to love him while in his presence, then why did one third of heaven reject his plan?

    Fair summary of that point?

    Good catch on your part actually. I was thinking about this as I wrote that passage and tried to word it carefully to avoid that problem.

    I think Mormon theology makes it clear that we were capable of choosing or rejecting God in the premortal state. So I was trying to avoid implying that agency would be impossible while in God's presence (didn't quite make it apparently).

    My own personal thoughts are that it's more for us than for anyone. We needed a chance to prove ourselves - to ourselves.

    Love is a two-way thing. It doesn't work half as well if one person in the relationship is plagued by doubts about whether they're good enough for the relationship (as we can observe in relationships here and now). Kind of screws up the whole thing actually.

    By the way. I appreciate that you're actually taking the theological issues here seriously. Too many atheist forums I encounter usually devolve into cheap cracks about "funny underwear" and how Joseph Smith was a pedophile. So thanks for that.

    By the way. Have you read "God's Problem" by Bart Ehrman? He deconstructs all the traditional Biblical answers to the problem of evil from an ex-Christian agnostic's perspective. I'm about a third of the way through it at the moment.

  40. Angie,

    This is what your argument sounds like to me.

    You find yourself in a dark pit. You see misery and suffering all around you. You hear the voices of several people who claim to be outside of the pit and have a view of the world that you have not yet seen. They tell you, "The world is not so bad."

    You scoff at them because all you can see is darkness. By your standards, a dark pit cannot be a happy place. And of course you are right by your standards.

    To extend the analogy: I, like you, am in the pit, but I have chosen to believe that these people who claim to be outside the pit (say, prophets who speak for God) are telling the truth about what they have seen. And that is what I base my standards on.

    While I am in the pit, it is impossible for me to see God's complete perspective, but that doesn't mean that his perspective is morally wrong just because it's different from mine.

    I absolutely do believe that God's ways are higher than my ways. People always call that a cop-out, and that's because it's a belief you can't undermine with logic alone. But if that's my belief, why should I try to dance around it? In any case, I think it's just as much of a cop-out to say "I will only respect my own standards because my standards seem more human and moral than someone else's standards." Your standards may be more moral than a lot of other people's, but that doesn't mean they are perfect. (The book Things Fall Apart comes to mind as a good example of conflicting imperfect standards).

    My standards, in which I claim that God is more compassionate, etc., are based on things I have been taught through scriptures and through prophets. And I have enough evidence (spiritual and otherwise) to confirm my belief that there is a moral God.

  41. Trying to verify my understanding: Premortal humans ARE capable of choosing or rejecting God's plan, but love within his presence might fill those beings with doubts about their worthiness, whereas passing the Test of mortality, life on earth, temptation, suffering, etc. would mean we had proved our worthiness and could freely love and be companions with God post-mortality? If I'm incorrect in this summary of mormon theology, let me know. One point I'd ask you to clarify also before I respond - is the premortal being which is capable of choosing or rejecting the Intelligence or the Spirit Body? Further question: Did the intelligences have any agency choice in becoming spirit bodies?

    I'm actually learning a lot about mormonism from this dialogue with you. I won't pretend I've never made a magic-undies joke (see Chatting with Mormons take 3, I believe) but entrenched views don't really let a lot of new knowledge in. I did study the founding of LDS in US History (one of my majors at uni) and actually found a lot in common with it and the brand of Christianity I was raised in, hence my interest in the topic (but not desire to join up).

    I'll add Bart's book to my list of heathen readings to get to :) A book I have read, from a former member of the FLDS (I know this sect isn't representative of Mormons as a whole) "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop, which was horrifying and fascinating. I'd never really thought about the practical implications of polygamy before reading it.

  42. Well Bob I don't agree with the analogy. For one thing, life isn't a dark pit for me. I love my life! I get to write and blog and have cool conversations about religion (a favorite topic) and enjoy the sunshine and pool and spend my days playing with my son, who is awesomeness personified. I do believe, quite strongly, that THIS mortal life is the only guarantee we have. Therefore, I think it is irresponsible to treat it lightly, to let it pass us quickly, or to treat it as a "dress rehearsal" for an unproven possibility of an afterlife.

    I think all people make moral judgments about their holy texts in relation to their OWN moral precepts - gained from culture, society, raising, and evolutionary factors of being social creatures. Generally, we want to get along well with others and have functioning societies, and we do possess empathy or an ability to feel the pain of another. Either a person ignores the parts of their religion or text which disagrees with their morality (such as Christians writing off the entire Old Testament brutalities like rape, slavery, genocide, and infanticide by saying "but that's the OLD testament!") or that person decides to ignore their own moral urges, to suppress them, and accept fully whatever their leaders, prophets, or texts tell them is moral, whether it feels moral or not. I see this as a great threat of religion. You are essentially accepting the claim made by mortal, human men about the supposed nature of an eternal, omnipotent deity about its nature, character, and morality. With NO evidence to support it. Because, based on the morality we use to judge other humans, god falls short. In my state, it is illegal for an adult to know a child is being abused by another and not report it. Yet god-claims have a being in full knowledge of atrocities who does nothing. So by human standards of morality and law, he fails. The only reason to believe despite this that god is more moral, is because you set aside human morality - those things which help us to function as groups and individuals - based on the teachings and writings of mortal, often personally-motivated men. What your saying is that the composers of your books - both the Bible and Book of Mormon - had a better grasp of True Morality than the rest of us, without ever getting to meet them, interview them, understand them. And that kind of blind trust in an unverifiable source tends to make me nervous. Someone's ability to generate followers often has nothing to do with his or her moral correctness. (My grandmother had many followers, and was morally wicked by the standards of most well-behaved civil and loving human beings.)

  43. Angie, well said. I agree with you that blindly following leaders is a serious problem. And I also believe, as you do, that there are many cults and churches which lead people down dangerous paths. But there's a big difference between blindly following leaders and exercising faith.

    Faith is not just deciding to believe something despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. Faith actually consists of testing out promises (putting God to the test), and faith grows as we witness tangible and spiritual results. (The promised result is never complete freedom from pain or suffering.)

    The Book of Mormon teaches this clearly (Alma chapter 32). Faith in God takes a lot of study and a lot of work. Really, it requires the same reasoning that is defined in your sidebar definition of atheism, but it's about testing spiritual promises rather than scientific experiments. That is, at least, how I have come to develop my own faith.

  44. @Bob - You're saying that faith is testing god and then putting more trust in him (or at least, his character as reported by men in books, and "prophets") as you get tangible results? Can you give me examples of some tangible results that have occurred from putting God to the test?

    The sidebar changes daily, so sadly I'm not sure what you mean. It's an app that gives a different atheist quote each day.

    And one question. This isn't meant to offend; it's the same question I asked myself and think all religious people should. How do you know your religion is the right one, and not a cult?

  45. Angie, actually the correct question is whether the religion is right or not. Whether it's a "cult" or not is not necessarily relevant to that question.

    For instance, take the military.

    I don't know if you're a pacifist or not, but a lot of people in our society accept the military's role and function.

    But the organization is actually extremely cult-like. Men have to be conditioned to kill without question. They have to be conditioned to follow orders - even when the commander is wrong. Lot of insider rituals, group-speak, and all that. But we've accepted that as a price that must be paid for having an organization that can do what they do.

    The the key question is not whether it's "cultish" in some way or other, but whether it's right or not.

    And not all cults are necessarily bad or harmful.

    Note: I'm not conceding here that the LDS Church actually fits the popular perception of the word "cult." I don't think it does and I find charges of "cult" to be rather reductionist as applied to the LDS Church. But anyway...

  46. @Seth - interesting take on the cult issue. Many non-religious groups are cultlike (Amway). I guess I tend to see destrutiveness as a key element in something being a cult, but that may be my own bias.

    So let me ask you this: How do you KNOW your religion is right? How do you know that your revealed truth is the actual revealed truth, and that all the others (that say you're going to hell) are wrong?

    Second (less important) question: What is your response to claims that LDS is a cult? What evidence do you present against such claims?

  47. In response to the cult question, I think our church is in some respects a cult, but only according to that word's literal definition (see Since "cult" has such a negative connotation, I of course don't like people hurling it at me as an insult, but I don't object to the label within its literal meaning.

    This is the atheism quote I was referring to:

    "Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds."

    And, as I indicated before, I think that such an outlook on life is admirable and is quite similar to how true faith functions.

    I will give you a somewhat personal example from my own life, believing your request for examples to be sincere. A scripture in the Book of Mormon says the following:

    27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

    In my case, I had an addiction that was really weighing me down. I took the counsel of this scripture and started to admit my powerlessness (humility) and turn to God (by praying and keeping other scriptural commandments). Over time, I have been able to take control of the weakness/addiction which once controlled me. I see a connection between my recovery and my attempting to "test" the promise given in the scripture.

    Does that mean I have a perfect knowledge that my recovery was God's doing? No, but I have at least some evidence of that. So my faith has grown. And so I choose to continue to exercise faith in other scriptural/prophetic promises.

  48. I think it depends on what you mean by "cult." So I'd probably ask you to expand on that a bit. There are certainly popular images of cults that I don't think fit the modern LDS Church.

    We're not in a suicide pact. We aren't forbidden contact with people outside the group (in fact, we're quite well-integrated with society generally), we have some secret rituals, but we aren't deflowering virgins or sacrificing goats in there or anything. There really isn't a high level of coercion in the Church (in fact, I'd suggest you try to get a group of Mormons to do anything by coercion sometime - see how far you get I'll bring a comfy chair and popcorn). I don't think I'm brainwashing my kids (not much anyway...). And no, no one has asked me to hand over the deed to my house lately.

    So I guess I'd want to know what you mean by the word.

  49. @Bob - The true definition of atheism is simply lack of belief in a god or gods, though I agree that quote sounds look a good basis for living. Where I disagree is that faith behaves this way. The thing I admire most about the scientific method is that it constantly seeks to disprove assumptions. If someone proposes a new scientific theory, lots and lots of smart people gather together and attempt to find problems with it. Faith instead tends to find things which support it, which agree with it, and write off things which don't concur. I think faith is antithetical to the scientific method. (You are of course welcome to prove me wrong.)

    I am very pleased to hear you have conquered an addiction. That is something I would hope you can take great personal pride in. The process you describe reminds me of the 12 Step programs - accept there is a problem, seek help outside yourself, then work through the issues associated with the addiction. I guess I have to add here that people of all different faiths and no faith at all overcome addiction; you believe the Mormon god helped you, and others believe that the Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu gods help them. One complaint I have about religion is that I believe it keeps people from taking responsibility for their actions, and also credit for their accomplishments. Overcoming addiction is something which you should be very proud of, and credit yourself with.

    Regarding that being an example of how faith is like science or critical thinking, I'm sorry but it is not. Critical thinking looks at all possible answers - faith seeks to find evidence supporting the already-decided one. It's called confirmation bias, and we all do it to some degree. But those who embrace the scientific method and critical thinking try whenever possible to avoid it. Religion relies upon it.

  50. @Seth - well I guess I'll describe the cult I belonged to. We didn't wear funny clothes, live on a compound, or sacrifice goats either. Coercion was almost never overt, but social pressures to fit group norms, to never question the leader (anointed by god), and to go along with group morality, rather than personal morality. A certain amount of staying away from the world was there, although for some years I attended public school and even worked at the mall movie theater (selling tickets to movies I wasn't allowed to see). Cult is a word without one clearly agreed upon definition. What I consider a cult may be different from what you do, but I consider a group which seeks to control most aspects of members lives, to infiltrate the education, family, and childrearing practices of adherents, and to encourage blind obedience to a charismatic leader to be hallmarks of a cult in its infancy. The cult I was part of never progressed to the level of say Scientology - it will not live on after the death of its leader (even now, she is in a nursing home with Alzheimers, and has no awareness of any of her former followers' lives). But it was personally destructive. I was indoctrinated, brainwashed, whatever you want to call it. When I disagreed, I was automatically wrong. Even when we saw how crazy she had become, we couldn't disagree with her, because we believed God had set her apart and revealed special knowledge to her. And in turn she abused us horribly. Child abuse, in my study of cults, seems to run rampant. Children as children are not valued, because they detract from the greater mission, the propagation of the meme, and the attention-seeking behavior of the cult leader.

    You say "I'm not brainwashing my kids (much)". This is probably tongue-in-cheek, but I think it's also probably true. I personally believe that religious indoctrination of children is wrong. Although I'm a staunch atheist and anti-theist, I temper my words with my son. I tell him, "Some people believe X, some people believe Y. Mommy doesn't believe any of them, because Mommy is an atheist. But you can decide what you want to be when you're older, and I'll always love you." There will not be a familial or social consequence for him if he becomes a man of faith. I do not flatly state "Religions are wrong" or "Christians are misogynistic idiots" because these are my OPINIONS and while I believe they're right, I don't delude myself into thinking I have special revealed knowledge, or absolute certainty about any divine claims. That's the difference I find in most atheist homes from religious ones. I admit that I might be wrong. Kids brought up in religion aren't often given that outlook - they're told "This is right" in the same tone of absolute certainty that they are told "Water is wet" or "Two plus two equals four". I think facts should be presented as facts, and theories (or beliefs) presented as theories or beliefs, not as facts.

  51. So... is "be nice to your brother" a theory or a fact?

  52. @Seth - lol. It's an edict, suggestion, or command. But unlike religious claims, it doesn't make a statement about reality. Saying "All children ARE nice to their brothers" would be an (erroneous) statement of fact. Saying "Some children are nice to their brothers some of the time" would be a fact. And saying, "Your mother and I WANT you to be nice to your brother" would also (presumably) be a fact.

  53. Yeah, but the statement comes with an implicit statement of fact - "you should be nice to your brother."

    Is that fact or not? Should he?

  54. "Should" is an issue of morality, or of conduct, not a statement about the reality of existence. "Should" is not the same as "is".

    I AM nice to my sister (fact)
    I SHOULD BE nice to my sister (moral suggestion, which can be influenced by facts or perceptions, such as how nice she is to me)

  55. Fine... (exasperated sigh).

    "IS" it a good thing to be nice to your brother?

  56. Excellent - NOW we've entered the realm of morality. I would say that in most cases it IS good to be nice to your brother. The reasons? Generally speaking, it is most helpful for relationships and society for people to be cooperative and kind (and it's in our nature, as social creatures to desire these things). Of course, how we define "nice" comes into play too - Is it "nice" to defend your rights, your body, and your property? Is it nice to allow another person to walk all over you? Or is the best ideal to be kind to others, without sacrificing our own healthy boundaries? Behavior is contingent on circumstance and the players involved, but yes, I would say that most of the time it is best to cooperate, share, and be kind and helpful to others. (Exceptions apply. A friend of mine was recently raped by her brother. Obviously, he was not being "nice" to her. Her parents feel she shouldn't take him to trial - it wouldn't be "nice", but I think it would be best if she did - being "nice" to the rest of women he may come in contact with.)

  57. some people have no imagination. Can't imagine things being better-- and the argument for why they shouldn't be is that then we wouldn't know what's what.

    Well, CLEARLY that's bunk, because they can't imagine things WORSE either. But it's certainly a *possibility* for a universe in which we could have caused excruciating pain to another human being with simply a thought-- and that's not the world we have. So... if the argument that we wouldn't know how good we have it doesn't hold up under the fact that we can't rip each other apart by just a look is false, than why is it necessary for sentient beings to be tied to physical vessels that can be killed and tortured easily by others?

    The religious mind... much as it has crazy imaginative stuff gumming up the "factual" storage space, is actually rather dull and not very actively imaginative.