General Conference of April 2011

Guest post by Eric, an active Mormon

Much of the discussion on this blog and various evangelical-oriented web sites devoted to Mormonism often focus on somewhat esoteric theological issues such as the nature of the Trinity (or Godhead in LDS-speak), the obscure words of mid-19-century church leaders, and polygamy. As a result, some evangelicals may get the impression that we Mormons spending a lot of our time discussing those issues. The reality, though, is that we probably don’t spend more time discussing such issues any more than evangelicals discuss them outside of a context that has to do with looking at what others believe.

As someone who has been an active member of the church for well over a decade, I find it somewhat amusing to be told how certain beliefs are a key part of our doctrine when they are subjects I may have heard discussed or taught once or twice in those years, if at all.

So what sort of issues do we discuss? A good place to find out is at our twice-a-year General Conference, a two-day gathering in Salt Lake City that any member can attend (although tickets are in short supply) and which is shown via TV at churches throughout the world and in some areas on broadcast or cable/satellite TV. Just as importantly, the sermons (we call them talks) are all published a few weeks later and distributed churchwide and are available to the general public online at LDS.org. We generally view the talks as authoritative and as a source of doctrine, and what is said may show in future church teaching materials.

We had our most recent General Conference this past weekend, and I thought I would share a few thoughts for this site’s evangelical Christian readers about what they might have heard had they attended, and how that might be similar or different than what they would hear if their own denominations had such an event. This should present a fairly good idea of what’s important to our church leadership these days.

Before going into details, I’d venture to say that most evangelicals would probably find themselves in accord with much of what was said. Many of the talks touched in one way or another to the sacrifice that Jesus made in dying for us and how we can respond to that. Most major doctrinal issues that divide Mormons and evangelicals were seldom mentioned, partly because they’re understood by those in attendance (just as an evangelical conference wouldn’t spend any time dwelling on the fact that our Heavenly Father isn’t corporeal). The theological differences that surfaced most often, repeatedly in fact, are our belief that our church’s priesthood has been called by God in a unique way and our belief that what goes on in our temples is part of God’s plan and essential to His grand design. But when our leaders talked about things such as prayer and the need to trust in God, for example, they often did so in terms that would be understandable to many non-LDS Christians and they frequently taught based in part on the New Testament.

Here, then, are the some of the things I picked up on that helped to make this General Conference different from some others:

Caring for the poor: This year marks the 75th anniversary of the church’s welfare system, and quite a few speakers emphasized caring for the needy. Much time was spent promoting our extensive efforts to help members as well as our (less grand) programs to help people regardless of their religious beliefs.

Caring for children: Partly for theological reasons (we believe families are eternal), many speakers talked about the need to make children a high priority. One said that Mormons should be in the forefront of efforts to make places of employment more family-friendly for working fathers and mothers.

Gender roles: Evangelicals are somewhat divided over complementarianism (men and women are equal in status before God but have divinely assigned roles) and egalitarianism (all good roles, including church leadership, are open to men and women). Mormons fall clearly in the complementarian camp, and several speakers talked in various ways about the vital role that women play in caring for children, suggesting that the family role takes precedence over education and career. But, interestingly, there are some changes going on in the church in this area. At least two speakers mentioned that both parents preside in the home (previous language emphasized the father presiding), and one pointedly said that women should not be judged as less valiant in the faith if they have a job outside the home. One said that bishops (kind of like pastors in Protestant churches) should listen to their Relief Society (the women’s organization) presidents when they call people to various positions, because the women may be the first to receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit. That’s certainly not enough to satisfy some of the more egalitarian-leading church members, but those are things that probably wouldn’t have been said even a decade ago.

Homosexuality: Actually, this was rarely mentioned, and then only indirectly. I bring this up because there are those who think we spend our time bashing gays. Much more mention was made of pornography, an evil that greatly concerns our church leaders, and of the sadness that divorce brings.

Don’t delay marriage: In at least four of the five sessions, a speaker said that young adult men should make it priority to get married, suggesting that they’re wasting their time if they don’t. (There are more single women than single men in the church.) I found this interesting in part because the speakers aren’t assigned topics; apparently the fact that young adults aren’t getting married readily is of great concern to church leaders. (And, for what it’s worth, it’s a concern to some Protestants too. See this: The Case for Early Marriage.)

LDS distinctives: It seemed unusual to me that very little was said about tithing or the Word of Wisdom (our teaching against alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and excessive meat).

Not a cafeteria religion: At least two speakers criticized taking a cafeteria approach to our faith, picking and choosing what’s important to us. More interestingly, one of our apostles made a rare reference to trends in non-LDS churches, criticizing those who teach merely a feel-good type of Christianity that ignores the responsibilities that God has given us.

This far from covers all the topics that came up (after all, we’re talking about 8 to 10 hours of meetings), and I do want to emphasize that the overall emphasis was on living a life devoted to Jesus Christ and, secondarily, our families. But the topics above are ones that grabbed my attention and may give some ideas of where the church is headed (or of what I listen to most carefully).

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86 thoughts on “General Conference of April 2011

  1. Eric ~ At least two speakers mentioned that both parents preside in the home (previous language emphasized the father presiding)

    Which speakers were these? I only listened to the Saturday AM session.

  2. I don’t think the Trinity is an esoteric doctrine. It would not be an exaggeration to say I hear more about the Trinity each Sunday than any of the subjects you mentioned.

  3. Thank you, Eric. I didn’t watch much of conference, and appreciate this recap.

    One talk I did hear was Elder Christofferson’s, where he referenced the “feel-good” Christianity thing. I won’t lie, I was a little troubled by it. Not that God as Butler or Therapist doesn’t exist out there, but…

    a)–what’s wrong with therapists? some of us need them 😉 and
    b)–it’s not really fair to put all of “modern Christianity” in this camp.

    So that made me a little sad.

    I’d be interested to know, if you had to narrow it down to your top 5 not-to-be-missed talks, which ones would they be?

  4. One talk I did hear was Elder Christofferson’s, where he referenced the “feel-good” Christianity thing. I won’t lie, I was a little troubled by it. Not that God as Butler or Therapist doesn’t exist out there, but…

    a)–what’s wrong with therapists? some of us need them and
    b)–it’s not really fair to put all of “modern Christianity” in this camp.

    So that made me a little sad.

    It’s not fair at all–although Joel Osteen and his ilk are certainly out there in full force and making bajillions of dollars, they are denoucned by traditional Christians a lot more than they are by Mormons (who generally don’t denounce specific movements outside of Mormonism because they don’t have to–everything outside of Mormonism is suspect).

    On the other hand, the misunderstanding that “feel-goodism” is somehow representative of Christianity generally is not that surprising: Mormons in general are, in my experience, shockingly ignorant about what other Christians actually believe and/or practice.

  5. Katie — I have deadlines that I’m paid to meet, so I’ll comment on the Christofferson remark later, but if I had to pick one talk to watch or listen to, it would be Elder Lynn Robbins’ talk on Sunday afternoon.

  6. I don’t think the Trinity is an esoteric doctrine. It would not be an exaggeration to say I hear more about the Trinity each Sunday than any of the subjects you mentioned.

    Yeah, I’m not sure that the Trinity is esoteric at all. It’s like, article of faith number one in the creeds. That’s pretty much exoteric by definition.

  7. Mormons in general are, in my experience, shockingly ignorant about what other Christians actually believe and/or practice.

    Agreed, and it’s sad. Other Christians believe and practice some pretty great stuff. 🙂

  8. The book I’m currently reading makes a great point that when Christians make the Trinity an esoteric theological point, they do so at their own determent.

  9. Eric, thanks very much. Your comments about trends in the LDS were especially interesting to me.
    Did you imply that only LDS members can attend the General Conference? If so, is that just because space is limited or is there some other reason?

    Kullervo said: “Mormons in general are, in my experience, shockingly ignorant about what other Christians actually believe and/or practice.”

    That’s been my experience, too, and vice versa.

    Tim, could you explain further what you meant by “. . . make the Trinity an esoteric theological point”?

  10. Yeah, that Christofferson qiup was a sad cheap shot and a half. I wonder if it will be edited when the print version comes out (a la BKPs gay bashing last Fall).

    My bigger beef was all the empasis on temple attendance. If they’d fix the damn product people would want to go. Saving ordinances my ___!

    Kullervo — Pick on someone in the great white north. Joel Osteen is loved here in Houston. And he doesn’t bash Mormons.

  11. It is really better suited for a separate topic altogether, but one of the important things about Elder Christofferson’s statement about “much of Christianity” was that he was quoting Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean, which was based on the National Study of Youth and Religion. I found it telling that he made the statement then moved on to discuss why devotion to faith is so very important, even when that faith calls for sacrifice and changing one’s life. rather than go off about the failings of those who prefer “benign whateverism”.

  12. I watched 1/2 hour of conference, and I was lucky enough to hear the Christofferson statement.

    The problem with contrasting Mormonism with “benign whateverism” is that there are plenty of other churches that are much more strict about devotion to faith. If one wants to seek out the opposite of “benign whateverism,” being a Muslim in Saudi Arabia is probably the safest bet possible.

  13. Alex,

    I am going to have to read Christofferson’s talk, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” is what turns the Trinity into an esoteric doctrine.

  14. Cal — I didn’t mean to suggest that nonmembers are excluded. My point was that General Conference is open to regular people, unlike (for example) the national conferences of some denominations that are attended primarily by elected delegates and/or church leaders. As far as I know, nonmembers are welcome to attend as long as they can find a stake president to get them a ticket or if they’re willing to stand in line to get tickets to fill the seats left vacant by no-shows.

  15. Katie L — Like I said, I thought that Elder Rollins’ talk was outstanding. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t tell you what the remaining top four would be off the top of my head, but of course I appreciated President Uchtdorf’s two talks. I also appreciated President Eyring’s Saturday morning talk, as I did the talks that took a more personal approach, such as Elder Scott Grow’s.

    That’s five. I’m not sure if those are the five best, but they’re all worth listening to.

    I just listened to Elder Christofferson’s talk again so I’m not relying merely on my memory, and I don’t have a problem with what he said. He said that “much of modern Christianity” (he didn’t say “most”) is taking an approach that sees God as demanding little and as being on call to serve us (that’s a paraphrase). That’s an accurate statement and I think it’s a fair criticism and not said in the spirit of elitism or bashing but as more of a warning that there are attitudes out there that we shouldn’t emulate.

    That said, I recognize that there are those in the church who heard or will hear him saying that’s how other Christians in general area, and that shows we’re better than they are. But that’s not what he said. Elder Christofferson’s talk wasn’t a very pleasant one, but I do think it was an important one.

  16. Christofferson’s critique was actually right in line with what I’ve been hearing from quite a few conservative Christians in the US. Accept that they call the Osteens out by name (to their credit).

  17. Kullervo — Pick on someone in the great white north. Joel Osteen is loved here in Houston. And he doesn’t bash Mormons.

    You’re going to have to unpack that one a bit for me, Steve EM.

    1. I do not now nor have I ever lived in Canada, so what’s with the “great white north” reference? I’m from Tennessee.

    2. We’re not talking about whether Joel Osteen is a good person or has a good message, just that he is who Mormons and Evangelical Christians are pretty much specifically talking about when they criticize fell-goodism. I’m not picking on him; I’m just naming the name that Christofferson didn;t name.

    3. I’m not Mormon, so I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.

  18. Kullervo, is “fell-goodism” anything like getting slain in the Spirit?

    Tim: I’ll stay tuned!

  19. Kullervo, is “fell-goodism” anything like getting slain in the Spirit?

    I don’t really care either way, Cal. I’m parsing what Christofferson meant, not evaluating the people he is talking about.

  20. Kullervo,

    Your site says you’re in Chicago. That’s part of the great white north. Anywhere winter is more than 2 months is the great white north. Winter is like half the year chez vous n’est-ce pas? I lived in Southeastern Michigan for six years and didn’t realize how much I hated winter until I left.

    I hope your not saying you’d be more sympathetic to Osteen if he bashed Mormons. I just threw in the “doesn’t bash Mormons” to indicate he’s probably an alright guy. Anyway, the guy is viewed here as a Houston Ferris Bueller.

    How’s Rev. Jeremiah Wright doing?

  21. Kullervo, I was making fun of your misspelling. Didn’t you mean FEEL-goodism?

    Speaking of feeling good, I don’t know what a Houston Ferris Bueller is, Steve EM, but Jesus makes me feel a lot better than sin does.

  22. I can agree that during this conference homosexuality was barely mentioned. After Prop 8 and Elder Packer’s comments last conference, I think the Mormon Church is just being more cautious about its PR concerns. The MC has toned down its more hateful statements about homosexuals, preferring instead to ask its members to donate millions to PACs who do the gay bashing for them. Prop 8 was specifically designed to strip homosexuals of equal protection under the law, and lies and base fear mongering were used to sell it. Homosexual Americans are not deceived however, by the latest Mormon maneuvering–we know that the Mormon Church is the most well funded dedicated enemy we have.

  23. ExMoHoMoDon, where did you get the idea that the Mormon stance against gay marriage is about hate? It’s about love.
    If someone was cutting himself or herself with knives and you said, “Go ahead and keep doing it,” that would not be love but hate.
    Jesus loved you & I enough to experience extreme suffering for the purpose of setting us free from the eternal curse that entraps us when we rebel from his desire to be our caring guides.

  24. Eh, I live in Chicago because I work here, but I’m no Chicagoan by any stretch. I haven’t heard Jeremiah Wright mentioned even once in the 16 months I have lived here.

    I’m just saying, if you’re trying to pick a good-natured regional squabble, you’ll have to pick it with someone else. I’m Southern. And I know better than to Mess With Texas.

  25. I have no argument with the teachings of Jesus, who said nothing about homosexuality. My argument is with a political organization which calls itself a church that seeks to destroy my equal protection under the law in the name of Jesus. Thankfully, the Constitution of the United States provides for anyone to believe and practice whatever they choose, however hateful and discriminatory, and it also provides for equal protection under the law for everyone–not just those whom the Mormon Church approves of.

  26. Cal: that was an extremely asinine thing to say. You will never, ever, ever convince a gay person that you are working hard to discriminate against gay people out of love. That borders on sheer audacity. You might have convinced yourself that it is actually true, but it is clearly nonsense: you do not relegate people to second-class citizenship out of love for them, period.

    That said, Cal, I am going to be honest with you. You have a bad habit of saying extremely stupid and provocative things and then not understanding why people are baffled by your stupidity and justly provoked. Trust me now when I say, back off this time. If you want to claim that anti-gay discrimination is done out of Jesus’s pure love, go start that discussion on your own blog.

  27. Jesus makes me feel a lot better than sin does.

    Be glad that “sin” is not necessary for you to have happy and fulfilling intimate relationships. You might feel differently otherwise.

  28. Be glad that “sin” is not necessary for you to have happy and fulfilling intimate relationships. You might feel differently otherwise.

    It’s real easy to jump on the “Homosexuality Is An Abomination” bandwagon when you’re not a homosexual.

  29. Oh early marriage. I was a bridesmaid twice before I turned 23. Both couples–who were my age–had dated for at least two years. One of them was even Mormon! (Obviously not temple Mormon, but the bride was a fairly recent convert.)

    Both couples are now divorced.

  30. FWIW, Cal’s position on gays isn’t mine, but his viewpoint is widely held and I respect it.

    While I objected to my church’s organizing for prop 8, I also think the cal supreme court overreached in their 4/3 decision granting gay marriage and understand and respect cal voters reversing their court. That said, I think cal gay marriage is inevitable, but it shouldn’t come through court fiat.

  31. FWIW, Cal’s position on gays isn’t mine, but his viewpoint is widely held and I respect it.

    You shouldn’t. If Protestants and Catholics worked hard to pass laws criminalizing Mormonism and shutting down temples, would you believe them if they claimed it was done out of love?

    They could use the exact same stupid “stop you from cutting yourself” canard to explain why they are lovingly criminalizing your heretical faith that leads you away from Jesus.

    Would you respect their position?

  32. Oh early marriage. I was a bridesmaid twice before I turned 23. Both couples–who were my age–had dated for at least two years. One of them was even Mormon! (Obviously not temple Mormon, but the bride was a fairly recent convert.)

    Both couples are now divorced.

    On the other hand, katyjane and I were married at 19 and 22 after knowing each other for less than a year. Almost a decade later, we’re still going strong and stupidly happy.

    I think early marriage is vastly underrated.

  33. If Protestants and Catholics worked hard to pass laws criminalizing Mormonism and shutting down temples, would you believe them if they claimed it was done out of love?

    That’s a pretty fair summary of the 19th century anti-polygamy movement.

    Would you respect their position?

    Given that 1) polygamy was horrible for the women and children involved in it, and 2) they were not going to stop it on their own, then I have to give credit where credit is due. Mormonism is in a far, far better position in the 21st century because of those laws, than it would have been had Mormons just been given free reign to do whatever they wanted.

    And before anyone thinks I’m commenting on the gay marriage debate, I’m not.

  34. Kullervo, you and katyjane are superstars with exceptional levels of awesome and good taste. If I had married any one of the boys who made me drool at 19, we’d have a serious problem.

  35. David,

    I find it fascinating you bring up polygamy though. I’ve long thought the top LDS leaders’ apparent crusade against gay marriage has far more to do with fear of legalized USA polygamy that might follow than any real and pressing concerns over gay marriage. There will never be enough gays to warrant their current “concerns”. But legal USA polygamy would be a huge can of worms for the LDS, requiring new “revelations” to squash.

  36. ExMoHoMoDon, thanks for the civility of your last note.

    I also love our Constitution. We have that in common. I believe it was molded with the wisdom of God.

    You also said, “I have no argument with the teachings of Jesus.” We have that in common.

    If we were to continue this discussion, I would ask a few questions:
    “Do you have any argument with any of the letters of the New Testament?”
    “Are you a Christian?” By that I mean, “Are you born-again?” or “Is Jesus your Lord?”
    “Have you been gay since you were a child?”

    I know very little about you at this point.

  37. Steve,

    I agree 100% that the fight against gay marriage by the LDS church is first and foremost about preventing any need to tackle the polygamy issue. If you are going to legalize same sex marriages, there really can’t be any arguments for not legalizing polygamy. Any argument for legalizing same sex marriage can be made even more strongly for legalizing polygamy. And that opens up a can of worms that the church doesn’t want to deal with. Ultimately, they will receive a revelation saying basically, “The Lord doesn’t want us to live it at this time,” which will not make much sense given that for some reason the Lord DID want the LDS church to live it when it was illegal and much less socially acceptable.

  38. Kullervo,

    My wife and I have you each beat by one year, we knew each other for half the time you guys did, and we have been married for 13.5 years.

  39. Hey — My wife and I have been married more than twice as long as that, and we knew each other only five weeks before we got engaged! (It took us half a year after that to get married, though. By LDS standards, however, I was old enough to be a menace to society at the time.)

  40. Cal

    I believe in no organized religion whatsoever. I reject all organized religion as mostly man made and mostly violent, hateful nonsense. History is littered with millions of corpses of those murdered because someone said God told them to do it. I have no opinion about any of the letters of the Old Testament, only questions.

    I have been homosexual since my earliest recollection. I knew that I was different when I was 5, although I wasn’t sure what it meant.

    Steve EM

    If you have a problem with ‘judicial fiat’, do you have a problem with the Supreme Court striking down laws against interracial marriage, even though most Americans approved of them at the time? How about the Supreme Court striking down segregation? Was that ‘judicial overreach?’

  41. History is littered with millions of corpses of those murdered because someone said God told them to do it.

    That’s an amazingly ignorant read of history. In any case, assuming what you say is true (which it isn’t), history is littered with billions of corpses of those murdered because of greed, power, control, and just plain “for the hell of it.”

    I have no opinion about any of the letters of the Old Testament, only questions.

    Uh, do you mean letters of the New Testament, or is there some reason you are bringing Ezra/Nehemiah into this?

  42. DC – How is the claim that millions have been killed in the name of religion inaccurate? Yes, millions have also been killed because of greed, power, etc. and yes, many times the former was simply used as a cover for the latter but as long as someone said “God/Allah/Yahweh/Whatever-Name-For-Deity-They-Happen-To-Be-Using has commanded us to kill the gentiles/infidels/French/non-believers/etc” then the statement is true.

    How many were killed as a result of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the wars of the Caliphate as they spread Islam, and the numerous wars the Israelites waged against the various peoples of the Holy Land? That isn’t even counting smaller things like the Salem With Trials and Jonestown.

  43. How many lives have been saved or changed for the better because of religion, and what reason is there to focus on the bad that has come out of religion to the exclusion of the good?

  44. Jack – I totally agree with you! I am of the mind that far more good has come from religion than bad ever has. But I think it is worth noting that bad things have happened, if for no other reason than to learn from the mistakes of the past so that we can move forward creating more positive change with fewer mishaps.

  45. Alex,

    I said that power, greed, etc. has killed billions, not millions, and I stand by that.

    Now to the substance. I consider statements like this:

    as long as someone said “God/Allah/Yahweh/Whatever-Name-For-Deity-They-Happen-To-Be-Using has commanded us to kill the gentiles/infidels/French/non-believers/etc” then the statement is true.

    to also be completely indefensible. You are claiming that as long as someone, anyone, claims anything about doing something in the name of religion, no matter how stupid or unsupported by the facts that claim may be, then it’s done in the name of religion? History doesn’t work that way, you have to look at the whole picture.

    Take for instance that most religious of wars, the First Crusade. You have a Byzantine emperor deciding that he wants to reclaim territory in Asia Minor and the Levant. But, he realizes that he doesn’t have the manpower so he makes overtures to the pope that the Eastern Church will reconcile with the Western Church (an overture he never had any intention of doing) in exchange for troops. So the pope declares a crusade and a few thousand knights show up in Constantinople months later to aid him on his re-conquest. So is that religious or political?

    Now look at the three main battles in the first Crusade: Nicea, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Nicea wasn’t really a battle at all, there was a siege (not a battle) and a cease fire arrangement between the Byzantine emperor and the Turkish sultan. Thus very few casualties to add to the “millions killed in the name of God.” Antioch was won and kept largely by Bohemond. Now Bohemond was on Crusade for purely political purposes, he wasn’t in it for religious motives. So was the victory at Antioch, which was decided by his forces and tactics, religious or political? Finally, Jerusalem was purely religious and what happened there was an absolute travesty, a complete slaughter, and a disgrace to Christianity.

    What I am getting at is that even in the First Crusade, the number of casualties that can be attributed to religious motives is fairly small. They are there, but they are small. If someone wants to be really bored we can do the same analysis for the other seven crusades, the religious wars of the 16th century, the 30 years war, etc..

    What I’m not saying is that religion has no blood on it’s hands. I’m saying that when you add up the body count for the things done purely in the name of religion, I don’t think you reach 2 million, the bare minimum for being able to say “millions.” I also think that history clearly shows that religion is most often a pretext, or a contributing factor to wars largely done for different motives. Sometimes purely religious wars morph into purely political ones (the 30 years war is a good example here).

  46. It just occurred to me that I am only using Christian examples. Since I really have no interest in defending religions that are not Jewish nor Christian (nor do I have much historical knowledge about them), please silently replace references to “religion” in my claims with “Christianity and/or Judaism.” I really can’t comment on the slaughter of millions by Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Buddists, or any other religion.

  47. This whole line of conversation is dead on arrival. There’s no way to meaningfully draw lines between “religion” and “human culture, generally” acruss the history of the world in a way that would allow us to evaluate the utility or disutility of religion in a vacuum. Any war you blame on religion probably has a hundred other interrelated socio-cultural causes in the mix, because society and culture are really complex and all of their components–even if you could isolate them, which you cannot really–are inseparably intertwined.

    We can talk about specific instances and expressions, sure, but there’s no real way to have a conversation about “religion, y/n?” Religion is, and it’s not going away, like it or not.

  48. Really.

    Muslims have slaughtered thousands in recent times through terrorist activities. However, prior to that my knowledge of who was killed, and more importantly, why, is insufficient.

    Take the most obvious target for “Muslims have killed millions,” the spread of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries with the rise of the caliphate. I really don’t know much about the body counts, and like you point out, where religion ended and politics began is murky. Same for Muslim-Hindu conflicts in India. I don’t know the body counts, nor how to separate culture, ethnicity, and politics from purely religious concerns.

    But the real issue is that after I wrote that comment I realized that I wasn’t defending, nor do I have any interest in defending, religion in general. I do have an interest in defending the history of the people I do claim association with.

    As you pointed out, the conversation is a dead end. ExMoWhatever’s comment was a childish statement that says lots about what ExMoWhatever believes in, and very little about actual facts. I should have ignored it.

  49. Muslims have slaughtered thousands in recent times through terrorist activities. However, prior to that my knowledge of who was killed, and more importantly, why, is insufficient.

    Oh, okay, I misunderstood.

  50. I don’t know the body counts, nor how to separate culture, ethnicity, and politics from purely religious concerns.

    That’s because there’s never a clear or meaningful way to draw the line, even if there are clear cases of one or the other.

  51. So is that religious or political?

    What Kullervo said, and then what Kullervo said again. The answer is, for most of the history of the world, both.

    There is a reason that every world civilisation/world history course I have been in covers religions of the world. The world’s history has, in a very large part, been shaped by religions. For example, the Pope was a powerful political figure for an incredibly long time. He is still a political figure, but not as influential. Religious leaders in general are influential upon politics and world affairs. But, like Jack said, it is better to focus on the best rather than the worst.

  52. Can we stop beating around the bush?

    Mountain Meadows

    There I said it. [obligatory Mormon-critic cheap shot quota fulfilled]

  53. What Kullervo said, and then what Kullervo said again. The answer is, for most of the history of the world, both.

    Which is a large part of what I am saying, and which appears to contradict your earlier position that:

    but as long as someone said “God/Allah/Yahweh/Whatever-Name-For-Deity-They-Happen-To-Be-Using has commanded us to kill the gentiles/infidels/French/non-believers/etc” then the statement is true.

  54. To be clear, I wouldn’t focus on the best to the exclusion of the worst, either. To echo Kullervo, it is what it is. You take the bad with the good, and religion has been a force for both.

    On another note, if atheists are correct and there is no God, then every religious idea humanity has ever had, whether good or bad, originated with humanity and humanity alone. That means it was human beings who made up gods and then claimed that these gods told them to do evil things. Why would they do that other than some innate desire—conscious or subconscious—to do evil?

    And if human beings can create gods who command them to do evil, what would stop them from fabricating other justifications for evil?

    So I don’t see any reason to demonize religion itself. If you discount the existence of malevolent supernatural beings, then however you slice it, evil is the responsibility of humankind and humankind alone.

  55. In reference to the original post, it seems that all that condemnation of pornography is just making people more curious. I think I’ll call it “the forbidden fruit complex” 😉

    http://blogs.computerworld.com/online_porn

    You can only sexually starve a teenage Mormon boy for so long before he cracks!

  56. In reference to the original post, all that condemnation of pornography is just making people more curious. I think I’ll call it “the forbidden fruit complex” 😉

    http://blogs.computerworld.com/online_porn

    You can only sexually starve a teenage Mormon boy for so long before he cracks!

  57. David Clark

    I have no problem addressing you by your chosen email handle, but your need to call me ExMoWhatever and to dismiss my claims as ‘childish’ is adequate evidence of your need to dismiss me on a personal level because you have neither the facts nor intellect to dispute what I said. I know the drill. If you like, you can call me Don, which is my name, if that is easier, but please muster a little respect, even for those you deem beneath you.

    Furthermore, you insist that there are not ‘millions’ murdered for religious reasons, then later admit that you are not sure ‘about the body counts’. Which is it?

    You say that really you are ‘only interested in defending the history of those you claim association with’. If that’s the case, you will notice I said nothing about Mormons specifically, but only about religion generally. So in the interest of complete accuracy, let’s be clear: Mormons only murdered 120 unarmed men, women and children. The men and boys were shot in the face, and the women and children were bludgeoned to death to make it appear that the Indians did it. These facts have been meticulously researched by both Juanita Brooks in ‘Mountain Meadows Massacre’ and confirmed by the latest book ‘Massacre at Mountain Meadows’ (Turley). I know this is a small number, so I am not accusing Mormons of millions of murders. Maybe the number doesn’t matter to you since you aren’t interested in ‘body counts’, but I’m sure it mattered to those murdered and to their families.

    If you want to call me names, knock yourself out, but please address yourself to what I have actually said and not to dismissive name calling.

  58. David Clark

    BTW

    Before you accuse me of not being in possession of actual facts, please present some yourself. You ‘should have ignored me’ but you didn’t–because you know what I said is true.

  59. While I wait for my other comment to get moderated so that I can prove that it does have a point and isn’t spam, I’ll comment on the end discussion here.

    I think the question “Is religion true?” and the question “Is religion good?” are two separate questions. If Buddhism convinces someone to be non-violent, that is a good completely separate from the question of whether Buddhism is true.

    One other note is that I don’t think anyone is motivated by a force called “evil”. Rather, they are motivated by other goals without regard to who they hurt. Perhaps they want more money or more lustful pleasure or more popularity. In any case, people are thinking “how can I help myself?” not “how can I make the world worse?” Even people who get pleasure from seeing others in pain are doing it for power. The reason they like hurting others is not the pain itself but rather the knowledge that if they can hurt this other person and that person can’t stop them that means that they have the power to do anything and this other person can’t stop them in that either. The other person’s pain is merely a signal of the first person’s power to get what they want in any other matter. People do evil because they believe it benefits them in some way.

    But back a little toward Ms. Jack’s original point: There is no guarantee that religion is going to create more good or more bad in society. It depends on the particular teachings. However, religion shares a characteristic with politics in that it becomes a person’s identity. People say “I am a Christian” or “I am a Muslim” or “I am a Progressive” or “I am a Conservative’’. So when their particular group says something, they take it without question. “Oh yes, obviously a woman should have the right to terminate her pregnancy if she wishes” or “Oh yes, obviously when it comes to taxes, the lower the better” or “Oh yes, obviously Jesus is the Messiah” or “oh yes obviously Mohammed was the most important prophet who ever lived”. Any challenge to these positions is either explained away with half hearted excuses or ignored. We value these beliefs more than we value being inquisitive. These things are taken as part of our identity. To deny them is to deny ourselves. It is assumed to be who we are. If you denied, for example, that less government is always better, then you wouldn’t be a Conservative any more and giving up that identity is too much for people, regardless of what the argument may say.

    So even without religion, you’d still have Democracies and Communist nations at each other’s throats. (that’s why the Joseph McCarthy trials were compared to the Salem witch trials). Religion raises the stakes by making it about God, who the believers view as more important than all things, but it is the same general concept.

  60. David Clark is no longer LDS, so I’m not sure why he would be interested in an LDS body count over other religions.

    However, in the interest of accuracy . . .

    Mormons only murdered 120 unarmed men, women and children.

    Joseph Morris, Isabella Bowman, Barbara Deithelm, and Mrs. Marsh said “hi.”

    http://bit.ly/fb4QcT

  61. If you want to call me names, knock yourself out, but please address yourself to what I have actually said and not to dismissive name calling.

    SOP around here, poopyface.

  62. Before you accuse me of not being in possession of actual facts, please present some yourself. You ‘should have ignored me’ but you didn’t–because you know what I said is true.

    OK, Don. First, your handle is very hard to type correctly. Calling you ExMoWhatever was as much a jab at you as it was an acknowledgement that your handle is very hard to type and remember. And, I don’t feel like scrolling up and down and up and down to copy-n-paste. Now that I can call you “Don,” I no longer have that problem.

    As for facts, it is you who mistakenly typed “Old” for “New” and you also assumed I am Mormon when I am not. So if you are going to accuse me of getting the facts wrong, please get them correct yourself.

    As for my not presenting any facts, did you not see the lengthy comment I wrote on why even the most religious of Christian wars, the First Crusade, is difficult to pin on Christianity? Just to be thorough, I even went battle by battle. If you want to dispute my interpretation of the facts, fine. However, the accusation that I presented no facts is baseless.

    Since I am no longer Mormon, I have no interest in defending Mormons on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It is a black eye on Mormonism every bit as much as is battle for Jerusalem in the First Crusade is for Christians.

    Furthermore, you insist that there are not ‘millions’ murdered for religious reasons, then later admit that you are not sure ‘about the body counts’. Which is it?

    Please read more carefully Don. I said that I realized I had no interest nor knowledge to defend religion in general from charges of genocide. I posted a comment to the effect that my defense should be read as a defense of Christianity only, as I did not know the motivations nor the body counts in wars involving other religious groups. If someone can show facts that Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, or whoever killed millions of people for purely religious motives, the I will concede that point. But as far as I am concerned, that only shows that group has a problem with genocide. All religious groups do not participate in some generic reified concept called “religion” whereby one can show one set of facts about Muslims or Hindus and thereby have it apply mutatis mutandis to Christianity as well.

  63. I think the point about Christianity and violence is important, i.e. Christian nations seem as likely to produce murder, mayhem and genocide as non-Christian nations and Christianity has been used to support slavery, genocide and murder.

    This is different than saying murderous Christians believe God told them to kill. . . but not by much. What we do know is god-fearing Christians can be just as murderous as any godless communist and that their Christianity is often used/twisted to support their murder.

    There are two canards (1) that Christianity leads to murder and (2) that organized Christianity generally makes people good.

  64. Jared

    I think you make several good points. My problem is that those who claim Christianity don’t seem to do that much of what Christ actually said. My issue therefore is not with anything Christ said, but with the actions of those who claim to be his followers.

  65. My problem is that those who claim Christianity don’t seem to do that much of what Christ actually said. My issue therefore is not with anything Christ said, but with the actions of those who claim to be his followers.

    Yeah, but the thing is, nobody else here is talking about that.

  66. ExMoHoMoHoDon . . . oops . . . got an extra “Ho” in there. . . . ExMoHoMoDon said, “My problem is that those who claim Christianity don’t seem to do that much of what Christ actually said. My issue therefore is not with anything Christ said, but with the actions of those who claim to be his followers.”

    Bingo!
    The thing is, though, those Christians who act more like the world than they do like Christ are going to go to heaven because their faith—however small it may be—allows the blood of Christ to cover them.
    Those who stay away from Christ’s offer of forgiveness because of the many misguided activities of Christians, have played right into the devil’s hands.

  67. Oh, Cal.

    The idea that Christianity is about the avoidance of hell is kind of the worst idea Christians have ever come up with.

  68. The idea that Christianity is about the avoidance of hell is kind of the worst idea Christians have ever come up with.

    I don’t see that in what Cal is saying. It’s pretty standard Christian teaching that one does good works out of love, but one is saved by grace. One does not overrule the other, nor does one negate the other.

  69. “I don’t see that in what Cal is saying. It’s pretty standard Christian teaching that one does good works out of love, but one is saved by grace. One does not overrule the other, nor does one negate the other.”

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

    I’m sure you can interpret what Jesus was saying in many ways, but I’m pretty sure that being a douche and saying that it’s okay ’cause Jesus has your back probably isn’t the best way to avoid hell. Just sayin’.

  70. The thing is, though, those Christians who act more like the world than they do like Christ are going to go to heaven because their faith—however small it may be—allows the blood of Christ to cover them.

    Those who stay away from Christ’s offer of forgiveness because of the many misguided activities of Christians, have played right into the devil’s hands.

    Cal, what you say may or may not be true (by which I literally mean it may or may not be — I don’t pretend to know who’s going to heaven or hell), but how is it useful to make this point either way?

    At the center of your argument is the question of who gets in and who doesn’t. I don’t think that’s what Christianity is about.

  71. Katie L. said:

    … the question of who gets in and who doesn’t. I don’t think that’s what Christianity is about.

    Unfortunately, Mormons and evangelicals can make that issue the center of their religion. I believe that doing so distorts the message that Jesus came to Earth to give.

    That certainly was the focus of the evangelicalism I grew up with (strangely enough, even though the denomination I attended most of that time was in the Arminian tradition). That was why were were evangelical in the original sense of the word — if we didn’t share the Good News, if we didn’t send missionaries to Africa, if we didn’t have altar calls and so on, people were at a real risk of hell, and that’s a place you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy. And that’s why you would give your life to Christ and accept him as your personal savior — don’t do that and you’ll suffer for eternity.

    With that kind of approach, there isn’t much need for personal growth, nor is there much goodness to be found in the non-Christian world. At its worst, the teaching is that getting into heaven comes by completing a magic ritual of saying a certain prayer. Either you’re saved or you’re not, and if not, well, damn you.

    Compared to that, and I apologize for the cliché, Mormonism was a breath of fresh air. In the LDS scheme, only those who deliberately and knowingly choose so will spend eternity in hell, and nearly everyone enters a heaven of some sort (aka a kingdom of glory). And the purpose of life isn’t to say that magic prayer once (since once will get you into heaven), but to seek to live the type of life that Jesus lives, to become the type of person that Jesus was. And that is truly good news.

    (Important note: Yes, I may be guilty of painting a mean-spirited caricature of evangelicalism. I am not saying this is what all evangelicalism is all about, nor am I saying that our evangelical friends Tim and Jack and others would fit in this caricature. All I’m saying is that is some evangelicalism isn’t far removed from my description, and that’s the kind of evangelicalism I experienced for many years.)

    Unfortunately, we Mormons can fall into the same type of trap as do the evangelicals that I criticize. But instead of saying that there’s a magic prayer that will get you into heaven, we want to say that if you receive all these ordinances and do this and do that and this and that, then you can enter into the highest level of the celestial kingdom.

    And anything else? Well, that’s worthless. And although this isn’t doctrinal, I have even heard Mormons refer to the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms as “hell” — even though the terrestrial kingdom is much like a Protestant version of heaven (wow!) and even though the telestial kingdom was described by Joseph Smith as a wonderful place and a kingdom of glory.

    Don’t get me wrong. I certainly do believe there are various ordinances that are part of ultimately living the kind of life that Jesus lives now, of exaltation. But to emphasize only those ordinances (which include, yes, a temple marriage) is falling into the same trap that some types of evangelicalism fall into.

    Ultimately, our purpose on Earth isn’t to get these ordinances done. It’s to learn to live the kind of life that Jesus lived, learning to experience Christlike or Godly lives. And whether you’re LDS or some other kind of Christian or even someone who has never heard of Jesus, there is joy to be found in that. And that joy begins here and now. And that’s what Christianity is about — we are that we might have joy, and that joy comes through learning from and emulating Jesus Christ. This is all in the present tense.

    Are there eternal consequences for what we do and believe? Certainly! But if that’s where our focus is, we’re missing out on what Jesus’ suffering and death gives to us right now.

  72. Katie L. said, “how is it useful to make this point either way?”

    I was responding to mohomohodon. I frankly can’t remember why I said it.

    Then you said, “At the center of your argument is the question of who gets in [to heaven] and who doesn’t. I don’t think that’s what Christianity is about.”

    Oh, absolutely that is one of the main things Christianity is about. Are you not a Christian?

  73. Eric, well said.

    I’m a Christian, Cal, but I don’t think “getting in” is the point of Christianity.

    I think the point of Christianity is living a life like Christ, today, present tense, now. Salvation is a nice byproduct, perhaps, but it’s not the purpose. I believe that 90% of the problems with modern American Christianity (and Mormonism for that matter) can be traced to this fundamental misunderstanding of what it’s really all about.

    It’s not about in or out, us or them. It’s about Him.

    Also — and I could be wrong — but I’m picking up what seem to be pejorative undertones in the way you’re misspelling ExMoHoMoDon’s handle. If it’s on purpose, I’d personally ask you not to do that. If it’s not on purpose, I genuinely apologize for bringing it up (though you might want to consider just copying and pasting his handle to clear up the misunderstanding). 🙂

  74. Hi Katie L.
    Now I know what you’re driving at. I agree with you (and Eric & KatyJane) that Christianity isn’t just about getting into Christ. That’s just the first step. It’s about being transformed into the character of Christ by the power of his Spirit inside you. We’re on the same highway (the High Way).

    You said, “I think the point of Christianity is living a life like Christ, today, present tense, now. Salvation is a nice byproduct, perhaps, but it’s not the purpose.”

    I believe that becoming like Christ IS salvation.
    And on that, Mormons (including Eric—right Eric?) and evangelicals agree!
    Thanks, sister, for the constructive discussion.

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