Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: apologetics (page 1 of 3)

Chat with JW’s: Why the atonement is incoherent.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before: I always engage with street evangelists. If they’re putting their ideas out there in public, those ideas are fair game for discussion and ruthless examination.

Here’s a discussion I had with a Witness of Jehovah. It went pretty much exactly like this. Feel free to use and adapt.

There are loads of problems here. Human evolution and human civilisation go back way farther than 6,000 years. But it’s a mistake to get bogged down here. Keep it moving.

Sin is a problem of God’s own making. He decided that he couldn’t stand some things. Then, having created the problem of sin, he decided to blame humans for the problem that he created.

Another problem: Jesus came back to life. You don’t get the ransom back! How is that a sacrifice?

Yet another problem: If God wanted a sacrifice, then he got one; he should be satisfied, and the process should be over. But it’s not; God expects us to believe in him. When someone pays a ransom, the kidnapper doesn’t then require the parents to ‘believe’ in him.

This is problem of its own; isn’t justice simply what God says is just? in which case he could do anything, and then declare his actions just by fiat. On the other hand, if there’s some external principle of justice that even God has to obey, then he must be subordinate to some principle. Then why worship God at all? Why not skip the middleman, and worship the principle instead, since it’s higher than God is?

This is a dodge to terminate the thought process. You could say any wild thing, and then refuse to defend it on the grounds that humans can’t understand it.

And again, why did God decide to make a solution that makes no sense? If humans need to believe this to be saved, then it needs to make sense to humans.

I think we can understand it. God is a bloodthirsty maniac whose ultimate idea of compassion is a human sacrifice. And he’s that way because he was imagined up by bloodthirsty people. That’s not hard to understand.

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Thanks for stopping by! If you like this cartoon, I got more.

About that rock…

Last week, the LDS Church released photos of a small brown rock belonging to Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Here it is, on a tasteful mat.

The LDS Church, most notably through its artwork, has promoted the idea that founder Joseph Smith translated the book from gold plates, but the story now is that words would appear on the stone in English, and Smith would dictate these to a scribe. Apparently, he didn’t need to use the gold plates in the translation process at all — and Moroni and Nephi are not happy about this.

So what’s going on here? Why is the church promoting this strange artefact, essentially admitting that a small brown rock was instrumental to the Restoration? And what effect will this have on Latter-day Saints?

First, let me lay down a theoretical framework that helped me. It’s from a post by redditor ShemL.

The church contains not one gospel, but two. There’s Gospel A and Gospel B. Gospel A is the one missionaries teach. It’s lovely, inspiring, and uncomplicated. It’s the one where Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus in the Sacred Grove, he translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates, and only had one wife.

Then you find inconsistencies in the story, and unsavoury things about church history, and you transition to Gospel B. Gospel B is difficult and tangled, and there’s so much to explain away! It involves a lot of mental gymnastics. Nobody feels the Spirit from Gospel B. If you’re here, you might say that you have a “complex faith”.

The weird thing is that when you go to church, you have to pretend that Gospel A is the real one. There’s no acknowledgement of the complexity.

Now back to this rock. The rock is part of Gospel B. It’s a weird thing, the rock is. People are loath to believe that you can translate a document using a magic rock in a hat, and for good reason. It just screams fraud.

So why is the church publicising this? My answer: it has problems that are even worse than I thought.

It used to be easy for the church to keep everyone in Gospel A. Information about the church was reasonably scarce, except from the church itself — that was plentiful, but wrong. Anything that would divert people into Gospel B was dismissed as an anti-Mormon lie. Some people were in Gospel B because they knew about the rock and Joseph’s sex partners and so forth, but they had to find their own ways of dealing with that. In church, it was all Gospel A.

Then, with more information, people learned the information that the church was trying to control. It moved some people into Gospel B, but it moved a lot of people out of the church entirely. The church noticed this, and they figured that at least having people in Gospel B (and paying tithing) is better than having them leave. As a response, the church tried opening up a little by releasing unannounced (and uncredited) essays onto their website in the dead of night.

The secretive strategy didn’t work, and people found out about the weirdness anyway. So now it seems that the church is trying to roll out all the weird stuff at once, and I think they’re hoping that if they can just get it all out there, and weather the resulting exodus of members for a couple of weeks, whoever else is still in the church will be in for good. No more unpleasant discoveries for anyone, or if there are, it won’t be the church’s fault; they’ve disclosed.

Is it going to work? I doubt it.

First of all, if they’re hoping that they can dig down to bedrock lunacy and hope everyone copes from there, they’re going to be disappointed. It’s all lunacy. The nonsense goes down to the core. Reveal all the weird stuff? It’s all weird stuff! And fabrications.

Second, by opening up about its history, the church has effectively transitioned everyone into Gospel B! How is that supposed to work? How is the Gospel-A illusion supposed to work in church, when everyone is aware of Gospel B?

As for the apologists, they’re working overtime. Right now, they’re doing two things:

  • Trying to boost plausibility by describing the magic rock as anything but a magic rock. Some people are trying to explain that having a physical object around to channel spiritual powers is not weird — it’s like technology! It’s like an iPad!

(If someone really thinks this rock is like an iPad, I don’t know how I can help them. A rock is not an iPad. iPads work reliably and predictably for more than just one person. A rock is a rock.)

  • Some apologists are going for gas-lighting, blaming members for not knowing about this stuff when the information was supposedly out there — perhaps in a locked filing cabinet in a room with a sign that said “Beware of the leopard.” Consider this article, entitled “It’s Not the Church’s Job to Teach Me Church History”. Oh, really? This is disingenuous; if person could have a lifetime of church attendance, four years of Seminary, and years of Institute without running across any of this stuff, then how forward could the church have been about teaching it?

So what will happen? My seer stone is a little rusty (it’s iron pyrite), but I think the church is in uncharted waters here. Owning up to its magical past in the scientific age is going to highlight the implausibility for many members. Some people will stay in no matter what, but with the Gospel-A narrative tarnished, more members are going to wonder: why am I cleaning the chapel toilets again? What is this all for? Some people say, “Even if the church weren’t true, I’d stay in because it’s a good way of life.” But how good is it looking, now that its absurdities and obfuscations are manifest? This is a major discontinuity in the church narrative, and it will make the church story really different for those who remain. If people are freaking out, I don’t blame them.

One member explained his acceptance of the weirdness to me with the phrase “Faith is a choice”. That’s true. But now Mormons have many choices. They can stick with Gospel A, but this will be increasingly difficult in the information age. They can go with Gospel B, as the church is pushing them into, but Gospel B is often a last step before ditching the church altogether. And that, I think, is the best choice of all.

The LDS statement on DNA and the Book of Mormon

The LDS Church dropped their latest Big Essay this Friday. Friday’s the day that PR organisations drop press releases that they hope won’t attract a lot of attention. And that makes sense, because I don’t think anyone at Church HQ was looking forward to writing this one. It’s on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

There have already been some takedowns and discussion on the individual points it makes, and I’m not a population geneticist, so I’ll just defer to them.

But from my perspective, here are the interesting bits. In the second paragraph, we hit this:

Although the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical, some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America.

This was so jaw-dropping, I had to read it a couple of times. Are they actually backing away from the historicity of the Book of Mormon? It’s a very common tactic in apologetics to kick things a rung or two up the ladder of abstraction so they can’t be falsified, but this is a shift that I’ve never even seen hinted at. Weakening the historical case for the Book of Mormon is one step away from saying it didn’t happen. And that makes me wonder if church leaders even believe it anymore. Make no mistake, this is a meme to watch in the coming years.

Another tack I noticed is the Church’s retreat into obscurantism. Notice the kind of language they use:

Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples…

DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby.

Nothing is known about the extent of intermarriage and genetic mixing between Book of Mormon peoples or their descendants and other inhabitants of the Americas…

…the picture is not entirely clear.

One reason it is difficult to use DNA evidence to draw definite conclusions about Book of Mormon peoples is that nothing is known about the DNA that Lehi, Sariah, Ishmael, and others brought to the Americas.

It is possible that each member of the emigrating parties described in the Book of Mormon had DNA typical of the Near East, but it is likewise possible that some of them carried DNA more typical of other regions.

In the case of the Book of Mormon, clear information of that kind is unavailable.

it is quite possible that their DNA markers did not survive the intervening centuries.

…the evidence is simply inconclusive. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples.

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

Retreat into the unknown

What a lot of mealy-mouthed vacillation. Is this the same group that boldly proclaims that a god restored the everlasting gospel, and that we know for a surety of its truthfulness? But now, when there are questions about its foundational text, they sound like Hans Moleman. When you have the facts on your side, you state the facts. If someone’s trying to obscure things and retreat into uncertainty, you can bet they don’t have the facts on their side.

The phrase “Nothing is known about…” is repeated four times. Gee, it’s too bad they don’t have a… prophet or something to help them with that. It’s this kind of thing that made me realise that listening to a prophet is a really weird and unreliable method of getting information.


There’s also a heavy emphasis on the idea that “you can’t prove or disprove” the Book of Mormon story, with the implication that the probability of it being true or not is about 50-50. It’s not 50-50. The bulk of the probability that the Mormon story is true is vanishingly small, and shrinking. Yet some people will hold onto that tiny sliver of hope, as long as they think it’s still ‘possible’.

I call this possibilistic reasoning, by which I mean ‘a tendency to look only at the possible, holding onto one’s preconceptions until they’re conclusively disproven, one hundred and one percent’. This is how true believing Mormons hold onto their belief in the Church. God, Jesus, and the ghost of Joseph Smith could appear and tell them it was all a fake, and they’d write it off as the devil’s deception. They’ll ignore the bulk of probability, and hold onto the sliver. It’s the same way some of them reject evolution and climate change. The possibility that it’s wrong (and there’s always a possibility) is enough for them to reject it and keep going with whatever they like.

By contrast, probabilistic reasoning looks at the bulk of probability. How true is a thing likely to be, given the evidence we have? By this reasoning, evolution and climate change are extremely likely — not 100%, but close. And the Book of Mormon, with no evidence on its side, but a lot of strikes against it, is likely false.

When discussing this with my friend Mark Ellison, he remarked, “I think possibilistic reasoning is responsible for a great deal of intellectual evil,” and I’d have to agree.

So this DNA statement from the First Quorum of the Anonymous may be somewhat comforting to possibilistic reasoners who are trying to sustain their faith in the irrational, but it’s falling flat with people who are concerned with basing their views on the best evidence.

Why apologetics don’t really help

With the Internet, more and more Mormons are bumping into the bits of LDS history that you used to have to dig for. As a result, the LDS Church is trying to — if not come clean about its history — explain its history in terms that will placate startled members. But how do you acknowledge the weirdness without freaking people out?

Here’s what can happen when a doubting Mormon goes to an apologist.

We hope to advance our bigotry in the spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding.

Slightly shorter Michael Otterson:

Ohai. I’m representing the Mormon Church. The prophet couldn’t be here for reasons of plausible deniability.

I’d just like to say that no one should be mean to gay people. Boy, do we know what that’s like! People were mean to us once, and it sucked! Amirite, gay people? or should I say fellow victims?

Anyway. No one should be having sex unless they’re married, which clearly precludes gays, for as long as we can help it. But Jesus loves gay people, and wants them to be celibate all their lives. This is hard, but we’re here to help, with endless church meetings about the joy of sexual repression.

Obviously, some will disagree with us, but they’re probably just misrepresenting our position.

Another chat with the Witnesses

It’s almost Passover time again, so that means Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming around. And that means it’s a good time to remind us all that:

1) Bible believers are, of necessity, apologists for genocide, and

2) religion doesn’t make people more moral. If anything, it turns normal moral people into amoral robots.

Verbatim, by the way.

More cartoons like this can be found under the toons tag.

The Problem of Forgetfulness

The Problem of Evil is a problem for theists: If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why does he allow people to harm, torture, and kill others? (See Newtown.)

One common theist answer involves free will: God respects freedom of choice, and allows the wicked to fill the cup of their iniquity to overflowing, so that their punishment will be just.

Which is rubbish.
1) What about the free will of those kids in Newtown? Why isn’t their choice to stay alive respected? How come the shooter is the only one whose freedom of choice must be maintained?
2) I think freedom of choice is important, but if I saw someone about to gun down a seven-year-old, and I had all power, I’d stop them. I’d be terrible if I didn’t. God doesn’t. (This is the Tracie and Matt argument.)

And that last point brings me to a new twist on this theme, which I’m going to call ‘The Problem of Forgetfulness’.

Did you know that hundreds of children have died in hot cars because their parents spaced out and left them there? It’s awful. Maybe they fall asleep in the back, maybe the parent’s mind is occupied, they go about their day, and only remember hours later with a guilty start that they never went to daycare that morning. By that time, the child is dead.

Read this Washington Post article for all the heart-breaking details. This has vaulted to my number-one parental fear.

The answer to the problem, Fennell believes, lies in improved car safety features and in increased public awareness that this can happen, that the results of a momentary lapse of memory can be horrifying.

What is the worst case she knows of?

“I don’t really like to . . .” she says.

She looks away. She won’t hold eye contact for this.

“The child pulled all her hair out before she died.”

Imagine being that child, alone during those stifling hours. This is not a nice way to go.

Now let’s say you’re lucky and you run across such a car on your way through a parking lot. The car is searing, and the child is alone and crying. What would you do? You’d kick a hole in a window, wouldn’t you? Attract some attention? Get that kid out somehow. Or… would you just sit and watch for hour after hour?

God (in the believer’s imagination) could do any of those things. Because he has all power, he could also cause a fault in the car that makes the horn sound. I had a car like that once. The horn went off and wouldn’t shut up. It attracted a lot of attention. He could send some inspired soul around — that would make a great testimony story. But no, God sits and watches as the child suffocates in agony. And this scene is repeated a few times every year.

You can’t really invoke free will as an explanation. It wasn’t the parent’s choice to forget the child, not really. It was a stupid and fatal mistake. A god would know that, and give the child a break. But no. The deaths continue.

I’ve never heard a good response to the Problem of Forgetfulness. It’s much more likely that this god doesn’t exist, rather than imagining that he has a good reason for letting toddlers die in torment. But if you’re a believer, and you want to defend your god’s striking lack of initiative, please leave your explanation in comments. Just be aware that, due to the inevitably callous nature of these justifications, you run the risk of making yourself or your god sound like kind of a jerk.

The problem of evil and the incompetence of supernaturalism

Two articles crossed my screen today, and they’re a great example of the divide between rational thought and superstition.

They’re both about the gun tragedy at Sandy Hook, and the first one is written by a Catholic priest.

Now, believers in the Christian god have a bit of explaining to do when horrible things happen. That’s because they claim there’s a god who’s good, loving, and all-powerful, but who somehow fails to prevent evil things from happening. So after a tragedy, a reasonable question is: where was he? Is he really all that good if he has the power to prevent grade-school massacres, yet chooses not to? Here’s the theologian’s answer:

The truest answer is: I don’t know. I have theological training to help me to offer some way to account for the unexplainable. But the questions linger.

Well, that’s a bit pathetic. He doesn’t know? All that theological training, and he can’t answer a question that belongs in his discipline?

Seriously, read it; it doesn’t give any more than a shrug. And it’s not just this writer. This is literally the best they’ve got. (Oh, there are other religion guys out there who do claim to know, but their answers are so morally callous as to be not worth repeating.)

I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.

Great, so if you help others, it’s actually god’s love; not yours. (Hat tip to Stephanie for this thought.) And why would ‘soothing’ be a consolation? I’d exchange buckets of after-the-fact soothing in order to not have had that tragedy happen. Who wouldn’t? What’s wrong with this guy? But all we’re left with is: I don’t know.

It’s good to admit when you don’t know something, but if you have no way of finding out, and no way of telling whether your answers are good ones, you have a bit of a fucking methodological problem. And this is a sad sign of the inadequacy of supernatural thinking. See, I do science because science is good at scientific questions. People may say that science isn’t good at moral questions or spiritual questions, and we can argue that. (My answer is that it does just as well as anything else.) But by gum, science is good for doing science.

Spiritual reasoning, on the other hand, isn’t good at answering scientific questions, but it’s also terrible at answering spiritual questions. It’s incompetent within its own domain. It is a shitty way of reasoning. Pardon my language, but spirituality/religion/supernaturalism has one job, and it sucks at it, and this incompetence makes me angry, especially when we have people telling us that it has the answers to life’s great questions, and then when it comes down to it, all that its professionals can tell us is “We don’t know.”

On the other hand, here’s the same issue handled by someone who’s intellectually honest: the scientist, Laurence Krauss. He doesn’t have the same problem as the priest because he doesn’t have to tap-dance around demonstrably untrue theological claims. That means he can deal with things more directly, including the superfluity of gods in times of tragedy.

Why must it be a natural expectation that any such national tragedy will be accompanied by prayers, including from the president, to at least one version of the very God, who apparently in his infinite wisdom, decided to call 20 children between the age of 6 and 7 home by having them slaughtered by a deranged gunman in a school that one hopes should have been a place or nourishment, warmth and growth?

We are told the Lord works in mysterious ways but, for many people, to suggest there might be an intelligent deity who could rationally act in such a fashion and that that deity is worth praying to and thanking for “calling them home” seems beyond the pale.

We don’t need faith to empathize with the grieving in Newtown. We can feel real connections, whether we are parents, or neighbors of families, or simply caring men and women. And we can want to help simply because of our common humanity.

Note that he identifies ‘common humanity’ at its origin: with humans. The difference in approach is striking. So is the relative capability of the authors. It helps if you’re not burdened by outmoded dogma and superstition.

Romney shift and Mormon shift

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Mitt “Etch-a-Sketch” Romney has a tendency to say whatever will get him elected. What doesn’t get a lot of mention is why. But I think Susan Jack at Liberals Unite gets it:

This might see strange to see so much flip flopping in a Presidential candidate, yet there is a pattern that makes utter sense in the larger Romney narrative; specifically that historically, Mormons as a whole have deemed it a holy rite to radically change their minds in the course of this very American Religion.

In other words, Romney thinks it’s acceptable to change his story in mid-stream because he comes from a culture where it’s acceptable to change your story in mid-stream. It’s typical of the way that Mormons handle doctrinal shift.

It follows this pattern:

Stage 1: Profession of faith
We believe Belief X.

Stage 2: Societal shift
Belief X becomes unpopular.

Stage 3: Stonewalling
We continue to believe Belief X even when it’s unpopular.

Stage 4: The tide turns
Belief X is becoming so unpopular that it’s hurting the bottom line.

Stage 5: Under the bus
We do not believe Belief X.
Pick all that apply.
    5a: We have received a revelation that changes Belief X.
    5b: X is not doctrinal.

Stage 6: Rewriting history
We never really believed Belief X.
Pick all that apply.
    6a: Leaders were imperfect humans.
    6b: Line upon line.
    6c: That was folk doctrine.
    6d: Belief X was not widespread.
    6e: Belief X was peripheral, not core.

I don’t even mean to say that this process is motivated by outright dishonesty. To some extent, every member of the church participates in this process (especially in Stages 5 and 6) as they struggle to understand the bits of Mormon doctrine that don’t make sense, or as they try to integrate them with reality. This is how Mormons explain their doctrine to themselves, to each other, and ultimately to non-members. After a long while, this kind of amateur apologetics becomes habitual, and someone who’s served in the Church as long as Romney has would be very good at it. But it’s a slippery way of reasoning.

This method of reasoning carries over into Romney’s slippery explanations about his positions. His policies seem to change depending on who he’s talking to. He has been very light on details because, as LDS leaders must know, saying less gives you less to walk back later.

The similarities are obvious. For a Latter-day Saint, the one non-negotiable doctrine of the Church is that the Church is true. For Romney, the one non-negotiable doctrine is that he should be president.

Or as the Washington Post described Romney:

Every politician changes his mind sometimes; you’d worry if not. But rarely has a politician gotten so far with only one evident immutable belief: his conviction in his own fitness for higher office.

Mormon proxy baptisms: What’s the harm?

There’s an amazingly clueless blog post on the Millennial Star about Mormon proxy baptism, in which author Geoff B. helpfully instructs people on

How to respond when a church says it is baptizing your dead

His response is: What’s the harm? If we think that it’s just a silly ceremony, then no harm done. Why, we should be glad that they took the time to do something nice for our ancestors. What a thoughtful gesture! We should send flowers and a nice note.

The whole post (and subsequent comments) show the signs of having been written by someone who thinks their church is wonderful, that eveything they do in the service of their church is an unalloyed good, and that they are therefore incapable of overreach.

Let’s back up a bit. What’s the deal with Mormon proxy ordinances? If you haven’t heard about it from Bill Maher or Stephen Colbert, read on.

There’s a tough problem in Christianity: Everybody who has ever lived needs to accept Jeebus through baptism, but what about people who lived before him? Do they go to hell? Does god give them a pass if they were nice? Or what? Mormons have resolved this problem in a very creative and time-consuming way: they collect names from genealogical records, dunk each other while thinking of a person’s name, and then pretend that the person gets to choose to accept the ordinance in the afterlife. I think this is a terribly creative solution to a knotty problem in Christianity, and the fact that it’s such an elaborate work-around to a problem that god should have really thought of before is a testament to
a) the theological difficulty of the problem
b) the creative genius of Joseph Smith, and
c) the lengths people will go to in the service of their silly religions.

Mormons think this work is incredibly important, even quoting Malachi:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Ponder for a second. The earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, serving as the habitat for trillions of creatures who have lived and died on it. And Mormons think that if they don’t sit in the dark and extract names from squeaky microfilm readers and then necrodunk each other, it’s all for naught, and Jeebus will smite us all with a curse. What a horrible lack of perspective.

One nice effect of proxy work (from the point of view of head office in Salt Lake City) is that it keeps Mormons coming back to the temples (and paying tithing) as often as possible. Perhaps this is why there doesn’t seem to be much attention paid to dunking everyone only once. Anne Frank, for instance, has been baptised at least nine times.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned enough in connection with all of this is that it isn’t just baptism. Mormons perform the full range of church ordinances on the deceased, including the ‘washing and anointing’, temple sealings, and something called the ‘endowment’, in which Mormons wear clothes that look like this:

All right, so what’s the harm in all this? As mundane as this sounds, I think it’s a boundary issue. Yes, Mormons make the audacious claim that everyone needs to be a Mormon, and yes, it’s annoying, but if people want to make the choice to be Mormons themselves, so be it. But to many people, monkeying around with someone else’s religious status post mortem seems just a mite invasive.

Some people like their faith tradition. They’ve had it for years. They might identify as X even though they never do anything X. These things seem to matter. So for a non-believer, the idea that unrelated peopole could hijack your ancestors, and aid them in becoming a part of some completely different faith tradition (and there’s not a thing you can do about it) is deeply unsettling. It rubs people the wrong way, and because it involves performing a symbolic act upon a deceased member of someone else’s family, it’s a particularly egregious way to rub someone the wrong way. That Mormons don’t seem to comprehend why anyone would object to this is indictive of their insularity and cluelessness, and perhaps they would benefit from pondering how they’d feel if someone tried to make their deceased relatives gay or something.

Back to Anne Frank. Mormons have copped flak for baptising Jews killed in the Holocaust. For Jews, there’s an extra layer of ouchiness. See, Mormons think that Israel is a chosen people, and by believing in Jesus (as they think the Jews should have done), they become a part of Israel — the Israel that god always intended. They take Paul at his word when he said that they would become “grafted in” to the olive tree. To show how seriously they take this, Mormons even assign themselves to one of the tribes of Israel. In a ritual called a “patriarchal blessing”, an older Mormon gentleman lays his hands on your head, does some free associating and cold reading, and makes predictions about the rest of your life. Mormons think it’s personal scripture, straight from god. And during the blessing, the partriarch names which specific tribe of Israel you’re from. I was from Ephraim, like every white guy, but I’ve known people allegedly from Dan, Manasseh, and even Levi. It’s all BS, but it shows just how much Mormons want to co-opt the whole Israelite thing, and claim it for their own. And therein lies the ouchiness. Mormons think they’re Israel in ways that Jews are not, not fully. And the only way Jews can be Israel-for-reals is to go through the Mormon Church. So converting Jews to make them Mormons — Israel in the latter days — seems like, if not ethnic cleansing, ethnic supplanting.

So if Mormons reading this could get one thing out of it, it would be that symbolism matters, and the posthumous Mormonising could be seen not as a nice gesture, but as a gesture of hostility and of religious and cultural imperialism. Does it do anything metaphysical? No. Is it an antagonising gesture? Yes.

UPDATE: Seriously, check out the unapologetic comments on the post. The commenters are unapologetic about carrying out what is, after all, one of the main aims of the church. To do otherwise would be disobedient to their god. It shows how people under the influence of religion don’t play well with others. And it explains why the Mormon Church can’t be honest when it gets caught at this kind of thing, and “promises” to knock it off.

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