Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ten Shocking Mormon Beliefs

That are not really true.

I stumbled across this list of “Top 10 Most Weird Mormon Beliefs – Shocking Revelations” a few days ago on the Atheist Adam blog. As I am a Mormon I thought I would see just exactly what was so shocking. I have been participating in religious dialogue and debate online since I was in High School. I have come across all kinds of claims about what Mormons “believe”. So I am not unaccustomed to seeing outrageous claims about what I believe. This time it was no different, I was not surprised. The supposed “beliefs” were all either blown out of proportion/taken out of context, or just plain false. Here are few of the “shocking revelations”:
10. The earth is 7,000 years old. There is no official statement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints about the age of the earth, but many Mormons (and many Christians of some sects) believe that the age of the earth is on the order of thousands of years rather than billions calculated by widely accepted scientific methods.
I love how they introduce this one, “Here is the weird belief, but it isn’t really an official belief. But I bet a lot of them believe in it!”. Like the article says, there is no official doctrine about the age of the Earth. The Church is also neutral on the issue of evolution. Members may make up their own minds on issues like this. I accept evolution along with many other Mormons I know personally. I fail to see how letting people make up their own mind is a “weird belief”.
9. Mars and Venus have dry rivers. The dry rivers on Mars and Venus were the source of the flowing rivers on earth. The theory is that the dry rivers on Mars and Venus \”match\” the rivers on Earth and that proves that all three planets were organized from the same source.

8. Dinosaur bones come from other planets. LDS Church Institute instructors teach that fossilized dinosaur bones are from creatures that lived on other worlds that were destroyed in the creation of the earth.
Ok, I will admit it, they got me on these two. By that I mean I have no fracking clue where they came from! I thought I had seen all of the off the wall, ridiculous, and blatantly false claims of what we, Mormons, believed. Seriously, I may have to shake this authors hand for coming up with some supposed beliefs held by Mormons that I have yet to come across. At least the guy is not lacking in the imagination department.
4. Also on the subject of Native Americans, the preface to the Book of Mormon from 1981 indicates that descendents of Lehi are a \”remnant of the House of Israel\” and were ancestors to American Indians. However, the DNA of Native Americans indicates an Asian origin.
This is one of the claims that is taken out of context and out of proportion. It is true that LDS believe that a group of Israelites came to the Americas before the time of Christ and that they interbred among the local population, hence the reference to ancestors. But it is not official that they were the primary ancestors and the majority of LDS scholars believe they were not. The issue of DNA is one that has been debated a lot. There have been numerous responses to the claims that DNA evidence proves the Book of Mormon wrong. Going into any kind of detail here would take way too much time but anyone interested in reading more about it can look here, DNA and the Book of Mormon.
2. Mormons believe that after the resurrection, Jesus visited America and there he performed miracles and taught.
Well, he actually got something right. We do believe this. Unfortunately, I fail to see what is so weird about it when looked at from a religious point of view. The only way I think someone could find it strange is from an atheist point of view where all religion is viewed as strange.
1. Kolub is a star mentioned in the Book of Abraham as being closest to the throne of God. The Book of Abraham is canonized by the LDS church, Mormon fundamentalist organizations, and other LDS sects. Kolub inspired \”Kobol\” in Mormon Glen A. Larson\’s Battlestar Galactica universe.
First of all, it is “Kolob”, not “Kolub”. If you are going to publish of list of “supposed weird beliefs” some group holds, at least get your spelling right! Oh well, at least he got the Battlestar Galactica reference correct. Now to put this belief in context, usually Kolob is twisted to make the claim “Mormons believe God lives on a planet called Kolob”. Too bad Kolob is not referenced as a planet, but a star.
"Kolob" is the name given to the star closest to the throne of God in Abra. 3:3. It is introduced in an effort to teach Abraham that there is a hierarchy in all things. There are many stars, and one star is "closest" to God. In a similar way, there are many intelligences, or moral agents, some greater than others. The greatest of these is God.
Thus, "Kolob" is introduced in a rather peripheral way in an effort to teach about the supremacy of God:
Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other...And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. (Abra. 3:18-19, italics added)
In an effort to make the Church look bizarre, many critics mock the idea of "God living on the planet Kolob." This is false as God does not live on Kolob. Kolob plays no real role in LDS doctrine or discourse. The only other mention comes from a 19th century hymn, which uses Kolob in its first line to describe the glorious life of those who return to God:[1]

It seems the person who posted this got the entire article from another website as this same post has turned up in Google at multiple sites all linking back to the same location, a site called The Secrets of Mormons. I assume who ever took the article and reposted it on the blog I found did so because of confirmation bias. If you wish to criticize a set of religious beliefs, this is the worst way to go about it. One look at the source site, The Secrets of Mormons, should have been the first clue that the information is most likely faulty. The site reads like a bad infomercial. Nearly every other line is in a different font size, random sections are bolded and underlined while others are in random colors, even the cliché “But Wait! There’s Even More…” phrase appears.
If you want a good laugh, go check out that site. If you want to know what we, Mormons, actually do believe then just ask us. If you fall for the scam of The Secrets of Mormons, then not only will you be out 37 dollars, but you will be laughed out of the room the first time you confront a Mormon about their “weird beliefs”.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

God Botherers

I thought this little piece was funny and worth sharing. It is by a stand-up comedian in the UK.
There's "probably no God", apparently. I read it on the back of a bus last year, courtesy of an advertisement paid for by the British Humanist Association. Mind you, then the Christian Party countered with its own series of ads claiming: "There definitely is a God." For a period last year, in fact, all my spiritual guidance came from slogans painted on buses. If confronted with an ethical dilemma, I'd stroll down the high street and wait for the number 42 to trundle past with "Morality itself being a construct, only your conscience can be your guide" written along the side.
But now that the bus wars have died down, the consensus seems to be that it's unlikely there's a God. Ever since Richard Dawkins wrote his book on the "delusion" a few years ago, the anti-God industry has enjoyed a boom period. The shelves have been crammed with titles such as God Is Not Great, 2,000 Years of Disbelief, 1,000 Tiresomely Reiterated Anti-Church Arguments, and so on.
An atheist Christmas service at London's Bloomsbury Theatre was a box-office smash. Dawkins is now the most popular God-basher since the days when Christians used to be fed to lions. You can hardly have a nativity play without the bespectacled bogeyman storming the stage, scattering the little shepherds and angels with a cry of "Where is the proof of this?!"
In short, atheists are becoming as annoying as believers used to be. 
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is God just a delusion? First Meeting Notes

The notes from the first meeting of the Purdue Reading Group discussion on The God Delusion are up. You can read the section of the book that was discussed here for free. It seems at the beginning of the meeting they went over the differences between the words Theist, Deist, Pantheist, and Atheist.
Differences between Theist, Deist, Pantheist, Atheist:
- A theist believes in an intelligent god who cares about the created world.
- A deist believes in an intelligent god who created the world, but doesn't care about it.
- A pantheist (like Einstein) doesn't believe in a creative god, but rather believes in a set of rules that the universe follows. In this sense, god is the universe.
- An atheist doesn't believe in any sort of god (or doesn't care).
On to the section from Dawkins book about Undeserved Respect, here are the notes from the meeting.
Does religion get undeserved respect?
1. It's not a question of respect, it's a question of power.
2. The government can't control religious groups
3. Thus it's pragmatic to not fight against religion
4. The example of the cartoons printed in Danish newspapers isn't about privileging religion, but rather it's about fear.
5. "...the restraint of British newspapers derived less from sensitivity to Muslim discontent than it did from a desire not to have their windows broken." (p. 48)
6. It was brought up that the examples that Dawkins uses aren't normal, and are even in some cases "weird," so the conclusions aren't logically valid. In order for the conclusion to hold, it has to hold in all cases, not just in some special cases.
7. Why is it bad to use Freedom of Religion as an argument, yet it's okay to rely on Freedom of Speech? The founding fathers didn't differentiate between the two; they are both part of the first amendment.
8. The term "Ethnic Cleansing" may not be used to give religion special respect, but might just be a form of political correctness.
9. In the Irish civil war, calling them "Catholics" and "Protestants" would force people worldwide to take sides in the conflict, and it would escalate the conflict.
10. Following in the political correctness vein, religion gets respect from the media. This encourages the public perception that religion is set apart, and should be treated with care.
11. Last point, people tend to hold their own beliefs (be they religious or otherwise) with a special reverence. This means that they would feel personally attacked when other people talk negatively about their beliefs.
I really wish I could attend these meetings as I would then know the context of these notes a little better, as of right now I just have to guess the best I can by correlating it to the reading wherever possible. My overall response to the reading was that many of the examples were too extreme (i.e. not common enough) to be taken seriously or are taken to try and show a problem with religion when, in fact, they demonstrate a problem with something else, such as the laws in the US dealing with illegal drugs. I also found the example Dawkins gives that is addressed in point #7 above to be very weird. Dawkins seems to argue that basing something on Freedom of Religion is flawed while basing it on Freedom of Speech is not, yet they are both in the First Amendment.

Everyone is going to want, and generally deserves, at least a little respect for their personal beliefs. This does not mean their beliefs should be above reproach or worth of special protection, or that they would think such. Just that they will probably want anyone who criticizes them to do so with some kind of decency. Ultimately, I can see Dawkins point about religion receiving a lot of respect, but I think he has blown it way out of proportion.

Send an Atheist to Church (Part II)

 The Send an Atheist to Church charity event I mentioned in a previous post has been going on since yesterday. You can read a thorough update on it over at Blag Hag. So far is seems the Baptists (due to someone donating $40) and the LDS are in the lead. I stopped by and donated $10 to the LDS cup before my class today (I am glad the Union has an ATM as I never carry cash with me). I look forward to reading the responses from everyone attending the different church services.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is God just a delusion?

 There is a new book discussion being held by the Purdue Reading Group. They will be discussing The God Delusion.
Is God just a delusion? Is it the duty of "enlightened" minds to deny
any existence of a heavenly being? Are you lost in the desert, looking
for answers? Then meet us across from Oasis in the Union to discuss
Dawkins' book "The God Delusion."

When: Noon on Tuesday, February 16
Where: Study room across from Oasis in the Purdue Memorial Union
What: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Who: Anybody who has an open mind and is searching for answers.
The discussion group has a website and a facebook page. On the facebook page the major points will be posted after each meeting to allow those of us who cannot attend to participate in the discussion. The readings for each meeting will also be posted on the website. I wish I could attend this one but I am in class from 9:30-2:45 straight (no breaks) on Tuesdays. However, I will most likely still follow along on the facebook page and post about it here. I guess I will finally have to break down and buy the book as I cannot stand reading books online and I insist on owning every book I read, which drives my wife crazy. Too bad atheist groups do not give away free copies of The God Delusion like churches give away copies of the Bible.