A Mother’s Warning

Last Friday morning my Mormon mother called me with a warning, “be careful this weekend.” I was a little taken aback so I asked for clarification. “I was painting out back and had an impression. You were involved.” I acknowledged hearing her warning and–annoyed–ended the call abruptly.

This was not the first bit of “personal revelation” my mother has directed toward me, but it was the first in a very long time. I had almost forgotten that this was a habit of hers. Growing up, mom had impressions from the “still small voice” all the time. In fact, to a casual observer the voice probably seemed large and loud.

Mom had a bumpy road toward family prophetess though. When I was around eight years old, she scraped her leg really bad on the concrete decking surrounding the swimming pool. The “Holy Ghost” had whispered to her not to go outside, and she heeded the warning until she noticed that a planter on the other side of the pool was turned the wrong way. She slipped out the back door, corrected the planter, and while backing up to admire her work, fell backwards into the pool dragging one of her legs across the sharp little rocks embedded into the concrete.

Later that day, she commented that when you fail to listen to “His” promptings the Lord steps aside letting you face the consequences of your actions. I was mesmerized, and over the next decade, I would witness her sharing premonitions about black ice, ladders, river trips, and anything else that would be of mild concern for a typical mother.

Her prophesying probably seems fairly innocent, and my rudely getting off the phone probably seems, well… rude. But her phone call on Friday stirred up old emotions, and I feel like it was violation of the unspoken terms of our almost fifteen-year truce on the topics of faith and religion. I let her tell me about the goings-on at church, and she never ever asks me when I’m going to return to the gospel (or any other crap like that). I keep details about my life to a minimum. Everything works great!

I don’t know if I have any answers about how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t even think I’m asking any questions. My f’ed up relationship with my mother (and father for that matter) is what it is. I guess what intrigues me the most about her warning and the overall effect it had on my weekend is that I did change my behavior. I was more careful. It clearly wasn’t for the reason she had hoped——that I would start trusting her faith.

I just didn’t want to die in a car accident and leave her feeling like she was right.

Frank’s Patriarchal Blessing

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Mormons have a mystical side they don’t like sharing with the world—they know how weird their secret practices make them look—but the secrets have a special power to hold on to people even years after they’ve thrown off their mormonism.

I experienced a good example of this on Wednesday when I stumbled upon my lost “patriarchal blessing.” This weirdo ritual is performed by what amounts to as a Mormon psychic—or “stake patriarch”—who is appointed to do so for his little corner of the church. This older revered man puts his hands on your head, conveys promises from “Heavenly Father” for your life, and provides enough specific sounding generalizations to convince the blessing’s recipient that the whole thing was intended just for them. The blessing is transcribed and filed away at the church offices in Salt Lake City. You get a copy of the blessing (on a very important and official looking form) in the mail a few weeks later.

Like most mission bound young Mormons, I received my patriarchal blessing a few months prior to leaving for my two-year mission. I felt incredibly special hearing God’s pronouncements for my life and worked hard to make sense of the blessing’s vaguer portions. There were promises of “sitting in counsel with the brethren” and an assurance that “a young lady [is] now being prepared for you.” Both presented its own unique mindfuck that would take years to undo. One seemed like a promise that I had the potential to attain church leadership (a great blessing and a signal of righteousness) and the other suggested to me that if I held on long enough, the whole “gay thing” might just go away.

These and other parts of the blessing loomed over me for years, but after accepting my atheism, I was able to slowly shed the control this document held over me. Through the years I have continued to set aside various relics of my religious upbringing.

At some point, I lost track of my copy of my patriarchal blessing and thought I’d never see it again. That is until I found it in a box of old credit card statements. My first reaction upon seeing it was excitement, and then I hesitated to read it. I realized though, that all these years later, I was still granting it some power.

So here you go world: Frank Feldman’s patriarchal blessing! Seeing as how Mormons don’t talk openly with outsiders about patriarchal blessings even in general, I’ve decided that I wanted to share my whole blessing for anyone who might be interested in reading it. A warning though, it’s really not that interesting.

Patriarchal Blessing p1_reduced

Patriarchal Blessing (page 1)

Patriarchal Blessing p2_reduced

Patriarchal Blessing (page 2)

The Mormon Temple Ceremony: You Make The Call

Ok, folks. Here it is: the endowment ceremonies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am not responsible for making this video, mind you, I'm only making you aware of it. And I gotta say, I hesitated to do that.

As we discuss in podcast episode #59, this video represents the laying bare of something that is held so sacred by the Mormons that even I, who never went through the temple, feel like I'm violating something by presenting it here. I've honestly had to wrestle with some fairly deep questions of conscience about it.

"But why, Dan? You don't believe in the Mormon church anymore. Why do you care about what other people think is sacred?"

Well, fictitious questioner, one reason is I know A LOT of Mormons and I have no desire for them to feel hurt or betrayed by me. It's tough because religious people in general, and ESPECIALLY Mormons, feel attacked soooooo easily. Anything you say that questions any aspect of their religion is instantly perceived as an attack. Even stating your own non-belief is thought to be an attack. So, as someone who has a blog and podcast dedicated to looking at the world through the lens of atheism, I'm bound to piss some folks off. That is not my intention.

What is my intention is to take a real, open and honest look at the world and ask the questions that come up. And this video brings up A LOT of questions. For those of you who were never Mormon yourselves, I'm guessing this will positively baffle you. And make you cringe. And possibly wish you could un-see it.

Oddly, it may be even freakier for those of us who were Mormon. To have known so many good, intelligent people who submitted to this weirdness and accepted it as something that would bring them closer to a god for me brings up a cognitive dissonance as powerful as what first-time temple-goers must feel. You have to understand: newbies to the temple go into this ceremony completely unprepared for what they're about to see and do. Nobody explains any of what's about to happen to them. Usually all they know is that what they're about to experience is sacred, and they'll walk out in new underwear that they'll then have to wear for the rest of their lives.

My mind reels thinking about it.

So, rather than droning on more, I'm just going to present the video and let y'all have at it. I'm really interested to hear your reactions. Is it weirder than you expected? More boring? Both? What stands out to you? 

 
UPDATE: As Mike commented below, "This is what Mormons call a "LIVE" session. The movie version of the endowment is a lot easier to hear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VrsFEiTpsQ." So here it is:
 

Why don’t Mormons accept they’re not Christians?

The so-called "Mormon Moment" has shown that professional writers are really just a bunch of kids in a candy shop. And like a kid in a candy shop, these writers are easily distracted by whatever all of the other children are running to. Polygamy and "magic underwear" have received more than their fair share of attention. 

One argument that we need to hear more of, but haven't, is that Mormons aren't Christians. You've probably heard people say this before, and you may have even heard a half-assed explanation. In my experience, though, few people have enough familiarity with Mormon theology to clearly and succinctly explain why Mormons aren't Christians.

Why they aren't:

  • Christian believe in an infinite and singular God.
  • Mormons believe in a finite God who is one of a plurality of Gods (Elohim is the God of this creation; he resides on the planet Kolob).
  • Christians believe that Jesus is the incarnation of their singular God (hence the Trinity)
  • Mormons believe that Jesus is God's half-human offspring (hence the Godhead

Mormons assert that they believe that through Christ their sins are forgiven. This sounds about right, but upon closer examination, their version of Christ's expiation differs from their Christian brothers and sisters. Mormons don't believe that the atonement occurred in Christ's death, but earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane. The outcome is the same, but the function is different. 

I need to cool off and remind myself that this is all moot. Keep repeating to yourself, Frank, "I don't believe in any of this crap." (It's so fun, though.) I should take this moment to point out the obvious in that Mormons aren't Christians because no Mormon would ever get an awesome tattoo like the one to the right.

And here's a tip: no matter your familiarity with this topic, don't tell a Mormon that he or she isn't Christian. They're liable to scratch your eyes out. Mormons don't understand that it's not an insult, in fact it makes them a whole hell of a lot more interesting to view them as distinct from Christianity. The assertion is simply an honest understanding of Christianity and Mormonism, and that the two have a relation that more resembles the one between Christianity and Islam. Islam builds upon some aspects of Christianity, and Mormonism does the same. But protestant is where it's at in this country, so goddammit, the Mormons will throw as much of their religion away as they have to in order to get in good with the cool kids. 

Simon Critchley—commenting online for NYTimes—spells it all out in this thoughtful explanation of Mormonism. He mixes Mormon theology and Mormon cosmology into a piece about how the LDS faithful understand God and how their theology separates them from mainstream Christianity. 

And he shares a couple of doozies… 

“So, dear Simon,” my new friend concluded, “we, too, can become Gods, American Gods, no less.” He chuckled. I was astonished. 

Continue to the article at NYTimes.

Racism At BYU?

Hey y’all… I mentioned this vid on the ol’ podcast. I hesitate to post it, actually, because the taste level of the makers of the video is almost as questionable as that of those being “exposed”. But I talked about putting it on, so… here you go:

 

Here’s the thing: Having interacted with this kind of Mormon my whole life, I can attest to the fact that these are not isolated cases at BYU, they are the norm. HOWEVER, I want to come a little bit to the defense of these poor, deluded dipshits. As we said on Episode 17, to some extent, their racism is more benign than it might seem. In most cases (there are some notable exceptions), their racism is born out of ignorance and lack of exposure rather than hatred.
I don’t say this to excuse them. Truly, this video makes my skin crawl. Its just that I know this culture, and at their root, I believe them not to be hateful. For the most part, they simply haven’t been taught ANYTHING about what is and isn’t ok when it comes to people of other races. Actually, the same applies when it comes to other cultures, or other religions… they’re pretty much terrible at anything that could be considered “other”. When you live in absolute confidence that yours is the “correct” life (they “know” their church is true, and they “know” that their prophets speak to God, they “know” how life is supposed to go), everything that differs from that is, well… wrong.
This stance keeps people like these BYU students from ever exploring beyond what they know and are extremely comfortable with. After all, if they don’t know it, it could easily be “evil”. Better not to take the risk. Unfortunately, BYU students grow up to be adults who pass on this tradition of avoiding all outside influence. Some of them even become BYU professors, who then go on to come up with the worst racial theories of all time.
Ugh. BYU really creeps me out.