Another Library Learning Experience: Power

Today I attempted to check out a DVD on Bronislaw Malinowski from the university library where I teach, giving myself a good 15 minutes to check out and walk to class.  After handing the DVD to a clerk, I was shown a screen inviting me to prove that I am an employee/instructor.  I was told to “go downstairs,” where apparently such things are certified.

The fat college boy at the book check out showed me the same screen.  So I offered these tokens as proof that I am in fact an instructor at this university:

1.  A university issued ID which states “FACULTY/STAFF”, issued for academic year 2012-1013.

2.  A student from a former class who happened to stand next to me at the check out, verifying that am an instructor (at least officially, in not in spirit).

Anyone could say that, I was told.  Can anyone fabricate a University ID in order to check out a stupid 101 video?  No reply.  Suspicion and power have come together.

I was told to log in to their “system” and verify.  After entering my univerity ID, and my password, I was denied.  Again I attempted.  Four times.  No luck.  At this point I was late for the class which I supposedly do not teach, and had enough of the fat boy who now added smugness to his layers of humanity.  He’d had clearly caught a phony trying to check out a DVD, and do who knows what to it?

A supervisor came over, because one of us was making something of a scene, and attempted to investigate the matter.  Finding her system still insisting that I am not employed by this university (an omen?), I was left using my own laptop to prove it.  I entered the same password and ID, and viola, showed them my university status, my teaching schedule (“See, genius, I am teaching a class RIGHT NOW!”), and paycheck stubs (undignifying in itself).  Am I now proven?

No.  One cannot log in to their system when one is not an employee.  Being no longer employeed, as far as the library was concerned, of course I could not, by definition, prove that I was an employee.  My own computer was not in their system of things bearing authority to make me an employee.

After the obvious truth of my story was accepted, reluctantly, on the basis of my own log in (of course, I could’ve faked the university home page, and my own course pages on it!), ID, and apparently mostly a desire to see me go away, I reached for the DVD, and it was no longer there.  The fat boy stood tall, his face twitching, and insisted he gave me the DVD, his arms behind his back.

Now, I was pretty livid at this point, but I know he didn’t give me no DVD.  Where is it?  I gave it to you, his face twitching.  He waddled off, and I told the supervisor that I did not have the DVD.  Should I prove that too?

I saw the DVD hidden away on a return cart, and pointed it out.  The fat boy apparently not only took the high road of insisting that I was making up my story, but then proceeded to hide / misplace the DVD (behind his back, at first?) when it turned out I was not either of two things: Not of sound mind nor  a liar.  Will he be asked to prove he is an employee, and not a liar?  No.

After getting my DVD, and demanding an apology, I was told that “we’re sorry you’re upset”.  Right.  Not that we are causing you to miss your class we insist you are not teaching, for reasons that have nothing to do with anything existing in reality.  I left, and literally hiked up hill in the snow to class, which had not yet given up on me, and some few remained.

My effort to acquire this obligatory 101 DVD came to full fruiting, as I found that the DVD player was locked behind a door in the podium-cabinet, presumably so someone does not steal it, or play unauthorized DVDs on their system.

So I gave an impromptu lecture on the transformation of the PNG economy after WWII, and the translation of capitalism by way of military-industrial commodities into native cargo cults: their more honest if caricatured rendering of what we wrongly call “democracy”.  Ironically, the greek term that gave us “economy” was translated by early Latin-Catholic powers as “dispensation,” and can we really doubt that we live in the dispensation which makes economy religion, and Mammon our god?

Regarding security: the problem at the library (my second run in with libraries in a year) is not that it attempts to restrict my freedom to check out DVDs so I don’t have to lecture.  It is that if I am to have an identity, I cannot prove this myself: it must come from their system.  Now, did their system of proof by entering a log in on their system change, as a result of my having proven it false, and circular?  Nope.  The system has a durability which no individual can hope for, and the next instructor who finds herself not in the system will not change it.

What can change such a thing?  Not proof that it is in error, and circular.  Not some higher authority.  Maybe a permanent power outage.  Only someone inside the system, willing to impose the truth on the system, and thus risk becoming herself outside the system (violating policy).  God will not impose truth on a system, and when the highest authority is generated by the system itself (rather than the reverse), there is no human authority able to impose truth.  Someone must break from policy, rules, traditions, and risk violating his or her standing, to show that the system arbitrarily decides who is employed, and who is not; not students, not the employees, not the paycheck, nor the ID itself issued by the University.  The system, in other words, creates people who lack courage, and this becomes essential to the people in it.  Now, imagine a system which has no authority but one it creates, and so it cannot be that someone else will show the truth of the system?

Systems of power are creative, not repressive.  What sort of people are created by a system of surveillance, demanding obedience to an everchanging, undefined standard, wholly imagining membership without any practical way of demonstrating such (because it comes with no rights), which counts heads in the pews and allots funds accordingly, and counts income as tithing when it is good for the system, and income when it is good for the system?  Discouraged people.  Sometimes angry ones, often dissatisfied ones.  And persons eager to impose some new truth on others, often by taking what they have learned about power, and reformulating it in some slightly altered way.  What will change it?

Nothing, for the system is designed not for eternal duration, but to cure us of our Gentiles notions of power, authority, credentials, policy, and making truth external itself.  How could we learn such a thing, but by sad experience?  God cannot impose the truth on us, without reproducing the system of authorization, credentials, and institutionalized power he seeks to change.

If there is a voice that one must know in order to be saved, that voice cannot require credentials, sponsors, ID, and so forth.  It must be its own verification, which is to say:  Whichever voice we follow, is the voice of our god.  We create “god” when we follow a certain voice.  There is one who plays at being a god (for our sakes, it seems) who will not, however, fashion himself into our image of a god: full of retribution, vengeance, score-settling, and reward to those sycophants who treat him with the honors of a tyrant.  His voice, or the “name,” is the thing which apparently must be heard/felt/known (all three at once, presumably) if we are create something other than a “great work” showing forth the foolishness and abominations of the Gentiles.

Sidney Rigdon’s work (D&C 35) continues to show forth these things, and our experience of them in “Mormonism” is not unlike the PNG experience of cargo cults: it diagrams clearly the truth of the system, and rendering it efficient, hopes to teach us one of two things: How to create our own system with ourselves as ruler; or to reject it and hope for something different, and maybe even try to make something not in the image of the system, but altogether different from it (and not in reaction to it).  That is to say, Church is a diagram which shows us how power works in this dispensation.  To find Church objectionable, is to find our modern “dispensation” objectionable.  We cannot change either one, for one exists to teach us about the other.  The church, one might say, is a metonym of the modern military-industrialized-consumption authority-seeking dispensation; it can train us to function effectively in that system, or teach us by often painful lessons that it we want nothing to do with it.

Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Presentation

I was invited to deliver a presentation to the above named conference, and attempted to use modern-day technology to do so, but found my plans thwarted.

Here is the presentation in full:

The Bible and its restoration of a stumbling block

One of the ironies of the Book of Mormon is that its translator and his scribe often misunderstood what the text says.  The term “restoration,” for example is clearly defined by Alma and others as something far greater than the bringing back of some Christian church, imaginatively pulled from the pages of the New Testament.  Restoration of the House of Israel is a bringing back of it to God, and this happens by the restoration of knowledge concerning his covenants and his mercy from the Creation on down to this afternoon.

The Restoration was a term from the Book of Mormon, defined there clearly, and describing most generally something like karma: that which you send out will come back to you, to your condemnation or salvation, if one’s ways have been merciful or unjust.

Six months after that book was published, however, a loose group of Restorationists affiliated with Alexander Campbell and his friend, Sidney Rigdon, were gathered on the farm of Isaac Morley outside Kirtland, Ohio.  They were living what they thought was Christian communism, a distinct part of their attempt to restore the ancient order of things.  Campbell and Rigdon did not practice community of goods, however, and sometimes argued over its restoration.

150 of these disciples, as they were called, were rebaptized by one of their own, Parley Pratt, who brought them the Book of Mormon, and speaking of a ‘New covenant’ which he did not, however, define.  This group called themselves “the family,” and referred to each other as “disciple,” or “brother” or “sister,” and belonged like another church from New York legally organized in April of 1830, to the general Church of Christ.

When Pratt offered to rebaptize these disciples, he did not baptize them into Mormonism, or the Mormon Church.  Neither of these existed yet as concepts or terms.  He baptized them, as one non-LDS historian then present later tells it, “unto miracles.”  Had they thought they were joining Pratt’s church, they would’ve been named followers or disciples of Christ, and their congregation yet another Church of Christ.  There was no change in offices, names, or churches in this rebaptism.   So what was Pratt doing?  He brought the Book of Mormon as a sign of the renewal of the Day of Miracles, that now miracles had been restored, and thus the New Testament Church was nearly fully restored.  Sidney Rigdon argued with Pratt over his authority, as some Mormon historians tell it.  But the matter of authority concerned his right to baptize “unto miracles,” which Rigdon regarded as being bestowed by the Holy Ghost, imparted by the laying on of hands.

By the time Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, he found the same organization that existed among the disciples before Pratt rebaptized them: Rigdon claimed the office of bishop, and there were elders, deacons, and teachers.  These were the offices defined by Alexander Campbell as strictly biblical, and part of the restoration of ancient things, as was baptism for the remission of sins, and the newly discovered “plan of salvation,” preached by Rigdon’s companion, Walter Scott, which had faith, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost as all that was necessary to obtain salvation, and to restore the true church.  Obviously nearly everything we think is Mormonism actually came from Alexander Campbell and his preachers, and they brought their biblical ideas into the Book of Mormon.

So, whatever the Book of Mormon said about the House of Israel, and its restoration to knowledge by the revelation of two currently hidden books, by late 1830 the term was redefined to mean what Christian tradition had meant for several centuries: the application of terms taken from the New Testament to describe one’s life, one’s family relations, roles like sinner and saint; and all the hierarchies and metaphysics of power which we now find ourselves subjected to in Mormonism.

When the Christian tradition of Restoration was taken by Rigdon and the Family into the Church of Christ formed by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, the entire reading of the Book of Mormon became determined by the very tradition two personages had described as “All Wrong,” full of Creeds declared abominations by God.  Yet before its first year was over, the Book of Mormon found itself confronted with the Great Stumbling Block.

What is the problem?

The Vision of Nephi found in First Nephi has an angel telling Nephi about a book which will go forth to all nations, and this book is a corruption of a text that once contained the testimony of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and many prophecies and covenants relating to the past and future of mankind.  This book the angel names The Book of the Lamb, and it comes to us as The Holy Bible.

The angel explains to Nephi that the corruptions happened not by accident, but in order to harden the hearts and blind the eyes of men, to bring them into unbelief, and ultimately into the captivity of the Devil.  So, the Book of Mormon begins with a claim about the bible: that it has brought all nations, as Nephi later prophecies, into captivity.  These nations are those he addresses when he warns about proclaiming that “all is well in Zion.”  It is not that all is not well in Zion, but that those who say are not, in fact, in Zion: they are in the Kingdom of the Devil, which must shake in order to awaken those souls brought into his captivity.  The Book of Mormon is the first alarm.

Yet when it was sounded in 1830, the translator and his scribe seemingly endorsed the Bible, and the Christian project of restoration of a bible-based church.  While Cowdery seems to have been as much a Restorationist as Sidney Rigdon, Alexander Campbell, and John Knox were, Joseph Smith was not so much interested in the restoration of the Church, as he was in bringing back the House of Israel, by restoring to them knowledge which was removed from the Book of the Lamb, and replaced by the silly tales and violence and power-plays now read inside the pages of the Christian bible.

When Joseph Smith gathered the disciples of Christ to a first conference of the Church of Christ, he read to them Oliver Cowdery’s Articles of the Church, and then read, ironically, from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 14.  It is full of subtle things, which we must understand if we are to understand Joseph Smith, and how the heavenly priesthood works, in contrast the Gentile one, which we can represent as coming from Sidney Rigdon, a man who was said to perform “a great work in the land, even among the Gentiles, for their folly and their abominations shall be made manifest in the eyes of all people.”  Indeed, Rigdon’s Restoration, and his bringing to Joseph Smith things taken from Campbell, like three grand orders of priesthood, and the restoration of primitive Christianity, continues to show the foolishness and abominations of we Gentiles, who insist that priesthood is the power that makes miracles.  It continues to be a great work.

Yet to  Rigdon the Lord make it clear, after the “great work,”  that it is by faith that miracles, signs and wonders occur, “unto all those who believe on my name.”  D&C35.  All the things now attributed to the priesthood, were described to Rigdon, called the walking bible, as the effects of faith.35:11 “But without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolations upon Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

When joseph Smith gathered the church of Christ in June 1830 he gave them, out of the bible of the Gentiles, these word:

CHAPTER 14

1 Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.

2 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?

4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;

5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.

6 ¶ Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.

7 For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:

8 And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

9 And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.

10 And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;

11 That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.

The Bible he read from was that Idol, the stumbling block of iniquity which has continued to bring men into captivity, and over the history of the book of Mormon, that text has been subjected to its evil purpose to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of men.

So, we must reimagine the Book of Mormon completely outside Christian tradition, and outside our definitions inherited from their bible.

The following is but a beginning:

Notice that the Garden of Gethsemane, the keystone of the LDS Church’s expansion of St.Anselm’s notion of atonement as vicarious sacrifice, that the garden is not mentioned in the entire book of Mormon.  Moreover, just as restoration is defined differently in that book from how Christian tradition has it defined, so is the term atonement.  Thus, our very experience with Christ is determined by the creeds he or his friends declared abominations.

Note that the tower of Babel is also not in the book of Mormon, although it was added to an introduction to the Book of Ether in 1879 by Orson Pratt.  When we locate the Jaredites inside biblical tradition, we inherit the bible scholars chronology, and folk tales, and this has done great damage to our understanding of the Jaredites.

Notice that our theory of the godhead is not very clearly discovered in the book of Momron, except as we rationalize away the clear statements where Jesus says he is the Father and the Son, as does Alma, Amulek, Abinadi, and the Brother of Jared.  So it appears that our theology comes not from the Book of Mormon, but from Christian traditions declared all wrong.

So why didn’t Joseph Smith fix everything, and explain how the bible as read by Restorationists is a work of evil, designed to captivate souls and bring them down to hell?  If we return to that passage from Ezekiel, chapter 14, it is clear that the prophet cannot speak but through the idols set up before men’s faces.

We have set up the bible, and continue to do so; and the fruit of it is the Corporation of the President, with all its hierarchies, biblical offices, and boastings about restoration of the church.  All of this we inherited from a tradition declared all wrong, and all of this has, over the course of nearly two centuries, been carefully integrated into our imaginations, so that when we read the Book of Mormon, we seldom see what is on the page, but instead our imaginations have been colonized by the bible, and by the structure and hierarchy we realize every Sunday, as we interact one with another.  Church, in other words, is but a flaxen cord leading us into captivity, and the Book of Mormon has been for too long subject to false traditions and idols, stumbling blocks of iniquity.

It is long past time for we Gentiles, to whom the Book of Mormon was prophecied to come, in order to show us the mercies of God, to realize that he is, and we are, not as the Bible describes.  When we received that book, we declared ourselves the House of Israel, and the restored Christian church as well, confusing the entire narrative, and blocking our understanding of what our role is in the history of the world.  If the bible is corrupted, we have no reason to believe we know anything about the House of Israel, nor the Promised Land, nor Moses nor even who these twelve apostles of the Lamb are.  When we remove the bible from our imaginations, we find that the Book of Mormon is a wonderland, and there is a vast landscape we know nothing about, because we’ve been using the wrong map.

The book of Mormon came to us, not so that we can build a fake church we pretend is just like the one in the New Testament, but so that our hearts might open, and we can believe in the One High God:  When the people at Bountiful prayed to the One High God, who appeared and blessed them?  It was Jesus.

With a reimagined reading of the Book of Mormon, liberated from the chains of the Christian bible, we can look forward to a good future not the Apocalypse: with new revelations from the Brass Plates and restoration of the Book of the Lamb, and with these new revelations, we Gentiles will actually find the remnant, those lost Lamanites once thought to be Indians, then this group, and now that group (depending on baptism rates rising among census populations).  When we find that small remnant, then the work of the Father will begin, a marvelous work and a wonder.

Until then we remain in the day of wickedness and abominations, having set up idols and stumbling blocks before our faces, and insisting that the Prophet will tell us all things necessary to our salvation.  We are in captivity, and it began with the Bible, and it will end when we free our minds from the bible, everytime we read the Book of Mormon.