GenCon14: Top Five Abused Nephi-isms: #4

  1. The Top Five ABUSED Nephi Quotes: #4

“For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men.”


By Elder Brother Ess


This expression is often abused by an institution eager to see their congregation continuously sleeping, whispering in warning, “Stick to the basics! It is so easy if you just do what you are told. Oh, and by the way, we are the ones who tell you what to do, but only because the Lord told us to tell you.”  “Plainness” in this reading is really just an obligation to not ask questions, and to go along with whatever is presented as Gospel: as in “Yes! (I will obey you!).”  It is given as an ethical responsibility for those without power to comply with.  The term has been shoe-horned into an institutional hierarchy’s concerns to draw circles around the world and its texts, with straight lines to one-word interpretations.  “Plain” in this reading is a fancy way of saying, “simple.”


This posture is contrasted in caricature with something said to be exhausting, nowhere-leading: a soul’s search for answers.   What is more complicated than asking questions, putting things to the test, and formulating one’s own answers based on constant pondering and questioning?  Man, Being Alive is sure not simple!  Surely Nephi is saying, KISS, right?  And we ought to liken ourselves to his audience?  “You need to follow a plan! Here is a diagram! You see the stick figure? That’s you… starting at this circle, moving through the squiggly line and going to that other circle. You’re here right now! And after you leave this circle you will go to that other circle, and then you want to get to the top of the three circles next to it… the one that has a sun in it. Of course, the moon circle wouldn’t be such a bad deal and even the star circle is way better than the circle you’re in right now. But you don’t want to follow the arrow that leads to the black cloud. It really is BAAAD. Then again, it’s pretty much impossible for you go there because you have to be practically perfect to qualify to fall that far. And that about sums it up. See, the Gospel is simple!” (


What is Plain?


We hear things like, “The Lord has a great many principles in store for us, and the greatest principles which he has for us are the most simple and plain,” or “Mysteries include those matters that are speculative. They are things which have not been revealed or are beyond our understanding. It is the plain, simple truth confirmed by the Spirit that converts when accompanied by the testimony of a humble servant of the Lord,” or other such nonsense from smiling men desiring to keep you in darkness.


Something simple should not be confusing.  Yet, how confused are they, in their false simplicity?  Plain is swapped out for Simple, and Simple calls up a false humility comfortable with platitudes, bullet-lists of doctrine, chalk-board theology, and being addressed as High-Grade Simpletons incapable of holding two thoughts simultaneously.  They speak of “Plain” as opposed to “Complex,” or “Mysterious,” or what anyone other than an approved speaker says.  Let me be plain, that is, giving an explanation that is not dark and obscure, demanding compliance; but light and answering a question.


Let’s look at this verse in context.


Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations. Wherefore, I write unto my people, unto all those that shall receive hereafter these things which I write, that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken.

Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.

Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.

But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them.


Notice that Nephi is qualifying his “plainness” in that it is directed to those who will “hereafter” receive his writings (including “my people,”), giving a message about “the judgments of God” made open by one filled with the spirit of prophecy.  Ironically, Nephi is required to give in plainness his reading of Isaiah because his audience is ignorant of Jewish learning.  And they lack the spirit of prophecy resting on him since his exile from Jerusalem.  When he starts, “let me speak in plainness,” he is also saying, “You lack the spirit of prophecy.”  Another prophet in our own day said something along these lines, many years ago.  In 1842 Joseph Smith addressed the Relief Society, reading to them from Ezekiel, and saying to them: Don’t Be Like Israel.  What was Israel Like, according to their own scripture?


And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!


O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD (Ezek.13:1-8).

Continuing his warning, the “Lord” says the priests have “seduced my people, saying, Peace, and there was no peace,” building walls but daubing it with mortar untempered.  To the overweening women of Jerusalem, spending their days “hunting souls,” the Lord announces, “I am against your pillows.”  Liken that to yourselves, O ye sleepers!

Anyway, Joseph Smith made particular mention of chapter 14, a passage he’d read at a conference many years earlier.  Now, in 1842, Joseph-Ezekiel-Lord said:

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?


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


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. 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: 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. 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. 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; 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 (Ezek.14:4-11).

Now, Joseph rendered this voice of an Idol (i.e., the Bible) in plainness, warning them they have had their minds darkened because they sought to follow a man, rather than to take upon themselves the burden of their own salvation.  Plainness is given as a feature of an interpretation of text, not as defining the Gospel Itself as Simplicity.  These Saints were like unto the Jews anciently, and that likeness allowed Joseph to bend this text to their dark minds.  Plainness is not simplicity, but instead a making plain, a showing of the truth.  He cannot give them light, however.  He can only point to where the light can be found.

What of our modern would-be Israel?  Plain is contrasted with Mystery, with Complex, with Difficult and Not-Yet-Known.  It says, “Peace! Let us build the wall, and daub it lightly!  Don’t look here, but keep your eyes there!”  However.  What is revealed by the spirit of prophecy is always plain, and thus, not a mystery except to the wicked who remain in darkness, and to those who follow such men as do err.  Plain is not contrasted with Mystery, however; but with Unbelieving, with a desire to Not-See.  Is this confusion-in-simplicity recent?  Clearly not.  1842 we find it, and Joseph gives us its cause.  In the 6th Century BCE we find it.  At the Foundation of the World we find it:

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation (D&C 93:29-32).

We can Liken Unto Ourselves that particular passage, being addressed to Man.  And what comes of Man’s refusal to receive what is plainly manifest by the light?  A sort of death, perhaps relying on puppet-masters to keep the corpse dancing.


Nephi adds a curious thing: “Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words…”  Since Nephi was learned in the ways of the Jews, and had the Brass Plates, it seems to me that he was invoking the Psalmist (Psalm 78), “Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” What follows that intro in the psalm is “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.”


“Plainness” in this case has a very specific purpose: to address the House of Israel. Specifically because they remain in darkness, and lacking the spirit of prophecy, they need another to lead them and explain.  Yet, when thus led, they remain in darkness!  How to give them light they might comprehend?  Or, another puzzle mentioned in Matthew: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”  Perhaps this question also leads Jacob to channel Isaiah in an earlier chapter of Second Nephi: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O house of Israel. When ye are weary he waketh morning by morning. He waketh mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.”  Our ears must be opened to hear as the learned: awake, eager to learn.  And then we must go about comprehending.


Perhaps you have come to see the “plainness” spoken by Nephi has to do with the House of Israel arising from the dust? These plain and precious truths are perhaps embedded in “parables.” It is speculation on my part, of course, but I believe that the things “kept secret from the foundation of the world” (and incidentally, I think the “foundation” is a place, not a time), are accessible by ALL those who are willing to receive Nephi’s words. This includes the Gentiles.  So we have a possible way for the House of Israel to comprehend what is plainly manifest: from the Gentiles, who will not lead them, but be numbered among them.


Nephi makes it clear in his own “prophecy” that his words will be understood by men in the last days, and will be of worth to them. How does this happen?  We must have the Spirit poured out, I suppose, and it would seem that at least one factor blocking that out-pouring is our waiting on a single leader to guide us in the darkness.  Acting like ancient Jews!  Nephi gives us a glimpse of Christ coming to earth, and foresees:


When that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things. And the Lord will set his hand again THE SECOND TIME to RESTORE HIS PEOPLE from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.


Can you see the light cast upon the folly of the Gentiles and our proud ways? Yes, but only if we take this foolish need for plainness-as-simplicity, spooned out by vain prophets, as a sign of our own condemnation: lacking prophecy ourselves, harkening to a single (corporation) man, we remain in darkness.  In this Fourth Abuse, we take an excerpt which is one part of an ornate mosaic and use it to prop up our institution, so to hide in its dark shadows, where we hear priests warning us to let them build walls and keep us safe.  Let us point this text toward us, and bend that one away, they demand.


There is another narrative going on here, throughout Nephi’s writings.  One that some readers remain oblivious to, caring only about how to “liken” happy anecdotes or edifying messages to ourselves, in as simple and vain terms as possible; all the while ignoring the Story of Mercy being told by God. I think there are roles for us to play in His tale, if we awaken from our narcissism.



GenCon14 Reprint: Like Unto = Evil

In the true spirit of General Conference, I am republishing this post, with additional material inserted here and there.


Like Unto = Evil

by  Insert Name Here


I would say, if anyone asked, that the “origin of evil” is probably to be looked for in the description, “one like unto God.” What does it mean to measure a being, especially God, and to suggest that another is “like” Him in some way? It is one thing to say you have your mother’s nose, but even that is somewhat false, as your mother’s nose is not hers, but inherited from another, and there is no origin to that particular nose. It is unique and ever changing; though we might recognize it looks sometimes more like mom’s nose than dad’s nose did at sometime. But we must stop the changing, and invent a representation of that nose in our mind. That representation is not the same thing as the nose represented. And that is the origin of evil.

It denies the absolute abundance of diversity created by God and others, and seeks to understand them according to classes and measurements, by arranging likenesses.
This does not mean “likeness” itself is evil (what Peirce would call “iconicity”), but rather the uses to which likeness are put, these are to be considered very often the means of introducing evil into creation. What comes of measurements of likeness?

Who assesses how much, in what ways, one is like unto God? At Elder’s Quorum on Sunday I was told that we can be Saviors on Mount Zion, and when I asked whether they meant that literally, or were just speaking of church callings with fancy terminology, some men insisted that indeed we could be like Jesus. That is the origin of evil, I’d say. Why, I ask myself? Likeness measured thus requires two parties, and another outside these two who assesses the similitude of the pair. And that assessment typically measures very intangible things like “worthiness” and “spirituality,” and so must rely on external signs of such intangibles. Thus we see systems arising for measuring (e.g., stats), which represent the likeness of an externality (tithing) to an intangible (belief), in order to assess the likeness of one thing to another (me and God, let’s say).

Contrast this easily corruptible approach, that always borders on compulsion and counterfeiting, with the declaration of God that the spirits and intelligences and noble and great ones were all, in the beginning, “good.” They are not like a good being, more or less, generally, but were called good. In opposition to this declaration one arose “like unto God,” but who was not God, who offered a plan for sifting, for measuring, for distributing the creation of God to those who obeyed him. We will prove them, he proclaimed, to see if they are indeed Good. Not content with beings being beings, he apparently insisted that beings must be like some other being, and thus built a hierarchy with himself as the measure for how high one might rise, and by what means.

How can you get evil from beings declared good? That is an important question, I suppose, and I think it comes from our freedom to act. We can fabricate likenesses, and when we believe we are like God for creating likenesses of his creations, we have introduced Evil into his work, and are fallen.

The Origin of Evil, then, in my non-theological understanding, is to be found in measuring representations of living things, a claim perhaps underwriting the prohibition on idols and graven images; and why art critics and book reviewers are capable of such mischief.

Why are you offering those sacrifices, Adam? They are in similitude, and that is the sign of a fallen man: he cannot see the difference between the image of a thing, and the thing imaged.  He imagines one can stand in for the other, and how far off is a market for sacrifices at the temple?

It is foolishness to suppose one man can suffer for the sins of another, and our law is just, and it forbids this, one Nephite said.

Contrast the one like unto God approach, with the advice, “Be Ye Perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect.” If we look to the preceding verses, in both 3 Nephi and the New Testament, we see how our Father is perfect. It is not some declaration for us to seek for “perfection,” in the abstract, and thus, always unattainable, but really trying to be like Jesus, as we’ve imagined him up. It is in the sending of rain on the just and unjust, blessings rather than cursings.

What comes of God being thus perfect? For our lives, I mean, and how we reflect on them?

We have no reason to assume our blessings have come of our own righteousness. This means there is no compulsion nor bribery which leads to righteousness, and no measuring worth doing; for you’ll find that the wicked are often blessed equally, if not in profusion, should you compare how much rain one has received with that sent upon another. If there is no material reason for righteousness, nor fear of wickedness because God will smite you with a plague, the only reason to do good, it seems to me, is because one prefers that to doing evil. And so we really are free to act.

But if we act in a manner that weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of our malice, as one being once was said to do, and suppose that this makes us like Jesus, we are not only fallen, but have introduced evil. Evil is not created, then, but is introduced by our imaginations, and thus it is not eternal, and so I would like to take up a debate with Lehi, someday, regarding the opposition of all things.

Here we have the origin of evil, in making one thing like another (counterfeiting, really), and passing it off as the real thing to unsuspecting souls. And the preservation of freedom is founded in the mercy of God.  It does not require sacrifice, nor involves any debt.   His perfection may well be the origin of us as free souls, and why we are good, although we often confuse a similitude of it for the true thing. Should we set up, say, an association of persons for the reason of discerning the difference, and then distribute through various means our methods for discovering the difference, we have, yet again, introduced evil into creation. There is, you’ll note by reading Moroni’s Promise, a difference between the “truth of it” and whether “these things are true.” True is an assessment of accuracy of likeness or fidelity (hi-fi); truth is apparently very different, and something we must ponder after reading “these things.”

Now, let’s consider Likening things to ourselves.

You can insert your name here, __________, if you’d like.  How do you Liken this to yourself?

You are saying, “It is addressed to me.”  Now, some messages don’t have explicit addressees.  Some do.  If we find a letter addressed to, say, “The People of Nephi, ca.575 BCE,” why would we re-address that to ourselves?

What comes of this kind of Likening Unto Ourselves?  The words are re-arranged.  Types and Figures imagined.  Patterns suddenly revealed.  Folly.  You have used the page to generate idols of your imagining, and are lost in wonder at your creation, and have become subject to them.

You cannot bring about specific events, happenings, visitations, and Zion itself by being a Type.  Lucifer failed at this, being a type of God, rather than just good ol’ Lucifer.  At the end of it all, he remains what he is.  “I am that I am” is a perfect description of an honest soul.  “I am like that person, character, deity…” is said by one who is alienated from itself.  Has been exorcised from its own being, and stands outside itself comparing itself to something else no longer seen aright.  We must have empathy, sympathy, and see the world from another’s perspective.  But we should not, it seems, pretend to be other than what we are.  What are we?  What am I?  What is _______?

If Zion is filled with Types of people, it is not filled with people but with images of them.  Gentiles?  Lamanites?  Gentiles become Lamanites?  Words for types of peoples, if you are thinking of races, nations, and so on.  Why not have, then, Zion be a picture of people?  Or a database?  Or a Facebook group?  What if you didn’t have the word, Zion?  What would you call this future society?  Would your description or guesses have the same weight, if you didn’t call it Zion?

It is clear, however, what ___________ must do, should ________ desire to become a child of our father in heaven.  To be an heir to his creation, but not Him.



GenCon14: The Top Five ABUSED Nephi Quotes: #5


The Top Five ABUSED Nephi Quotes

By Bro. Even Thomas Ess

Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I like Nephi. He’s the guy who was proactive in getting the Book of Mormon started, who gave us in vision the perspective of a Christian Israelite from before “the Messiah” had even shown up among the Jews and who had an appreciation for the poetry of Isaiah, channeling him often. I would love to sit in a room with Nephi and hear about his adventures in traveling through the wilderness, finding a curious steampunk compass, building a ship, discovering a new and strange land, dealing with his dysfunctional family, and on and on. He no doubt would make my life appear boring by comparison. I admire him and am appreciative of his efforts of starting something which has bettered the world.

Any gripes I might have with what he wrote are probably more about our culture and how we tend to turn any “religious” story into a devotional, creed or dogma. While Nephi does, in my opinion, quite often cross the line between common sense and zealotry, he can surely be pardoned given the environment in which he was raised. As Nephi himself admits: “I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. . .” but “I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations.”

If the Jews dealt in darkness and “doings of abominations,” it is conceivable that Nephi, just like Joseph Smith’s succumbing to Campbellite/Protestant influences, was a product of his time and culture, and would therefore reflect, at least to an extent, some of the “learning” that he had acquired. Not that Nephi worked in darkness or did abominable things, but as with any individual, God speaks unto men “according to their language and understanding.” Then again, Nephi called himself “wretched,” so perhaps it’s okay to believe him just a little in that regard. For the most part, however, my frustration comes from what we Gentiles have done with Nephi’s words. If he were to read this ‘talk,’ I suspect (or at least hope) that he would be saying, “I know, right?” to many of my points.

Finally, I am not necessarily disagreeing with the quotes presented. Rather, I am pointing out how we have possibly misinterpreted or taken them out of context, to our own detriment. So let the countdown begin:


  1. “Liken all things unto us”

You know that a scriptural expression has become a catechism when it gets its own theme song (link to Who can forget the campy seminary hit from waaaay back in 1975, Like Unto Us? For a refresher, here are the lyrics:

Like unto us, so the Savior said

And learn from days gone by.

Like unto us, it’s the surest way

To reach your home on high.

Every day we face new challenges

Hills that seem too steep to climb,

But other men have walked the same experience

And passed the test of time.


More torturous lyrics


Like unto us, now’s the time my friend

To heed their words of truth

Safe to know deep within your heart

Safe to love and work and prune

(okay, I’m not quite sure about that last word. Could be prune, or prove, but probably groove).

Looking at Nephi’s words more carefully, we learn that he was teaching his brethren from the Plates of Brass, (which were arguably much less tainted than anything we have today), and specifically talking about “the books of Moses.” Remember that in the Brass Plates, the five books of Moses “gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.” Nephi was reading this to his brethren so that he “might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer.” Nephi also specifically cites Isaiah at this point:

Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written.

One might ask, “What’s wrong here? Isn’t gleaning from those before us the way to go? Can’t we learn from those who have ‘walked the same experience?’” The problem is that we AREN’T LEARNING from what the Book of Mormon teaches us, we are merely aping their actions or assuming their words apply to us when they might not. Case in point:

  • Nephi is saying what HE did, not telling the reader (especially a Gentile reader) to do what he did.
  • Isaiah addresses the “House of Israel, a branch who have been broken off.” Nephi is very clear that he thinks his people are that branch, so why would Gentiles liken those words to themselves if they were meant for another group?
  • Nephi speaks of likening the “scriptures” to his brethren, but we have very little idea of what was contained in the Brass Plates (his “scriptures”). They had FIVE WHOLE BOOKS dedicated to the creation of the world (the thing he was likening to his brethren), while our understanding of the creation is a couple of short chapters in Genesis as well as a little further revelation from Joseph Smith.
  • Six hundred years after Nephi made his statement, the Lord came to Lehi’s children and said, “Old things are done away, and all things have become new.” If we are likening what Nephi says to ourselves, it’s like putting on a pair of smelly, used socks and calling our wardrobe “restored.” Or maybe putting new wine into old bottles? Why would we apply the things which have been done away in a world where the rules have changed?
  • Nephi (Isaiah) offers “hope” through this likening, to not only his immediate brethren, but to the tree from which the branch has been broken off (the House of Israel). That might speak more about the condition of that people and the reason why the “prophet” wrote “after this manner.” The purpose of likening here isn’t for us to “get what they got” (are we sure we want what they have?) or to follow some pattern which would take Likeners back to the presence of God. It is to offer hope to those who are presumably lacking or enduring a period of captivity.

We use Nephi’s words to push an agenda, one mostly of obedience and sacrifice (to the Church, that is). On this blog there has been made mention of cargo cults, (link to which were born out of native islanders witnessing never-before-seen airplanes during World War 2 landing, moving their cargo, taking off and doing all the magical things they do. They must have said amongst themselves, “If we liken the airports to us, then surely we will receive such bounteous riches that the white man now possesses. Let us build an altar with wings and a landing strip so that the gods can bring their abundance here!”


If you believe that we are the Gentiles spoken of by Nephi, the Lord, Mormon, Moroni and the others, then why don’t we liken the prophecies about us to ourselves? Furthermore, why can’t we look at the results of some of Nephi’s actions (like using Laban’s sword to fashion other swords and teach his people how to resolve conflicts with their brethren)? Nephi may not have connected the dots between a stolen saber and witnessing the destruction of his people in vision, but we surely can. In fact, Moroni, who had seen the beginning of his culture to the end, says, “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” If ever there was some instruction for us to receive, I think this should flash pretty brightly on our radars.

The concept we Gentiles use of “likening unto us” is not new. We likened the hell out of the Book of Mormon, “Another TESTAMENT of Jesus Christ,” to the Bible (New TESTAMENT and Old), complete with chapter/verse formatting, assumed understanding of the names and places mentioned in both books, and hierarchal organization with the Big P (Pope/Prophet) at the top. This all makes for good “slogans for everyone” fodder, as well as merchandisable products like music, trademarks, vinyl lettering and inspirational paintings to faithfully be hung in each Mormon home. Of course there needs to be middle management which can distribute and control the voice and persona of these things, so the Church eagerly steps in to market it via an institution. Viola, there you have it—a whole economy set up based on “likening unto us.”

While I believe we can learn from someone’s boneheaded mistakes (and we have plenty of examples in our own history), perhaps we should be wary of likening another person’s situation (even a prophet’s!) unto ourselves if it has no relevancy to our own. After all, Nephi did it to persuade his annoying brothers to believe in the Lord their Redeemer. I already consider myself a believer, so it may be that Nephi’s words at that moment have no application in my life, other than to hear his story from a first-person perspective. I’m good with that, and in that vein I am free to go explore and create something new and exciting, rather than likening myself to something dead. After all, if I liken myself to it, then I will eventually become it, and then perhaps Isaiah will have to do his thing to give me “hope” in my darkened state too.


Rather than some unrelated story to liken to ourselves, perhaps we should look at the words of Christ, which by His own mouth are a template for us to follow. But these things involve a change of our hearts and a willingness to let go of all the impotent traditions we have likened to ourselves over the generations, something Nephi seems to have not factored in when he admonished (or some might say threatened) with the rod of iron. I don’t see any programs or checklist of performances in this Gospel. Rather, it is just BE-ing as Jesus is: patient, forgiving, merciful, and willing to walk a mile with anyone who has the desire for your company. Yes, it even involves creativity. Apparently at some point kings will shut their mouths at the thought of this wondrously imaginative work and consider something new which they had not heard before. That sounds a whole lot more fun than checking off some list of do’s and don’ts and forever grinding the Grain of Futility on the Likening Mill. Let us toss out the stencils and see what happens when we pour our own hearts into painting on the clean canvas.


To be continued…..


Attachments area

Preview YouTube video Seminary Mormon Music – Like unto us – Original song version 1975

Seminary Mormon Music – Like unto us – Original song version 1975

Preview YouTube video Cargo Cult

Cargo Cult

GenCon14: “On Jesus’ Prophecy”

“On Jesus’s Prophecy to the Disciples at Bountiful as Recorded in 3 Nephi 15-16 of The Book of Mormon”


[Not the actual speaker, but his tie does make his words believable, I suppose.]


In 3 Nephi chapter 16, Jesus speaks, as part of a communication started in chapter 15, to the twelve he had chosen, of other sheep he must visit. He instructs them to write down the things he said to them after he leaves, against a day when, perhaps, those who knew him at Jerusalem would be too unconcerned to inquire of the Father about others whom they didn’t even know existed–others also visited by him. The disciples were obedient to this request, having written all that transpired of Jesus’ visit onto the Plates of Nephi (referred to as “these sayings” in verse 4), which would one day–a latter day–be made known to the Gentiles. A partial account of Jesus’ visit, taken from the Plates of Nephi and identified as the lesser part, was written into the gold plates by Mormon, which we now read (in translation) as part of The Book of Mormon today (see 3 Nephi 26). In this, Mormon’s glimpse, we read of that day, when the greater things (to use Mormon’s phrase) will be made manifest to the Gentiles, contingent on their belief, when events spoken of in 3 Nephi 16 will subsequently take place–fulness of the Gentiles, a metonym for Gentile reception of greater things; subsequent rejection, savorless salts, previous covenants remembered and fulfilled, etc.

This establishes the who and the when. What wickedness, then, to echo an oft expressed question? Gentile pride, lyings, deceits, mischiefs, hypocrisy, murders, priestcrafts, whoredoms, secret abominations, all in the face of this greater revealed text (and others, I suspect) shown them; in spite of what they will surely know about it and what it says about this Jesus. This rejection, among those to whom these greater things will come, will mark a new chapter when God will reverse the tables, so to speak, and will again remember his people, Israel, and will establish his gospel among them, and among the remnant of those who knew him in Jerusalem, bringing along any Gentiles as are willing and able to shed their polluting ways.


I include the subject text for convenience, taken from 3 Nephi chapters 15 and 16 of The Book of Mormon, reformatted below from its current two-column chapter and verse format to aid in reading, and which include my comments in [square brackets]:


[Mormon’s “abridgement” of the Plates of Nephi written to the gold plates (3 Nephi 15:11)]

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he said unto those twelve whom he had chosen:


[Jesus’s words, copied as direct quote from the Plates of Nephi by Mormon onto the gold plates]


Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph. And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you. And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem. Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land. This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them, that, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them. But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you. And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them. And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching. And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost. But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me. And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister. For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them. But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.

And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer. And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel. And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father. “Behold, because of their belief in me,” saith the Father, “and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them. But wo,” saith the Father, “unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles.”

For notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them; and because of the mercies of the Father unto the Gentiles, and also the judgments of the Father upon my people who are of the house of Israel, verily, verily, I say unto you, that after all this, and I have caused my people who are of the house of Israel to be smitten, and to be afflicted, and to be slain, and to be cast out from among them, and to become hated by them, and to become a hiss and a byword among them—and thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: at that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, “Behold,” saith the Father, “I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.”

And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel. “But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me,” saith the Father, “behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel. And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down,” saith the Father, “but if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel.” Verily, verily, I say unto you, thus hath the Father commanded me—that I should give unto this people this land for their inheritance. And then the words of the prophet Isaiah shall be fulfilled, which say:


[Jesus quoting Isaiah, presumably from the Brass Plates] Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing, for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.


The extended quote ends here. Jesus first speaks of various peoples, then lays out the relative timing of events contingent on the manifestation of the record of things he has said, and is saying, to his audience. The following groups are identified, described here in no particular order:


  1. His disciples, which are the twelve Jesus had chosen prior to this passage, as recorded in 3 Nephi 11. They are to be a light unto the people, and have been given the land of Bountiful as an inheritance by the Father.
  2. The people gathered at Bountiful, identified as a remnant of the house of Joseph, and the “other sheep” spoken of by Jesus to their brethren at Jerusalem, who are utterly unaware of them. Among those given to Jesus by the Father (his people), they were separated from their brethren at Jerusalem because of (their brethren’s) iniquity, and were also promised the land of Bountiful as an inheritance, although they will be scattered by Gentiles who will come into the land.
  3. Their brethren at Jerusalem, those who saw Jesus and were with him in Jerusalem, had no knowledge of the people Jesus visits at Bountiful or elsewhere. Jesus calls them his people and describes them as stiff necked and unbelieving, and because of this are never directly told of those separated from them. They misunderstood Jesus when he spoke to them of “other sheep,” supposing it referred to Gentiles. The remnant of their descendants to be scattered over the earth, they have a future promise of re-gathering and the return to a knowledge of Jesus, through the fullness of the Gentiles.
  4. The Gentiles were identified by Jesus as those to be converted through the preaching of those at Jerusalem, never to receive a witness of him in flesh, but only through the workings of the Holy Ghost. They are to be blessed for their belief in Jesus, and cursed for unbelief. The mercies of the Father will be unto them, and they will come forth into the land of Bountiful, will scatter the house of Israel, hate them, cast them out from among them, trample them underfoot, and otherwise treat them poorly. The full account of Jesus’s visit to Bountiful, as contained in the Plates of Nephi, will be made manifest to them, which event is called the fullness of the Gentiles. The rejection of this text, alongside a laundry list of sins committed by the Gentiles will mark the beginning of the restoration of knowledge to the house of Israel, when the fullness will pass to them, with any repentant Gentiles being counted among Jesus’s people. Unrepentant Gentiles are described as savorless salt, to be trampled underfoot by the house of Israel, in a future tragic turning of the tables.
  5. Other “other sheep” (that is, distinct from the “other sheep” identified as the people at Bountiful) are mentioned by Jesus in these passages. They were not from Bountiful, nor Jerusalem, nor from anywhere Jesus had already been, and therefore had not as yet heard nor seen Jesus in the flesh, but would be visited by him, and numbered along with the people at Jerusalem and Bountiful as his sheep. Jesus mentions that other tribes had been separated from those at Jerusalem, like those at Bountiful, for similar reasons, and with similar consequences. I am inclined to think these other “other sheep” include these other tribes, but it is not entirely clear to me from the text that this is the case.
  6. The house of Israel is introduced as Jesus speaks of the restoration of knowledge to the scattered remnant of the descendants of those at Jerusalem, through the fullness of the Gentiles. The phrase acts as title for those given promise to be remembered ultimately, and shown mercy–Jesus’s people, the combination of all scattered parties: those at Bountiful, remnant of descendants of those at Jerusalem, others separated, as well as Gentiles repentant of their rejection of the fullness of the gospel.
  7. The prophet Isaiah (mentioned at the end of the passage), whose prophetic words describing the restoration of Jerusalem are said to be fulfilled by the events being described by Jesus.
  8. Redeemer, a title used by Jesus to describe himself as one who remembers the promises made to his sheep, and as one who returns (restores) knowledge, in spite of previous unbelief, as contrasted to the way the title is commonly used to refer to one whose life was given in ransom, or as payment of some kind.


A loose timeline of events can also be constructed from this passage. I list the events here in relative order:


  1. Various peoples (tribes) “separated” from the unbelievers at Jerusalem.
  2. Jesus’s ministry among the confused at Jerusalem (and his mention of other sheep at Bountiful)
  3. Jesus visits the people at Bountiful
  4. Jesus visits yet other sheep
  5. Account of Jesus’s visit to Bountiful recorded onto Plates of Nephi by the disciples (“these sayings”)
  6. Mormon’s abridgement onto gold plates (which includes, according to Mormon, the “lesser part,” a partial account of Jesus’s visit to the people of Bountiful taken from the Plates of Nephi)
  7. Gentiles to come forth on the face of the land, blessed for belief, ongoing scattering house of Israel and remnant of seed of those at Jerusalem and Bountiful, smitten, afflicted, etc.
  8. Joseph Smith’s translation of gold plates published as The Book of Mormon (which contains the translated “lesser part” found in 3 Nephi)
  9. [You are here]
  10. Fulness of Gentiles: the account of Jesus’s visit at Bountiful as recorded on the Plates of Nephi by his disciples to be manifested to the Gentiles
  11. Fulness rejected by Gentiles, pride, lyings, deceits, etc., etc.
  12. Fulness taken from Gentiles, given to house of Israel
  13. Covenant remembered
    1. Tables turned (Gentiles trodden under feet of house of Israel)
    2. Scattered peoples brought to knowledge of Jesus, all gathered in, repentant Gentiles numbered among them, Isaiah’s words as recorded on Brass Plates considered fulfilled


The way it reads, the future events described by Jesus pivot around the manifestation of a certain (preserved) text to the Gentiles, and it is the presence of this text that marks them as Gentile. What text? The Book of Mormon? Hardly. Based on what? Well, Jesus’s words which seem to indicate otherwise, and for another reason. I include another passage, written by Mormon, in 3 Nephi chapter 26:


And now there cannot be written in this book [gold plates] even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; but behold the Plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people. And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken. And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation. Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the Plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying, “I will try the faith of my people.”


“The people,” “this people,” “my people,” I’ll be honest and say I’m not quite sure who is being referred to by all these phrases–”the people” probably refers to the group at Bountiful several hundred years prior to Mormon. The “this” is the singular form of what I understand to be referring to some group contemporary to Mormon, with emphasis on the group, and not its individuals (else I would have expected something like “these people”). “My people” had reference to a particular gathering of folks at one time by Jesus, as described above, but is that the case here? However, one thing seems clear, and that is that the account of Jesus’s visit was initially being copied wholesale from the Plates of Nephi by Mormon onto his plates. So why was Mormon doing this? Mormon claims that his copy was to go to “this people” via the Gentiles, according to Jesus’s words (where did Jesus say this?). The account of Jesus’s visit as recorded onto the Plates of Nephi would also be preserved and manifested to the Gentiles, but, and this is the distinguishing thing, in order to go to the remnant of the seed of those at Jerusalem. So Mormon was making a copy of the story of Jesus’s visit knowing the version he held in his hands as part of the Plates of Nephi was ultimately destined for some other group. This means to me that The Book of Mormon is most certainly not the text prophesied by Jesus to mark the beginning of the fulness of the Gentiles.


Of course, I’m often told differently in Mormon circles–the prophesied text is often interpreted as The Book of Mormon, and its rejection by those to whom it has come as indicating the “fullness of the Gentiles,” with Gentiles variously interpreted as non-Mormons, or wealthy Mormons, or the Corporation of the President and its financial dealings, or whatever, depending on the day or what flavor of Mormonism (true-blue, fundamental, neo-, ex-) one happens to align themselves with. Regardless, the book is something prophetic. A prophecy of what? Of things yet to come; things to look forward to, or to be believed in. Something to catch attention and to develop faith, in other words. A preparatory text, guide, map, or plan that tells what to expect, and what promises were made, analogous to a musical overture, intended as introduction to a more extensive work.


Things never mentioned in this prophecy? No restoration of church or religion, or priesthood-as-magic-power, or its keys; no mention here of engagement in world wide missionary programs as part of gathering of first the living, then the dead, then of food before a frightful apocalyptic end of what appears to be an evil, evil world prior to the triumphal second coming of Jesus; nor of The Book of Mormon going to Lamanites-as-obvious-group. None of the people or places mentioned can be positively identified by anyone lacking firsthand knowledge today, which means nothing it says can possibly be used to validate anything tradition tells us about old or new worlds, or testaments, or Indians, Jews, Gentiles, tribes, the law or the prophets…think what we will. We might like to believe that as readers of The Book of Mormon we are able to develop histories, reconstruct cultures, and point to someone’s descendants even, but no such thing is possible given what we currently possess. Much is still sealed, and the right text(s) would be a great help. The gospel is, according to Jesus, a story; his story, and one which is still not completely known to us.

Roll Call of Nations

I don’t want to interrupt the ongoing discussion about the Living Church, but am providing a brief intermission:

Roll Call of Nations Represented at GenCon14 so far:

U.S., Canada, Australia, Lao People’s Dem., Netherlands, New Zealand, Jordan, Martinique, Romania, Jersey, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Finland, South Africa, U.K., Brazil, Philippines, Russia, Switzerland, and Argentina.

If you’d like to submit something, please let know by “commenting,” and I will send you an email.

Next Talk: “On Jesus’ Prophecy…”

It grows with claims on “The Living Church,” and points in a specific direction for said Living Church to turn toward.


GenCon14: “The Living Church”

Our First Speaker at GenCon14, on “The Living Church”


NOTE: This is NOT the speaker’s official photo, but a photo of a person animated into existence by an authority.

Again and again, before our time, men have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. -G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man


As I recall my Mormon Lore, there came a time in the early days of the church when the Saints ceased to drink the sacramental wine. Fearing that they would partake of a tainted bottle purchased from their enemies, they received a Voice saying, it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory.


Here is an interesting measure of a people: What they choose to do when it doesn’t matter. And what did the Saints therefore choose to do? Did they, by the labor of their own hands and their own feet, press a pure wine of the grape of the vine, of [their] own make? Apparently they did not. Instead, they began to drink water.


Turning wine into water–I suppose that is a sort of reversed miracle, if you like. I wonder if there were those who discerned anything portentous in that development, because it seems to me a sign of something.


What did it signify when Jesus changed water into wine? What was the wine in relation to the water? Water brought green to the fields and cholera to the belly, but filter it through the vine and it became living water, fit for sacraments. Maybe that is how the people of Jesus’ day saw it. I don’t know. Whatever it was, now we have water again, because–lacking the time to make wine and the stomach to contain it–our forebears chose to drink water instead of wine. Not only did they choose water, but they made it official so as to ensure that all would drink only water ever after.


When Chesterton reflected on the trajectory taken by Christendom, from its birth until his own time, he did not see apostasy. Instead, he saw death. Christianity, as a living body of constituent members, more than once had lost its inner vitality and died; but it had risen again as many times, for it had a god who knew the way out of the grave.


In Chesterton’s estimation, by the late nineteenth century the Church had already managed to die several times through persecution, disease, and even (oddly enough) from old age. Although the body–still a named thing and concrete–remained behind, its soul was gone. We know, Chesterton wrote, how completely a society can lose its fundamental religion without abolishing its official religion. In the dead church, there was never any want for official things.


But the church had found its way out of the grave, apparently, and how was this accomplished? As a Mormon full of Mormon traditions and ideas, I find it more curious and interesting to consider how, apparently, this return to life did not happen.


Chesterton seems to have recognized restoration as a kind of vandalism or violence. Life is not imposed from without, as is restoration, but it sparks and arises from within the body so long as the conditions of the body favor it and there exists a supply of fuel to sustain it. Life is an inherently autonomous phenomenon, an innate attribute of the living thing. The Christian god had an affinity for life and the power to take it up again of his own volition after it had been lost. He didn’t die and then get resuscitated by some external force which, finding the life that had been lost like some lost penny, returns it again to the previous owner. So it was also with the Church.


Even living things of the usual variety cannot ascribe their lives to external forces acting upon them. While it’s true that a dying body might receive a shock from outside of itself in order to remind it what it means to live, or the freshly expired body might be revived in a similar fashion; and while all living things require nourishment for the continuity of life, these restorations only serve to renew the body in that which it already does naturally. These external things may influence, but they do not prescribe the form or the function that a life will take.


Now consider the case of the mortician, who works all day in the presence of dead bodies. He is at best a restorer, imparting only the blush of life to a corpse. Imagine the madness that would ensue were the mortician to install animatronics and rigging too, so that one might shake the hand of the recently deceased at his own funeral. It would be restoration run amok (a mockery?), and yet it appears to me that we have a religious restoration even more preposterous than this, if such a thing can be conceived.


I can imagine the insane funeral director who, having grown bored of the usual stiffs, offers an entirely new product: full-service funerals for unknown corpses. We have tombs for them, why not viewings too? Better yet, let’s forget the funeral business altogether and break into a new market. Let us instead raise the unknown hero up, give him a name and a history, and make him sit among us, offering eulogies and fine recollections of things that might have been.


How is such a thing to be done? The remains of some creature or other are first dug up or imagined among the rocks and roots. Surely these are the pieces of a bygone hero, a martyr who died in the service of a holy cause! Let a portrait be drawn to erase all uncertainty and the fossils assembled in like fashion, with servos and rods and a loudspeaker to proclaim noble things, as if this new monster were some old friend returning from a long absence.


Maybe that is a restoration service worth writing about on billboards, but it’s more suited to a freak-show economy of tourism than whatever economy it may have serviced before its descent into madness.


It would be a strange project to say the least, not to mention one that must inevitably fall to pieces whenever its author is not around. The precondition for this simulated, said to be restored, life is the presence of directors–commissioned handlers–to supply the required inputs to the dead system. When there is nobody around to speak through the corpse, or to program its motors, or to pull on its strings, it just sits there attracting none but the flies that pester it incessantly. Only a continuous stream of instruction–let us call it revelation–by one who stands at its head can make this dead thing dance.


The one who stands at the head of the church, be it man or god, is as the manipulator who operates a complex marionette, giving it a semblance of life without the essence of it. The will of the master is revealed at the ends of long cords, jerking and pulling on the compliant limbs of a dead body. There are no genuine, functioning organs here, only hinges and tools to answer the purposes and plans of another. What would it matter should the limbs become self-aware and feel happy and willing as they are being jerked around? Members of this body do not hear their own callings, nor do they operate and interact according to their own intrinsic natures and constitutions. Instead, they receive their predetermined programs by assignment–programs designed to accommodate the strange, unnatural workings of this new body. Members of this body become fungible components which–should any of them show signs of life in straining against the strings–can easily enough be swapped out for more pliable equivalents. Such a system can never die, because it was never alive in the first place. I suppose, however, that its members could eventually wear out and break down, and the body could find itself in a state of decay.


To say that there is one who stands at the head of a church, constantly revealing and regulating its necessary function, is as good a confession of dilution, death, and damnation as any I can think of. It is dilution because it has a levelling effect, endlessly repeating itself and producing sameness; death because any appearance of life is coterminous with and wholly dependent on its authority, without which nothing can be done; and damnation because we can’t see it for what it is. How could it not be alive? What dead thing could dance a jig like that? Like Jane Austen’s Wickham, this puppeteer simpers and smirks and makes love to us all.


If, as Chesterton claimed, Christendom could die–and had in fact died–then it was once a living thing whose members had the ability to self-organize and sustain the whole even as they were sustained by it. It must have had its own volition and the ability to wade upstream without being dragged there.


It may be that any genuine, living body is also sustained from one moment to the next by that which it cannot produce for itself. In other words, it must seek nourishment, and that nourishment acts as a constraint. Still, an endless variety of life may be sustained by the same source of energy; there is no universal requirement for all that must be expressed by living beings only because they have partaken of a particular thing. The nourishment is not the same thing as the life or the will, nor is it the source of life. Can nourishment be heaped upon a stone and cause the stone to live?


The agents responsible for life are free agents, that is to say, they have self-purpose. This is in contrast to bonded or commissioned agents that are given their purpose and direction from an outside authority. When a commissioned agent receives from the original authority, that agent expresses or embodies the authority as a vessel or a container. It displaces or conforms itself in order to channel something else. On the other hand, when the free agent receives from the original authority, it is as nourishment; but the free agent uses that substance to express itself rather than to lose itself. Free agents are therefore living things, and that is what our scripture means when it says to act for themselves and not to be acted upon. By definition, the free agent is free because it does not answer to an imposed authority.


To be a free agent, then, does not mean to choose for oneself between the imagined, enumerated, and finite choices offered by authoritative voices, but rather to act for oneself in expressing one’s being. Acting does not always entail consciously choosing between discrete possibilities; often it means creating new ones. When I hear Mormons talk about the importance of free agency, I scratch my head. Aren’t we sustaining commissioned agents who reveal universals and absolutes? Those aren’t free agents, and neither are the ones who submit to them for the sake of authority.


The member-agents of the living body are not all of the same character. I once had a year-long correspondence with a man who at last invited me to visit him at his shop in Minnesota. Upon discovering that I am a Mormon, he felt it necessary to warn me that he was a Jew… and an atheist! A Jewish atheist? At the time, I wondered if that was even possible. Wouldn’t one requirement for being a Jew be to believe what all Jews surely believe in?  Well, I travelled to his shop where we became better acquainted, and I found him to be apparently an active member of his synagogue.


The membership of my Jewish friend in the body of his community was not predicated on some conformance to a machine blueprint. It was not like membership in a Wholesale Shopping Club which might be rescinded should the member cease operating as the Director has laid out in the official Terms and Conditions. There was no central institution which, stealing the identity of the body, safeguards its imagined purity and purges it of organs it no longer agrees with, robbing them of their heritage. My friend somehow acted as a member of a body that still survived largely on religious traditions, all the while expressing himself as a Jewish atheist. The Jews were his people, and he couldn’t stop being one just because he happened to consume their traditions in a curious, contrary way. Maybe he and others that are like him are toxic agents, and the body will eventually die or cast them out, but I doubt it. I guess sometimes the body needs bile in order to perform its functions. I think, as Chesterton did, that it is more common for these bodies to die when their constituents grow slack.


In a machine or a robot, anything present that is not specified in the universal master plan must be rejected. The machine will break or malfunction if non-standard stuff is found in there. One will not find the usual organs, either. Certainly no bilious gallbladder or superfluous appendix will be present. There is not a lot of tolerance for those messy, misshapen, ill-understood things. The machine itself may prove superfluous in the end, but all of its pieces are explicitly called for in the manuals. It seems that just the opposite is true in living things, which organize around systems of organs ranging anywhere from the mundane to the outrageous.


All of the members of a dead machine must be catalogued and periodically inspected for soundness in order to enjoy full participation in the body. It is relatively easy to find oneself an “ex” member of such a thing, since membership in it is more a question of official standards than it is of volition and inner purpose. These centralized, managed memberships are yet another sign of systemic death.


The American social philosopher, Eric Hoffer, thought that humanity will only achieve its greatest potential when people of different interests, skills, and tastes know each other, commune daily with each other, emulate, antagonize, and spur each other. That is the sort of element from which living communities might emerge, and that is how I believe Chesterton’s dead Christendom was able to find its life again. The living church self-organizes and emerges from a community of converging, synthesizing free agents. It has never been engineered back into existence.


Again in Chesterton’s words, we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the water floods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down and went on forever. But Thou hast kept the good wine until now.


In the dead church, the good wine will be withheld until we have had our fill of dilution. Have we had our fill? We may still partake of the good wine yet, but we have allowed ourselves to be fashioned into the wispy limbs of a flailing scarecrow when we might have been rooted in deep soil, infusing the water with our own chemistry to make it live. We are the vines, and we should be growing the fruit for a vintage worthy of the blood of God.