Friday, October 28, 2011

Guest Announcement: Hepp(ner)ing Up Moby Dick

The San Diego Opera has just announced a cast change for next season's Moby Dick (by Jake Heggie). Canadian Heldentenor Ben Heppner will come and sing Ahab in place of Jay Hunter Morris, who will instead be singing the Götterdämmerung Siegfried with the Metropolitan Opera instead. That, my friends, is no downgrade by any stretch of imagination! 
Moby Dick stage photo by Karen Almond for the Dallas Opera & San Diego Opera
Anyhow, San Diego Opera performs at the Civic Theater in downtown, of course. All operas are sung in original language (never mind the English names used). Here's ticketing & schedule info:

The 2012 International Season
Richard Strauss' Salome: January 28, 31, February 3 and 5 (mat), 2012
Jake Heggie: Moby-Dick: February 18, 21, 24 and 26 (mat), 2012
Gaetano Donizetti's Don Pasquale: March 10, 13, 16 and 18 (mat), 2012
Renée Fleming in Concert March 24, 2012
Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville: April 21, 24, 27 and 29 (mat), 2012

Single ticket prices, through December 31, are $50, $100, $120, $130, $160, $200 and $210 (with some seats on select nights slightly higher).

Tickets to Renée Fleming in concert start at $100 and up.

Three or four-opera subscriptions for the 2012 International Season are still available. Subscriptions range from $120 - $1,100.

Tuesday Night Senior Discounts are also available for a full series four-opera subscription. Proof of age is required. Call (619) 533-7000 or online at for more information.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Just A Thought: A Bell-Ringing Quote

“If I might begin a slight rant about one of the problems I find -- even on websites like It's a good thing that people talk about [the violin]. But if you go on YouTube – especially among young people, they have this sort of competition-type attitude when they listen to violinists play.

They make comments like, "This person sucks." If one says someone plays something well, the idea that you need to trash someone else. Of course, you have your favorite. But I think it's really important for young people to open their minds to other ways of playing and other ways of appreciating music.

I find that it's sort of a novice mistake. I find it even more among complete amateurs, who are not even in music at all. They've grown up with their one recording of a piece. They'll complain to me, "Oh, I heard this opera sung by this person. And oh, it's terrible, because it should be this way." Because this is the way they view that piece.

They're not able to open up their minds and enjoy it on the terms that the person is presenting it – as a performance. I'm guilty as much as anybody. But if you can unblock yourself and try to get inside an interpretation of someone that may be eccentric, or listen to an old Mischa Elman, without saying, "Oh God, those gross slides. Listen to the tasteless stuff." If you can try to get beyond that, and really see the poetry that's underneath it -- it's a different sound. There's room for a lot of ways of playing. That's what makes it so rich and interesting in the musical world.”
                   - Joshua Bell, Interview with Laurie Nils for (August 2008)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Halloween Dog Tricks by Kikopup

If you are a dog-lover, you ought to know about Emily Larlham AKA Kikopup on Youtube. She is a major advocate for positive-reinforcement only style of dog-training. How effective is this training method over the old fashioned punishment-based training? Have a look at this video (I'm afraid the youtube embedding has been disabled, so you'll have to click on the link to see).
Oy vey, I'm almost glad my roommate's dog isn't nearly as well-trained...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 4 - Mormon Battalion Museum & General Conference

Entire Mormon Encounters series
Part 1: First meeting       Aside 1, Aside 2 
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

The first weekend of October saw this year's 2nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Apparently this biannual event is a big deal to the Mormons. The missionary sisters hold their top level church leaders in such high esteem that not even the Superbowl would excite them as much as getting sit in front of the television to watch these revered old men (and one woman, the president of the church's Relief Society) speak to them about what god supposedly wants from their lives.

Being quite fascinated by their overwhelming adoration I decided to catch a bit of the GC Saturday morning broadcast online before heading uptown. It was quite interesting... for a while (there is only so many 'Obey the prophet! Be obedient!' I could take in any one sitting). The most revealing of the speeches I caught live was this one by Elder L Whitney Clayton... This church is nothing if not ambitious.

You can watch, listen, and/or read all the speeches here (I wouldn't just read the text transcripts without watching the videos, though, I've read several complaints by ex-Mormons about how portions of the talks that don't go over well with the general public have a way of failing to show up in the transcript). The active Mormons I've talked to afterward uniformly loved all of it and thought all the speeches were inspiring. Being an outsider heathen that I am, I wonder if they aren't all afflicted by church-induced Stockholm Syndrome. Boyd Packer frankly alarmed me no less than Whitney Clayton did, and Packer is next in line to become the church's president/prophet/seer/revelator after the relatively more easy going Thomas Monson. (It is a bit weird, thinking about it, how my missionary sisters all think that the church's presidency is divinely chosen considering how the post always passes onto the most senior member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles).

Saturday afternoon was even more interesting. I caught the bus up to Old Town State Park and walked around checking out the arts fair before dropping in to the Mormon Battalion there to see my proselyting sisters (they had invited me round for a free tour of the historical site). You know, supposedly most of the Mormon missionaries are elders (men), but somehow I am perpetually surrounded by cute missionary sisters instead. Is that lucky? I don't know... Of course, hanging out with cute and nice ladies who aren't talking about craft, makeup, clothes, or men (except for the late Joseph Smith Jr) is a decidedly pleasant proposition. The downsides, of course, are that they are practically nuns (no misbehavior allowed!) and utterly devout, having volunteered to do this missionary thingy out of their own religious conviction rather than from peer/social pressure like many of their male counterparts were subjected to.
Mormon Battalion in Old Town San Diego (Oct2011)
Located on the east side of Juan St just north of Heritage Row, the Mormon Battalion is actually owned and operated by the LDS Church rather than Old Town State Park. It is a well-kept building with lots of historical artifacts and a state-of-the-art video projection wizardry that would wow even non-religious skeptics like me during the guided tour. There are pseudo-interactive talking pictures on the walls, and well blended in movie screens in each room as visitors are guided through the events of 1846 when Brigham Young (the LDS church's then president/seer/prophet) compelled over 500 Mormons to volunteer to fight for the US Army during the Mexican-American War. 

The story is told in such unabashedly pro-church manner that I found myself almost indecently amused while listening to it. Whoever wrote the script evidently tried his best to present the church and its then leader, Brigham Young, in a highly favorable light, but group-thinking undermined his ability to accurately gauge his non-Mormon audience, making the propaganda so painfully obvious that I saw nothing but overt abuse of power from the LDS church leaders. 
Statue in front of the Mormon Battalion
According to the film, in 1846 the much prosecuted Mormons (yes, they were rather unfairly prosecuted and picked on by the over-reactive Christians back then) were encamped in Council Bluffs, Iowa trying to find a way to fund their emigration to the 'promise land' somewhere out west. They had a legitimate complaint against the US government's prosecution of their religion (nobody liked polygamists then... or now, even), and when the US Army sent Capt. Allen to the camp to ask for volunteers to march southwest to San Diego to help the United States fight against Mexico he found no taker whatsoever. 

The army's offer of money and arms caught Brigham Young's attention, though, so the prophet went about with Capt. Allen and told his flocks that this army enlisting opportunity was "god's will" that will provide the Mormons with enough cash to fund their trek west. With the prophet coming down on the side of the army and promising that they wouldn't have to use their weapon at all even though they were heading to war (the missionary sister who did the tour-guiding actually further clarified that god had promised the volunteers 'safety'), over 500 able Mormon bodies enlisted. They marched through the unforgiving terrain and forced a wagon trail all the way to the Pacific Coast. A few died of sickness along the way, and attachments of the sicks were diverted to rehabilitate in Pueblo, Colorado. The 1,900 miles trek took so long that the Mormons missed all the battles with the Mexican and arrived to San Diego after the end of the war. The only things they got to shoot at were a bunch of wild bulls that threatened to run over their camp along the way. 
A missionary sister (left, in costume) gives a guided tour of the Mormon Battalion. She spent much of the tour talking to pseudo-interactive talking pictures and window-like movie screens.
The morals of the day; Brigham Young promised 'safety' and that was delivered because they never had to fight the Mexican (never mind that a few did die during the trek), the journey was obviously god's plan because the financial gain from army payment and the irrigation skills the troops learned from the Southwestern Indians they met along the way allowed the Mormons to move into and successfully populate the modern day Utah. God protected the Mormons, and if you want to hear more about what this church is about and how you, too, can know god, don't forget to fill out this comment form here with your name and contact information. And, while you're at it, why don't you also put down the contact information of a few other friends who might like to hear from us, too?
Yes, precisely...
My two missionary sisters accompanied me through the tour and seemed to find the whole presentation uplifting and reassuring to their faith. The whole thing was obviously meant to cast the best of light on their organization, but I only found the church and its then leader, Brigham Young, to be quite obnoxiously exploitative toward its own membership. It is amazing to me that it is the church's own idea to give 'financial gain to fund the church's trek west' as the main reason Brigham Young used to justify compelling his followers to 'volunteer' against their initial will to join the army to fight against the Mexican. Since when is self-interest more admirable than patriotism?

And when the Mormon women raised their concern about the trip, the good prophet saw fit to sooth their fear by promising something he had no mean of delivering -- safety. That the Mormon Battalion got all the way to the San Diegan Coast without having to shoot anyone had a lot more to do with the Mormon men hem and hawing so long before finally joining rather than any special godly connection Brigham Young might have had. It was their lateness that saved them from having to fight any battle.

Of course, there also is this matter of the church rendering aid to the US government in an army recruitment... (did I already mention that this church-state interference was done to serve the church's own interest?). It may not bother my supposedly staunchly conservative Mormon neighbors, but it sure bothers a heck out of me. So much complaints about how the US government helped the Christians prosecute the early LDS church, and yet not a peep about President Young deliberately putting his flocks in danger when aligning with the government helped the church's own agenda. This 'the end justifies the means' modus operandi seems a recurring theme in my Mormon encounters, and I really don't like it one bit.

But I still haven't gotten around to telling you about my missionary sisters yet! That's coming up in part 5, hopefully in a few days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just A Look: If These Fences Could Sniff

Some walls have ears and some fences have... a snout? 

“To an eagle or to an owl or to a rabbit, man must seem a masterful and yet a forlorn animal; he has but two friends. In his almost universal unpopularity he points out, with pride, that these two are the dog and the horse. He believes, with an innocence peculiar to himself, that they are equally proud of this alleged confraternity. He says, 'Look at my two noble friends -- they are dumb, but they are loyal.' I have for years suspected that they are only tolerant.”
                                                                   - Beryl Markham, West With the Night

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 3 - Going to the Mormon Church

Entire Mormon Encounters series
Part 1: First meeting       Aside 1, Aside 2 
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon 
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

Well, having missed the first invitation to the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints AKA LDS) church I made good on my second chance, invading one of their San Diego area wards with my new Mormon friends (sans the Garanca-look-alike one, it seems she is a sister trainer and was just visiting for the day when they last came round). As you can see, even a hard-headed 'atheist' like me isn't above agreeing to go to church when accompanied by cute and highly attentive lasses!
Apparently my two missionaries weren't allowed to, among many other things, give me a ride, so they arranged for a regular Mormon girl who lived nearby to chauffeur me to their church functions instead. As it turned out, my ride was in the process of preparing to leave town for a missionary stint of her own... in one of my former Midwestern hometowns!

The building isn't all that remarkable looking from the outside. Walking into the sparsely decorated interior, however, I was surrounded by the very conservatively dressed crowd of extremely friendly people who zoomed right over for a hug and a chat. I suspect that that was meant to be a warm welcome, but it had the effect of making me feel like an escapee from the petting zoo. It was nice if vaguely creepy in a smothering sort of way.

The sacrament meeting, as the Mormons call their Sunday church service, took place in the church sanctuary, and it is quite different from what you'd experience at a Christian church. First off, instead of everyone sitting in the same area facing the same way toward a preacher on the podium at one end of the room, there are actually 2 seating sections. On the stage seats facing the rest of the congregation from behind the podium sat rather stern looking church leaders who spent much of their time scanning the audience from their perches.

The 'sacrament meeting' began with the singing of hymns (they seem to always sing every verses instead of just picking one or two, so each hymn went on for a while). Everybody dutifully sang (I didn't, though. I'm not a Mormon even though everybody there seem to assume that I am or will shortly be). Some, like my driver/escort (I think I'll call her Sister-to-be Harriet), sang quite beautifully, though a definite zest is missing from it all. I've never felt any urge to attend any Christian church after turning away from that religion sometime in 1999-2000, but I remember that at least the singing there usually was quite spirited. Here, it just sounded.... confined and controlled (heck, they even have a resident chorus master conducting every hymn from her stage seat). 

Spontaneity was tacitly checked at the sanctuary doors, apparently. Nobody aside from the little kids made any noise in between the musical numbers and even during and between the testimonies aside from some hushed 'Amen' after a prayer. (They don't have a trained clergy to give Sunday sermons like the Christians do, instead the pre-selected church members seated in the front row of the stage took turn giving their 'testimonies' AKA speeches at the podium). A testimony isn't quite the same as a sermon, but rather a personal talk about one's experience as a Mormon.... and sometimes just an elaborate announcement that one's either about to be sent on a mission or had just returned from one. I always feel a bit claustrophobic after a bit in this sort of setting. Such a packed house and often emotional series of speeches that produced no banter or audience reaction whatsoever. It felt as if the whole place was under an omerta one doesn't dare break because one is always conscious of being visible to the church leaders.
The sanctuary of the Mormon church I visited after the October 2011 Stake Conference. Have a look at the lady in black's scripture books! The Mormons regard as holy scriptures the KJ Bible (annotated by Joseph Smith), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
Having been to this church 3 times now I'm seeing a strange pattern with all these testimonies. The speakers seem to do just fine during the meat of their fervent talk. Some take a few minutes longer to get comfortable, but they all looked and sounded comfortable enough after a while, then they would get to the closing with the very formulaic 'it is my testimony that this is the true church, that Jesus is the savior and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I say all these things in Jesus' name. Amen,' and many of them could hardly get through it without breaking down. I'm not sure what so shook them up about having to recite that ending; because they were emotionally overwhelmed in a good way or because they didn't truly believe everything in that formulaic closing themselves and were shaken by their own subconscious recognition of the spiritual dishonesty in the act of professing to believe what one doesn't actually believe. Whatever it is, it makes for an odd pattern for the outsider me. thinking

But why would I even suspect that those good people may not actually believe what they profess about the truth of their church or their founding prophet? I would freely confess that I can occasionally (especially when in a religious setting) be a bit paranoid, but from all the time I've been spending with my nice missionaries and their more normal Mormon numbers it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that the LDS dogma is much more enthusiastic about rites and rituals than it is about people's spirituality and integrity.

Everything is choreographed and ritualistic. When they visit, the sisters pray before their meal, before beginning the 'discussion', and after it. Churchgoers take sacrament/communion every Sunday, and the procedure is as choreographed as those you'd see in the rites-loving Catholic services. There's something idolistic about their notion of priesthood and their exclusive ability to perform soul-saving  procedures like baptism or temple sealing or endowment (naturally, they don't seem to regard Christian priests or clergies as having valid office). There's a strict dress code for church members (and even stricter one for missionaries), and even a dietary code. I already mentioned how everyone ends his/her testimony with the same closing formula. Heck, even the podium height is choreographed to match each speaker! It seems like a lot of emphasis is placed on appearance and not enough on what the person feels inside.
Robot by Felipe Micaroni Lalli & Odder
But on a more serious note, the biggest turn off I'm getting from my contacts with the nice Mormon folks is in what is preached in successive testimonies from church leaders and in what my otherwise-quite-nice missionaries are trying to drum into me: obedience is the greatest of virtues (and there is no use in asking, 'Obedience to what???' They just don't answer that question); the prophets/church leaders speak for god; god/prophet would never lead us astray (though the missionaries will know nothing about when LDS prophets actually did lead the Mormons astray: Kirkland Banking Society, United Order communism, polygamy, the Kinderhook plates fiasco, falling for Mark Hoffmann's forged documents, etc); we must build more temples so that people can be blessed (you can't get to the highest level of heaven and be with your 'forever family' if you haven't gone through certain rituals - sealing and temple marriage - that can only take place in a temple) so we must all work harder on our church callings and proselytize more to the gentiles and pay full tithe (10% of your gross personal income) to fund temple building; it doesn't matter if I don't believe in Elohim or Jehovah or the divinity of Jesus - I should just keep saying prayers to the Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus and all this repetitive 'work' will lead me to faith in the end. After all, 'a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it' (how's that for personal integrity, ay? They're basically advocating lying to investigators in the hope of convincing themselves. If there is a god, I doubt that it is so morally corrupted that it would approve of such tactic).
As dodgy as all of them are, the last one really quite bugs me. The sisters successful coerced me into saying a prayer last week after I made the mistake of offering one of them a CD of operatic prayers for her birthday. She read me as a softie that I am and pleaded for a prayer as a special birthday treat... A stronger person than me would have resisted, but the lass was a 1,000 miles away from home on her birthday and she looks exactly like Elina Garanca... (well, perhaps not in this exact same sort of props), so after much grumbling I said a short grace wishing them safety and lots of interesting experiences on their mission. It perked them right up about as much as it filled me with shame. sad smiley #342 I meant every bit of the well-wishing part, but the formulaic parts (Heavenly Father .... in Jesus' name) that sandwiched it was completely bogus. 
"I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe."
 - Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
They tried to get me to say a prayer again yesterday after the Stake Conference. I said no and told them that the honest way of going about such thing is for me to first believe in their god and the divinity of Jesus, etc, and then pray as an expression of my belief rather than to mouth off insincere prayers in the hope of gaining faith from the sheer repetition of it. The former is intellectually and spiritually honest, the latter is none of the above. I was very disappointed in the lasses for making such a moral/ethic-corrupting demand on me no matter how well-intended they were, but I was more disappointed with myself for complying even once. Sometimes being kind isn't such a virtue... The good lasses deserved honesty rather than indulgence, I realize. But I'm curious to know, though, what would you have done?

What sort of church would pressure their missionaries to prioritize acquiring more tithe-paying labor-giving Mormons over showing investigators (those the missionaries try to convert) exactly what the LDS dogma is about so that they can make an informed decision about joining or not joining the church? I've ran into car dealerships that are more honest than the LDS organization!

Don't get me wrong, though, I really like these missionary sisters. I had been in a similar place to where they are now once, and I understand the many different things that can compel someone at their stage in life to hang desperately onto a religious dogma. It is a sort of experience that is priceless to have providing that one can escape from it before long. I'm very certain that these gals mean to do good for others, even though the methods they have been taught to use by their trusted church do grave disservices to their integrity. I hope they learn much from their missionary life and think their way out of the spiritual trap they are in once they realize the folly of judging things by emotion. (Perhaps emotion here is a wrong word by me... It's just that they often beseech me to use my heart rather than my head in judging the veracity of the Mormon scriptures. I mean the word here in that same sense).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meowy Saturday

I know I've been hanging out with the canine species a lot lately, but at heart I still meow in my sleep (and occasionally even when I'm awake). It is almost depressing how few cats live near my current pad in the very dog-oriented area of San Diego County. I do get to see quite a few of my feline muses whenever I drop by at George the dog (who turned 14 yrs old precisely a week ago), however. Here are some of them.

Music is Rossini's Duetto buffo di due gatti (Funny Duet for Two Cats) performed by Edita Gruberova and Vesselina Kasarova at their joint 1999 concert in Feldkirch. The purrfect singing pair was accompanied on the piano by Charles Spencer.

I know! I know! I'm working on the next Mormon encounter installment, but I'm having a hard time keeping the thing to a readable length. tongue smiley #8919 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 2 - Reading the BoM

My Mormon Encounters saga continues...
Part 1: First Meeting
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon 
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam and Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries
At the end of their first visit the sisters asked that I read the introduction part to the Book of Mormon (BoM) before their 2nd visit a week later. As the thing is only a page long, I managed a tad better and read that along with the testimonies of Joseph Smith, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses as well. If you are so inclined, you can access them online here.

Basically, the introduction claims that the BoM is a holy scripture on the par with the Christian Bible, that it is a historical record of god's dealings with the Jewish tribes that became the ancestors of the native American Indians, that it contains 'the fullness of the everlasting gospel', was first recorded etched onto golden plates that were hidden for over a thousand years and then only revealed in 1823 to a young American boy (14 yrs old) named Joseph Smith - who was given this special power to translate its writing into English... And that one would realize that what is written in this book is true if one - 'in faith' - asks god in the name of Christ in prayer to verify it. Then there are 2 sets of testimonies signed by 3 and 8 witnesses claiming that they were shown the golden plates and verifying that they were etched in a curious ancient language, which they thought evidenced that they were from god as Joseph Smith Jr had claimed. The witnesses were: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith Sr, Hyram Smith, and Samuel H Smith.
So... before even seeing what the BoM has to say, there are already some serious question marks popping up in its introduction and witness testimonies. I'm always a bit wary when a religious text is presented as a historical record whose authenticity can only be affirmed through prayer 'in faith'. 'In faith' is curious operative clause; you are basically asked to first want to believe in the premise of the book before praying/meditating on it. As a relatively fair-minded person I will readily consent to wanting to find out what is really true and what is not in my examination of something, but it is utterly contradictory to intellectual integrity to willfully pre-accept a certain outcome before even embarking on any experiment. Asking me to want to find if the book is true or not is fair. Asking me to want to believe the book to be true isn't.

The assertion that the American Indians were descendants of Jewish tribes that sailed in from the Middle East seems quite fantastic. I did fairly well in history at school and had never heard of such story. With modern DNA ancestral tracing this seems an easy claim to verify. I waited until after our 2nd meeting before checking up on it (and on the other stuff) and haven't been able to find any supportive evidence for it. Rather, all the evidence unearthed so far point toward the Far Eastern Asians rather than the Middle Eastern Jews as the first people to populate the Americas. Am I really being asked to think that all the historians and archeologists from the days of Joseph Smith Jr onward have been indulging in a massive conspiracy to cover up the true origin of the American Indians in refusing to teach about this supposed ancient immigration of Jews to the Americas? But really! These missionary sisters are well spoken college-educated ladies. How could they not realize the preposterousness of this twistory? What exactly are they teaching in history classes at Brigham Young University (BYU)???

In the next to last paragraph, the introduction asserts that;
"We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10: 3-5.)"
Now... what is wrong with this picture? It sets about a fixed formula that purports to only yield one valid result when in fact the alternative result is at least equally valid. It also sets up a default technical exculpation if you do not get the result that whoever wrote this thing wants you to get (which is to find the message in the book to be true). If you ponder on the book and find it faulty, the author will not accept that as a valid verdict on the book's message. He will instead blame your undesired finding on whether or not you had properly 'asked god in the name of christ' (it isn't such an easy thing for any person with integrity to sincerely do when you realize very early on that the information the book espouses is false), or on you not having had enough 'faith' when you ponder on it. In short, you have to want to believe in order to believe. And if you don't believe, then it's your fault for not having wanted to believe badly enough...

But why should anyone want to believe the Book of Mormon to be true in the first place? And why should the 'want to believe' be a prerequisite in making something believable... if that something is in fact true? Being an avid opera fan I am well acquainted with willful suspension of disbelief, but opera is not a religion, at least not one that requires the monthly membership due of 10% of my gross personal income along with a lot of time and labor answering church callings (having been around the Mormons and their church for just a month and I already get a strong feeling that this is one really intrusive church that doesn't have much respect for anyone's privacy). Truth is truth regardless of whether one wants to believe it or not, and the same goes for untruth.

The quote from Moroni 10: 3-5 will pop up regularly in my discussions with the sisters. They are utterly convinced that I will find what is written in the BoM to be true -- if only I pray in faith about it. There is a bit of a gentle but persistent cultural clash between us. I don't like to make any positive assertion about anything before I have looked at and eliminated the other competing possibilities. And even after having eliminated all the other possibilities that I could think of, I still hesitate to claim absolute certainty about many things (what if the truth lies in the possibility in which my limited mind hadn't thought of yet?). Theirs is a certainty-oriented church culture. While I'm waiting to see where the evidence would lead me, they already know where they want to go regardless of what the evidence says. I have been down that road once already. And once is more than enough for me...

The sisters are also seemingly operating under the assumptions that believing in their gospel is something others would readily want to do and that non-Mormons long to be happier in their lives. It quite threw Sister Stetig off her game plan to find that her positive promise of 'more happiness' upon subscribing to the LDS church elicited no interest from me whatsoever. Sure, I could be more financially well-off and more healthy, but I'm doing fine, have many wonderful friends, and can physically function without requiring assistance - something many who are more deserving than me aren't enjoying). I was raised in a Buddhistic environment where contentment is valued over ambition, so it isn't in my nature to aspire or to want more than what I already have). I mean... when you are already happy, what do you care about being 'happier' anyway? Should I also mention something about the folly of promising something whose delivery one has no control of?

Then came the testimonies of 11 witness who were evidently made up of only two extended families; the Smiths and the Whitmers (after the 2nd meeting with the missionaries I finally got online to fact check and found out that apparently Mr Cowdery, Mr Harris, and Mr Page were also married into the Whitmer clan, and that none of the witnesses were any expert on ancient archeology or anthropology). Really, what does that say about the golden plates' credibility when their only witnesses were friends and family members of the person who claimed their existence but can no longer physically prove it? So, I wondered about the gold plates. If they exist, then surely they must have been examined by neutral parties and now serve as concrete evidence for the truth of Mormonism? Perhaps they are even on display at a museum or at a Mormon temple?

Alas... the aptly if unfortunately named angel Moroni took the plates with him back to heaven, leaving us with no physical proof whatsoever of the existence of the plates let alone the writing on it. We are back to square one with being asked to take it on faith that the claim of Joseph Smith Jr and his then inner circle (all the witnesses later fell out with him and were ex-communicated. Some rejoined the church and some never turned back) is true basically because Joseph Smith claims it to be true... 

So, what of the writing in the BoM itself? Share a taste of my frustration, my friends. I have such a hard time staying with the book that after a few weeks I have only managed to read 16 chapters out of the first book (1 Nephi) and 3 more from Alma. Here is how 1 Nephi begins:
"I, Nephi, having been aborn of bgoodly cparents, therefore I was dtaught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many eafflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a frecord of my proceedings in my days.
 Yea, I make a record in the alanguage of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
 And I know that the record which I make is atrue; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.
 For it came to pass in the commencement of the afirst year of the reign of bZedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at cJerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many dprophets, prophesying unto the people that they must erepent, or the great city fJerusalem must be destroyed.
 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his aheart, in behalf of his people.
 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a apillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did bquake and tremble exceedingly. (1 Nephi 1:1-6)"
And it goes on and on like that. Whoever it was that wrote the book simply would not tell any story in three sentences if he could fit in 50. And all this was supposedly etched first onto brass and then onto golden plates rather than written on papers? You would think that the ancient Jewish American Indians with their primitive tools would try to be concise, wouldn't you? That first Nephi could have saved himself many brass plates if he would only refrain from starting his many repetitive paragraphs with 'And it came to pass that.'

Not only that (and the obviously odd details like how Nephi's Jewish father could have Egyptian as his language when he supposedly spent 'all of his days' in Jerusalem - this supposedly happened 600 or so years before Jesus came along - when the language spoken there at that time would have been Hebrew), the stories in the books are far from original. The sisters got all enthusiastic in telling me about the conversion of Alma the Older this week without seemingly realizing how the story is nearly exactly the same as the conversion of Saul into Paul the Evangelist in the New Testament. Whenever a story is cited from the BoM, I've heard an earlier version of it from somewhere in the Bible. I'm not talking about similarity in pathos or teachings here, but on actual stories that seemed lifted wholesale with only minor changes (sometimes only the names of people involved and the setting were changed)! This seems to me more a case of plagiarism than one of divine revelation.
Joseph Smith Jr being tarred and feathered by an angry mob led by dissenting Saints (Mormons) in 1832. Picture from Harper's Magazine (Public Domain)
What is my impression so far? There is something strangely reusable about the Judeo-Christian religion. A few thousand years ago there were the monotheistic Jews with their Torah as a holy book. They got kicked around a lot by various invading forces, and spread their religion around in the moving process. Then a bit over 2000 yrs ago the Christians popped up to say that the Jews had failed to recognize Jesus as their messiah, so that their religion is now obsolete without the new information contained in what we now know as the New Testament. A few more years down the line came the Muslims who claimed that both the Jews and the Christians were too busy doing their things to notice another great prophet, Mohammed. For them, the old holy books are now incomplete save for the new one contained in the Koran. Many more years down the line on a different continent came the Mormons who are convinced that the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims had all missed the boat and failed to recognize yet another great prophet in Joseph Smith Jr and that the only complete information from god is now contained in yet another holy book, The Book of Mormon (and, apparently also Doctrines and Covenant, and The Pearl of Great Price). I wonder when the next budding new religion along the same old line will pop up. Whatever it is, I hope their prophet will be an imaginative and CONCISE writer! 

But you wonder about how it is hanging out with Mormon missionaries (to their credit, I actually told them in near verbatim the paragraph above... and they still want to come back to talk to me. An evangelical Christian or a Jehovah's Witness would have dropped me on the spot!). Sorry to do this, but you'll have to wait a bit for Part 3 of this saga... coming hopefully soon.