Ad Hominem

An ad hominem fallacy is one where, instead of attacking an argument directly, you attack a person making the argument, and use your attacks on that person as a way to discredit the argument. In short, you’re ignoring the thing being debated and attacking the debater.

Many of those who have become disaffected from the LDS church are guilty of ad hominem fallacies. They decry that since the church is corrupt, its message must also be corrupt. Similarly, those in the church are guilty of this whenever they slap the label “anti-Mormon” on something and use that as an excuse to not listen.

Ad hominem also works in the inverse, too. The conventional meaning is that you distrust something because of where it comes from, but the inverse is also a fallacy: to give credit to something because of its source, and not because of the thing itself. Mormons do this a lot in the form of the “Follow The Prophet” trope. “Anything that the Prophet says is true because the Prophet said it” is an ad hominem fallacy. Similarly, for some disaffected Mormons, “Anything that Denver Snuffer says is true because Denver Snuffer said it.”

In both of these cases, the important thing is being ignored, and we are focusing on something that does not really matter. In both cases, the source of the material is completely irrelevant. It does not matter who said it. What matters is what was said. Is the message of God? Does it encourage you to believe in Him and deepen your personal relationship with Him? Or does it drive you away? Does it entice you to scorn your brothers and sisters and place yourself (or anyone else) on a pedestal?

We can extend this to other things as well. People dismiss the Book of Mormon because they believe Joseph Smith was a fraud. This is an ad hominem fallacy. The Book of Mormon can be true and important and relevant regardless of how it came in to being. It does not matter if it came from golden plates divinely translated by an uneducated farm boy, or if it came from the dictations of a white salamander, or it if came from the machinations of conspiring men. What matters is what it teaches.

All humans are fallacious. We are all weak, culpable, fragile, and unreliable beings. But that does not stop us from being capable of beautiful works and great goodness. To ignore or reject something good simply because you don’t like where it comes from is wrong. And accepting something evil because you like the source is equally wrong.

The sources don’t matter. Just the message.

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It is not the same

How often have we heard the admonition that we must follow the prophet because whenever he speaks, it is as if God’s speaking, because “it is the same“? I hear this very frequently, and every time I do, I am saddened at how we repeat the words of others without bothering to read the scriptures for ourselves.

D&C 1:38 in no way says that the words of the prophets are equivalent to the words of God. Here’s what it actually does say:

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

Let’s take this apart and see what the Lord is saying to us.

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself;

The Lord takes ownership of His words. He means what He says, and He does not try to make excuses for past words (or future words). He does not “excuse himself” over His words. They are His and He is responsible for them.

and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away,

His words are eternal. His words will outlast the heat death of the universe. Even after everything has ended, His words will still be in force. His prophecies will still apply. His commandments and love will still matter.

but shall all be fulfilled,

Everything that He has prophesied will happen, will happen. Everything that He has cautioned about will still apply. Everything that He has promised will be given.

whether by mine own voice

God is allowed to fulfill His own prophecies. He will provide the blessings He promised.

or by the voice of my servants,

God’s servants (not necessarily just prophets!) are also allowed to fulfill His prophecies. They are also allowed to be the source of the blessing He has promised.

it is the same.

If His servants do happen to fulfill His words, it’s still valid. It counts as having fulfilled His word. God is not required to do everything Himself. His servants help bring to pass His purposes as well, and it all counts towards the same end goal.


As we can see, there is absolutely nothing in here about the servants speaking for God, and God validating their words. Instead, we have almost the exact opposite. Instead of words, we have actions. Instead of servants, we have God.

God has made promises to His children, and He keeps all of His promises. If it so happens that one of His servants fulfills the terms of His promise for Him, then great. If not, He’ll fulfill it Himself.

But this verse does not represent God’s endorsement of the actions and words of His servants. It says nothing of the sort. All you need to do is read and see.

Suffering

The LDS Church has changed its doctrine on apostasy to now include those who “are in a same-gender marriage.” By extension, the children of such couples are also being punished: they can not be blessed in the Church, and in order to receive ordinances must disavow the marriage of their parents.

My heart aches over this. “Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too.” How can we be so blind to the teachings of Christ? “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” How can we punish children for the actions of their parents? “Men shall be punished for their own sins.” Why do we hedge up the way to those who wish to receive ordinances? “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Witnessing this, I feel like Amulek, when he was compelled to watch the executions of others with Alma:

And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.

Like Amulek, I weep for those who will suffer because of this monstrous change. I weep for the men, women, and children who will be persecuted by the ignorant and idolators. I weep for my children, who are growing up and heard this hatred and bile spewed forth from those who should be their guides. And, I weep for those who perpetuate hatred and intolerance, whether knowingly or not.

And like Amulek, I want to stretch forth my hands, and exercise the power of God which is in me, and save them from the flames. I desire strength like Nephi, when he cried “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.”

But, like Alma, “I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.”

I must stretch forth my hands, and exercise the power of God which is in me, and save them from the flames. No “miracle” from God is needed: just the miracle of one who is willing to act.

The Third Person

I’ve been studying the Book of Ether recently, and I came across a verse again that has always bothered me:

“I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.” (Ether 3:8)

This verse bothered me because I couldn’t figure out why it was in the third person. The Brother of Jared is having this theophany, so why doesn’t he use “you” or “thou”? Why is it “he”? As I studied these verses more, I found the answer, and it is very subtle and faith-affirming.

Let’s consider this experience from the point of view of the Brother of Jared.

In the first verse, he hikes up the mountain carrying his sixteen small stones. He is alone. When he gets to the appointed place, he begins to pray, calling upon the Lord to favor his petition. He is still alone, and he prays until the end of verse five.

In verse six, the Brother of Jared finishes his prayer, and he is still alone. This is when he starts to feel something pressing on the stones he holds, and by the sixteenth stone, he sees a finger.

When he sees the finger, he falls down in shock, afraid that he has seen something he shouldn’t have seen, and perhaps wondering how he could stand to see a finger so glorious and not be consumed by fire. The finger, presumably, has disappeared.

In the midst of this confusion and shock, the Brother of Jared (who is still alone) hears a voice: “Arise! Why hast thou fallen?”

The Brother of Jared has no idea who is talking. From his point of view, he saw a finger and is now hearing a voice. He assumes the finger belongs to the Lord, because that’s the person to whom he’s been praying. But the voice? He has no context for knowing the owner of the voice, and responds ambiguously, using the third person:

I saw the finger of the Lord…

After this, the voice identifies itself:

I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger.

The voice identifies itself as belonging to the same person who owns the finger, namely the Lord. At this point, with proof as to the identify of the person with whom he has been speaking, the Brother of Jared can appropriately switch to the second person:

Lord, show thyself unto me.

To me, this subtlety is exquisite. We as readers of course know the identity of the voice; Moroni is very explicit throughout the whole sequence that the owner of the finger is the same person who owns the voice. That extra detail he includes is actually the source of the confusion; had he left it out, this question would never have arisen.

I read this, and I think: could an uneducated farm boy have caught that detail, if he were making this up?

Questions and the Sermon on the Mount

This year our Sunday School is studying the New Testament, and last week the lesson covered Matthew 5.

As we started getting in to the lesson, I was saddened by how we blew through all of the verses. We read them, we made the standard comments, and we moved on. There was no depth to the discussion. There was no searching. And, as such, there was no learning.

I pulled up the verses on my seerstone and started reading them. And instead of trying to see what they meant, I started asking myself questions. I tried to think of all the questions I could, and I wrote them down.

In 40 minutes of asking questions and thinking about them, I barely made it 5 verses in to the chapter, but it was wonderful! I pondered ideas I had never heard before, and asked things I had never questioned.

  1. “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him”
    • Why are these multitudes following him?
    • He goes up in to the mountain. He’s about to participate in a temple experience.
    • Would that be a general thing? Or would the audience be more selective?
    • Not everyone is prepared to receive the patterns of the universe from the mouth of God.
    • Only his disciples came to him: not the multitude.
    • And the Luke account points out that he’s speaking to his disciples, and not the multitude (Luke 6:20).
    • The disciples didn’t come up until “he was set”. How did they know?
    • Why wouldn’t they have just walked up with Him?
  2. “And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,”
    • Them = the disciples
    • This is a small crowd!
    • Why do we always picture this hillside covered with people? It sounds like it wasn’t more than a dozen or two.
  3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
    • What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
    • Is there such a thing as “rich in spirit”?
    • What is the kingdom of heaven?
    • How is it possible to possess it?
    • This is in the present tense (“theirs is”). All the others are in the future tense (“they shall”).
    • Is this significant?
    • Why the difference?
  4. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
    • What sort of comfort is this talking about?
    • What kind of comforters does Jesus teach about?
    • How does mourning qualify us for those comforters?
    • Does it?
    • Is this talking about the first and second comforters?
    • Or is he just talking about helping you feel better?
    • What kind of mourning is this?
    • Is this the mourning of “I’m sad this happened” or “I’m sad my friend died”, or what?
    • Is this related to the mourning mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-3?
    • Does this mourning/comforting pair contradict what Alma taught at the Waters of Mormon about mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who need comfort?
    • How do we know when those who mourn need comfort vs collaborative mourning?
    • Is mourning related to godly sorrow?
  5. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
    • What is meekness?
    • Receiving an inheritance implies that someone has died or has moved on. Who owns the Earth now? Where are they going?
    • How can multiple people inherit the same thing?
    • What sort of inheritance is this?
    • Is this talking about the planet we live on?
    • Does “earth” mean anything else? (Dirt? Generally habitable places/planets?)
    • Why are all of these verses in the 3rd person? Do the disciples not qualify for any of this?

If one person can think up these questions and be edified by asking them, why do we skim over these verses? Why do we believe that we have learned all there is to learn? We believe the Atonement was infinite (2 Nephi 9:7), so doesn’t that imply that what we can learn about it is also infinite? Why are we content with the same superficial pap that we’ve been spoon-feeding ourselves for generations?

Here’s an interesting challenge: imagine that you have been asked to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting. Write one, but don’t write a single declarative sentence. Do nothing but ask questions. What questions would you ask?

Searching

[M]y father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning.

Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy;

And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby;

[M]any of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures.

And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.

Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

We have this compulsion in the Church to think that we have all the answers, but that is an evil thing. One of things that we ought to know is that we do not know everything, and cannot have answers to every question. If we were to have all the answers, we would not believe that “God will yet reveal many great and important things”, and we would have no faith, for faith comes from not knowing.

We are commanded to have questions, for how else could we search? You can only search for that which you do not possess.

Stripped down

One of the downsides, if you could call it that, of reading in the Bloggernacle is that of extreme discontent.

I am no longer content at church. The lessons I hear sound hollow. The doctrine being taught lacks depth. The inequality, insensitivity, and pride seem rampant.

As I sit in Sacrament Meeting and ponder these things, my mind is brought to the 6th chapter of John:

  1. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
  2. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
  3. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
  4. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
  5. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
  6. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
  7. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.
  8. Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
  9. When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
  10. What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
  11. It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
  12. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.
  13. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
  14. ΒΆ From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
  15. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
  16. Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
  17. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

I echo the words of Peter: to whom shall we go? Despite the failings and discontent I have, where else would I find the Priesthood of God, so that I may receiving the ordinances of salvation?