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On Faith and Superstition

I would like to draw a distinction between faith which I think helps us and superstition which I think harms us.

Faith helps us to move out into the impossible as Arthur C. Clarke put it. It allows us to transcend current knowledge in order to find new knowledge. It gives to artists their vision, to scientists their hunches and their hypotheses, and to activists their hope for a better future. Faith speculates based on current knowledge but cannot guarantee success. It allows us to move forward in the face of uncertainty. It expands our horizons.

Superstition, by contrast, has no solid basis in current knowledge. It may even be refuted by available evidence. It may even lie beyond the reach of future verification. It propagates through our ignorance and fear. It confers a false hope in the face of uncertainty. Superstition stultifies and prevents our future advancement.

I see prayer as a commonly practiced example of a superstition. We’ve attempted to verify the efficacy of prayer on behalf of others. It’s not clear that such prayer has any effect. The example that helped me to give up my own superstition was prayer for those with amputated limbs. No one has recovered a limb, whether they were prayed for or not, without the intervention of human medicine. If prayer were effective, why are amputees left out of God’s mercy?

From what I can tell, religious faith often amounts to little more than superstition.

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Stevie Wonder weighs in on superstition while giving an awesome performance on Sesame Street:

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,
Then you suffer.
Superstition ain’t the way.


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Reviews in 50 Words or Less: Idiocracy

The ignorant reproduce more than the thoughtful thereby turning evolution on its head and leading to an entire population of idiots. Such is the premise of Idiocracy. While I doubt this could ever be truly fulfilled, I suspect that is partially true: ignorance and superstition can perpetuate themselves through our family history.

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What to do about Shiblon… er, Shiblom?

Don’t ask me why I thought it would be fun and profitable to research Jaredite genealogy. Perhaps it was to determine if “descendant of” meant something different than “son of”. For whatever reason, I sat down one day years ago to trace out the genealogies in the Book of Ether. I made a table similar to the following:

Generation Genealogy according to Ether 1:6–32 Genealogy according to the remainder of Ether
1 Jared Jared
2 Orihah Orihah (6:27)
3 Kib Kib (7:3)
4 Shule Shule (7:7)
5 Omer Omer (8:1)
6 Emer Emer (9:14)
7 Coriantum Coriantum (9:21)
8 Com Com (9:25)
9 Heth Heth (9:25)
10 Shez Shez (descendant) (10:1)
11 Riplakish Riplakish (10:4)
12 Morianton (descendant) Morianton (descendant) (10:9)
13 Kim Kim (10:13)
14 Levi Levi (10:14)
15 Corom Corom (10:16)
16 Kish Kish (indeterminate) (10:17)
17 Lib Lib (indeterminate) (10:18)
18 Hearthom Hearthom (10:29)
19 Heth Heth (10:31)
20 Aaron (descendant) Aaron (10:31)
21 Amnigaddah Amnigaddah (10:31)
22 Coriantum Coriantum (10:31)
23 Com Com (10:31)
24 Shiblon Shiblom (11:4)
25 Seth Seth (indeterminate) (11:9)
26 Ahah Ahah (11:10)
27 Ethem Ethem (descendant) (11:11)
28 Moron Moron (11:14)
29 Coriantor Coriantor (11:18)
30 Ether (descendant) Ether (11:23)

After compiling the table, I scanned over the results and realized that I must have written down the information for generation 24 wrong: the two names conflicted. So I checked Ether 1:12: Shiblon. So I thought my mistake must have been at Ether 11:4. Turning to that verse, my heart skipped a few beats: Shiblom! I hadn’t written it wrong, there was an error in the Book of Mormon!

This moment was an important transition for me. Prior to this discovery, I believed that it was entirely possible that the Book of Mormon was the inerrant, letter-perfect word of God. In a moment, I realized that this could not possibly be true.

I believed that the Bible had errors of translation, but the Mormon Article of Faith 8 implied that the Book of Mormon was immune from this problem: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” There was no caveat regarding translation errors in the Book of Mormon.

Of course there were scriptures like Mormon 8:17 which indicated that there might be some problems.

And if there be faults [in the Book of Mormon] they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.

I had always assumed that this was false modesty or that Moroni was talking about the human frailties recounted in the Book of Mormon stories. I hadn’t considered that there would be such a glaring spelling error.

This may seem silly that I was disturbed over such a little thing as a probable scribal error. The two names do sound a lot alike. I could easily imagine Joseph Smith rattling off names while his scribe mistook “Shiblom” for “Shiblon”, an honest mistake.

But please remember my beliefs at this time. I believed that God had ensured the letter-perfect transmission of the Book of Mormon from ancient prophets to me. It doesn’t take much evidence to destroy an absolute belief like that, so this spelling inconsistency took on mammoth importance in the story of my faith. While I retained my faith, it was the first step down from absolutist, fundamentalist Mormonism.

If there was one error in the Book of Mormon, then there could be others. If God didn’t ensure that everything was perfect about the Book of Mormon, maybe he didn’t ensure that every General Conference talk was perfect either. Maybe some of the things the prophets had said were just their personal opinions.…

I think you can see where this is going. That seed of doubt bore fruit years later in my utter rejection of the Mormon claims to divine investiture.

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Original Sin

[This was originally part of a comment on a post about original sin at The Slapdash Godliness of a Good Girl.]

We can blame Augustine of Hippo for the idea of original sin. As such, it is one of the most hellish inventions of mankind.

Let me recap. God wanted to show everyone how infinitely loving he is, so he created Adam and Eve and put them in a paradisaical garden knowing that they would break his rule about eating of the fruit one particular tree. When they broke his rule (just like he knew they would), he cast them out of paradise into a torture chamber inhabited by a malicious demon he refuses to rein in. Adam and Eve and all of their children suffer at this demon’s hands. He creates earthquakes, floods, plagues, famines, pestilences, and all manner of suffering to punish Adam and Eve’s family for the time back in paradise when their first parents dared to eat that fruit that God tempted them with. Before the demon can do this, however, he must get God’s approval to make sure that no one who believes in God’s love suffers more than necessary, such are the protocols of the heavenly bureaucracy. Satan is on God’s payroll, doing all the dirty work God doesn’t care to do.

Millions upon millions upon billions of people are tortured and killed in this torture chamber with God’s approval. God’s sense of justice demands that God punish all of humanity for Adam and Eve’s sin of which they had no part and for choosing evil themselves, just as he created them to do. He couldn’t show his love if people didn’t suffer, so his plan from the beginning was to create humanity in such a way that they would certainly sin, torture humanity when they sinned according to his plan, and come to their rescue.

Seeing his plan was going well (what with all the suffering and dying going on), it was time for God to show his love, so he took on a mortal body. After being tortured for a day or two, he gave up and died. (Or even worse, he tortured and killed his own Son to make up for his own actions.) This made God feel better about the suffering of all the billions of people who he’s banished to his torture chamber.

If God let all those tortured souls live forever in paradise, it would probably make up for all his hellish sadism. Yet he still put a condition on humanity’s relief from suffering. They had no choice to come to this nightmare chamber in the first place. He never asked them their preference beforehand, yet they bear the final responsibility for getting themselves out. They must first believe—while still being tortured—that he loves them. Not only that, they must love him in return. Anyone who can’t muster the credulity necessary to believe that, anyone who doubts his love in the face of all his sadism, anyone who doesn’t thank him for the chance to suffer and die at his behest will go on suffering forever in an even worse torture chamber reserved for the skeptical and the ignorant.

God sounds like one hell of a cult leader.

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