If you had read the post….

This is a guest post by Michael Towns.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a small treatment entitled “Yes, God is a Child-Sacrificing and Misogynist Bigot”. The ideas were largely based on concepts that were elucidated by Blake Ostler in his latest work, “Fire on the Mountain.” In it, Ostler discussed the Akedah (the Binding of Isaac in Jewish parlance) and the sacrifices involved with polygamy. The provocative title was chosen on purpose. Regrettably, some people simply read the title and then proceeding to build a case against me.

Ostler brought up, in my opinion, some truly deep and astounding points regarding the lengths that God will go to in order to reveal Himself. Exploring the notion further, not only does God wish His children to know Him personally, but He wants a deeply profound and intimate relationship. Ostler himself draws extensively from the work of Martin Buber, who was a prominent 20th century Jewish philosopher. Buber postulated the idea that in order to truly know a person, you have to leave certain preconceived conception behind. (I would heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of Oster’s book.)

By way of example: if I have a certain neighbor who happens to be an attorney, and that is the only way I ever view him, then I never see the reality of who he is: a divine child of God and future god. Instead, all I see is an attorney at law and all my interactions stay fused to that myopic coda.

However, if I do in fact see the divinity in my neighbor (perhaps the attorney analogy is misguided), then all my interactions with him change. The potential for true friendship and intimacy grows leaps and bounds. He and I can go on to greater heights of spirituality.

So it is with God. If the only way I view God is that he is an advanced hedge fund manager in the mode of George Soros, dispending funding to any number of progressive causes like subsidizing birth control pills, then is it not possible that I am missing something profound in His nature? The shoe fits on the other foot: surely God is not a caricature of Ronald Reagan, lowering taxes and bringing down Iron Curtains with the rod of his mouth. If that is how some conservatives view God, then they are missing profoundly important dimensions of who God is.

Here is my point: God will reveal Himself to us, and he will not be who we think he is. In a way, he plays a heavenly hijink on us. He desperately wants us to know Him, and to cast aside our preconceived ideas.

While perhaps I was a bit naive, I did not expect that my piece would evoke the level of hate and fulmination that it received. In fact, on Faith Promoting Rumor, not only was an entire post devoted to tarnishing my name, but J. Max, Bryce Haymond, and Jettboy were also lambasted and by extension, Millennial Star. In fact, the proprietor of Faith Promoting Rumor went so far as to call Millennial Star a racist and misogynist blog.

I attempted to explain what my essay was really about, since it was obvious in reading FPR that my piece wasn’t actually read closely. Despite my attempts at politeness and reason, I was banned from commenting on their site and the ban persists today. Thus I am unable to respond to specific allegations made about me.

One of the primary reasons I wanted to write YGIACSMB was to counter what I perceive to be a gross predilection of progressive Mormons to view God as the literal embodiment of ThinkProgress ideology. I wanted to showcase what I view as their most profound flaw: the self-regard that they are truly progressive, ie, they are on par with where God is with respect to any number of progressive litmuses or doctrines.

I believe in intellectual discourse. I believe that honest debate means that you challenge preconceived notions. I also believe that true intellectuals, which the vast majority of self-proclaimed progressives claim to be, don’t shy away from intellectual vigor and reasoned debate.

Everything that I saw at Faith Promoting Rumor, with respect to my essay, was the very opposite of reasoned debate. There was an incredible amount of slander, ad hominems, gross distortions of my position (as well as the positions of many of my fellow bloggers at M*). It was tantamount to a virtual lynching. It was borderline libel. I feel that I am due for an apology, but I am not holding my breath.

I want to make certain salient facts clear with respect to the piece I wrote. While it has a provocative title, it would be mistake to assume that the title is meant to be taken literally. There is a certain thing called “literary license”. There is also a certain thing, found in the realm of writing, called irony. Let us not forget the nymph “nuance”, she of the swift and cunning dance.

In short, I was not suggesting that our loving Heavenly Father is a misogynist. What I was suggesting is that progressive Mormons view the God of scripture and tradition as one.

I was not suggesting that God is, in fact, a child sacrificer. I was, however, suggesting that God occasionally does things that violate our precious moral conceits, particularly ones that are contemporary, fashionable, and involve tenure.

I was not suggesting that God is, in fact, a bigot. I was, however, suggesting that according to progressive dogma, God occasionally acts like one and so do His modern-day prophets.

Please do me a favor and disseminate this explanation. For the past six weeks, progressives who haven’t actually read the original essay have been clucking and chortling about how silly Millennial Star is, or how obviously stupid Michael Towns is for suggesting that God kills children, keeps blacks out of church, and hates women. The harsh truth is that the progressive blogosphere has a reading and logical comprehension problem.

Finally, speak allow me to testify what I absolutely know to be true: that we have a Heavenly Father who is literally the Father of our spirits; that He lives; that He loves us; and that He reveals himself in ways that take us out of our comfort zones, whatever they may be. Why? Because He wants us to truly know Him, and we can’t know Him if we refuse to accept the way He challenges us.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

23 thoughts on “If you had read the post….

  1. Michael … this was great. I agree with you that God does reveal himself to us in mysterious and different ways. I am sitting here counting them up in my own life. I’m sorry that you have had to endure the wrath of fellow church members. I remember the essay that called you and the others out — it was not nice, or fair, which I found very ironic. I actually tried to comment on the FPR post as well, but for some reason, my comment didn’t go thru, which was probably a good thing, seeing as it was an angry comment. They must have a “from the Millennial Star” sensor on their blog and sent me right to the dust bin.

  2. A lot of problems in life would be taken care of if 1)people took the time to actually read what other people write before getting on their high horses and 2)people assumed, charitably, that somebody was writing from a position of good faith before going on the attack.

    In the case of Michael Towns’ original post, neither 1) nor 2) took place. People with an axe to grind immediately went on the attack, calling an entire blog (!!??) a racist blog. While the attacking post on FPR brought up one worthwhile point (somebody associated with M* was leaving some deliberately provocative comments on other blogs), I cannot say that the rest of the post was written in good faith at all. With regards to Michael Towns’ original post, there are only three possible conclusions: 1)the writer of the FPR post did not read Towns’ OP, 2)the writer read Towns’ OP but did not understand it or 3)the writer read Towns’ OP but deliberately, in a truly reprehensible manner, decided to mis-state what Towns wrote. In all three of these cases, Towns is due an apology of some sort.

    I will state this in the most clear terms possible: left-wing Mormons are (for the most part — there are exceptions) obsessed with race. They do not walk around and see other human beings the way God sees them. They walk around seeing other human beings based on the color of their skin. This is simply immoral. This lack of morality leads them to assume that other people who do not act this way (like myself and Michael Towns, to name two examples) also are obsessed with race. We are not. We try to see other human beings as other human beings. This lack of understanding of the thought process of other people, and the desire to inject social activism where it is not needed, leads left-wing Mormons to carry out some extremely uncharitable acts.

    It would be nice to see some apologies given to Towns for this lack of charity. Let’s see if it happens.

  3. I liked your insightful Child-Sacrificing blog. Your title was obviously an attention-grabbing tactic to draw readers. Anyone who would take it literally is just plain obtuse.

  4. Ostler’s book is “Fire on the Horizon” right? Not “Fire on the Mountain”? Anyway, I also found that section of the book very insightful.

  5. There are two major problems with the original post. By the time I came to the conversation, it had degenerated to the point where my participation would not have been productive. But perhaps here I can lay out my objections to the post.

    First, I want to voice my agreement with the notion that God can reveal himself to us in ways that challenge us and make us uncomfortable. However, the suggestion that we *must* take at face value scriptural accounts of God that portray him in ways that seem morally reprehensible, and thereby question our own moral judgment, runs afoul of at least two important principles of the restored gospel as I understand it.

    The first is the doctrine of the light of Christ, given to every person to know good from evil. When we find something morally (not merely aesthetically) repugnant, we should give serious consideration to whether the light of Christ is involved in this sense. The more broadly this experience is shared, the more seriously we should consider this. The killing of innocents is one of the most clear-cut examples of this kind of thing I can think of, and suggesting that humanity’s near-universal moral condemnation of such a thing is not given by the light of Christ strikes me as a near-denial of the doctrine of the light of Christ.

    The second principle of the gospel that this approach seems to contradict is the radical notion in the restored gospel that God is comprehensible. This is not to suggest that we can *currently* fully comprehend God, but to propose that God’s morality is so widely divergent from our own makes our attempts at understanding God futile.

    Finally, the other major issue I take with the approach given in the original post is that while the author is quick to point out that we moderns project our own notions onto God, the same does not seem to apply to the ancient authors of our scriptural canon. Once we acknowledge that the same principle applies to them as to us, we are no longer required to accept problematic scriptural accounts as somehow unfiltered, and we should be free to question whether their moral sensibilities really are superior to our own, guided by our own attempts to be inspired by the light of Christ, by prayer, and by (hopefully) further light and truth given in the dispensation of the fulness of times.

  6. Christopher,

    I didn’t think your first two points were terribly compelling, so I’ll just focus on the third which I found extremely interesting and worthy of further thought.

    Your comment took the necessary contextuality of revelation (which is the most powerful argument in favor of continuing revelation) and put an unnecessarily negative spin on it. Doing so, it assumed that anything which is not universal and necessary about a revelation and placed it on the human side of those involved.

    What you did not consider is that since contextuality is just an unavoidable aspect of life, God could and would always anticipate such contextuality and act accordingly. Thus, god told the prophets of old what they needed to hear and in a way which they would predictably interpret. In this way, god did (at least partially) endorse all those things which 21st century liberals find so offensive.

    Most importantly, this does not entail that we take Old Testament morality with a grain of salt – a phrase which is typically a euphemism for measuring and filtering according to our own understanding. Rather, this is the exact reason why we should measure and filter Old Testament morality according to the understanding of the modern prophets. There is a world of difference between the two.

  7. I would like to know what Christopher thinks about God telling Nephi to kill Laban. Or Nephi and his brothers taking the bronze plates; somebody I was teaching told me that was plain stealing since the plates did not belong to them and God wouldn’t send you to steal somebody else’s property.

  8. Kareen, there is some speculation among scholars that Lehi and Laban were related and therefore the plates belonged to “the family” and therefore Lehi was a rightful owner. Remember when he reads the plates he finds out his genealogy, meaning the plates tell the story of Lehi’s family. Laban might have had the plates because he belonged to the same family. It is safe to say that Laban (who stole all of Lehi’s gold and silver) also may have stolen the plates from Lehi earlier.

  9. Michael, I appreciated your first essay, because it took the bible at face value. The God of the Bible absolutely is a racist, child, misogionist bigot.

    But I think you should carry the argument forward, not back pedal, simply saying you meant God’s ways are “mysterious.”

    Rather, I think we need to wrestle with the implications of what is actually written in our scriptures, and with the very real contradictions and paradoxes of life, rather than just glossing over them with lazy apologetic arguments.

    Carl Jung wrested with this in Answer to Job, where he posited a fourth side to the trinity, a dark or “evil” side. God as the mythical Abraxos is a God who encompasses both good and evil, light and darkness.

    You might not agree with Jung’s idea, but at least it tries to deal with the problem in a substantial way.

    In LDS doctrine we have lots of evidence that God and Satan work as a team, with God continually using Satan to further His purposes, and with Satan taking a major role as “god of this world” taking the essential role of disseminator of scripture mingled with philosophy. “Is there no other way?”

    I think we have enough substance in our doctrine to tackle these issues without simply dismissing them as “prophets make mistakes” or “innacurracies in the Bible” or “see, polygamy’s not that bad after all!”

  10. I think Nate is correct that we really need to ponder the scriptures. I guarantee that my pondering and Nate’s pondering will take us in different directions, and I think that is OK — God wants us to consider His message and wrestle with the scriptures.

    I suppose it bears repeating that while God often acts in ways we consider immoral (ordering Joshua to kill all of the people and animals in Canaan; ordering Nephi to kill Laban, etc), he asks us personally to be moral and gives us a clear moral law. The Church has made it clear that this moral law includes treating all people with respect and, among other things, rejecting racism. So while God will often act in ways we do not understand, it is because he is above our traditional morality. It does not excuse us from maintaining the morality that has clearly been outlined for us by modern-day prophets.

  11. Michael, now that you’ve actually explained yourself, your original post seems far less interesting to me. (See, I only read the title and so I assumed we were writing something REALLY controversial, which, hey, you know how I am!)

    Just Kidding

    Thank you for the well thought out response. I did my own response in the post above yours.

  12. Geoff, I agree. I have read on the subject and the scholars speculation about Laban being part of the family and that Lehi was probably the rightful owner of the plates, but as the word indicates, it’s mere speculation as the scriptures do not give any details about this. There is really no evidence, that I know of, that could shade light on the subject. But how do you explain to somebody who is just learning about the the church and the Book of Mormon and finds a story like Laban being beheaded by Nephi who later impersonates Laban to get the plates. It all seems really immoral to the inquisitive investigator. They do not understand a God that would command such things and our explanation may ring hollow or a futile apology, as they are using their own morals to judge God in this situation.

    As you well said, we humans tend to judge God’s actions and morals by our own or by the ones he has given us to live in this telestial world, but as it is written in Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Indeed, we do need to follow the morals and light that God has given us, but our understanding of God is still limited in many ways. Until we have a perfect knowledge of God and his ways there is really no use in trying to ascribe our understanding of things, and our own morals to God’s dealings with His children, as a lot of us in the church and out of it do.

  13. We all think that when God appears, he will be (and think, and do) just like we are. We haughtily ignore Isaiah’s notice that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. We delimit God by making him as we are, or for that matter, judging the scriptures or one another by our own code of ethics. All of these will fall dreadfully short in the day when all becomes clear.

  14. Kareen L: The execution of Laban by Nehi can be viewed in a bigger picture with some other bits of history and biology/anatomy:

    Historians tell us that the Assyrians (when they conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel) and the Babylonians (when they conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah) not only executed the military and poitical leaders of their enemies, they tortured them to death. Laban was such a leader, described in the BoM as a commander of 50 men.

    So in effect, Nephi did Laban a favor by despatching him quickly with one fatal blow while he was already anesthetized with alcohol. Had Laban not been almost painlessly executed by Nephi, one or two other things would have happened: 1) he would have died from agonizing battle wounds in the siege of Jerusalem, or 2) if captured alive, he would have even more agonizingly died of ritual torture and execution.

    Also, note that “smote off his head” is an idiom. The phrase is not used in a literal sense in the Bible or Book of Mormon. It does not necessarily mean decapitation, or a through-and-through slice to the neck. It means inflicting a mortal head wound. It could also be parsed as (or understdood as) “smote _upon_ his head” or “smote off _a part of_ his head”.

    If you read about modern army or police snipers, you’ll find that they aim for a part of the head that is nicknamed the “off switch”. Since humans have been killing humans for a very long time, the off-switch spot has been known since ancient times, since it can also be reached with knife or sword or spear. If the spot is missed, but a fatal brain injury is still inflicted (and the spinal cord remains intact), the victim engages in spasms before death, as illustrated in the case of Shiz killing Coriantumr in the book of Ether.

    For an example of how “smote off his head” is used in the Bible to describe a wound that is not decapitation, compare Judges 4:21 to Judges 5:26.

  15. @MT:
    “Please do me a favor and disseminate this explanation. ”

    No thanks. Carry your own water. Besides, it won’t do any good anyway.

    “For the past six weeks, progressives who haven’t actually read the original essay have been clucking and chortling about how silly Millennial Star is, or how obviously stupid Michael Towns is for suggesting that God kills children, keeps blacks out of church, and hates women.”

    Welcome to the club. Get used to it. That is standard liberal/progressive behavior, getting on their high horse, pointing the finger, and yelling “J’accuse!”

    Please go read J. Max Wilson’s blog post about “Bite the Wax Tadpole” at http://www.sixteensmallstones.org. It seems applicable. You ain’t the first this has happened to, you won’t be the last.

    “The harsh truth is that the progressive blogosphere has a reading and logical comprehension problem.”

    Do you think any of your or my (or anyone’s) efforts are going to change that? They _purposely_ misconstrue the words of those who they philosophically disagree with. It’s their stock-in-trade (or is that “stock-and-trade”?).

    Once a discussion has devolved into a meta-discussion, or if it takes more than one go-round to counter a misinterpretation of your words, then it’s hopeless. You’ll never win, and you can’t even come out even.

    I think the only thing one could do to lessen the probability of people twisting your words is to belabor the points you make when you write a post. But that makes things harder and longer to read, and then borders on being pedantic and obsequious. And even then, it doesn’t guarantee disagreement and purposeful misrepresentation.

    If their spin of your words is incorrect, then you should know that such is their (the prog-libs) nature. Or in other words, you can’t keep a skunk from stinkin’.

    Mutual understanding is not their goal.

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