Friday, April 10, 2009

Oh, Yeah, Baby--I Got Them Good Friday Blues

It has come to my attention that many people have today off work. My immediate reaction is: what?!

Once I sat down and thought about it for a minute, my reaction is this:

Why are people who are religious not required to use personal days to observe religious holidays, when religion is clearly a personal issue? If lifting weights is my religion, do I get three days a week off? Or would I have to pick and choose only the big days, like my semi-annual weightlifting exhibitions? Something tells me I wouldn't...

Church and state are far from separated, but at least the US Government has avoided observing most religious holidays--with the glaring exception of Christmas, which should really be renamed Presents and Egg Nog Day, if you ask me (okay, so who's starting the official petition?).

Why is the private sector so surprisingly ingratiating? I mean, paying people for days off for no legitimate reason, when the law does not require them to do so? That doesn't sound like a good way to make five extra cents this quarter!* And since when do companies care about using morale to boost productivity? Didn't that concept evaporate with the 40-hr work week, health benefits, tungsten lighting, vacation days, pensions, and a gold watch?

Do followers of all religions get their holidays off? Which religion has the most days off (I'm guessing the Jews)? What is required for a religion to be deemed legitimate? Can I start my own, coerce a few followers, and choose my holidays?** Why not, right? That is, by the way, how every other religion started--brick by brick, following around a persuasive man with some crazy ideas. It isn't usually until later that the corruption, theft, mind control, and murder begin.***

I'm just full of questions--and, sadly, answers. That's the thing about rhetorical questions, I guess...

* Especially 'in this economy,' long-ago the clear favorite among the many phrases I wish I would never have to hear again.

** The month of September would be the main holiday, known as Adventure, when all followers would be forced to observe themselves having fun somewhere exotic and eat extravagant meals.

*** The Mormon church, for example, is a glaring exception--Joseph Smith was an unabashed con artist from the get-go. Oddly, I actually respect him more than I would have because of that. You won't find out anything about this on his wikipedia site, however, as the good church has probably hired a team of people to cleanse it of truth minutely (they also have a team who purchase any documents available for sale that involve the truth about Joseph Smith). All the info you need, if you are curious, can be found in Jon Krakauer's marvelous book Under the Banner of Heaven.



LiteralDan said...

I'm pretty sure that most places in the country don't have cause to give many, if any, Jewish holidays off.

I'm thinking, countrywide, the Christians win all the marbles, as usual. Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, sometimes Easter Monday, Christmas, and probably 3 more I'm forgetting.

Seth R. said...

John Krakauer knows climbing, but he knows squat about religion.

He picks about 3 deranged outliers from the Mormon population and then tries to make them "typical" of all religious people.

It would be like me reporting on the kids who conducted the Columbine High School killers, and then claiming that they were representative of all atheists.

He also dredges up a massacre that happened over a year ago, but totally flubs historical sources and cherry-picks which sources he reports, and which ones he ignores.

If you want reading on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, you'd be better served going with a real historian rather than a hack journalist with a chip on his shoulder.

I'd suggest the following:

"Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows" by Will Bageley

"The Mountain Meadows Masscre" by Juanita Brooks

Incidentally, neither of those authors are pro-Mormon. Their just historians.

I don't really care if you're anti-religion or anti-Mormonism. But if that's what you're going to do, at least be intelligent about it.

Krakauer is a sensationalist who got out of his league trying to report on something he doesn't know the first thing about. Quoting him may score points with people too uninformed to know better, but there are much better books out there on the Mountain Meadows Massacre than his.

And his overall thesis that religion "causes" violent behavior may play well with the "I just grew 3 new brain cells and read a Hitchens book" crowd, but on a moment's reflection it doesn't seem much backed up by world history.

Goodtime Charlie said...

Well, Seth, I think that you are perhaps too close to the subject of Krakauer's book (Mormonism) to remain even remotely objective.

Why assault the man on a personal level? Have you met him? Do you really think he is stupid? Are you unaware that many of his friends are Mormon, that he grew up around the church out West?

Krakauer is NOT anti-Mormon--he is at best anti-Mormon-fundamentalist, and who wouldn't be once they found out what goes on in Colorado City, Arizona, and the Mexican & Canadian settlements?--and does a pretty damn good job in researching the real beginnings and workings of the Mormon church.

In the paperback edition of 'Under the Banner of Heaven,' Krakauer conceded a few factual errors that Richard Tuley (the managing director of the Family and Church History Department of the LDS Church) pointed out post-hardcover edition.

Maybe if the Mormon church did not approach its past like something to be ashamed of (the violence, the polygamy, the many earlier cons of Joseph Smith) it would have been an easier job.

Krakauer does not attempt to portray the handful of fanatics he covers in depth as 'typical'--they are merely a window into the story of the church and its followers. He mentions on several occasions that most Mormons are peaceful, loving, wonderful people.

But, much as it is with Muslims these days, the well-behaved members of an organization are often necessarily brushed aside to dive deeper into the dark side, into the upper echelons of power and the rag-tag fringe.

I think it's important to note that the Mormon church condemned Krakauer's book before it was even published, before they had even read it. What does that say about their tolerance for criticism?

How could they ever be content with an honest look at what they spend piles of money to hide from people? Why would they ever admit there might be trouble in paradise? As with all commodities, it ain't good for the brand to show weakness.

But the bottom line is this: 'Under the Banner of Heaven' is NOT a 'book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre', as you claim--it is a study of the past and present of the Mormon church. To bicker about specific details of the Massacre, and to condemn the book because of it, is not only to miss the point, but serves as little more than a distraction from the real issues.

Are you going to argue about Joseph Smith's con-artist/criminal past? What about the emissaries sent to Mexico and Canada to carry on the polygamist tradition, abandoned in exchange for statehood? What about the actions of Warren Jeffs and the other disgraced wannabe prophets?

Mormonism is the first religion that exists entirely on the public record, since the scam did not get dreampt up until 1830. Try as they might, by buying up documents that make them look bad, they cannot hide from the truth when people out there as diligent as Krakauer are willing to dig in deep and piece together the story.

And, like most organized religions, please don't bother to deny that the LDS organization is little more than a money-making cult run by power hungry men who control the lives, in varying degrees, of people who need something to believe in, who want to be told what to do.

Religion is fear and fearful people are the first to condemn without fully understanding, to act without thinking, to do as they are told, to trust their superiors blindly.

Are you seriously going to deny that religion has been the cause of war and death? The Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, the War on Terror...need I go on?

Maybe YOU should grow a fourth brain cell and use it to look at the world around you with a more intelligent perspective.

Seth R. said...

Krakauer was pretty up front about his thesis - religion causes violent behavior (or at least intensifies it).

A student of history knows this is a rather useless thesis. Violent unhinged behavior is not a uniquely religious characteristic, but rather a human characteristic. Religious people do good things and bad things. Irreligious people do good things and bad things. It's just a part of the human package.

The idea that religion makes people more or less prone to violent behavior is just not true. And yes, that argument does cut both ways. I'm not one of those religious people (by the way, thanks for simply assuming I must be a Mormon apologist - nothing in my post indicated that one way or the other), who pompously states that atheists can't be moral people.

Religious people cannot use the mere fact of religion as evidence of a propensity to moral behavior. But likewise, atheists cannot use the mere fact of religion as evidence of immoral behavior. This is what Krakauer does and what his book is about.

By the way, I've read the reviews of Krakauer's book. They did actually read the book, so I don't see what your gripe is on that score.

Like I said, I recommended you some books from real historians. They aren't pro-Mormon at all. Bageley actually asserts the uncomfortable thesis that the prophet Brigham Young KNEW about and approved of the massacre. That's not pro-Mormon by any stretch.

You are trying to pigeonhole me as some one-sided pro-Mormon ideologue.

I'm actually not and have my own serious doubts about some of the Mormon church's claims. But to take Krakauer's book as serious history is misguided. It's a fun case of storytelling. But it isn't rigorous history. None of Krakauer's research is original. He borrowed almost all of it off of the work of other more respected books. But his choice of authorities was extremely limited. For instance, he cribs almost all of his data on Joseph Smith from one source - Fawn Brodie's "No Man Knows My History."

Which is a fine book, mind. But using only one source for citations is just bad scholarship. But it's fine if you're not writing a really serious book. Which is what Krakauer was doing.

Now, you wrote:

"Are you unaware that many of his friends are Mormon, that he grew up around the church out West?"

Sure. I knew that. So what?

Let me see... where have I heard this line before...

Oh yeah! "Some of my best friends are gay."

That's the one. The line some Christian Right warrior will always lay on you before he starts to trash gays. As if having a gay friend made any difference.

As for the accusations of LDS Church cover-ups. You'll have to be specific rather than just throwing out blanket-criticisms. Are you maybe referring to the Salamander Letters.

News Flash: the LDS Church didn't cover those up. In fact, the LDS Church mailed off copies to a rival religious faction and published the rest in it official magazine that gets circulation Church-wide.

Some cover-up.

The LDS Church restricts access to original historical documents, yes.

As does every other freaking library and private collection in the entire United States. It's more about protecting the documents from getting rotted by skin oils from too much handling, or having them otherwise damaged or vandalized than it is about some half-baked conspiracy theory our Jesus-screamer critics are always yammering about.

You may claim I'm too close the subject matter to see it objectively (though honestly, you don't know me really).

Likewise, I might claim that you are too far removed from the subject matter to really ever understand it (though likewise, I don't know you either).

Why not just drop that line and try making real arguments?

Seth R. said...

Oops sorry. The above should have stated that the LDS Church mailed off the originals to the rival religious faction. Not copies.