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Nice post.

But I think there’s more to it. First, you have to separate commandments of the Prophet from direction of local leaders. It’s always possible that you could have a local leader who is either mistaken or is off his rocker. I would suggest talking to the leader about what you are concerned about. If it’s extraordinarily stupid, you might have good reason to go against it.

But commandments of the Prophet are another thing entirely. Either the president of the Church is the prophet is or he’s not. If he is, it follows that his commandments are normative, however stupid you may think they are. And even if he’s *wrong* we’ll still be judged according to our obedience to him.

Of course, people quickly get weary of such statements because of all the crazy folk in the world. And rightly they should. But I would suggest that the issue remains at whether the prophet really is the prophet and not whether a specific commandment really is from god. For example: you think the commandment to not drink alcohol is stupid because you can drink responsibly. The thing that you need to come to terms with is not the issue itself, but whether he really is the prophet. As such, it’s entirely appropriate to say, “As long as I know the prophet speaks from God, I will do whatever the prophet says, no matter how stupid I think it is.”

As to the issue of whether you get *extra* blessings for doing something you think is stupid – generally not. If you’re really cynical, you could easily believe everything in the church is stupid – obeying it doesn’t get you “extra blessings”.

Eric, I think there's a complicating factor in your comments. You say, "as long as I know the prophet speaks from God, I will do whatever the prophet says." But prophets, even real ones, don't always speak "from God" or for God. If we think the prophet's advice on some subject is stupid, we must automatically be of the opinion that the specific advice in question isn't from God. Hence it becomes a question of trusting ourselves and our sense of right and wrong versus trusting the prophet. I find this complex--and I find Dave's treatment of the dilemma appealing.

By the way, a tiny quibble on the issue of belief. While we may not believe stupid things, we can certainly be asked to assent to stupid things in a religious context. Assent to a teaching belongs, I think, in the domain of actions covered by Dave's main discussion.

I'd like to comment on this in more detail later. But as a preliminary matter, I just thought I'd highlight some of the scriptural examples I had in mind.

1. Naaman the Leper: you know the story. Rich noble comes seeking Elijah to heal him. Elijah doesn't even bother to step out the front door and say hi. But instead tells him to wash in the river Jordan. Famous quote:
"If the prophet had bid ye to do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash and be clean?"

2. The whole walls of Jericho thing. Probably looked like a fine pack of idiots with the priests marching around yelling.

3. Instead of simply grabbing the Brass Plates and the daughters of Ishmael in one shot before leaving Jerusalem, Nephi and company had to make a REALLY long trip back to Jerusalem twice.

4. Zion's Camp. Joseph Smith and company tramped through the Missouri wilderness learning to be nice to rattlesnakes and evading mobs by means of divine weather intervention.

5. Not really scriptural but ... Settling in Utah instead of somewhere habitable like ... California.

6. Almost the entire Old Testament (including a big chunk of the Law of Moses).

Maybe that will help focus things a bit.

One of the inherent weaknesses of all religion, unfortunately, is that the history is all one-sided. I mean, wouldn't you love to get your hand's on something written from the perspective INSIDE the walls of Jericho?

In any case, I think you have to make a distinction between two types of "stupid things." The inane "stupid things" are seemingly pointless, but appear to cause no harm nor risk except that of looking like a blithering idiot (see walls of Jericho, above). Something different altogether is a "stupid thing" that is likely to cause harm, which contradicts the basic principles of the gospel and/or truth, or which puts you at some kind of unnecessary risk.

A few examples:

(1) Mountain Meadows Massacre. SOMEBODY (not pointing any fingers, but SOMEBODY--whether inspired prophetic leaders or misguided local leaders) had the bright idea. And a bunch of guys went out and did it.

(2) Those idiots that took the handcart company out too late in the year. Don't remember their names, but they were the church-appointed leaders of the company.

(3) The littany of leaders at every level who encouraged racism and mistreatment of blacks through their opinions on why blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood or go through the temple. Their opinions were explicitly cancelled out by the 1978 revelation, which is as close as you'll ever get to the church saying "yup, that was a stupid thing."

(4) IMHO, anybody who says you shouldn't have a personal relationship with somebody because they've got an extra earring or the wrong haircut.

So there are clearly examples on both sides of the river. This will be an interesting discussion to watch.

Nick,

Both 1 and 2 occurred as a direct result of people refusing to obey the prophet.

RT,

I suppose the issue comes down to which of the prophets words are “of the lord.” If we confine it to words spoken behind the pulpit or from official declarations issued from the First Presidency, I think my statement stands.

Fascinating question, insightful analysis and equally interesting response. Growth –yours or someone else’s- is a critical factor in doing stupid things and/or believing stupid things. The church is full of leaders with uneven commitment, uneven ability and some with very little depth of vision. It takes true internal capacity to tolerate the low performance of those set to preside over a more capable individual. So yeah, if the leader wants you to do some thing stupid, I'd go ahead and do it (hopefully without murmuring like Laman and Lemuel). And again, if asked to believe something stupid, I'd "tow the party line" --holding out that one day the truth will be revealed by those we may be called to follow. The Master once put mud on a guys eyes and voila, the man could see. Laman and Lemuel was set against Nephi because they were not chosen to lead the family ultimately because they did not understand the dealings of their Creator. Doesn’t adversity –which may be caused by an inadequate leader- come to try our patience and faith? Character development is the first prized jewel born of adversity.

One of your correspondents says, "We should follow the prophet, wrong or right."
Also, contrast the statement at the end of your review of Palmer's AN INSIDER'S VIEW..., to wit: "...neither is it right to endanger people's faith by giving them too much truth" with a sentence from Martha Beck's book: "...no matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth" (LEAVING THE SAINTS, p.236).
As a non-Mormon drawn to look at these issues by curiosity aroused by Beck's book, I find I must wonder, "Are you Mormons crazy?"

James,

Being the one to have said that, I believe I addressed the issue you bring up in comment #1 above. But let me add for clarification:

If you are convinced that the words of the Prophet are not from God, then you are under no obligation to believe in him or the church at all. Go on your way and find another religion. That’s fine. But IF you believe that the president is the Prophet of god, then it follows that you should obey him whatever your opinion of his commandments. The point is that this is not a church of choosing which commandments you want to follow and those you don’t.

Dave, I think your bringing up marraige in the first example is quite cogent. I think that a natural consequnce of mortality is imperfections in indaviduals and relationships. The result is that sometimes we do things that we might not consider "Good" in order to fullfill a greater Good. Before I was married I thought you should never comprimise this way. I also believe that one should never do bad, but stupid is not always bad.

So I think that there is a middle road. Do stupid when it promotes the greater good, don't when it doesn't.

James, nice you dropped in, but I think you need to follow the conversation a little longer before concluding most Mormons are crazy. For every LDS issue we kick around the Bloggernacle (the LDS online weblog community), there are parallel issues in general Christianity and in more superficial secular worldviews that would lead a casual visitor to declare, "Are you Christians crazy?"

I think 20% of active members would do WHATEVER the prophet says, even if it meant going outside naked and hopping on one leg and screaming the Lord's Prayer over and over until they fainted.

My wife would argue that if a Prophet would say that, then he's just testing us, like Abraham was tested. That once we got undressed and started to head outside an angel would stop us and say "you passed".

I argue I would pray over it first and unless I received direct confirmation to go for it, I'm staying clothed.

Now, here's a question for you based on Abraham's story. If you believed that God told you to go sacrifice your first born son, if you had one, would you take him to the mountains and try to carve him up or would you pray again about it just to make sure? What if you didn't get an answer? Would you go for the knife plunge hoping that an angel would come? Abraham was diffinately put into a weird position. A commandment given that contradicted all that he knew. Wouldn't you wonder that you were crazy and just "hearing" things. Would you think the commandment was "stupid"? Are you being tested? What if you weren't? The people at Jonestown drinking that kool-aid might had thought it was just a test too.

What if you get a message like Nephi, that you should take out a public official, since it's better for one man to die than a nation to dwindle in unbelief? Would you do it? What would it take? An angel? A voice? A commandment from a leader? How would that sound in court? Could you imagine Nephi on the stand saying God told him to do it! IF someone did that and used that as a defense now, would you immediately dismiss him as a crazy or would you pray about it just to make sure??

What a great analysis, Dave!

I think stepping back and looking at this issue from an organizational management point of view is quite useful. I appreciate that you separated doctrine and practice up front too. Eternal truths are independent of our beliefs, so the teachings on those subjects are inevitably true or false. For instance when it comes down to details, Brigham was either right or wrong about the identity of Adam.

But with practices there is not always a hard line between right or wrong. So if we think a practice is stupid we must then decide which has the greater payoff -- exercise some faith and try it or simply ignore it.

It may be true that there are some negative natural consequences that follow some practices. But there also may be unseen positive consequences that follow as well. For instance, with the earring thing that started this discussion -- maybe the counsel does focus some people on outward appearance (a negative). The question is, are there positive consequences (natural or spiritual) for heeding the counsel that far outweigh any minor negatives? That is where exercising some faith comes in, I think.

I have been postulating at the Thang that in this organization, the Owner/Chairman (Christ) delegates real authority to the acting CEO (the prophet) and lets him make up whatever rules he deems useful as long as they stay within certain boundaries. If the CEO oversteps, Wilford Woodruff tells us he will be removed by the owner. But the key part is that I believe that unless the CEO oversteps his bounds, the Owner/Chairman expects all members to the organization to follow the current policies of the management. Bonuses will be partially contingent on these issues I suspect.

(This is the concept we have been discussing over there though this is the first time I've used the Corporation analogy. And it is just an analogy everyone so don't get too hung up on the business reference!)

Wow, that's vivid imagery, NDY. Cynical me, I wouldn't even bother to pray about it before turning down an invitation to do the naked chicken-hop prayer dance.

I don't subscribe to the "God is just testing you" theory, and I don't accept it as a valid basis for getting people to do things they don't feel they should properly do (which is always how it is used). God is not our tempter and he doesn't need to create intricate, deceptive "testing" scenarios to measure our character. There's something else going on in those situations.

I have just as much right/authority/priesthood to revelation as does the prophet. He receives it for the entire church, I receive it for myself and family. If he (or any other leader) receives something that affects me or my family I have every right/authority/priesthood (assuming I have enough faith - think Nephi confirming Lehi's vision) to confirm that leaders instructions DIRECTLY WITH THE LORD. - In short I "trust [The prophet], but verify [with the Lord]".

Getting direct confirmation is not necessarily easy or quick. I therefore balance the potential harm of the stupid request against my expectations for the time and energy to receive a confirmation.

"The Prophet went to the home of President Taylor, and said to him, 'Brother John, I WANT LEONORA.'" Taylor was stunned, but after walking the floor all night, the obedient elder said to Smith, "If GOD wants Leonora He can have her." Woodruff concluded: "That was all the prophet was after, to see where President Taylor stood in the matter, and said to him, Brother Taylor, I don't want your wife, I just wanted to know just where you stood."
- Prophet Wilford Woodruff, John Mills Whitaker Journal, Nov. 1 1890; emphasis in original

So Dave was Wilford Woodruff testing here as he said or was "something else going on."

There's more stories of modern day prophet's testing than just this.

Sometimes I wonder if "testing" is just a modern day prophets idea of a practical joke.

Nice comment Daylan. God is mostly interested in that process of us working hard enough to get into a dialogue with him anyway. That process is the exalting part...

Daylan, but we all know that the way you receive your direct knowledge from God is through the HG, and the HG will only confirm that which the church has directed. Otherwise it is from Satan (at least this is the common understanding of the membership).

This creates some issues. Since the HG will only confirm the stance of the church and that the HG is the way God communicates with his children, it makes God subservient to the church. This type of circular confirmation negates the need for the HG or for personnel relevation regarding belief issues.

NDY, I think your Wilford Woodruff scenario is a good example of a serious stupid thing. Woodruff's response typifies one approach to the Stupid Things question. While I admire his commitment to his principles (subjection to God and to Joseph) and recognize that some Mormons emulate that sort of response, I would likely have responded differently in his position, probably something like, "Sorry, I got her first."

The fact that you mentioned earlier that you, too, would not do the naked chicken-hop prayer dance (unless you received "direct confirmation") suggests you, too, would not have responded to Joseph's deceptive offer the way Woodruff did. (The offer was deceptive because he apparently did not want Leonora, he just wanted to test or possibly manipulate Woodruff.)

dave, i'd be much more interested in discussing the "being asked to believe in stupid things" side of the issue. perhaps you can post on that next time. i can think of a lot of stupid things that as a mormon i've been asked to believe in.

i've never been one to have an easy time doing things i thought were stupid, and i'd have to agree w/ dave that god would not ask us to do something stupid merely to test us. that's why i have a really hard time believing the story of abraham and isaac.

if there's one group of people in the church that are consistently asked to do stupid things it's the missionaries. i remember our MPs coming up with all kinds of stupid rules that didn't seem to make us any more effective. i'll have to dig out my journal and share a few. was anyone else asked to do anything stupid on their mission by someone in authority?

the lord does not think they are stupid things, he allows these tasks to humble us or provide us with any other quality we need improvment on.

>Sometimes I wonder if "testing" is just a modern day prophets idea of a practical joke.<

Anybody still laughing at the Wilford Woodruff quote above ought to read a book called "In Sacred Loneliness," a biography of 33 women documented as Joseph Smith's plural wives. Based on a variety of sources including a range of personal journals and correspondence, it looks like there were plenty of cases where Brother Joseph literally *did* take a married man's wife. So maybe that's not such a great example of God asking a man to do stupid stuff just to test him.

Could have been more like that Friends episode where the nobel prize winner (Greg Kinnear) tries to convince Ross to give up his girlfriend in exchange for a grant.

[edited]

the lord does not think they are stupid things, he allows these tasks to humble us or provide us with any other quality we need improvment on.

Or so we are told by those telling us what we should do.

Darren said, or rather paraphased what he thinks others have said: "...Since the HG will only confirm the stance of the church.."

I don't belive this. I'll take the Holy Ghost over a church leader any day. But then again, depending on the harm that might happen I might request a Gideon (wet blanket/dry ground, wet ground/dry blanket) test.

The "church" does two things for me. 1) Provides the ordinances necessary for exaltation and 2) Points the direction to the 'easist' (or rather normative) route to exaltation. My Father, via the HG, might occasionally suggest a detour that I am to take.

the meadows mountain massacre was ordered by the late prophet brigham young. yes it is true the LDS church like many others has many skeletons in its closet. Many things have been changed in the Book OF Mormon, even though when Joseph Smith "translated" it he said it was true according to the inspirations given by God. I say buy the book, or find a local book store and read up on the book titled " The Kingdom Of The Cults" good book, lots of information on many different "churches" and "religions" and all references in this book are ligit and real(believe me on this, for i have made extensive research). and for all you LDS members or religion seekers who want more information than what the LDS church dishes out to you, this book will definately help you to decide whether or not you really want to sign your life away to Mormonism.

One stupid thing I didn't do was re-enact a handcart trek summer before last. Those who participated generally loved it and they had spiritual experiences and stuff, but I said, "my ancestors pulled a handcart (yes, Nick, those were my stupid ancestors, and I'm sort of grateful, but since I wish I'd stayed in heaven...well)across the plains so I wouldn't have to."

Sometimes my husband goes along with stupid things he doesn't want to do, but sometimes he lets me take the blame, like for that one. He didn't want to, either, but he can blame it on my bad attitude. Isn't that rude?

If the prophet came to me and said, "thus saith the Lord," that's different. I haven't noticed the prophets I've experienced asking too many stupid things.

Stupid things and stupid attitudes usually happen at the ward and stake level and us little sheep keep doing them and exhausting ourselves and putting ourselves on guilt trips. I think it's only going to get worse.

A diffent take on the topic:

During my mission, a visiting GA (Loren C. Dunne?) gave us a talk about avoiding the DIMS.
D - Discouragement
I - Idleness
M - Murmuring
S - Stupid Things

The two examples he gave of the latter were:
1) Elder in England receiving "Dear John" letter and punching-out the first person he saw next -- who happened to be a London Bobby.
2) Elders in Thailand taking photos on P-Day, including of one of them sitting on head of Buddha's statue. Local film processor reported them.
Front-page reproduction of photos.
Jail.
Missionaries withdrawn from city. Proselyting companionship pulled off-line to care for jailed Elder.

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