Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Mormon visits: Episode 3

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Read 2nd visit

My friends turned up today, we started with a really nice talk about how one of them used to love sailing a remote control boat when he was young, and how I had one of those water jet-pack experiences.

I asked them about a couple of things that had occurred to me while reading the Book of Mormon. One of them was that it says the plates (the brass ones, not the later golden ones given to Smith)....says the plates were a way of preserving the *language* and the words of the prophets. I put it to them that the words could easily be preserved by having the meaning translated into English by Joseph Smith, but obviously the language cannot also be preserved in the same way. They were adamant that this means the plates themselves should still exist without me even having to ask it.

The second point was also about the brass plates, a bit later the BoM says that the plates will never perish nor will the writing dim. This cemented the idea that we should still have the brass plates because it would be absolutely pointless to preserve them in such a way if nobody knows where they are. I pointed out that the preservation of the language would be fantastic for historians, because we have very ancient scripts about the book of Moses, we now understand Egyptian hieroglyphics, and what we should see a link from the BoM meaning exactly the same as the writing on the brass plates, which should be written in hieroglyphs, and in turn that text should reflect the ancient writings. I think that by the time they left they were 100% certain that when they asked where the brass plates are they will be told they are in a museum.

Their research from previous week
In our previous visit I had asked why Joseph Smiths first account of his revelation says he was 16 and his third account of the same event says he was 14. They said they were told that the only account written by Joseph Smith himself was the first one and the rest were written by scribes. Allegedly one of these scribes later added in the text "in my sixteenth year" to the original account. He told me that he went and looked at the facsimile of the original document and thought that the handwriting looked different (I have just looked, the handwriting is the same). I wasn't interested in proving him right or wrong on this, I just pointed out how fantastic it was that we had a question, we got an answer, and then we looked at the evidence to decide if the answer was correct. I am trying to get them to see that checking the evidence is not arrogant or sinful but just common sense, and when what you believe is true then the evidence can only help to support your case.

I told them that since then I had read all three accounts of the first revelation. I pointed out that in the 1st account Smith says he "felt the spirit of god" and "saw the lord (Jesus)". In the 2nd account he saw Jesus and "a second personage", and finally in the third he says that he saw God and Jesus, and that God introduced Jesus as his son.

I got them to close their eyes and imagine experiencing this, we went through the whole story. I then asked them "When you got home and wrote about it, what would you write?" they replied "I would write that I saw God and Jesus". They pointed out that the account was written down about 7 years later, but they both agreed that this would make it more likely that the less important details would be forgotten and the meeting of God and Jesus would be more prevalent in one's head.

I told them that people who have psychotic delusions are likely to believe they have experienced something, and then over time their recalling of that incident adds more and more detail to it, making it progressively more extravagant. I said I am not accusing Smith of being psychotic, but it would be unfortunate if someone didn't believe his account because it built up in detail and incredibility over the years in the same way a psychotic delusion would. They agreed that it only makes sense that Smith would have mentioned God and Jesus first, and then over time the additional information would have been the less significant things for which he then had more time to explain. He wouldn't explain small details and then 6 years later mention the most important thing ever, meeting God. They also agreed that in the 2nd account describing the creator of everything merely as "a second personage" would be outright disrespectful.

The other thing from the previous week that they had promised to research was the details of what exactly the two translation devices looked like and how they worked. Smith was supposed to have used these to translate the gold plates into Ye Olde English. They told me that all they could find out was that it was two stones joined by a ribbon and some kind of chest plate. I told them I'd look into it further...I think it is something to do with Smith putting a hat on his face.

I had also asked them why Smith's wife had been made to sit at the opposite end of a table from Smith when transcribing for him with a blanket between them acting as a curtain to hide the plates from her. I thought this was odd because people who weren't his wife were allowed to see them but not his wife who knew him better than anyone? Today they had no answer other than that Smith only showed them to people he had been explicitly told to show them to, and he hadn't been told to show them to his wife. We agreed that this simply deferred the nonsense up to a higher level up the chain of command.

They told me that his wife (Emma) had kept her own journals. I put it to them that if we can find her mentioning God and Jesus in Smith's revelation it would help us to understand when that part of the story developed. If we find it is mentioned after Smith's 3rd account of revelation it would be consistent with a developing fake story, and if we find it is mentioned before Smith's 2nd (or even 1st) account then it would be consistent with an early origin for the story with the presence of God that had been told by Smith but not written down by him until his 3rd account. Albeit for an unknown (and still perculiar) reason.

Last week they asked me if I would be baptised if I became convinced their religion was true, I said of course I would. After all, if I had been convinced The Quran was true I'd have had my foreskin cut off; what's a quick dip in some water compared to that? This week they wanted to set a date for June 29th, the idea is that it is proof to their god that I am willing to accept his guidance and that I will not put things off etc. I told them that I felt this was arrogant because it is like giving god a deadline to convince me....what if I was convinced two days later, or 2 weeks earlier? I told them I would read the whole book and not make a final decision until I had read the very last word of it. They agreed that this made much more sense.

They told me I needed to pray. I explained to them how I used to pray about 10 years ago and at the time believed I was being told to be a Muslim. That I had a feeling of love and happiness every time my brain thought true things, and that I was given signs in a language I didn't know well enough yet (Arabic) to have concocted myself. I told them how at the point I was about to pick up the Quran and read it I was already 100% convinced that God had guided me to it and that it would contain instructions on how he wanted me to live my life. I then explained how I read the book and was utterly convinced it was man made. Therefore praying evidently is a completely inaccurate way to obtain truth. They were fascinated by this experience and kept asking me for more and more details. I think it was the first time they had heard of anyone with this much conviction putting in so much effort and getting an answer so completely different to the one they get. They agreed that feeling good during prayers can just as easily mean that you like the things you are thinking about when you pray.

So next week I hope they will have some answers about the brass plates. I am currently trying to convince them that they should not be prohibited from using the Internet for 2 years while they are over here on their mission, and that they should at least be able to use it as a tool to help them to find answers, even if it only means going on the LDS website.

As a side note, they seemed a bit different this week. During our previous meetings they were more open and willing to think for themselves. I am a little suspicious that as they have been returning to base with thought invoking questions they have perhaps been warned/armed/protected with advice from their elders so that they do not stray from the true path. Although I did get them to rationalise on a number of points this week, for the first time I experienced them outright refusing to think about things.

More BoM reading ahead of me. Really nice guys!

Read 4th visit

2nd visit with my Mormon friends

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Read 1st visit

Because I am back-posting these first two visits from memory they might be a bit short.

I call them my Mormon friends not to be facetious, but because I think we really did become friends very quickly during our first meeting. These guys are so nice, and we just chatter and giggle through our meetings.

From what I recall of our second meeting they asked if I would be willing to become a Mormon if I decided the Book of Mormon was true. I confirmed, in complete honesty, that I would. They asked if I would be baptised, and again I confirmed that if this book convinced me there was a God and the book told me what that God wanted then I would do it (unspoken caveats about sacrificing my children etc). They asked if I would join in a prayer with them at the beginning and I agreed. I have no objection to open prayer, for me it's just a way of people expressing what they wish to achieve.

During this meeting we discussed how some people took some brass plates with pre-Jesus written history on to America from the middle east. The plates were a history of words of prophets etc. New prophets kept adding to the writings until one day Moroni, the last of these prophets, rewrote the book onto gold plates and buried them (due to hostility I think).

I don't recall much of what we spoke about. I do recall I told them my previous experiences of praying + receiving signs/guidance from an external source and how I felt it had tried to lead me towards Islam, and that when I read the Quran I was absolutely convinced it was man made. They were very interested in this. It seemed it was the first time that they had met someone who had prayed so intently for guidance, felt that they had received guidance in the same way that they believe they feel their guidance, and yet told them something completely contradictory to what they believe is true.

Our conversation, as usual, was littered with lots of chatter about where they grew up, information about their families etc just to remind them that they are more than just proselytisers.

They read me the Joseph Smith account of when he was visited by God and Jesus and told he was a prophet, this is the version most expounded by their church and I think was written on the backs of their books. My 1830's edition had not yet arrived and I declined their offer of a more modern edition because I wanted to read as close to the original source as possible. That reminded me that I had seen facsimiles of Joseph Smith's handwriting on a website I had found - http://josephsmithpapers.org/

At first they seemed to recoil at the idea of seeing anything on the Internet, but when they saw the handwriting their opinions seemed to change. I started to talk about how wonderful it is to find historical documents.

I recall now that in our previous meeting I had told them the story I learned from In The Shadow Of The Sword about how history had been rewritten in order to form political alliances and only the later discovery of dateable documents revealed how that history had been altered and that Zoroaster had been born at a completely different time to when we had thought. This was an example of how myths form and grow into religions. I also told them the stories of the Cargo Cults.

But back to the facsimiles. I told them that the scan they were looking at was Smith's own handwriting explaining his first ever written account of his moment of revelation. They had only just read it out from the back of their books, so when I opened the document and it was the same subject it sparked some interest in them.

I asked why their account said that Smith was 14, and this account said "In my sixteenth year" and they couldn't answer. I then got them to check word for word what their revelation said compared with this one. I pointed out how odd it was that Smith had only mentioned seeing Jesus in his first account and not mentioned that he had also seen God. I wanted to encourage some critical thinking in them so I asked them if they could find out why that was.

They explained how Smith had translated the gold plates using some "translation devices" while someone else transcribed them. I asked what they were, how they combined with each other to work etc. Again they didn't know and said they would find out for me. We joked about how my homework would be to read the BoM and I would assign them homework after each meeting.

They told me that Smith had a number of scribes, and that they were known as "the (three?) witnesses" because they had actually seen the gold plates. I asked where the plates were now and they told me they had been taken up to heaven, but they couldn't think why.  They told me that Smith's wife, Emma, had been a scribe for a while so I asked if she was the third of the three witnesses, they told me she wasn't.

I remember the confusion on their faces as they answered that question. It was probably the first time they had realised that someone had helped to transcribe the translation but not been privileged to see the plates themselves. I asked how that was possible to transcribe without seeing them. They told me that Joseph and Emma sat on opposite ends of a table with a rope across and a curtain shielding the plates from view. Again I saw confused expressions on their faces. "Erm, why?" I asked. They laughed with embarrassment and told me that they didn't know.

I reasoned that not many people would believe someone who claimed to have met God and been assigned as a prophet, and so it made sense that God would not choose someone with a wife who would say "Don't believe him, he lies a lot". I also reasoned that out of all the people who knew him as a person it would be his wife who knew him the best and who would vouch for his honest character. Now if she simply hadn't been part of the transcription process that's fine, but why she be given that role and then not only not be permitted to see the plates but for Smith to have gone to extra effort to stop her from seeing them?

We concluded with a prayer. This time I asked if I could lead and they were happy to agree. I imitated their actions in calling upon a heavenly father in the name of Jesus. I expressed my genuine happiness for life and the health of my family, also my genuine appreciation that these guys had come around and had an interesting chat with me; and, although I don't think there was anyone there to hear it, I genuinely said "If you do exist then please let me know it, I crave nothing more than the truth".

They were elated, obviously because they think they have the truth and it will be revealed to me.  We left with my homework being to read the BoM when my edition turned up, and for them to get back to me to explain why

  1. The age in Smith's account was different.
  2. Why Smith didn't mention seeing God in his first account.
  3. Why Smith's wife Emma had been sectioned off with a curtain and prevented from being one of the witnesses who saw the plates.
We weren't due to meet until the next Monday, but they popped in one of the days in the week just to say hello as they rode past to that day's place of work. We mostly avoided religion and just talked about science...mainly gravity and fusion. Was nice to discover one of them is crazy about science.

Read 3rd visit

The Mormons are coming!

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A few weeks ago I spotted a couple of young guys riding bikes. They were wearing cycling helmets, black trousers, and white shirts with ties. I knew instantly that they were Mormons.

I've little or no knowledge of Mormonism so I thought it might be a good opportunity to learn. I stopped the car and introduced myself. I told them in advance that it is very unlikely I will become a Mormon, and that I am just interested in what they believe plus why they believe it. I told them I am more interested in their brains than their religion. I gave them my address and we arranged a day/time to visit me.

This was two weeks ago. In our first meeting we just chatted about every day life, where they were born etc. At their age they are sent to a foreign country and expected to proselytize to people all day every day, I learned that they get to speak to family once a week via Skype, but other than that they are told not to use the Internet at all. They completely immerse themselves in what they are doing. I wanted to spend some time talking to personalities instead of the scripts they had been taught, in the hope it would give them a bit of "me time" back.

We discussed the story of how Jesus's disciples had all been killed except John, who had been interned on an Island to spend the rest of his natural life trapped. I was also told about how Joseph Smith had been shown where some gold plates were which he translated into English. Our already over-run meeting came to an end with the following

  1. Next week we will discuss the history between John and Joseph Smith.
  2. We will discuss what was on the plates, who said they were there, and how they were translated.
They claimed that the BoM was perfect and unaltered. I asked if this meant there was only one edition. They told me there were many, but they only contained printing changes (grammar/spelling/typefaces etc). They left agreeing that if *we* could see a potential misunderstanding in the text then an all knowing God would also be able to see them and would have written the text differently rather than having humans change it at a later date thus making it look like a man-made religion that evolves.

They closed with a prayer just as they had opened with one, and left. I refused their offer of a book of Mormon, I told them I would buy an 1830's edition reprint.

Read 2nd visit

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Who and what exactly is Mo Ansar?

If you are reading this then you are probably already familiar with Mo Ansar. Having seen this Islamic supercelebrity on TV so often you might have the feeling you know him so well, but do you?  There is much more to Mo Ansar than his robes and scarf, just as there was more to Martin Luther King Jr than him being a man who was interested in African-American relations.

There is much we already know about Mo Ansar, he was born and bred in Watford as the grandson of a World War 2 veteran. He is a soft southerner who received a grammar education.  Mo Ansar's grandparents were all Indian, making him a British Pakistani.  Easily spotted at 6 feet tall and wearing a scarf and robes, this parent of six children is a Muslim who accepts Buddha, a cat person, and a PADI qualified scuba diver.

A life in politics

Mr Ansar, or as his friends like to call him "Mo" has appeared on TV and radio many times in his expert capacity as someone who happens to be both a Muslim and member of an ethnic minority; putting his neck on the line in a cut-throat world of being a social and political commentator.  He is a critical friend to the Liberal Democrat Party and is a moderate voice among already moderate Muslims.  He has been criticised (possibly only by himself) as being too moderate.

A man of diversity

Mo is a true champion of diversity.  As a diversity specialist he has been promoted to the position of Head of Diversity for an organisation in the South. A true visionary in diversity, he was further promoted to the position of diversity director.  His work in education with faith groups and non faith groups alike was bound to get his skills noticed by government officials and he soon found himself as the "New diversity practictioner" in parliament. A role most people probably didn't even know existed at the time, including parliament!

Mo the sceptical academic

Over the years Mo has proven himself time and time again to be not only an studious academic, but one with a sharp sceptical mind which he uses to think about things.  He is a lecturer in the subjects of
  • Theology
  • Islam
  • Comparative religion
  • Islamophobia (Alias: See Comparitive Religion)
and spends his time working with philosophy students.

Mo the activist

As a civil rights activist, Mo is obviously also a civil rights advocate but did you know that his work in the field of Islamophobia has caused the resignation of an undisclosed number of unnamed leaders of unnamed far right organisations? As far back as 1997 Mo had already started his 15 year preemptive fight against Islamophobia, 4 years before anyone had even heard the name Usama Bin Ladin, and back when most people thought a pilgrimage to Mecca was going to play bingo with a group of elderly female friends. 5 years before that Mo started his work as an anti discrimination diversity leader, a position he has held for 20 years at the time of writing.

Mo Ansar: The Martin Luther King Jr of our time.

Mo hasn't only been a prominent activist in areas which affect him personally. Mo, who isn't a woman, has been a women's rights activist for over 20 years, he has supported women's groups & refuges for 20 years, he works on Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transexual rights and also works with a charity for trans-gender people.

The community leader

Mo is not only a public figure of sorts, but also a real-life public figure.  He is a school governor, a mediator, and a marriage counsellor and adviser.  He is an avid public sector worker, working with schools, parents and local government, and works with bishops and a number of local police constabularies.

The professional

Mo's versatility is astounding.  When looking through his life history it is difficult to find something he has not done.  He truly is a Polymath of professionalism.  Of course we all know Mo for his contribution to TV and radio broadcasts but few know that secretly he is also a broadcaster, but, as modest as he is, he has never credited himself on any of his broadcasts.

He has been a professional interfaither and friend to Muslims for many years.  Not only is he an advocate of legal things but he is also a jurist and a lawyer.  You might be forgiven for thinking he is just a lawyer with a bank account, but be clear on this, he is in fact a banking lawyer.

Mo has a diverse experience of work. In addition to advocating legal banking, Mo works with the Muslim Council of Britain and and most significant organisation in contemporary society - The Muslim Civil Rights Crisis.

He is very sparse with his details of his work as a communications specialist and we can only speculate as to why, perhaps because it crosses over with his work with the UK Central Prosecution Service?

For Mo though life is not all about how the law affects lesbians, homosexuals, bi-sexuals, transexuals and bankers, he also likes to share his awesome scope of knowledge with the world by spending time educating young children and adults alike.

Seeing the inherent problem of children in the UK having NO education he has taken it upon himself to educate children from key stage 1 through to key stage 5, that's a truly diverse age range of 5 through to 18 years of age.

Beyond this Mo is a university lecturer, a lecturer on Newtonian physics, a scientist who is well read on evolution, and a lecturer on pre-holocaust 1930's Germany.

He also works as a chaplain at a 6th form college and university, and is an ex-scout troop leader.

There are rumours that he might be moving from Newtonian physics into Quantum physics.  The following statement has been suggested by some (i.e. me) to indicate that he is trying to blend Quantum physics with law.

Being both a lawyer and not a lawyer at the same time is an impressive feat. Mo truly is the Schrödinger's cat of law!

A rare glimpse behind the veil

Despite his amazing work, Mo is a very private man who doesn't like to discuss himself.  In these few rare statements he has revealed a little about Mo the mere human.  He is a rationalist, a man of his word, and importantly a man who stands for transparency and FULL disclosure (his emphasis), which is how we know he isn't just making all this up.

And despite working for civil rights and equality for many years...

he is always prepared to give especially high equality to people who happen to be Muslim

Closing thought

There really is nothing that can be said to add to this or to summarise it so I shall leave the last words to the man himself.

Mohammed Ansar
This is your life!