I actually put the Wow, I mean Wow post in the pipeline to publish, with the intention of revising it. Having written about 100 pages over the weekend, I totally forgot about the post. Volume Five of the Cultural History is coming along, and books 4a and 4b should be available soon.
When “Wow” was posted, and it got responses, I realized what had happened. And it requires more thinking about, by me, anyway.
The thread at LDSFreedomForum may be about whether the moon landing was faked, but this just shows how the debate about J.Fielding Smith has, like so much of Mormon conversation, been taken over by more widespread political discourse. Our religion has always borrowed the words of others (from Campbell and Walter Scott, onward), and now we borrow from political news-mongers, rather than preachers (e.g., Glen Beck). The question about Fielding Smith was obviously an attempt to trot out his ridiculous prophecy as an entry way to the widespread conspiracy theory, and to see one’s fellow LDS believing in the conspiracy, not necessarily in the prophet. The conspiracy is a way to build testimony in the prophet, which I think is an odd way to go about one’s faith.
It is humorous that one might actually doubt the moon landing because Fielding Smith said so. That is harmless, cult-like behavior (for now). It is not so harmless nor humorous when we begin positing theories about anonymous powerful entities who construct false realities, and then get us to believe them; and, most troubling, when small segments of society believe they alone have not been subject to those false realities. It means those small segments lack reflection on their own positions.
The doubt about the government is not productive doubt: at least, it is not productive of more knowledge. In fact, it seems to open one to other conspiracy theories which require increasing disregard for the evidence all around the often increasingly blow-hard doubter. As one world falls away (often as poorly understood as the new conspiracy theory’s world), another begins to rise which is run by back-room deals, an all-seeing-eye, and much else that could be turned against the conspiracy theory itself; that is, the conspiracy theory, if correct, that thousands of people could construct a vast deception, keep it secret and so on, could be used to explain the conspiracy theory’s origins. Should you believe in the faked moon landing, you might as well believe that your theory about the faked landing could also be a conspiracy to make you paranoid; and to give you a false sense of understanding.
Which is easier, then? To fake the moon landing, or to get half of Americans to believe that it was faked? Which has more potent and negative social consequences? The social value of NSA surveillance is not to surveil every conversation, but to get you to act as if your current conversation is under surveillance; the same paranoia is behind the Strengthening the Members Committee, and what is called Correlation, too. It is far easier to subject a people by their own paranoia, than it is to actually enforce what they fear.
Now, I had no intention of mocking people’s beliefs about JFielding Smith, or moon landings, or whatever. These are harmless beliefs or doubts. But they are also symptoms of more troubling currents, which are not, admittedly, redirected by my posting about the symptoms. There is no doubt you have, which is not also built on a vast foundation of assumptions. If you think by doubting this and that, because you have constructed some threshold of proof you cannot explain or detail, you’ll come to true knowledge: well, it might be good to stand back and observe your behavior. Will such a course of action led you to more knowledge, or to confusion? Will you seek out likeminded conspiracy theorists, and find in that community the escape from sincere reflection on the origins of your doubts? Don’t your doubts really come from having believed simple theories for complex things, and rather than admit your ignorance, you have decided that your ignorance was the result of a conspiracy to fool you, but since you are now beyond fooling, you have constructed a complex solution for a simple problem? The simple problem being, ironically, rooted in a desire for a simple answer to what is really a complex world?
Consider the “tent vision” movement, oriented around ldsavow.com. This website requires a paid subscription ($45 / yr), and offers books and survival packages, and plenty of places you can converse with people who will teach you it is ok to be a fool. They will pour honey in your ears, as they empty your wallet, and tell you yonder is Zion, just over the Horizon. Keep walking. The phrase “tent vision” apparently is used to describe some vision of a person (“Spencer” I believe, as told to John Pontius). It originally came from a Christian who had a vision of huge tent where people would be healed by God. Not so, in our version.
The book about the vision of Mr. Spencer/Pontius has sold by the thousands, and it apparently tells about the Last Days, and the faithful (looking at you, readers!) who will not only survive (because they have tents), but soon thrive when God gives the world over to those who really have earned it. Such books can be written over the weekend, and have no more basis in reality (or future reality) than any other story told by random people. Head down to the subway station and ask homeless folks what will happen in the future: it is just as reliable as Pontius and Spencer’s visions. Unless, of course, the street people say your future is not quite as bright as you’d like to believe.
In another post, before I knew anything about Pontius except what I saw on his blog, I suggested he worships the Devil. I remain convinced of the correctness of that post. However, given that Pontius has since died, he perhaps has some new insights about God and the Last Days, which he cannot now convey to his devoted readers. Too bad. The evil that men do often lives on when they have passed away. From Pontius’s blog, “unblog my soul,” (what does that even mean?), I’ve only read the post I linked to in my response. Maybe he was a nice guy, I don’t know. But the god he promotes is the god I call Lucifer. That god deceives, so that you will doubt what seems like all that is, but in reality you won’t doubt the power of power: that is, the power to make a reality, because some in authority says so.
As I understand the Tent Movement, it is standard survivalist nonsense, a marketing tactic driven by self-induced self-righteous paranoia. The story is that the church will “Call Out” local leaders, who will send moving vans to pick up the supplies and bodies of the most faithful Mormons, and convey them all to a secret location in Canada, to wait out the Holocaust of mankind carried out by God. After God has killed all the Chinese, Russian and Muslim occupiers of America, these Tent People will gather in Missouri and worship their God. Who wouldn’t, given that he just wiped out most of humanity, for reasons not really explained? Once there a man named Hitler who tried to do the same thing. Was he wrong because his trains just picked up the wrong ethnicity or religious group? What about all the other dictator-mass murderers?
Are you really sure the Last Days and the End and so on, and all the evil that men do, will only be exceeded in destruction by the work of the Father? Where did you get these ideas, anyway?
When I was a teenager I used to watch Jack Van Impe, with his wife Rexella. The show is still on, and he and Rexella continue to shout out the same voice of warning they shouted out when I was 14. I enjoy the show, because the pair are interesting characters, and they seem to have no shame about taking people’s money for books and DVDs which advocate the same rubbish Christians and Jews have advocated for thousands of years. In a recent ad for the show, Jack is boasting, actually boasting, that he has been predicting the coming war with Russia, and Armegeddon, since his youthful ministry. Now, I can understand boasting when the Armegeddon has happened. But it has not. So, in effect he is saying he is right because he has been saying so for long enough, to himself and to people who buy his books; not because reality says so. What I think that means is that he is currently wrong, and has been for decades.
Tent People, Moon Fakers, and others: Step back and think about it. There will be no “crash of the dollar,” because the dollar has no value anyway. Theories about the decline of the dollar, and paranoia (often hopeful) that the economy will crash and one will be left with silver and gold to buy and sell, are wrong. Why? Because silver and gold have no value, either; anymore than the dollar does. These currencies have value because you and others believe they do. You cannot then predict the failure of these currencies on the basis of their sudden lack of value. What you mean is, these currencies will not be trusted among some group as being valuable. Why not? Because they either don’t trust one another, their hearts having waxed cold; or because they don’t trust the entity that claims to stand behind the currencies, to give it value. What is that entity based on? Your belief that the U.S. government has gold in some vault, or future revenue, which will allow it to pay debts, or to give you the value of the dollar. Your entire system is based on beliefs, and so should the system fail, it is only because you and others fail to believe. When you pronounce theories of conspiracy and certain collapse of civilization, you are contributing to the failure of society, NOT prophesying about it. When you mint silver coins with the purported image of Captain Moroni (available at ldsavow), you have done something which will live on, indeed, into the future; but only because some grad student in the future will study your absurd movement, and subject you to trends in whatever discipline he or she happens to presently espouse. That is your future, I predict (and probably mine, too). Your coins and gold and guns and tents will have no value, for you will die before the Church Calls Out, and sends vans to pick you up. And should you find yourself in Heaven, it may surprise you that its streets are paved with the metal you thought would be so valuable, in the End. And there are no guns in Heaven.
The World you Tent People and Gold-Horders and Gun-nuts hope to inherit is a world that would not last a weekend. If your New Jerusalem is based on the actualization of the fear that God will destroy the world, on a whim, apparently (he having not destroyed it yet, despite the Nazis, Stalin, Cambodia, Laos, Native Americans, that guy down the street…on and on); if that is your new world, it is based on the rule of a single powerful figure. This model has been tried before, and it won’t work again. Why would you build a house, in this New Jerusalem? Why invest in any research project? Why educate your children, or build schools? What is the basis of trust in this New Jerusalem? Because God made sure only the faithful survived? Are you sure he did? You’d better hope all the people you interact with are just as you imagine righteous and faithful people ought to be, or else doubts might creep into your mind about the wisdom of God in not destroying that-other-guy. So, New Jerusalem in the fantasies of paranoia-profiteers like John Pontius (RIP), and the ldsavow writers, and all others who sell you the fantasy that you are chosen, loved, and worth keeping around (with the lie that those others are not) is a New Jerusalem that looks very much like a hermit’s cave, or a cult-leader’s bedroom; or a man in a walnut. One man followed by a few, until they follow some other, or become cult leaders themselves. You have not doubted sufficiently, but just enough to keep yourselves and your system pure. And maybe that is the conspiracy you’ve yet to uncover: where did you get your ideas about the Last Days, churches, God and so on? If bureaucrats can fake a moon landing, surely there are smarter beings who can fake churches, construct theologies and scripture, too (in the image of true ones, I mean). But probably not your churches and scripture: those are probably right, because, lucky you, you believe them.
Is the God of Pontius and Beck really the God you can worship, trust, and have faith in repentance in? Or is it fear? Should there be a Call Out (just another version of the Rapture, but more boring, slow moving, and not quite as high, only as far as Canada), please leave me out of it. I’ll be happy to reside in your homes, and drive your cars, and mow your grass, while you live in tents in the tundra, convinced that just around the horizon is your reward, and that other guy’s comeuppance.
Finally, does anyone want to rent a van with me, and go around picking up the Tent People’s property?