Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Strangers in the Land: Ger 36

Joshua 8:30-35

Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the ger as well as he who was born among them ['ezrach]. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel [qahal Yisra'el], with the women, the little ones, and the ger who were living among them.

What Does It Say?

In terms of direct relation to our topic, this passage doesn't add much that wasn't established in the passages from Deuteronomy discussed recently. Joshua does the same thing that Moses did, reading the law in the hearing of all the people, native born and ger alike.

One interesting feature of this passage is the contrast between "he who was born among them" and "the assembly of Israel." Being used in this parallel nature indicates that the term "he who was born among them" ('ezrach) is identical with the "assembly of Israel" (qahal Yisra'el).

I think in one of the earlier post there was some discussion of whether the two terms were equivalant, ie., if "born among them" meant anyone born as part of the community (ie, including the descendants of ger raised in the Israelite religion) or only Israelites.

Now, qahal Yisra'el is not as explicitly a blood tie as, say, the term ben Yisra'el used in passages such as Numbers 35. But I think this might tip things towards 'ezarch referring to those who have Israeli descent.

So far as I can tell, those of mixed heritage would be considered natives, assuming they were born of legitimate unions (ie, not intermarriages with pagans).

One more thing to bear in mind about this passage is that it comes immediately after the debacle at Ai. For those rusty on their Bible history, after the great success at Jericho, one of the Judahites stole some items that were supposed to be destroyed. As a result, the Israelites were defeated at the comparatively powerless town of Ai. The culprit was found and stoned to death and burned along with his family and property, and then Ai was successfully overthrown.

The point is, it was a particularly opportune time to remind everyone that the Law was in full effect. The blessings and cursings were not theoretical; breaking the Law would bring a very, very literal death, not only for you, but for your family and community.

Next: Joshua 20

Monday, October 7, 2019

Mormon Movie Monday: Alma & King Noah's Court and The Home Teachers

I live in Salt Lake City, which is home to a certain number of "Peculiar People" (note the capitals and scare quotes). As such, I am exposed to many peculiarities of Mormon civilization, from young men in black suits and name tags to fry sauce and funeral potatoes.

Now, I was no babe in the woods as regards the religion of the American Moses when I moved to Utah's capital. I have had Mormon missionaries visit my house and give lessons, I have attended their church services on more than one occasions, and I have read their unique scriptures (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price) in their entirety, not to mention a wider swath of Mormon theological works than most missionaries.

But we will not be speaking of theological subtleties or records of supposed ancient American Jews. Instead, we will speak of the wastelands of Mormon popular culture: the Mormon Movie.

My friend and I are fond of visiting second-hand stores and buying as many $1-$2 Mormon movies as we can get our hands on. In part because I'm thinking of making a podcast out of this, and in part because it is a slow day at work, I'm going to write up my impressions of the two masterworks of Mormon Cinema we watched last night.

Believe it or not, the shining
 prophet is not Alma.
Neither is the little girl.

Movie #1 - Alma and King Noah's Court

This 2005 movie clocks in at 55 minutes and is part of the "Liken the Scriptures" series of child-friendly Mormon-produced adaptations of stories from the Bible and Book of Mormon. The story is framed around two missionaries talking to a family thinking of being baptized as Mormons about the persecution some may face as they seek the face of the Lord (such as schoolmates making fun of us for becoming Mormons).

The missionaries share the story of Alma, the ancient Nephite priest who worked beneath the corrupt, evil, and mean King Noah. If, for some reason, you want to read the original story, here it is.

The King Noah story is presented as a musical, and it is a musical that fails in perhaps the worst way imaginable. In short, all of the songs by the evil, nasty, naughty people in the story are fun, bouncy, and memorable. All of the songs by the holy and righteous prophets are boring, pious word slurries.

The general effect is that children will learn that King Noah was a cool dude who cared about peoples' feelings and threw awesome parties, while Alma was a wet blanket (literally, in the baptism scene). Even worse, the movie ends before King Noah gets his comeuppance, instead ending on a pretty great note for him.

Also, he looks like Meng Huo from Dynasty Warriors
This effect is heightened in the post-credits scene, where the cast, crew, and their very Mormon families through a King Noah-themed party, shouting out the lyrics of his song, wearing cool dude costumes, and generally having a good time partying with one of the greatest villains of the Book of Mormon.

However, for a non-Mormon audience, there is certainly some schadenfreude in watching Mormons boogie down with the Mormon equivalent of Pilate or Herod.

I can't find any YouTube clips, but Alma and King Noah's Court is available on Amazon Prime, so if you've got an hour to kill making fun of Mormons, you could do worse.

Movie #2 - The Home Teachers

With wild and crazy guys like this around,
Wacky hi-jinks are bound to abound!

Home Teachers are Mormons who visit the homes of other members once a month to share a brief message with them in their homes. It was used to help build relationships, reactivate backsliding members, and so on and so forth. Or at least, it was used for those things until the LDS church got rid of the program in 2018. Oh well.

But this religious comedy was released in 2004, while the Home Teaching program was still very much in place. So what happens when a football-loving schlub who just wants to relax and spend as little time in church as possible teams up with a straitlaced Scriptures On Tape salesman to bring the word of the Lord into the homes of innocent LDS members? With a classic buddy cop set up like this, hilarity should ensue!

"But MOOOOM, I wanna watch FOOTBALL!"

Unfortunately, it does not.

Watching this movie is like being on an 82 minute morphine drip. You can see that things intended to be humorous are happening on the screen, but you are too numb to react to them.

This is not the worst Mormon movie that I have seen, or even the one I hated the most. I feel an absence of emotion towards this movie. Fragments of scenes float into my memory, but I wonder if they truly happened or not. A grey fog descends upon my soul.

Me looking for my feelings on The Home Teachers
I have extra hatred for this movie because it's setup that should be impossible to mess up. The schlub Mormon learns to take God more seriously and the straitlaced Mormon learns to care about people and see where they're at instead of treating them like numbers. Funny fat man fall down, skinny serious man slip and fall in dog poo. It's such an overdone concept that it should be impossible to fail this bad.

And what makes it even worse is that the guys who made it have done decent work in the past. The Singles' Ward approaches legitimate goodness at times and The RM has some decent moments. But The Home Teachers, while not bad enough to inspire rage, is not good enough to inspire comedy. I would not watch it under any circumstances, including sexual bribes from hot Mormon women.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Strangers in the Land: Ger 35

Deuteronomy 31:9-13

So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the ger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”

What Does It Say?

I don't have much to say about this passage, since it is more or less a retread of the last passage. However, it does answer one possible petty objection to my interpretation of the previous passage in Deuteronomy 29.

The possible petty objection (which is both petty and possible) is that the obligation on ger to worship the God of Israel and not the gods of the nations was only binding on the ger of that generation. In other words, that the ger who tagged along with the congregation through the wilderness were obligated to swear their fealty to the Covenant, but not any who wandered in the land afterwards.

And while that objection would be possible in the context of chapter 29, the content of chapter 31 destroys it. The Covenant was to be renewed every seven years, with all of the men, women, and children of Israel as well as the ger within their gates.

The ger were not simply protected by the law, they were expected to " learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law."

In short, while we cannot use the Bible to argue against the presence of any and all ger in our land, we can use it to argue for the expulsion of all who will not observe the law of God.

Of course, this is all somewhat complicated by the relationship between Law and Faith in the New Testament. However, in a world where Old Testament verses about loving the stranger are shoved in the face of the Church, it is appropriate to shove these verses right back. We are to love the stranger - the stranger who fears the Lord and observes the words of His Law.

Now, we should no more expect the ger to observe the words of God's Law perfectly than we ourselves can follow it perfectly, we must expect them to treat the Law with the same respect and reverence that we should. A foreigner who openly worships foreign gods or attempts to sway us away from the worship of the True God should be expelled.

One may argue that the above policy would only be possible in a truly Christian government. And while the culture and history of America are unarguably Christian, its government and constitution are more secular than one would like.

At the same time, we can also take an inverse argument: that America will never truly be a Christian nation (or at least, have a Christian government) until we forcibly expel the haters of the True God and stop suffering them to dwell in our midst.

But it is not all so simple. The unfortunate truth is that while the Old Testament does preach a system of government, the New Testament teaches how to have a government within a government. Paul is fine with expelling, say, the unrepentantly sexually immoral out of the Christian community and into the World. Indeed, that is what we must do. He does not, however, say if we should kick them out of the Christian state. The New Testament was written in a time when Christians conquering Rome was less of a pressing thought of the writers and readers than the certainty of Christ razing it at the end of history.

And so we reach a strange historical impasse. We know how we should run a Christian Church, but not a Christian State - or at least, an independent Christian State. Paul admonishes those who drag quarrels between Christians into pagan courts, for the Christians shall one day judge angels. The Christian community is the Christian state.

But what shall we do when the judges and laws are Christians but the defendant is a Jew? The only Christian answer is to expel the non-Christian into a non-Christian community. What about when the judges are Christians but the court is officially secular? Is it fit to be judged by Christians who cannot rule according to the laws of the Church? What about when the nation's laws are based on a mish-mash of Christianity and globo-homo and the judges are atheists, Hindus, and everything else under the sun?

Running the circle back to where it started, we come to an inevitable truth. No nation can be Christian if it is not a nation of Christians. In the same way that a nation of Nigerians cannot be be Laplandish nation, allowing non-Christians to be citizens (let alone judges) turns a Christian nation into a secular nation.

To put it another way, Christians can be citizens within any nation, but a Christian nation can never tolerate non-Christian citizens. Christians are to obey (in secular matters) and pray for the lawful authorities even when their official policy is our extermination. But our laws for ourselves cannot be applied to non-Christians.

I have rambled on, but the Christian nation can only be one of three things. First, it can be a farce, as in a nation that claims to be Christian and yet refers to the unnatural sexual union of two men or two women a marriage. Second, it can be a polite lie describing a nation that was once Christian and takes influence from Christianity, but is filled with non-Christians. Third, it can be a nation of Christians ruled by Christians.

Next: Joshua 8:33