Church is Fun Because It’s Scary

We had a combined lesson for Priesthood/Relief Society today. The teacher made some very specific claims about the meaning of selected verses in the second chapter of Joel (but not the troublesome verses in between). I agree with some of his assertions, and the rest are not totally beyond the realm of possibility. However, the most obvious interpretations of those verses, in my mind, do not involve the “closet” that the Bride comes out of as a symbol of the Whitmer farm, nor the “pillars of smoke” referring to the Twin Trade Towers. In fact, this section of Joel seems to me to be a very standard apocalyptic promise by the Lord that He will keep his promises of prosperity and gathering if Israel will repent. There are also clear references (similar to other prophecies) to the Last Days, and probably the whole Armageddon thing.

My understanding of the way prophecy works is that it’s often multi-layered, so it is certainly not wrong to look for meanings beyond the obvious. But you have to try to understand the obvious (to the minds of those to whom the prophecy was originally given), first, not just refer to it when it matches your pet theory. Joel’s apocalypse was given in the context of a period of drought and plagues of locusts, in the general time period of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. It is a mistake to ignore the clear match between these verses and the contemporary situation. It is a larger mistake to assume that the only possible meaning of the prophecy is to be found in events we will immediately recognize from the local news, three millennia later.

Alex and I could go on and on about the logical fallacies inherent in the reasoning he seemed to be using (not that he ever really explained his process). And Alex made a very good point about the possible effect of both his odd ideas and his defensive teaching style on a newly-created ward with many potentially uncertain, easily-confused, or easily-put-off members.

The problem, for me, wasn’t what he was teaching; it was how he was teaching it, and how he had come to his conclusions. He built his thesis on a chain of assertions, often with no support beyond a surface similarity of pairs of words in the KJV. More disturbing, when commenters (including me) pointed out possible problems with his conclusions, he shut them down with snippy negation or veiled implications that we neither understood nor truly wanted to understand the scriptures. It felt yucky. I was crawling in my seat. Alex had steam coming out of her ears (partly due to the circa-1950s misogynistic humor sprinkled in the lesson).

I think, when you stand up in front of a group of Saints, and you claim to know something counterintuitive and a bit weird about the scriptures, you need to prove it. This proof can be spiritual, where you make it explicitly clear that you’ve had a revelation about your claims, and you humbly invite others to verify your findings; or it can involve basic scholarship and careful logic. But you can’t expect anyone to believe you when what you’re saying boils down to “Because I said so, and questions mean you’re unrighteous or lazy.”

So, until I receive an official statement by the First Presidency that the True Interpretation of Joel Chapter 2 coincides with this man’s opinions, I’m going to write this lesson off as an interesting, if unlikely, conclusion by someone who does not like it when people threaten to invalidate all his hard work and thinking by disagreeing with him.