The Words of the Holy Fool

This page is not for the faint of heart.  It is offered in fun, and should not be read by people liable to be offended by loud laughter or (especially) evil-speaking of the Lord's anointed (who take a real basting in it).  Please, please don't read it if you are at all offended by acid critiques of institutional Mormonism (or institutional religion of any kind, really).  It is much, much more abrasive than anything else on this blog.  In fact, it makes everything else here (everything!) look extremely, unbelievably tame.  

In general, Nietzsche's lion doesn't appear much on this blog: when he does show up, he is usually wearing some kind of muzzle ("be polite to prophets even as you doubt their integrity, you uncouth brute!").  Here, you get the wild thing unleashed, untamed, in all his awful glory.  He is not a tame lion.  I cannot hold him or keep him back here.  The divine fury possessed me as its humble instrument, and I just had to write and write.  This terrible screed was the result.  He wrote it, not me--not the nice, reasonable guy you are used to from the blog.  This dude is a wild animal!  Caveat lector.

Now, if after that you decide to read and feel offended, don't say I didn't warn you.  And don't think that I am "angry" or that my position relative to institutional Mormonism has changed one iota.  It hasn't.  I still think that the church contains a lot of good stuff, but that doesn't mean that it is perfect (any more than anything else: some sins not even charity will cover).  It has always been my feeling that the best things in any situation do not disappear when we examine them with humor.  The truths that matter are still true when you make fun of them: in fact, they improve when we laugh at them.  So read, and if you cannot laugh with the lion, at least try to laugh at him.  So earnest.  So wild.  So silly.  And his language is not always couth.  But he starts off sounding reasonable, perfectly rational and balanced, as you can see.

Initially, I blamed a lot of the angst I felt in confronting my humanity on Mormonism (and some of that was merited: I got some unnecessary bad stuff from some of the Mormon people in my life, including myself). But now I see that much of it was only incidentally Mormon. There is nothing inherently horrible in Mormonism (or any -ism). Whatever there is horrible in ideologies is what people, people like me, put there. I can rebel against an -ism, against a church, against a culture outside myself, but how to rebel against myself? That is the real problem, the real battle that we come back to when all is said and done.

My battle is no longer about Mormonism, really. It is about me confronting my human limits and learning to live, and live well, within them. I have learned that I have to respect them. There are no silver bullets, no places of permanent safety, no communities where I can "let it all hang out" and expect to coast effortlessly to eternal happiness (or even lasting temporal happiness). I have learned to suffer. But in so doing I have also learned to let go of suffering, to accept it and move through it. I wouldn't trade that for anything.  I feel lucky, grateful even. It will sound awful to some people, but I even feel grateful to Mormon leaders, including the most dickish, for being such transparent fools and insufferable assholes that they forced me to stop drinking the Kool-Aid and confront the reality that my naive, childish views of life were (and were always going to be) utter horseshit. If they had been too good, too worthy of the awesome mantle they affect, I might never have seen the need to reach outside childish daydreams for adult happiness (and sorrow). I might never have lived. How sad. I would hate that.

(Here the lion laughs.)  

Thank you, Bruce R. McConkie, you old bastard!  And you, too, Brother Packer: how could I leave you out?  Dear old Hinckley, with his innocent smile as he offered the cutest lies, that he uttered so sweetly as to make them seem effortless (and small: nothing to hide here, nothing at all).  Thank you, Jeffrey R. Holland, for your brash Sturm und Drang, your fits of tears in conference: whether they were real or not, I owe them a great debt.  Oh, and you, Dallin Oaks: thank you for your solemn, measured, and serious nonsense--as you weighed the eternal questions (should we wear one pair of earrings or more?) with the same dignity reserved for those trifling temporal matters (like how to remain solvent while donating 10% of your income to build malls you are too poor to patronize).  You especially made me wonder what was up.

Thanks, James Talmage, for keeping the Christian tradition of spoiling the Egyptians alive and well in Mormonism: your borrowing was much less heinous than Joseph Smith's naked plagiarism.  You showed better taste and were much better at acknowledging your debt (but what should I expect from the chairman of the Kirtland Safety Society, honestly?).  Thank you, Henry Moyle, for the missionary program you crafted: you especially made my testimony shrivel up and die, and I am so grateful.  Thank you, Joseph Smith and Brother Brigham--how could I leave you out?--for being such brazen, bold, outspoken assholes and liars that even I could not be so naive as to take you for the saints you never pretended to be in your own lifetime. Thank you, Harold B. Lee, for making me worship cartoonishly fake idols of our founding fathers, tricking me into attaching my naive adolescent fantasies of righteousness to ridiculous straw men too saccharine to be believed in the light of my adulthood. You sly dog, you! I see what you were really doing, eh.  (Oh, and I must thank Truman Madsen here, too: his lectures on Joseph Smith were truly wonderful, a real piece of work whose impression remains seared into the deepest reaches of my soul.)
And finally, my greatest thanks go to Hugh Nibley, whose sincere, brilliant folly and social conscience did much to redeem me from the sins of this generation; to Sterling McMurrin, whose example showed me that not all self-identifying Mormon scholars are dupes or wolves in sheep's clothing; and to B. H. Roberts, who gives me hope for LDS General Authorities. Et tu, Brute, et tu potes salvari.

Thanks to you all, and of course the list would not be complete if we did not add the Big Cheese Himself.  Dear God, thank you for ignoring all my pleas for help and understanding and whatnot over the years. Thank you for refusing to find my car keys, for refusing to show me which career to claim, which woman to marry, and so on. Thanks above all for ignoring my request that you help me wed my first crush: what a disaster that would have been!  You might have at least let me get to second base with her, though.  (My peepstone just didn't work as well as Joseph's, I guess.)  Thanks for leaving me to fumble through on my own.  Thanks for giving me not the friends I wanted, but the friends that were there.  Thanks for not sending me to rot in Africa, you heartless bastard!  Thanks for sending me to convert European Catholic atheists to Mormonism, you sadistic asshole!  Whoever said you have no sense of humor was clearly just playing us!  (Thank him, too: you know, whatever guy decided to make us covenant not to laugh too loud in the temple; probably Brother Brigham again. Damn Yankee skinflint, taking double helpings of glory even here in this rant!)  

If we ever meet up in real life and you need to get some atoning done, don't hesitate to ask me to be Judas for you. I'd be happy to serve.  I wouldn't even ask for the shekels: I'd be glad to whack you for free, just as you'd do for me, I know.  Bastards like us have to stick together, right?  How's the world supposed to be saved if we don't help a brother out by doing him in when he gets on the wrong side of the Pharisees?  How else are we to make people think of him as an impossibly saccharine saint, a man utterly incapable of harm?  That trick you played with Jesus was absolutely fucking brilliant.

I wasn't sure you could pull it off, but the mob loved it!  They were so sorry for your pitiful death that they failed to notice you were killing yourself!  They ate it all up, over and over, and some of them still go back for more, paying you tithes for the privilege of imagining that you would never hurt them.  I am so grateful for their faith, for the earnestness of it, for its persistence in the face of all experience and history.  (I might not even exist but for that idiotic faith!  That blessed, stupid faith!)  They think that you won't hurt them because they genuflect, and then they pray for you to hurt someone else!  Assholes!  I am so grateful for this, especially when people come out and offer their prayers in public (because somehow they intuitively divine the moral obligation that all fools have to reveal their folly: you really cannot shut us up; we long to open our mouths and prove to the world that we truly are that dumb).  But even fools are not always so swinish, and for that too I am so very grateful.  How could I learn the positive value of love--dear, foolish love with its false forebearance and transparent naivete--if people never showed it at all?  I am very grateful that saints and sinners worship you with equal fervor over the ages, very grateful that the best and the worst men find themselves equally at home in your houses of worship.  The blessings of folly are verily as dear to me as the cursings.

By the by, if you run into that windbag Paul in Hades, be sure to let him know I'm a real fan of his work: every time I read him, he really blows me away.  Who could worship truth and beauty too naively with him around, not to mention the fresh-faced acolytes who persist in following him over the cliff and into the sea like so many Gadarene swine?  He is truly a holy fool, a man after my own heart, and I cannot ever repay him for all the important things he has taught me about the divine folly we both loved--he with tragic passion that led to death by execution, if we can believe any of the legends, and I with a school-boy passion that led to a bad case of mental indigestion, cured at long last by laughter.  Thank him for helping me see that I don't have to kill myself to be a martyr: witnessing myself as a fucking idiot is so much more satisfying and entertaining that witnessing myself as a dying idiot.  But you already knew that, right, Mr. Know-It-All?  Was that the further light and knowledge you promised Joseph?  Was that what he missed when he abandoned his booty call in Nauvoo to pursue that ridiculous dream of being crowned King of the World?  Poor guy.  He could have been Brigham Young, if only he had realized that being anointed in a nice little ceremony isn't the same thing as having people bend over backwards to do whatever silly nonsense you tell them to (like give you every scrap they own and then sleep with you to sweeten the deal).  I am so grateful for his blindness that has given me my sight.  Thanks be to fools, and to Thee, the great Fool of Fools, before whose egregious example all our petty human folly looks so small and even (dare I say it, Lord?) sane!

Here the lion left me, and I sat astonished and unable to think straight for an embarrassingly long time.  The Muse cometh, and cometh again and again, and when she has thoroughly ridden the poet--ridden him into the ground, in this case--she putteth her clothes back on and goeth away.  When this happens to you, don't be like me and keep writing.  Put the pen down, tell the still, small voice in your head to shut up, and go home to think about something else (something important, like what you are having for dinner).  Thus do the words of the holy fool come to an end (for now, anyway).   


  1. I've been enjoying several of your posts this evening Hermes. As I flip the switch off for now - it's getting late - I'm laughing with the lion. Thanks.