Monday, October 10, 2005
Friday, September 30, 2005
An open letter to the lds.org webmaster (or why out-of-context quotes are bad)
"Happiness and spiritual progress lie in following the leaders of the Church."
—Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Ensign, May 1999, 37
I love the church, the gospel, and the prophets. I am a particularly big fan of Elder Oaks. But this quote, found without context on the lds.org page, is kinda creepy, huh.
Let's put it in context. It is from a talk about Martin Harris. In it, Elder Oaks describes Harris's life, emphasizing the good about him. He covers his alienation from and then reconciliation with the church. After covering the events of Harris's life and his unwavering testimony of the Book of Mormon, Elder Oaks draws the following conclusions.
What do we learn from this example? (1) Witnesses are important, and the testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon is impressive and reliable. (2) Happiness and spiritual progress lie in following the leaders of the Church. (3) There is hope for each of us, even if we have sinned and strayed from a favored position.In this context, the quote is much less creepy. It is inspiring even. It's meaning is more fully informed. It is no longer a vaguely brainwashy message from on high, but rather an example of how the gospel ultimately blessed the life of a great man, an example we can learn from.
The church is in the habit of putting quotes up at its website, generally drawn from the General Conference talks of the quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. In general, I think it is a good idea, but they should try to remember that context helps one to understand the intended meaning. It allows us to grasp the whole picture a little better. So, dear webmaster of the lds.org site, please stop using a random generator for the quotes we see there. Read them over carefully and decide if the acontextual message you send out is one that we really want to say. From your neighbor, the Mormon.
Friday, September 23, 2005
"If you feel that Heavenly Father is not listening to your petitions, ask yourself if you are listening to the cries of the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the afflicted all around you."
—Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Ensign, May 2001, 74
Monday, September 19, 2005
Historical Mormon Smackdown! Evo-NDBF Edition
Remember back when I posted a weekly poll...good times. Well, since the Bloggernacle Times has started up again, I've decided I can go back to the well, too.
When last we spoke, the Old Testament was making sure that the Pearl of Great Price hied back to Kolob (rim-shot). This week, a reason to really bicker:
Who has the most influence on faithful LDS scholarship?
President Joseph Fielding Smith or Elder B. H. Roberts
President Smith is the son of the son of the brother of Joseph. He was the President of the Church (although not while most of his controversial stuff was initially published). He has written several books for the edification of the priesthood quorums. President Smith refused to countenance the idea of organic evolution.
Elder Roberts was an orphan encouraged into the church by Joseph Smith. He was a clear, forthright, and honest thinker and theologian. Many of his books were written for courses for priesthood quorums. Elder Roberts created a theory of pre-Adamites to explain the scientific evidence as he understood it.
There you go, please vote. I should also say that the idea for this week's smackdown came from an "a random John" comment somewhere, but I can't remember where. If you know what I am thinking of, please let me know and I'll post the link.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Why do we fall?
Assuming that the Fall of Humanity wasn't an unplanned for mistake, but a part of God's overall plan, why do we need to Fall?
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Grace/Salvation/Atonement as a process or as an event
Elsewhere, Clark Goble has publically agreed with Dr. Millet's assessment of salvation as a process. In a slightly different context, Mssrs Goble, Greenwood, and Johnston have all admitted that, while they think it is possible for people to hold the idea that humans are "instantly transformed" at judgment, they are uncertain as to why anyone would (see here and following comments). I am one of those who do believe in "instant transformation", but I object to that characterization and actually believe that the distinction between process and event is actually not all that helpful. These notions are tied together; please allow me to explain.
I tend to view salvation/justification/sanctification as a process consisting of a series of saving events, each of which should be termed as a gift or a grace. I, therefore, dislike Dr. Millet's distinction because it seems to separate out two ideas that I find are intertwined. We are "instantly transformed" in a thousand, thousand small ways as part of the life-long process of repentance. All good things (including faith, grace, love, hope, patience, intelligence, light, and so forth) are gifts from God and, as such, are not earned. There is no way for us to earn them. They are given in God's own time and in His own wisdom. Even if we make the central covenants of the gospel, there is no gaurantee of the instant receipt of those gifts, just the promise that, as we abide in the covenant, we will receive...eventually.
Now some may argue that abiding in the covenant constitutes "work." I disagree, because those qualities that we use to abide in the covenant are themselves inherently gifts from God. It is a bit recursive, admittedly, but the idea that we can do anything of ourselves is, I believe, contrary to one of the central messages of the gospel: our need for complete submission to the will of God.
In fact, this is the central trial that Christ faced on earth. There is real pain, suffering, and work behind his concession in Gethsemene that God's will be done. My argument is that, fundamentally, this is what God is asking each of us to do. None of us will be as good at it as Christ, which is why the atonement is in place, but if we do what we are able (which, by the way, ain't much), then God considers us in fulfillment of this covenant in the same way His Son was (which is why we can be joint-heirs).
So, ultimately, all God asks of us is to submit to his will. He makes up for our lacks by a process of instantaneous transformations that slowly make us better. However, with that as an understanding of the atonement, I find no reason to object to the idea that transformations can be more overarching at the time of the judgement. I do believe that God can and will make us Celestial (so long as that is what we want), by means of instantaneous transformation (if that is what it takes).
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The good fight
First of all, I have been very busy lately with a variety of silly issues developing with my beginning a new semester. These are starting to smooth out and therefore I should be more able to post and comment in the future. This is a fundamental difference between me and Ronan; he posts more during the semester and I less.
Geoff J has a post over at his blog asking why people don't discuss doctrinal issues more. I should post a comment there, and will, but I fall along those who don't feel like they have done enough research to explain my take adequately (read: convincingly). I don't know enough Mormonalia (pithy mission statements aside) to really feel like I can comment on what Heber C. Kimball or Joseph Smith may have said as an aside in a discussion written down in someone's journal some years later. Or the journal of discourses.
For that matter, I am reluctant to dismiss arguments regarding other people's positions if I haven't had time to really consider them. For instance, there are several things in Jeffrey Gilliam's development of Mormon theology that I find objectionable, but having only taken the time to read about have his posts on the subject, I am consumed with the fear that he has answered my concerns elsewhere. Moreso, I think that I will find more of the same in his other posts and still be left with only a vague uneasiness defining my skepticism.
That said, there have been a rash of posts recently that deal with issues that are central to me and my understanding of the doctrine. I am certain that I fundamentally differ with J. about the meaning of the atonement. I know that I disagree with Jeffrey G. about the usefulness of evolution as a model for spiritual development, the importance of the inspiration/revelation distinction, and the pervasiveness of Adam-God. I think the parable of the mortgage vastly overestimates the importance of works and underestimates the power of grace. I respect all of these men, don't think that they are apostate, appreciate that they are good thinkers, and, nonetheless, believe that they are all wrong. Just plain wrong.
In part, this is because I am a fairly orthodox guy. I actually believe that the "common" understanding of the scriptures is, in many cases, the best one. This, in turn, makes it hard for me to defend my position because it makes it hard for state clearly what it is. As Davis Bell has commented elsewhere, the "common" understanding of the gospel is a witch's brew of innuendo, speculation, offhand remarks from general authorities, and occasional scripture. I have commented on this before.
That said, I am deeply interested in the Atonement. Many times I am impressed with the level of speculation that takes place here in the 'Naccle. But I feel like, in some ways, J., Geoff, and Jeff are creating issues out of thin air; creating confusion where the doctrine was fairly clear. I believe all three men (and others like them) to be sincere. So the confusion must be genuine. But it fails to make sense to me because I have a hard time understanding why the non-sense of previous theories needs rectification. The Atonement is inherently irrational. There is no need to create a theological foundation for it (and it is possibly backward to do so).
Nonetheless, with the discussion thusfar, and with my conscience growing guiltier every time I fail to comment on one of their interesting posts, I have decided to put forward what I mean by the "common" understanding of the gospel. I know that I am idiosyncratic (I let far more people into the Celestial Kingdom than might normally be considered doctrinally possible), but I feel like, in general, it is sound doctrine (I may even cite scripture to make my point).
First of all, the reason that we are sent here is to submit our will entirely to God in a manner whereby we do it rationally, devotionally, and willingly. God cannot make us do this, but he is not above engineering things so that this is the most likely outcome. We are sent to the mortal realm to experience failure, sin, pain, sorrow and a whole host of other things that are simply impossible for us to experience unless we are separated from God, which can only happen if we choose it and we have a mortal, fallible body. At least in part, we undergo this to develop compassion for our eventual wayward children. Additionally, we do this so that we can develop the faith necessary to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and, thereby, become joint-heirs with him.
The role of Christ is that of the Redeemer. Though necessarily sinless in order to undergo the atonement, it was necessary for even him to experience and take upon himself our sins. He had to be separated from God as part of his mortal experience. His role is that of the Father to us. I am not saying that He is the Father, because The Father plays a different role and is a different being. What I am saying is that Christ is divinely endowed with the power and, to a degree, the presence of the Father in his role as Savior, Redeemer, Judge, and God of this world. Christ is the Father of our covenants; the Gospel makes us His Children. The role of the Father (meaning God, the Father) in this is mysterious. We are already His Children. However, I can say that, however we interact with the Father, it is through the mediation of His Son. As much as He may like to, God cannot save his Children without the Atonement of His Son.
We are saved when, during or after this life, we are divinely invested with the attributes of the Father through the mediation of the Son. As Christ became the Father through divine investiture, so too can we. To do so, we must do as Christ did and submit our will wholely to God, allowing Divine Grace to perfect us. All good things are gifts from God and salvation is no exception. The reason that this is accomplishable in this life is because, ultimately, God isn't demanding some arbitrary level of righteousness or obedience for us to advance to the next level. Salvation is not earned; it is given by a loving Father through the conduit of His Son. What we are asked to do is to humble ourselves sufficient to rely on God and His Grace; He really will take care of the rest. So, that's what I think. You?
Mama, I've got those Fantasy Football blues...
Well, the season has begun, and I have bested the forces of darkness yet again. Yes, John C. took a nosedive yesterday, as his team was left panting on the sidelines after a thorough drubbing by yours truly.
As large sweaty men pummel each other on the gridiron each Sunday, yet another of my neuroses surfaces. The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is being battered to pieces by the aforementioned helmeted warriors, a small but significant portion of which are LDS. With a few notable exceptions, most of these seem not to mind.
So, what are your thoughts on professional sports and the Sabbath, particularly on LDS athletes/coaches, etc.? Are they truly accomplishing missionary work by being the public figures that they are, or is this just an excuse for them to ignore one of the Ten Commandments in the pursuit of the almighty dollar? Am I breaking the commandment if I watch sports on Sunday? What if I just check the fantasy stats on the internet?