Faith-Promoting Rumor

Dedicated to oddments and marginalia in Mormondom and, failing that, deep doctrinal discussion

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Historical Mormon Smackdown: Hardliner edition

So, last week we learned that, much as on the gridiron, it is the quarterback that has the influence, even though the running back does most of the work. But enough about that, on to this week's event:

Historical Mormon Smackdown: Hardliner edition
Who is the more influential hard-line interpreter of current LDS orthodoxy: Elder Boyd K. Packer or Elder Bruce R. McConkie?

Elder Packer has written and given several influential talks regarding what is and what ain't orthodoxy and firmly implying which side of the line the Lord would like you to be on.

Elder McConkie practically codified orthodoxy by writing Mormon Doctrine and has been known to take a firm position in a talk or two.

So, who is your pick? Who do you send in if you have a group of possible apostates in serious need of a spiritual beatdown (done with compassion, of course)? Vote below or to the right and comment on the proceedings.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

An intentionally late Fathers' Day post

My father has never been antagonistic to the church exactly. For all intents and purposes, he appears to have been indifferent. He never objected when we went, attended when something important happened, and generally refrained from criticizing the aspects of it to which he objected. He has reportedly even told neighbors that if he was to join any church, it would likely be ours.

We have had a whole slew of missionaries come through the house. Sometimes he has liked them; usually he hasn't. He'll generally tolerate them through a meal, sit and listen to their lesson, and then disappear into a back room until they leave. I don't think that he has ever taken a discussion; it is possible that he has never been interested.

During my mission, he started attending church with my Mom (it was really the first time she had had to go alone in a long time). Mom reported that he had started reading the Book of Mormon. In our eagerness for this development (long overdue in all our minds), we peppered Dad with so many questions (mine via mail) that we quickly overwhelmed his patience and he stopped reading to get us off his back. That period may have been the closest my father will ever come to joining the church and his family contributed to his turning away then.

We are told that there is no such thing as a death-bed confession. The spirit that inhabits the body in this life will be the same that in the next. We've also been told that this life is the time. My father is forty years older than me, has suffered pancreatitis and a heart attack. We are often told that there is hope for the parents of wayward children, what is there for the children of wayward parents?

I am not sure that my father will join the church before he dies. I used to be sure he would, but his mortality bears more and more upon me. He still isn't interested in the church after 40 some-odd years in close contact with it. I (and the other family members) often wonder if it is our fault. Was there something we could have done to be a better example? Have we failed to offer testimony when the moment was right? Did our reaction that one time (when I was on my mission) ruin his one chance? If he dies, will he get another?

The scriptures are sufficiently ambiguous on this point. The whole point of the work for the dead is to help those who couldn't help themselves. Does my father fall in this category? He has known about the church for a while; does his refusal to learn more constitute a rejection of knowledge or a simple ignorance of how important the gospel is? I know that he knows that we think the Gospel is important, but that's hearsay right?

If my father dies before he joins the church, we will have him baptized vicariously. He knows this. Does his refusal now mean that he will refuse then? If we do it, are we disrespecting his wishes? Or giving him an opportunity that he couldn't take advantage of in life?

This is a lot of mystery surrounding our beliefs about the work among the dead. I'll be posting on it on occasion for the next little while, if for no other reason than that I am worried about my dad. I love him and I wouldn't mind hanging out with him for an eternity or two.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Historical Mormon Smackdown: Sports Trivia edition!

So, it turns out that Orson Pratt is more influential than Heber C. Kimball. Take that Geoff and Jeff!

On to the show!
Who is the more influential LDS Athlete: Steve Young or Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin?

Steve Young: star quarterback in the WAC, USFL, and the NFL; a scrambler leftie; didn't go on a mission; seems to be a generally nice guy; took a long, long time to get married, causing

Elder Wirthlin: played running back for the Utah Utes in the 1930's in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons (and is supposed to have been really good); skipped his senior year of college to go to a mission to 1936; hasn't played since, but seems to be rather busy; has been married for a long, long time, speculation.

Okay, you know how it works. Vote below or to the right and write your comments below.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fond Farewells

Recently, I attended a missionary farewell that did well. I mean, it was fine. The young elder spoke about his family, his father, repentance, and he sang a song. He told a series of jokes that weren't funny, but that his family and a group of girls laughed at. His song was of the sort (you know the sort) written by modern LDS songwriters that is intended to earn tears with references to gospel themes and traumatic life events. It was tremendously cheesy and really not terribly spiritual.

I have never before felt sympathy for this kid (or his family, really (because I am a bitter, cruel man)), but I was filled with empathy for this kid as he spoke. It was awful (really, it was), but he clearly felt like what he was saying was important and that we wanted to hear it from him.

That kid was me!

Not literally, of course. But I remember the farewell talk that I gave (back when farewells were whole hours devoted to the glory of the departing missionary). I was the second missionary to leave my ward in the previous 10 years or so (the first being my brother). I was so certain that I needed to show the ward that I was the appropriate vehicle for their hopes and surrogate missionary dreams. I was going to an "important" foreign mission. I was practically opening up a whole country to the gospel. I was determined to show that I was the spiritual giant I had always pretended to myself that I could be. I was going to blow their spiritual minds.

So, I got up there. I told them about my testimony; I mentioned how I had had all of these cool spiritual experiences and that my testimony was rock-solid. I mentioned how I was going to work hard and be a good example to the youth in the ward. I told them that I would write back to anyone who wrote me.

In hindsight, I can't believe how full of myself I was; how strong I thought my untested testimony was; how out-of-touch to think that sharing a litany of spiritual experiences would let them know who I was and what I planned to do. I was green, so green, but I was convinced that I wasn't. What a punk!

I saw all of that in this missionary this past week. It's Wednesday today, so I assume that he'll be entering the MTC today and that his parents will leave and he won't (today, at least). He'll think it's the greatest and he'll think it's the worst. He'll eventually get to his mission and find the bravado with which he spoke this past Sunday gone, replaced by some combination of fear, peace, desire, and love. I hope he'll have a wonderful mission (I did). He'll be in my prayers.

There has recently been some discussion of mtc mission journals. I don't have mine handy enough to look at, so I couldn't contribute to that. But I would like to invite the interested (who remember) to share what they spoke about at their mission farewells and what they think of the topic today.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Spiritual "Maturity" and the principle of obedience

In Rusty's post regarding the necessity of reasons for commandments (ie. do we really need reasons to obey?), there has been a comment that got me thinking. It is from bboy-mike and here it is in its entirety:
What about ethical dilemmas? What do you do when you're in an abusive, temple sealed marriage? Do you leave, or do you stay because of the covenant? These are real questions that people go through, and yet, if we only understood our faith through simple obedience, we'd have no idea how to act when faced with such a dilemma. (such dilemmas were the cause for ethics in the first place)

That is the reason to know the why behind the command, to understand the principle is the ability to then apply that principle in different and varying circumstances with certainty; it is nearly impossible to come up with a universal application when dealing with particular circumstances.

I reject the Divine Command Theory for the reason that if obedience were the only requirement for this life (which is an implicit understanding in church culture), we would remain as eternal children, never able to become mature adults of understanding and intelligence; we'd always have to ask our 'bishop' what to do in any difficult ethical circumstance, which is very unhealthy to one's moral development.

I find that I disagree with the first and third paragraph of this because I agree with the second.

First let's lay out some ground work. We all "know" that "obedience is the first law in heaven". I am not familiar with any particular verse that states it this way, but there is some support for this idea in the temple ceremony and, in particular, in Abraham 3:24-26
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Now there are a couple of different ways of taking verse 25 there. Perhaps God thinks it is a bad thing to do everything that he commands. However, the standard interpretation (and, I think, the right one) is to understand 25 as having something to do with verse 26. In other words, the proving discussed in 25 seems to have some effect on the receipt of estates discussed in verse 26. We have some positive confirmation of this theory in the fact that we are indeed here, with a body, while, we believe, the Adversary is here without one. So it does seem important that we seek to do as God has commanded.

So the next question is: Is it right to have God command us in all things? This gets a bit more complex. Let's take a look at a scripture much discussed in connection with this, D&C 58:26-29
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

This seems pretty straightforward. We shouldn't wait around for God to tell us to do everything. This command was given in connection to Edward Partridge's move to Missouri, apparently is response to a request to God to tell Bishop Partridge's group how to organize themselves.
D&C 58:24-25
24 And now, as I spake concerning my servant Edward Partridge, this land is the land of his residence, and those whom he has appointed for his counselors; and also the land of the residence of him whom I have appointed to keep my storehouse;
25 Wherefore, let them bring their families to this land, as they shall counsel between themselves and me.

What's important here is the terminology used. You'll note that in verse 25 The Partridge group is told to include the Lord in their planning. Apparently, they fell into the Oliver Cowdery trap (see D&C 9:7-9) of thinking that it was sufficient to ask God and wait for an answer, without trying to work it out themselves, too. This may be the course of the slothful servant, who strives to do nothing more than what he is asked because he wishes to do as little as possible, but (at least according to verses 26-29) this isn't what God wants from us. He wants us to use our own noggin to work out how best to obey...sometimes.

Let's take another useful example, Mahonri Moriancumer:
Ether 2:22-25
22 And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?

You know the story and, I assume, you are familiar with the standard exegesis. God is telling Jared's brother to do some of his own thinking for a minute here. But, this is the second time Mahonri has come to the Lord with questions. The first time they spoke, the Lord told him to cut holes in the boat. So, Bro. Moriancumer knows that the Lord is willing to give him some answers just for the asking. Note the phrasing above in verse 25: "what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?" We have a tendancy to hear in this the sound of an exasperated parent who is fed up with a whiny kid. I think that this might be better read as a loving parent watching a child take a first couple steps. Consider it as a sincere request: "Ask and ye shall receive". Sometimes, we are asked to work it out on our own. Sometimes, we are commanded. There doesn't appear to be a one-size fits all approach to this on God's part.

So, now that we have established the ground rules for the game (I hope) let's deal with bboy-mike's comment:
What about ethical dilemmas? What do you do when you're in an abusive, temple sealed marriage? Do you leave, or do you stay because of the covenant? These are real questions that people go through, and yet, if we only understood our faith through simple obedience, we'd have no idea how to act when faced with such a dilemma. (such dilemmas were the cause for ethics in the first place)

Now, I'll assume that bboy-mike believes that there are times in the Gospel when we have to deal with conflicting commandments. In this, he is absolutely correct. Sometimes we get what appear to be mixed messages. I would submit that when this is the case, that these are times when, as spiritually mature adults, we are expected to turn to the Lord and counsel with him. The contrast between counsel and command in D&C 58 is quite clear. The Lord admits that His commands can get us into contradictory situations, so He has provided a way to find the way out of given situations. That way is to talk to Him about it. This can involve several different means of approach (eg. prayer, fasting, talking with church authorities),but the key is to get Him involved. It is we who shut Him out; it is never the other way around.

Now, up to this point, I am in agreement with bboy-mike. But then he mentions "simple obedience." Now, I don't know what exactly he believes that phrase means. Elsewhere in the bloggernacle, "simple faith" is taking a beating (see the comment here and the following comments ("child-like" is being substituted for "simple")). The impression I have gotten is that the people who use the adjective "simple" here are using it in the sense of "simple-minded" (aka. dumb). People who emphasize trying to be obedient all the time are being simple, while I understand that it is more complicated than that (sometimes we must choose the greater of two goods, for instance). Talk like this seems to indicate that the speaker believes that they have opened up some sort of great secret ("Obedience isn't actually always easy! The commandments can be unclear!") when, in my experience, these are things that those who have commited to total obedience understand. It is a principle that appears "easy" (just do what you're told), but everyone realizes that the application is more complicated. Making the decision to be as obedient as possible may seem simple but anyone who has done it can tell you that it is a messy, confusing, and complicated commitment. The only thing you learn from it, ultimately, is to rely wholly on God (which is probably the reason for the commandment in the first place).

On to bboy-mike's third paragraph:
I reject the Divine Command Theory for the reason that if obedience were the only requirement for this life (which is an implicit understanding in church culture), we would remain as eternal children, never able to become mature adults of understanding and intelligence; we'd always have to ask our 'bishop' what to do in any difficult ethical circumstance, which is very unhealthy to one's moral development.

Let me first say that I don't see the problem in including the bishop in your counsels with the Lord, if that is what you feel you must do. Certainly, you could go overboard (see, again, D&C 58:26-29), but it shouldn't be a bad thing to seek the Lord's guidance. Which is what irks me about this sentiment. I am of the firm opinion that no matter how far we progress in this life, we will leave it spiritual children. The idea that by the proper application of reason, intellect, spirituality, humility, etc. we will become spiritual adults is absurd. To imply that is to imply that we will cease to be mortal (physically and spiritually). It isn't something that we can do. Certainly that knowledge that we acquire (that pertains to the eternities) will be carried into the next life, but, whatever knowledge that may be, it does not make us Gods in this life. I repeat, I do not believe that we will ever be spiritually mature in this life. I don't believe Joseph Smith was. I don't believe Gordon B. Hinckley is. I know I am not. I think that there is an argument to be made that Jesus wasn't (didn't he have to get a resurrected body to be a God?). If you believe that it is possible to be a spiritually "mature adult" in this life, more power to you, I suppose, but I don't buy it.

This is especially so when all the counsel we receive is that the spiritually mature are those who submit their will to God (see any talk by Elder Maxwell, for instance). This means a type of "simple obedience." We must decide to counsel with God in all things that we do and then, when he gives us specific instructions, do them, no matter how scary they may be. Look at the following (going back to D&C 58):
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
30 Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments?
31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.

The condemnation isn't for those that ask God (or that wait on him when waiting is called for). It is for those who don't keep the commands that they have received or who keep them half-heartedly. It is for those who, upon learning that their half-hearted efforts are not rewarded, decide that the fault is with God and not with them. The people who act the part of the slothful servant are the ones who are damned.

Now, I am not calling bboy-mike (or anybody else) to repentance for this. I am sure that bboy-mike is a great Mormon, a swell guy (nice to little children and puppies), and a wonderful human being. I quite like everything that he said in his second paragraph (I actually think most of this post is a rehash of the sentiments of that paragraph (although I do think that God sometimes withholds the reasons behind things for our benefit)). I am just tired of people equating spiritual "maturity" with the ability to pick and choose commandments. Maturity, to me, if it were possible, would mean that in all cases you ain't the one doing the picking and choosing. Letting the better qualified make some decisions and being prepared when He gives you ones he thinks you can handle, that is what being an adult in the gospel is (I think).

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Monday, June 20, 2005

By Study and also By Faith

The following quote by Orson F. Whitney came up in Sunday School yesterday.

"Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith."

Why did the Lord so instruct his Prophet? Why did the Prophet so teach his people? It was because God had designed, and his prophet had foreseen, a great and glorious future for that people. Chosen himself in weakness, so far as this world's wisdom was concerned, as a foundation stone of the mighty structure which is destined to tower heavenward, reflecting from its walls and glittering spires the splendors of eternity, he knew there must come a time, unless God, who cannot lie, had sworn falsely, when Zion, no longer the foot, but as the head, the glorious front of the world's civilization, would arise and shine "the joy of the whole earth"--the seat of learning, the source of wisdom, and the centre of political power, when, side by side with pure Religion, would flourish Art and Science, her fair daughters; when music, poetry, painting, sculpture, oratory and the drama, rays of light from the same central sun, no longer refracted and discolored by the many-hued prisms of man's sensuality, would throw their white radiance full and direct upon the mirror-like glory of her towers; when the science of earth and the wisdom of heaven would walk hand in hand interpreting each other; when philosophy would drink from wells of living truth, no longer draining the deadly hemlock of error, to poison the pure air with the illusions of sophistry; when love and union would prevail; when war would sit at the feet of peace and learn wisdom for a thousand years; when Zion's sons and Zion's daughters, as famed for intelligence and culture as for purity, truth and beauty, "polished after the similitude of a palace," would entertain kings and nobles, yea, sit upon thrones themselves, or go forth, like shafts of light from the bow of the Almighty, as messengers and ambassadors to the nations.

To read it in context, go here

It was accompanied by a scripture chain that included all of the admonitions to set the Lord first in one's education that I have come to expect when education and the church are discussed, but it also included D&C 88:76-80, 90:15, and 93:53. These verses are the sort that encourage one to get a liberal arts degree, not necessarily a business or scientific one. Combine this with President Hinckley's recent admission to having read a scholarly commentary on the Bible and it is possible to wonder if a trend is developing.

Are we beginning to actively encourage academic achievement in the liberal arts again? Not that we necessarily discouraged it for a while, but, in some ways, liberal arts people have been viewed with suspicion. In my field (the study of ancient religion) there was a perception in the church that the more educated one became, the more likely that one was to lose one's testimony. I have heard anecdotal evidence that this has been the prevailing thought regarding all who pursue graduate studies in the humanities (and, sometimes, social sciences).

I have always assumed that this was due to the idea that the more critically-minded you become, the less likely you were to accept irrational notions like faith and the Atonement. Additionally, the educated you became, the more likely you were to be exposed to theories that some conservatives in the church might use as litmus tests to determine a person's orthodoxy. So, in general, although higher education was always well-spoken-of and never discouraged, in my experience, there has always been a kind of suspicion of those who pursued it.

One might have asked if Elder Whitney's vision of the future is compatible with such suspicion, but I am not sure that we need to. The fact that the lesson was structured as it was on Sunday and the general trend in President Hinckley's rhetoric seem to be leading us away from viewing higher education (slightly) askance. Certainly President Hinckley wants us to get a university education and he certainly wants to fulfill Elder Whitney's vision. I think this perceived trend might be getting us closer.

What do you think: are recent events leading you to believe that we are getting closer to or farther from Elder Whitney's ideal?

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Friday, June 17, 2005

This is the last time, I promise. Ahem, "We're gonna rage Mormon-style!"

Woo-hoo! On a lark, I sent in an application to be the new Friday blogger on one of my favorite blogs: Various Stages of Mormondom. And they fell, carefully examined my qualifications and gave me the job. I'm so excited I could spit (this, by the way, is a good thing)!

Anyhoo, this probably puts an end to any posts around here on Fridays. Please try to contain your collective sighs of disappointment. I'll put the usual stuff up on other days of the week.

For now, I am just excited about all the perks that come with group blogging again. Only having to rip-off an idea from somewhere else once a week. Basking in the glory that reflects to you from your more talented colleagues. Oh, and there's the sauna.

Please feel free to read my first offering over there and compare me to my betters. I am just happy to be in the presence of greatness.


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Thursday, June 16, 2005

"We're gonna rage Mormon-style!" or yet another WoW post

Over on my sideblog there is a Rolling Stone article about Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers, a band whose music I am entirely indifferent to (okay, it's supposed to be about the whole band, but it isn't). The article mentions Flowers' Mormonism quite prominently, with him declaring himself quite devout and mentioning that he is trying to smoke and drink less. Of course it then mentions him rolling a cigarette but holding off to smoke it because he prefers to be drinking while he smokes. The article spends a lot of time setting Flowers up as the innocent who is being swallowed up by the sordid demands of fame.

Of couse, there is always the possibility that Flowers is really working the reporter, trying to sell this angle so that "good Mormons" will buy his album out of misplaced solidarity. "Sure he drinks and smokes, but he doesn't enjoy it! Sure he prances about on-stage and in after-parties, but he's awkward about it (especially with people making mistakes regarding Mormon beliefs)!" But I'm not actually that cynical (yet, give me a week).

Instead, I wonder about what this means for our Word of Wisdom beliefs. What will we say when someone asks us a difficult question about Brandon Flowers? I am unwilling to label him just yet (perhaps because I have bought the reporter's tale) as anything other than someone who is trying to quickly come to grips with fame and the temptations that it brings. But should Brother Flowers be held up as an example of a Mormon to the youth? He seems like a nice enough guy, but don't we want our Mormon heroes alcohol- and tobacco-free? I am not engaged in judgment here (I don't know the guy from Adam), what I am curious about is what this means for our love of Mormon celebrities?

I will however judge Alice Cooper, who despite being neither a vampire nor a Mormon is still a famous Mormon Vampire. That just isn't right.

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Historical Mormon Smackdown: Kimball vs. Pratt [edited]

Well, it turns out that we think by almost 2:1 proportions that the Proclamation is more influential today. I guess that isn't too shocking. I wonder however what the results would have been if I changed "influential today" to "important". But probably I'll save that for March Mormon Doctrine Madness next year.

Anyhoo, on with the show:
Which is the more influential early Mormon theological bigwig: Heber C. Kimball or Orson Pratt?

Heber C. Kimball: a visionary man, a member of the First Presidency, boon companion to Brigham, possible believer in Adam-God and Multiple Mortal Probations

Orson Pratt: An apostle who left the church and came back, put the Book of Mormon into chapter and verse, created the first good attempt at systemizing Mormon Theology, gave that one talk in the Journal of Discourse that all the Anti's quote about Jesus, Mary, and Martha.

Well, what think ye? Please vote in the blogpoll on the right or below and post your thoughts.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Do we overcomplicate things?

"One of the surest ways to avoid even getting near false doctrine is to choose to be simple in our teaching."
—Elder Henry B. Eyring
Ensign, May 1999, 74

What do you think this means in relation to the activities of the 'nacle?

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There is no other way

If you have a spare half-hour or so, please read the following chapter from the Brothers Karamazov, "Rebellion". Now, I give this reading to my students to prove two points: first, that utilitarianism has some fundamental flaws; and second, that atheists can be good moral thinkers too. (I should hasten to add that Dostoevsky was devoutly, fanatically Orthodox Christian, it is his character here who is an atheist (kinda)).

This chapter comprises the most thorough and convincing argument against a Benign God that I have ever stumbled across. It is not so much the examples that Ivan uses, but rather it is the fundamental question that he asks: If it is true that all injustice will be corrected in the end and we will all be filled with God's infinite compassion (even for those who have despitefully used and abused us), what exactly is the reason for all the suffering in the world?

This is somewhat different than the question I heard all the time on my mission: Why would a Benign, All-powerful Deity let bad things happen to Good people? How? The people who I talked to on my mission were generally upset that people suffered, that is true, but they usually operated from a position of assuming that there would be no reckoning in the afterlife, that the afterlife was offered only as a balm to the weak-headed who couldn't get along in this life without supposed other-worldly support.

Ivan, on the other hand, is looking straight at the possibility that God will make it right, that God will really correct the inequities that we have suffered in life. For Ivan, there is nothing more unjust than the establishment of justice after this life, because he reckonizes that there are some injustices that can only be overcome in us through divine help. The mother is unlikely to be able to forgive the murderer of her child without divine aid. The abused daughter is equally unlikely to be able to forgive her parents. So, in order to make everything Christian here, God is going to have to intervene to help the wronged forgive their abusers.

But, if God can intervene and make it possible for us to forgive or if forgiveness is sometimes impossible without his aid, what exactly is the point? If life is just a series of tests to show us how we are nothing without God, how does suffering (in particular the suffering of children) make this point more clear? If God can make it all better with a wave of his hand once we're dead, why put us through it in the first place? How does suffering teach us anything if its effects are only overcome through divine intervention? Is God a sadist or a megalomaniac?

These are actually some hard questions that aren't necessarily quickly dismissed by a reference to opposition in all things. The system that God has established for bringing his children back to Him appears terribly inefficient. The whole world is drenched in the blood of the innocent, is all of it necessary for our redemption?

I believe in a benign, all-powerful creator. I believe that we have been given free will. I believe that this establishes some limits on how God can interact with us and it makes it possible for us to sin. I believe that if there was any other way to get us back to Him, knowing the things that we should know and being the beings we should be, he would have used it. Think about how he had to answer the following question:
Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.

God loves us a great deal. He has spilt an awful lot of blood for us. It is my sincere hope that someday I will make it back so that I can tell Him face-to-face how grateful I am that He did what he had to do.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Out of the best books...

Dear reader,

I am once again, too lazy/busy to come up with an actual topic for discussion (although I do have a couple that I am pecking at on the keyboard). That said, the discussion from my last post has gotten me thinking about the books that we read in the church.

What book have you read that has best helped you to understand the atonement?

Here are the ground rules for this discussion:
1. The scriptures are disqualified (this isn't because I don't like them (the opposite is quite true) but because it is a too easy answer).
2. Explanations are not necessary but are appreciated.
3. Books do not need to be limited to the LDS publishing market.
4. More than one entry is acceptable.

As for me, I think the best book I have ever read for helping me understand the atonement in The Brothers Karamazov (runners up include Believing Christ, The Miracle of Forgiveness, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). I like it because it is concerned with how the atonement plays out in the real world. There are no easy answers in the book and the atonement remains hidden through much of it, but it is there throughout. For all its realism, the book is nowhere near reality, but Dostoevsky is exceptionally good at exploring the extremities of human existence which is as good a place to test the reality of the atonement as any (and better than most). It is a glorious thought experiment and a powerful testimony of the workings of Christ and his atonement, brought to us by an alcoholic, compulsive-gambling, religious fanatic. I love this book so much that I make my students read bits of it each semester. So, there is that.

What have you read?

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Friday, June 10, 2005

A hierarchy of scripture

As I see it, we have a hierarchy of belief in scripture. In other words, we give more authority to certain types of scripture than to others.

Here is how I think we rank it, from most authoritative to least authoritative:
1. Statements acknowledged as directly from the Lord made over the pulpit in General Conference by the current President of the Church
2. Statements made over the pulpit in General Conference by current members of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve
3. Statements made by Joseph Smith in a church setting
4. The Standard Works
5. Statements made over the pulpit in General Conference
6. Statements made by the current First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve in a church setting
7. Statements made by Joseph Smith
8. Statements made by former general authorities in general conference
9. Church-related statements made by current general authorities in a non-church setting
10. Books written by general authorities, intended for church audiences
11. Books discussing scripture written by non-ecclesiastically authoritative Mormons (eg. Hugh Nibley, Sidney Sperry, etc.)

What do you think? Are there categories here that shouldn't be? Are there categories that I missed? Did I get the ordering messed up?

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When it is bad to do good...

I've been thinking a bit about the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's of late. They were clearly deep in sin, in particular murder. They had killed a lot of people for bad reasons and, with the introduction of the Gospel into their lives, they realized what the price to be paid for that really was. Think about this as you're reading Alma 17-22. Have you noticed that the first thing on the lips of Lamoni and his wife is gratitude for the mission and mercy of Christ? Look at the prayers of Lamoni and his father. They are the prayers of the penitent who have realized that they have really screwed up.

Then you get the moving story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's burying their weapons of war. It is symbolic of a covenant that they have made to never shed blood again, a covenant made because they have already shed so much blood. As a result and as a condition of their repentance, they are vowing to completely forsake the sin of killing, even at the risk of their own lives. In part, they can do this because they, like God, realize that death is meaningless in the Gospel if you are prepared, if you have hope.

So they are slaughtered, refusing to defend themselves because of a promise made to God, a promise made to secure their own salvation.

Move forward a few years and the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's are known as the people of Ammon and are living in the Nephite homeland. The Lamanites are invading and using the mass defection of the people of Ammon as one of their many reasons for invading. If they do nothing, it is not they who will be in (immediate) risk, it is their sworn-defenders. Other people will die for them, because of the oath that they swore.

Obviously this is disturbing to what was once a warrior people. They can defend themselves and probably do it better than the Nephites (they think). Additionally, the Nephites are facing recruitment challenges in the army because of internal divisions. The Nephites could use their help. But they have sworn an oath to never shed blood again. It was a key component of their repentance process. Nonetheless, they begin to consider breaking the oath in order to save their new home and their new friends.

The prophet of the church tells them that God would not be pleased if they did this.

Think about it. There is no evil in what the Ammonites were planning. They are explicitly motivated by the ideas that motivate the rest of the Nephite army. They are hoping to defend those who have helped them, to express gratitude by saving the lives of their saviors. But, because of the oath that they previously made with God, they cannot. What must it be like to sit and watch on the sidelines when you feel like you could save those struggling? So instead they offered up their sons as a substitute army and taught those boys to fight well and faithfully.

There are times when we run into what we consider to be conflicting commandments. The choice between two goods can be just as confusing as the choice between two evils. How should we best negotiate these moments? The people of Ammon turned to the prophet. Nephi followed the promptings of the Spirit. Is this sufficient advice? I think it should be, but the practical use of it is vague. What do you think?

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Historical Mormon Doctrine Smackdown! [edited]

Well, the will of the people has been made known and the goatee was too important to be ignored. I'm sure this will come up in Relief Society in a couple of years.

This week, we will try something a little different:
Historical Mormon Doctrine Smackdown!

Which of the following two uncanonized yet influential bits of prophetic discourse is more influential in the church nowadays: The King Follett Discourse or The Family: A Proclamation to the World?

The King Follett Discourse has more information about family relations in the eternities than we really seem to know what to do with

The Family: A Proclamation to the World has both too much and too little information regarding family relations in this world (or just the right amount, depending on who you ask, I'm sure).

Please vote in the blogpoll on the right. Please comment on this our democratic process below.

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Adam and faith

Sometimes I wonder if I am going about all of this all wrong.

Take Adam, for instance. He is told to sacrifice animals, so he does. He doesn't bother to ask why; He doesn't care to ask for how long. He just sacrifices animals.

For that matter, Adam doesn't really seem to bother with trying to work things out on his own at all. He just humbly does what he is told and operates on the belief that at some point he will get an explanation. And then, at some point, he does.

Are we going about this whole thing in the wrong way? Should we really be trying to figure anything out on our lonesome? How does Adam's example work with D&C 9:7-9? Is there anyway to avoid producing the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture, while pondering the scriptures on our own?

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Historical Mormon Smackdown

My predictive abilities were better this past week as I had thought the Prophet would prove to be more influential than the Apostle (shocking, I know).

But, on to this week's match-up:

Which is the more important, little-known, latter-day prophet:
President George Albert Smith or President Howard W. Hunter?

G. A. Smith: I think he was an eagle scout.
H. W. Hunter: May have also been an eagle scout.

In addition to voting in the poll on the right, please impress me, your friends, and your relatives by relating whatever you might happen to know (without having looked it up on the internet) about these two great men. You'll note that I have the eagle angle locked up.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The name of Christ

Not to be overly literal, but the Book of Mormon has a notion in it that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around: faith in the name of Christ.

Let's look at a couple of passages:
Mosiah 1:11 - 12
11 And moreover, I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.
12 And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.

Mosiah 3:9
9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.

Mosiah 3:17
And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

Mosiah 5:8 - 10
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
10 And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.

So what do you make of this? There are several other examples, these are ones that I just happened to stumble across today.

According to the first Article of Faith, it is Christ himself that we are supposed to have faith in. Why do we have all this information about having faith in his name? King Benjamin's whole speech is an attempt to get his people to do things with this name? What is the significance?

Could it be another instance of the vicarious nature of the Gospel? By taking Christ's name upon ourselves are we allowing the Atonement to take effect in our lives? Faith in the power of the name to ward off evil? Faith in the name as an intermediary with the Father? Faith in the power with which we are endowed when we take his name upon us? Faith in the power of prayer and the opportunity thereby to petition God (always done in Christ's name)? These possibilities of interpretation just came off the top of my head. How do you think this doctrine should be taken?

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