Monthly Archives: February 2012

Two Sabbaths

Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

The seventh day is a palace in time which we build.

– Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 10, 15 (original emphasis)

Last night a few folks from our congregation attended a synagogue for a joint service project.  As part of the evening, we celebrated the end of the Jewish Sabbath.  I was moved by the liturgy relating to the mourning of the passing of the Sabbath.  The intensity of this rabbi’s love for sacred time was evident in his enthusiasm and reminded me of an experience I had in the Salt Lake City temple.

When you walk down the stairs from the Celestial room (the high sanctuary), there is a painting of Adam and Eve being driven out of the garden.  It perfectly captures the emotion of the descent from the sacred and a return to mortality.  I empathized with the rabbi who mourned the passing of sacred time.  But the Sabbath and the Temple are two manifestations of the same experience.

Mormons (rightly) emphasize the sacredness of Holy Temples, and speak of the perspective one can receive by ascending above the fray of the mundane, by separating ourselves from all worldly distractions and enjoying unspeakable peace in a place designed for such experiences.  But the Sabbath should be equally reverenced as sacred time when we can enjoy those same blessings.  The purpose is identical:  to remove ourselves from the taxing burdens of our worldly existence and enjoy a taste of Eternity.

Who wouldn’t mourn the descent from such a sacred feast only to return to toil for that which moth and worm corrupt.

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Ups and Downs

As a nation we are in a slump.  Our economy is stagnant, and American exceptionalism is a shadow of a dream of a bygone era.  The East rises while the West crumbles under the weight of institutional bureaucracies  which corrode the virtues that made Her strong.  But it is not so much the bureaucracy as it is the hollowing of Virtue that is to blame.  The obesity of government is a symptom of a sloven citizenry.  A righteous people will prosper in spite of backwards institutions.

Covenant lands always come with promised blessings and cursings according to the righteousness or wickedness of their inhabitants.  The covenants associated with this land penetrate its very dust; they are immutable.  Prosperity can and will be restored conditional on our embrace of Virtue.

 

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On Faith: Part I

Last night I started reading a book called Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About it by Gary Taubes.  Taubes writes what was likely a throw away line but got me thinking about faith:

What sets science and the law apart from religion is that nothing is expected to be taken on faith.  We’re encouraged to ask whether the evidence actually supports what we’re being told to believe–or what we grew up believing–and we’re allowed to ask whether we’re hearing all the evidence or just some small prejudicial part of it.

This statement is categorically false.  It simultaneously mischaracterizes faith and science.  The principle of faith properly understood is fully operative even by avowed atheists.  Joseph Smith taught that “Faith is not only the principle of action, but it is also the principle of power in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth.”

True Faith is anything but unsubstantiated wishful thinking.  It is not walking to the edge of the light and leaping blindly into the darkness ignorant of what you’ll find.  True faith is envisioning something that may not, at present, exist anywhere but in your own mind and exerting all the energy of your soul until it is actualized.  It definitely requires stepping into the unknown but not into a void, towards something yet unseen.  That is why faith is a principle of power in all intelligent beings.

But belief and effort are only two ingredients of true faith.  In order for faith to be true it must be belief in and work toward something that is in fact true.  Otherwise all efforts are vain.  For a scientist researching a false hypothesis this means that no amount of effort or belief can make it true.  And for a believer in any religion, faith is vain when not founded on correct principles.

So don’t tell me that science is somehow reason immortalized, free from the oppressive blindness of faith.  When a physicist pushes the limits of our understanding of the universe she is acting on principles of faith, and every innovation is the fruit of an idea of something previously unseen.

Putting a man on the moon was an act of pure faith.  It had never been done, yet many were convinced of it’s possibility and worked their guts out until it was accomplished.

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Idols

They worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.

~Isaiah 2:8

The ancients fashioned graven images of stone or precious metal and made offerings to them.  They sought in vain blessings from dumb rock.  When we apply this to modern times we typically say our idols are any earthly things which we love more than God, be it cars, clothes, sports, work, video games, the internet.  This misses the point.  What if what the ancients prized to the point of worship was not the physical lump of rock, but rather the fact that they created it?  They exercised power over the elements in an act of raw creation subduing, in essence, the earth itself.  They glory in their own ability to use available tools to create something of perceived beauty and value.  This interpretation is much more broadly applicable to our day because we are ever engaged in creative acts.

Today we have far fancier tools than did our ancient ancestors, and the things we create vary infinitely more.  We can make jewelry, 100 row combines and planters, cars, trucks, cell phones, apps, search engines, artificial neural networks, nanotechnology, and thanks to an explosion in prosperity an endless supply of entertainments like novels, plays, movies, YouTube, X-Box, etc.  The simplistic and anti-materialistic approach to idol worship would be to say that these things are idols.  But there were plenty of things made of stone and gold that were not worshipped anciently.

Idol worship is when we become inordinately pleased with our own work, whether it’s that elegant program we just engineered or constructing an artificial black hole.  We compare our meager acts of creation with those of the Creator.  If, as I believe, all of us have access to an eternal wellspring of creativity and are capable of greatness, then idol worship is when we forget to honor God.  That is idolatry, loving the work of our own hands, “that which our own fingers have made.”  And it is at its core self worship.

We should never forget that great things are created through us more so than by us.  A mother literally brings a new and exquisite creation into this world through her.  She is the conduit through which the ultimate earthly creation is delivered.  If we always remember the source of our meager creations and that they came through us, then we might find ourselves worthy to be the means of true greatness.

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Rational Degree of Belief

I am a statistician by training and profession. I enjoy wrestling with the philosophical underpinnings of probability, logic, epistemology, etc. particularly what it means to know something.  A statistician’s main objective is to quantify uncertainty about a given proposition using models that reflect a belief consistent with all available data. Physics is also based on useful models that are consistent with observed/observable data. The laws of nature may not be changing, but the mathematical formulas we use to describe them can and do change; ask Newton (and possibly Einstein.)

So when can we ever be thought to KNOW something given that new data always seem to throw a monkey wrench into our neat little models? I Like Lord Keynes’ perspective:

If a man believes something for a reason which is preposterous or for no reason at all, and what he believes turns out to be true for some reason not known to him, he cannot be said to believe it rationally, although he believes it and it is in fact true.  On the other hand, a man may rationally believe a proposition to be probable when it is in fact false.  The distinction between rational belief and mere belief, therefore, is not the same as the distinction between true beliefs and false beliefs.  The highest degree of rational belief, which is termed certain rational belief, corresponds to knowledge.  We may be said to know a thing when we have a certain rational belief in it.

– A Treatise on Probability, John Maynard Keynes, 1921

Through my own experiences I have come to know, or attained a certain rational belief, that there is a God in Heaven who is mindful of his children.  Nothing is more certain.  In the coming posts I will show how I came to this knowledge.

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Beginnings

I have recently heard a great deal from pastors and pundits on radio, in print, and even on broadway about what I supposedly believe.  It would be waste of time and space to try to address two hundred years of accumulated misinformation.  But I can begin to document what I really believe, not what you heard I believe.

You see, I’m a Mormon, and about as Mormon as you can get.  With all my heart and mind I believe in Mormon scripture, attend weekly Mormon services (all three hours), and participate in the Church’s lay ministry to the best of my abilities in whatever capacity I’m asked.  I served a full-time mission in Switzerland and France.  And most of my ancestors walked across the plains and settled in the Utah territory.  So what I write here is the perspective of a believer but in no way official Church doctrine

I write according to the dictates of my own conscience, my own philosophy, and my own understanding.  Of course I believe it’s the right point of view; I wouldn’t believe it otherwise!  But I reserve the right to and even expect to change my beliefs, and will gladly admit mistakes in the presence of new information.

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