Monthly Archives: March 2012

Victims of Vanity

Archeology is a funny science.  It is inherently non-testable, the evidence is always changing and hypotheses are constantly revised.  When rummaging through the rubble of the Ancients we should also remember that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.   Yet archeology is covetously defended by many and used by some to “prove” the non-existence of God.  (We partially addressed that here.)  But the best we can really hope for with Archeology is to believe a theory that is consistent with the data.  The problem is choosing a consistent theory; there are almost always more than one.  And this is true in many aspects of our lives.

We can all approach the same experience and draw very different conclusions.  A man struggling to get by pays an honest tithe and gets two job offers the following week.  He shouts praises to the Most High while his friend calls him petty and condescendingly recites, “post hoc ergo propter hoc.”  The thing is, it’s all in the past.  It is no longer a testable hypothesis for either party.  Yet both will feel satisfied, the one with reverence and the other with pride.

Religious or not we believe the explanation that is consistent with the data and our bias.  Our confidence in our own rightness is fortified.  The problem is, once we’ve accepted a set of premises that regulate our bias, the conclusions that follow rest upon something that cannot be proven.  So let’s at least be honest enough to admit the possibility that another theory is consistent with the data even though it aggravates our own bias.

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Bastiat was Wrong…

…but not for the reason you’re probably hoping.  Personally, I feel Frederic Bastiat was erudite in explaining the virtues of liberty and laws that maximize human dignity.  But he is wrong, or at least incomplete in his reasons for such strong opposition to it.  He wrote in The Law:

[W]hat is the political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty…. It must be admitted that the tendency of the human race toward liberty is largely thwarted, especially in France. This is greatly due to a fatal desire — learned from the teachings of antiquity — that our writers on public affairs have in common: They desire to set themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy.

Bastiat is only half right.  He is correct in assessing mankind’s lust for power and desire to rule but is overly optimistic about the universality of the desire to be free.  He ignores the complicity of the citizenry in the establishment of authoritarian forms of government.  Didn’t ancient Israel cry unto the Lord for the establishment of a king despite the litany of warnings from the prophet Samuel?  And why did they do it?  To be like other nations and for someone else (other than the Lord) to fight their battles.  They were willing to pay the heavy price for that privilege.

Philanthropic Tyranny, meet your willing citizens.

There is a more striking example that is uniquely Mormon, as far as I know.  We believe in a pre-earth life as spirit children of God.  Prior to the creation of the world, Heavenly Father presented a plan for us to progress, to be tested and according to our diligence and faith exalted.  Lucifer proposed a counter offer whereby none would be lost, all for the low low price of forgoing Free Will.  A full third of the hosts of Heaven followed Lucifer and were cast out.

So even in the presence of God there is something within each of us that is tempted to sell our liberty for a mess of pottage.  No wonder this is the great political struggle.

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All Roads Lead Where?

Can it be true that many paths lead to Exaltation?  If it were, then all paths would be equal and equally true.  This can’t be because many belief systems are contradictory; resurrection and reincarnation are fundamental yet mutually exclusive doctrines.  But what if all belief systems have some truth?  I know this to be true because I felt it deeply as an eager teenager devouring the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, and other exquisite, primary sources.

All religions contain doctrines and principles that are true and can lead from enlightenment to enlightenment.  Mormons are perhaps more sympathetic to such a notion because we believe in the idea of revelation upon revelation, receiving line upon line, and as I’ve discussed earlier, we believe in an open canon.

We also believe that God has spoken to all nations at various times.  Sometimes undefiled records were kept and hid up to come forth as a voice from the dust as happened with the Book of Mormon.  But even without such a tangible first-hand account much truth, while corrupted by false traditions, endures among all peoples.

We also believe that the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth of all things to those who honestly seek it, and that this is not an exclusive right limited to Latter-day Saints.  We will not receive a complete knowledge of all things all at once, but we can come to know truth when we hear it.

Organizations as well as individuals grow line by line.  The Lord did not reveal to Joseph Smith a perfect, complete organization, nor did He reveal such to Moses or Peter.  In fact, the Lord commanded Peter to preach the Gospel to all the earth.  To Peter that apparently meant all the Jews in all the earth.  It wasn’t until some time after the Ascension that Peter required and received a poignant revelation about preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 11).  Then even later, confusion arose about whether or not non-Jewish converts to Christianity ought to obey the parts of the Mosaic tradition still in force.  The Twelve met in council and received another revelation about which parts of the law were applicable to gentile converts (Acts 15).

Receiving enlightenment line upon line is a feature, not a flaw of how the Lord deals with His children and builds His kingdom.  So we should not be surprised when things change; we should expect it!  There are, of course, unalterable truths.  But there is nothing to indicate that institutions, organizations, or cultures are immutable.  Covenants are eternal, but the method of administration might change with no loss of generality.

Just because things change, however, doesn’t mean that many roads lead to a fulness of Salvation.  It means there are authorized servants of the Master who can navigate us through new terrain or provide a more perfect set of guidelines that suit current needs.

The challenge, then is to discover how to recognize truth and recognize who is authorized to make such alterations to the true path.  That will be left for another post.

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What we really learn from Joseph Smith’s strange doctrine about other planets and stars:  A hundred years prior to the publishing of the theory of general relativity by the famous file clerk, a farm boy from Vermont declared that time is relative to the velocity of the planet on which one resides and the mass of the star the planet orbits.

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Free Will: Part I

I used to love storms, a good downpour accompanied by blasts of electricity tearing across the skies.  It is magnificent to see how the tree bark darkens and enriches the vitality of the colors that hang on the branches.  It used to fill me with exhilarated wonder.  Then I moved into a 50-year-old house in the midwest.  Now any serious rain means nothing but worry, dread even, that my basement will welcome the water from the saturated earth.  My reaction to storms has changed because of a change in circumstances.  As it started to rain again last night I wondered if I could ever enjoy the sound of thunder again.

When I was 16 a wise Bishop told me that anger is a choice.  Of course as a teenager full of angst I was infuriated by the accusation that my anger was a choice.  But in that ironic moment I decided to test the theory and immediately began to notice that I could in fact choose how I reacted to perturbing stimuli.  It’s been many years now and I’m much better at choosing not to become angry, though having three little kids has provided a plethora of new ways to practice that choice.  But what is the extent of our power to choose?

I feel crushed at times by the burdens of responsible adulthood.  Can the answer be to choose not to be burdened by earthly cares?  This is certainly part of what the Savior intended when he said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  This implies that one’s life is acceptable to God.

We have reason to worry if we try to succeed on our own strength and terms.  But if we are confident that the path we are pursuing is in accordance with the will of God, even directed by Him, then we are promised His strength.  We can with full confidence stop worrying, and “stand still with the utmost assurance and see the salvation of our God” (D&C 123:17).  The challenge then is knowing that you are where and doing what the Lord would have you be and do.  When you know that in the depths of your soul, then worry melts like frost before the sun.  This is true power, not passive positive thinking that everything will work out for the best.

I felt such an assurance last night as raindrops began to pelt the awning outside my window.  I read these words:

Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord; for what is property unto me? saith the Lord….For have I not the fowls of heaven, and also the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the mountains? Have I not made the earth? Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth? Therefore will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.

Doctrine and Covenants 117:4,6-7

What is property to the creator of worlds without end?  I will choose to let storms once again bring majesty instead of dread to an otherwise meteorologically average existence, and trust that the Lord can bring forth in abundance the things we need for the journey.

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Quote of the Day: Real Progress

The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.

President Ezra Taft Benson

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Mormon Theocracy? Pass.

Mormons want a theocracy about as bad as a cantankerous pirate wants a colonoscopy.  There’s a lot of overblown rhetoric online about the so-called “white horse” prophecy (links intentionally withheld) and the Mormon’s wish to establish a theocracy.  It is an intentional misrepresentation of Mormon theology that serves as a useful bludgeon to damage Mormon politicians.  No one seems to care if Mormons serve in the military, or as the Senate Majority leader, or teach at the Harvard School of Business.  It only seems to matter when it makes a useful caricature.  All this talk about white horses is a classic misdirect that is simultaneously untrue and mischaracterizing.  It’s not enough just to be wrong in this case. No, the commentators have to declare Mormon folklore to be doctrine and then go on to misinterpret the folklore.

First off, is it really a shocker that Mormons believe the Constitution of the United States is in peril?  Thomas Sowell doesn’t think it’s outrageous.  The only surprising thing is that we’ve believed it for a long time.  We have fresh scars from wounds received when we found no redress from appeals to its pages.

Secondly, the authoritative, canonical doctrine about government is far from theocratic.  It is affirmed in our own scripture that governments are ordained of God for the benefit of man (Doctrine and Covenants 134), that we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying honoring and sustaining the law (Articles of Faith 12) and that God is the author of the US Constitution (D&C 101:80) at least in the same way He “authored” scripture.  After being driven out of the United States because of religious intolerance and establishing a city in the Utah desert, Governor and Prophet Brigham Young had a parade in which the youth marched holding copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, 95-107).

We revere the Constitution because it is meant to guarantee the free exercise of religion, a freedom we would desperately love to enjoy.  “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow ALL men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 11, emphasis mine).  If we seek office it is not to establish a theocracy, it is to make sure that the freedoms defined in the pages of the Constitution can be enjoyed by all.

Yari Rosenburg had an excellent article at the Tablet.  He discusses religious persecution in general, something Jews know a little about, and some of the recurring attacks in particular on Mormons in the spotlight.

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LDS Newsroom: Temple Garments

A not-so-strange custom.

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God and Man II

It’s foolish to think that what is, always was, and ever will be.  We don’t expect this anywhere in our lives, so why suppose it’s true when talking about Revelation from God to Man?  The scriptures teach that God reveals His word line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little there a little (Isaiah 28:10) and that we are to have milk before meat (I Corinthians 3:2).  To the saints in Corinth Paul explains that this is because “ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”  At what point in the 50 odd years after Paul’s epistle did people become so enlightened that there was no longer a need for revelation, or that all mysteries had then been expounded?

Joseph Smith taught:

It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of The Almighty… Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?

– Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 320

We Mormons get into trouble for believing that God is not silent, that Heaven as well as our Canon are open.  A radical proposition to be sure, but one that seems perfectly reasonable.  The Bible is the beginning of Wisdom but not its end.  I do not believe that everything there is to know about the Kingdom of Heaven and the destiny of God’s children is inexhaustibly contained in its pages.  In short, I choose not to set bounds on the works and ways of the Almighty.

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God and Man Part I

A while back I read an article about how a correct understanding of neo-Darwinism necessarily leads to atheism.  The crux of the argument was that if God is all-powerful and created the world in a designed, intelligent way, why is evolution so chaotic, full of dead ends and redundancies.  Why didn’t God will a perfect world into existence?  The disdain of the authors (and their logical conclusion) suggests that if the world evolved in a chaotic, random, and seemingly unintelligent way, that either God did not create the world or He is not all-powerful.  God is all-powerful by definition, therefore He did not create the world.

If they were sincerely trying to understand God’s nature, the authors were asking the wrong question.  They ask the question that helps them win favor among enlightened elites and land their article in The Economist, but it is not the question that would lead to understanding about God’s dealings with His children.

Their approach is fine if you want to slay a straw man with a clever turn of logic.  But if we really want to learn about God’s dealings with His children, we should start by asking:  Given that God created the world, why does the evidence (biological and archaeological) suggest chaos or incoherence?

There are myriad examples of perfectly wonderful outcomes that were reached through chaotic processes, many of which we understand through revelation and scripture were influenced by God.  Our own lives develop in non-linear ways, full of dead ends, detours, loss, Providential breakthroughs, innovations and unanticipated directional shifts.  But for the humble follower of Christ it will lead to a perfect end.  And think about the establishment of the early Church by the Apostles, the redemption of the children of Israel from Egypt and the advent of the Law of Moses, or the framing of the United States Constitution.  Good outcomes from chaotic processes is the norm, not the exception.

There’s even scriptural evidence to suggest that if the opposite were true, if perfection and completeness were the startling place, then chaos would be the result.  That’s what we see in Genesis ch. 2-3 with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

What is truly remarkable is that God can create a world, fulfill His purposes, establish His Church, guide His children’s lives, build nations, all without infringing upon our inviolate free will.  That is certainly more difficult than willing a perfect world into existence.  It also provides a mechanism whereby we may learn and grow.  So what others have offered as evidence of God’s impotence or irrelevance turns out to be a rather clear instance of His omnipotence.


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