Monthly Archives: June 2012

Divinely Inspired

A conversation I had with a friend today reminded me of an Ann Althouse blog post I read a while back.  She’s responding to a Gary Willis article in the New York Review of Books.  Mr. Willis is uncomfortable with the fact that Mormons believe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were divinely inspired.  It is somehow indefensible to believe that something so hotly debated, amended, and changed could be divinely inspired. There are a few major problems with his objections.

First, Christians in general and Mormons in particular should have no problem believing that something can be divinely inspired AND alterable.  Take the Law of Moses, literally written in stone. It was a preparatory law meant to point the children of Israel towards the Lamb of God, that they might be ready to receive the higher law rejected at Sinai.

When Christ took the believing children of Israel into a different mount during His earthly ministry and declared, “it is written by them of old time…But I say unto you…” He was effectively giving the higher law.  And the New Law of the Gospel was to be written upon our hearts.  As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it,

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

~Hebrews 7:11-12

Second, Mr. Willis clearly has a different understanding of God’s dealings with His children.  See here for more about Providentially directed chaos.  And as Joseph Smith once said,

I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priest-craft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.

~History of the Church, 5:401

We believe in progress, in improvement, and that that process is not neatly linear.  Part of the majesty and inspiration of our Magna Charta is that it can be changed, perhaps even improved.  That process may look like mad chaos, but polishing stones is brutal business.  There’s plenty of room for disagreement about what constitutes improvement to the Constitution, but hot disputes might be just the friction required to make this country better.  Despite popular belief you’ll find Mormons standing on all sides of those debates, and yet they remain faithful Latter-day Saints.

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Filed under Articles, Book of Mormon, New Testament, Rebuttles

Acts Against Entropy

Creation is about inflicting order on chaos.  It can involve assembling raw materials, formulating coherent thoughts, inventing characters, weaving novel melodies, or capturing emotions with paint, stone or film.  In small but meaningful ways creation combats the ever-present march towards oblivion.  In whatever from it takes, creation is an act of True Faith.

Of course, not all creations are created equal.  There’s enough chaos and destruction built into the cosmos to have it consume creative resources.  Good creation improves, inspires and enlightens.  It requires overcoming insurmountable obstacles…at least if you’re creating anything worthwhile.  In fact, the worth of creation is probably proportional to the effort required to produce it. By that standard, Twitter feeds have to be on the lowest end of the creative worth scale.  And on the opposite end, a notch above creating an empire…establishing a righteous family.

What greater act of creation could there be than to bring new beings into the world and raise them to be righteous, educated, well-adjusted contributors to civilization?  And what could be more difficult?  To sculpt such a family requires skills, patience, longsuffering, and love that far transcend the steady hands and imagination of marble workers.  Stone doesn’t talk back, have its own opinions, and is not endowed with a sovereign free will.

No work of art or business or political accomplishment can compare to a posterity that continues a legacy of virtue.  In a few short generations the influence of a mother and father trying their best, with the help of Heaven, will have legions of little ones making the world a better place.  You will not only have done something great for its own sake, but you will multiply your influence over the world in a way that Alexander the Great would envy.

Those of you with young children will also attest that there is no better practice at inflicting order on chaos than trying to keep a house clean while kids enjoy summer vacation.

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Filed under Random Thoughts, Uncategorized, Various and Sundry

Sunday’s Thoughts On Testimony, Conversion, and Being Born Again

Testimony, conversion, and being born again are distinct but related principles.  When we first come to suspect that there is a God, that He sent His Son to redeem mankind, the Holy Ghost begins to work within us.   As Alma taught in the Book of Mormon, the Word “begins to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–it must be that the…word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it enlighteneth my understanding.”  This is testimony, the beginning of knowledge that the Word of God is good.  It’s not a perfect knowledge by any stretch, but it is enough to act on.

Testimony will lead to a mighty change of heart provided the Word falls not on stoney soil and we permit the Holy Ghost to work within us.  This mighty change of heart leads to a desire to shed the sins of our former lives and be born again.  But as the name implies, rebirth is the first not final act. We are still spiritually young.

Conversion is the transformation process where our fallen selves are literally converted into new creatures in Christ.  It is a process of becoming, of sanctification.  This conversion from sinner to saint can only occur by the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  This is perhaps why the Lord, in His final hours, said to Peter, chief Apostle and witness to all of Christ’s ministry and miracles, “when thou art converted….”  Peter and the Apostles had not yet received the Gift of the Holy Ghost or partaken of its transformative power, though they had felt His influence.

Through the process of testimony, new birth, and conversion our natures are changed into a state of glory, a process completed not begun at resurrection.  Effort is required but powerless to purify.  That cleansing comes through the merits of Christ, and Him alone.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Daily Bread, New Testament, Random Thoughts

Brother Joseph on The US Constitution

Weary of the unsubstantiated whispers of white horses that are passing as journalistic scholarship, I thought I’d share some of what Joseph Smith actually said about the US Magna Charta and his bid for President.  As I’ve said before, LDS appreciation of the Constitution stems from a love Liberty of conscience and adequate protection of such.

On defending the Constitution:

It is one of the first principles of my life, and one that I have cultivated from my childhood, having been taught it by my father, to allow every one the liberty of conscience.  I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth.  In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights.

On his candidacy for President of the United States:

I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on anywise as President of the United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens, even those rights which the Constitution guarantees unto all her citizens alike.  But this as a people we have been denied from the beginning.  Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time, from portions of the United States, like peals of thunder, because of our religion; and no portion of the Government as yet has stepped forward for our relief.  And in view of these things, I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can, lawfully, in the United States, for the protection of injured innocence; and if I lose my life in a good cause I am willing to be sacrificed on the altar of virtue, righteousness and truth, in maintaining the laws and Constitution of the United States, if need be, for the general good of mankind.

We have as good a right to make a political party to gain power to defend ourselves, as for demagogues to make use of our religion to get power to destroy us.  In other words, as the world has used the power of government to oppress and persecute us, it is right for us to use it for the protection of our rights.  We will whip the mob by getting up a candidate for President.

It was never about theocracy; it was about protecting liberty, freedom of conscience, and protection of those rights for all.

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Create!

When work gets slow, I get anxious.  While ebbs and flows are natural in my line of work and overall I’m a net asset to the company, I can’t help feeling guilty when not actively engaged in meaningful work.  I suppose it’s natural.  But for me the guilt often morphs into self-pity, boredom, and an unhealthy dose of wanderlust.  And it’s been a slow couple of weeks.  This time I resolved not to give in.  I made a choice.

To help snap out of the funk I went through a personal mini ritual.  Clear the desk of all clutter, pull out a pen and an empty piece of paper, then try to make my mind match the paper.  After several minutes entertain a single thought, the first thing that comes to mind.  On this occasion it was a question:  What’s missing?

When you start with a blank piece of paper the answer is everything, but this is only a trigger.  There are days when work is invigorating; what’s missing today?  When you think about a great day at work, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  I could effortlessly imagine a half-dozen examples.

For a recent project I sat down in front of a blank computer screen and hammered out an elegant algorithm (in R) that cranked through a mountain of data and spit out meaningful information complete with fancy graphs.  What was it about this particular project that made it exhilarating?  It was an act of creation, bringing something into existence that did not exist before, something useful even.

Learning new things is great.  Supporting the business is fine, but acts of creation lead to incomparable satisfaction.  It is why I envy artists, musicians, directors, writers, even mediocre ones.  They create!

I then wrote two more questions on the sheet of paper:  1) What can I create today? and 2) What can I create to improve other people’s lives?  The questions more than the answers have already improved my days.

While the statistician in me understands that most days are average, there’s nothing written in the universe that says the average can’t rise.  If I go to bed tonight having brought something useful or beautiful into the world that didn’t exist when I woke up, then today really was better than average.

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Filed under Free Will, Random Thoughts, Various and Sundry

Some Cult!

From Inside Higher Ed:

So what, exactly, is so awful about being Mormon?

Utah is about 72 percent Mormon, so it’s a pretty good representation of Mormonism. Among the 50 states, Utah has the lowest child poverty rate, the lowest teen pregnancy rate, the third-lowest abortion rate, the third-highest high school graduate rate at 94 percent, the highest scores on Advanced Placement exams, fewest births to unwed mothers (also the highest overall birthrate), lowest cancer rate, lowest smoking rate, lowest per capita rate of alcohol use, and, arguably, the most comprehensive and universal state health insurance system in the U.S.

Furthermore, Mormons as a group have the lowest rates of violence and depression among religious groups, are seven times less likely to commit suicide (if active church members), and have the lowest divorce rates of any social-religious group. Sixty-five percent of Utah residents have personal computers, the highest penetration rate in the country. Crime has decreased in the state of Utah by anywhere from 15-18 percent over the past 10 years.

Mormon women are more likely to be employed in professional occupations than Catholic or Protestant women (similar to Jewish women) and more likely to graduate from college than Catholic or Protestant women (but less than Jewish women).

When I first moved to Pocatello, I lived in a cul de sac and seven of my nine neighbors belonged to the LDS Church. Nobody tried to convert me. They invited me to church picnics – no pressure. My next-door neighbor spent nearly two hours one weekday morning (he was late to work) helping me restore my snow blower to life after five years in the humid South. Another helped flush and fix my sprinkler system. A third returned my dogs after they’d escaped. Several just showed up with family members to help me move in. A fourth one tossed me the keys to his Cadillac after the transmission in my Suburban disassembled on my driveway. “Bring it back when you don’t need it anymore,” he said.

These are not the faces of intolerance and prejudice.

No. Those faces are in the academic mirror.

Read the whole thing.

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