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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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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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