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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Filed under LDS Church, Various and Sundry

Truly Amazing Grace

While Mormons are often thought to be soft on Grace, it is traditional Christianity, not Latter-day Saints, that sets limits on the power of the Atonement of Christ.

It is one thing to believe that through Christ we can be cleansed from our sins and made to dwell eternally in worshipful awe of The Divine.  But to believe that we can become like our Father in Heaven requires a categorically different perspective on Grace.

Only an infinite Atonement could bridge the infinite gulf between who we are now and who we may become.  There is no penance mortals can pay to satisfy Justice.  A stone would have an easier time willing itself to become the Pietà without the hand of a sculptor.

But what about all that Mormon talk about works?  A Book of Mormon prophet, Abinadi, illuminates the subject.  He was speaking with a group of corrupted priests and explained the usefulness and the limitations of obeying the law of Moses:

Doth salvation come by the law of Moses?  What say ye?  And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.  But now Abinadi said unto them:  I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount Sinai….And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses.  I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.

Mosiah 13:27-28

There are conditions for Grace to be sure, and even the most ardent evangelical believes that Faith, at least, is requisite.  But the conditions are not a co-pay; they add no credit to a celestial balance sheet.  We believe in repentance and keeping the commandments, but neither of these do anything to overcome sin and death, they do not earn us salvation, because without Christ all is vain.

“I say unto you, my bretheren,” said King Mosiah to his people,

that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you… I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning…if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.  And behold, all that he requires is to keep his commandments.”

Mosiah 2:20-21

To carry on the financial metaphor, we are never in the black.  Nothing we do shrinks the debt.  Christ paid every senine.  But the conditions of repentance and commandment keeping are necessary to receive The Heavenly Gift.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, God and Man, Rebuttles, Teachings of Mormonism

Predestination

Mormons tend to shy away from the charged word “predestination” primarily because we’re uncomfortable with its deterministic connotation.  We favor the word “foreordination” which feels more friendly to the possibility of rejecting the call or election.  While foreordination is doctrinally accurate (Alma 13, Jeremiah 1:4-5) predestination is the actual biblical word (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5,11.)  But predestination properly understood does not negate Free Will at all.

To have a destination predetermined does not guarantee arrival.  If I plan a vacation to Baja but stop and visit friends on the way and waste all my vacation days, it doesn’t mean the destination wasn’t available.  My hotel and dining reservations would likely be filled with travelers who may have made a last-minute decision to head south of the border from some delectable oceanic cuisine.  They have every right to enjoy the fish tacos I forfeited.

This is in large part what Christ taught in the parable of the marriage feast:

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which amade a bmarriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and athey would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:  And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and agathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding agarment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into aouter darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are acalled, but few are chosen.b

Mathew 2:2-14, KJV

The Feast was prepared for the predestined, and rejected.

Unlike vaycay in Baja, Salvation is not a zero sum affair.  The mansions prepared in The Father’s House are open to all who embrace the Christ.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Free Will, New Testament

The Mormon Way Business

Here’s an interesting and fairly accurate post about one aspect of Mormon culture over at the Economist:

What explains the Mormons’ success? Clean living probably helps: alcohol clouds judgment and lubricates bad deals. A history of persecution may breed self-reliance: 19th-century Mormons trekked westwards across plains and mountains to escape the kind of bigots who murdered their founder, Joseph Smith, in 1844. Modern Mormons have something in common with other industrious minorities, such as Parsees, who are prominent in corporate India, the overseas Chinese and Jews. But some of the answer may lie in the faith itself. Mormonism—the only global religion to have been invented in the past 200 years—is in some ways more business-friendly than its more ancient rivals.

Read the whole thing here.

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Persuasion

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n

He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In endless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men;
take that away what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well
The beasts may think of heav’n or hell.

May we no more our pow’rs abuse,
But ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love.

Anonymous, ca. 1805, Boston. Included in the first LDS hymnbook

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by longsuffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile– reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

-D&C 121:41-44

Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.

-Joseph Smith

Calling for civility in politics is wishful thinking.  Godly persuasion is unnatural.  “But what is government itself,” said James Madison, “but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”

Those striving to live as saints should not participate nor condone lashing out in vitriolic envy towards others.  It is not a noble demonstration of patriotism. Rather it leads to despotism.

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Filed under Doctrine and Covenants, Free Will, Politics

Reclaiming Faith

Faith has become a vacuous word which more closely connotes blind wistfulness than it should.  Somehow Faith has been positioned as the antithesis of Reason in the battle for the modern mind.  And even in the realm of religion it is largely divorced from action and reduced to mere belief.

True Faith is a principle of power and action.  It is the power whereby universes are created, sins remitted, lives changed, innovation actualized, papers published, and all progress realized.  It is more powerful than Reason alone because Reason cannot produce anything but enlightenment without Faith.  But even the philosopher’s journey is a faith-based one.

True Faith is (1) seeing something that may not yet exist anywhere else but in your own mind (2) which is true, and (3) exerting all your energy to see it realized.  These are the essential ingredients of True Faith.  Faith without works is hope.  Believing in something that is false is vain even if you work yourself to the grave to bring it to pass.  And if it is seen or known in some other way, it is not faith but knowledge which does not guarantee actions based on that knowledge.

If faith ceased academia would crumble because research epitomizes acts of faith.  CERN would close its doors.  Even the determinist’s efforts to explore the neuroscience and philosophy behind determinism would necessarily cease.

And the only Faith that can lead us to stand in the presence of God is centered on Jesus Christ.  As Alma in the Book of Mormon put it:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?

16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?

~ Alma 5:15, 16, 19

Remember that True Faith must be belief in something unseen but true, and this is true.  So I will envision what Alma suggests and do all things that lie in my power to ensure their fulfillment.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Philosophy, Science

Childlike

Ever since I’ve had kids old enough to wail in grocery store checkout lines I’ve been perplexed by the scriptural admonition to be childlike.  The more the scriptures expound the subject the greater the disconnect between my own experiences and the ideal.

Mosiah 3:19 says that we must become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”  I’m a decent father, but my kids probably rate a 20% on the Mosiah scale most of the time.  To be childlike really means Christlike, and the admonition to be childlike is a commandment to emulate The Perfect Son.  But that’s not always clear from the context of some verses that seem to really be talking about children.

Then yesterday my sweet, precious Nora, almost 2, came running to my arms after taking a tumble outside.  She buried her face in my shoulder and wept bitterly for several minutes.  You would have thought her entire world had fractured and the only thing that could fix it was the gentle embrace of a loving parent.  Then it hit me.  In that moment she was perfectly childlike.  Submissive.  Meek.  Humble.  Patient.  Full of Love.

It’s comforting to know that we too can be childlike when we fall, when the sting of sin harrows up our souls and it feels like all is lost, when we are weary and can’t move forward another inch or another day on our own strength, and the only thing that can make it better is to be encircled about in the arms of the Father of Our Salvation.

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Filed under Adversity, Book of Mormon