Daily Beast Praises Mormons For Embracing Science

Excellent.  Today, the Daily Beast recognizes Romney and Huntsman’s uniquely pro-science stances in this presidential campaign as reflecting the nature of their faith.

One of many great quotes:

From the very founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its leaders have allowed scientific thought to coexist with their teachings, sometimes in ways that were radical for their time. Modern Mormon scientists, for instance, are quick to quote Brigham Young, who said in 1871, “In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular… whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or as many millions of years.”

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A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

In a 1990 address to Regional Representatives, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

In recent years I have felt, and I think I am not alone, that we were losing the ability to correct the course of the Church. You cannot appreciate how deeply I feel about the importance of this present opportunity unless you know the regard, the reverence, I have for the Book of Mormon and how seriously I have taken the warnings of the prophets, particularly Alma and Helaman.

Both Alma and Helaman told of the church in their day. They warned about fast growth, the desire to be accepted by the world, to be popular, and particularly they warned about prosperity. Each time those conditions existed in combination, the Church drifted off course. All of those conditions are present in the Church today.

Helaman repeatedly warned, I think four times he used these words, that the fatal drift of the church could occur “in the space of not many years.” In one instance it took only six years. (See Helaman 6:32, 7:6, 11:26)

It’s especially interesting that he mentions the book of Helaman as being a prophetic parallel for our day, in addition to Alma.  The superscription to Helaman–the introductory summary between the title and chapter one of the text–is part of the scriptural record, not an editorial study aid by modern church printers, like the individual chapter headings are.  One of the items in that ancient superscription is this:

An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites.

Continue reading

A Book of Mormon Verse Endorsing Welfare

I’ve been reading some Grant Hardy lately.  His book Understanding the Book of Mormon is excellent, so far.  I’ve also noticed some articles he’s written for Meridian Magazine recently.  Meridian is a very conservative site, and Hardy seems to lean more to the left, but his work fits in there surprisingly well. 

One article in particular piqued my interest.  In “The Book of Mormon and Social Justice,” Hardy discussed our primary text’s take on a then-controversial buzz term.  His analysis, like most explications of scriptural statements about public obligations from a liberal perspective, takes teachings about charity for individuals and church organizations and applies them to secular governments, which may or may not be warranted.  I’ve long wondered if anyone would ever find their holy grail here: a convincing scriptural story where a righteous civic leader institutes something akin to modern welfare. 

Hardy did it.  Continue reading

We’ll Be Gods Of Our Own Planets? What Mormons Really Believe

As our society’s “Mormon moment” continues, with the award-winning Book of Mormon musical selling out shows and a second Latter-day Saint announcing a run for the presidency, I think we’ll see more attempts by some to “expose” what they see as embarrassing or bizarre aspects of the church.  Perhaps chief among their targets will be our doctrine of exaltation.  But the descriptions given of this belief will likely be grossly warped, as they usually are.

Case in point: not only was exaltation mocked as a weird, scary secret in an anti-Mormon CNN blog post a couple of weeks ago, but an article in The American Conservative this week garnered two consecutive comments that depicted exaltation in an erroneous light:

They believe that their destiny is to become a god on another planet.

and then:

Furthermore, they claim that we are all potential gods (if we are good little Mormons) with our own universes to rule one day.

Neither of these remarks is accurate.  My goal here is to define what Mormons do and don’t believe about exaltation, as best as I can.

Continue reading

Trivia For An Anti-Mormon “Expert”

There’s one big question that I haven’t heard yet about an anti-Mormon author’s twisted article on a CNN blog about the LDS Church.  She says that she disbelieved in the religion at least since the time she was nine years old, yet she was married in an LDS temple, which would require a long period of prior faithfulness: was she lying about not believing in the religion throughout her childhood, or did she lie to the Church so she could get married in the temple? 

It’s been my experience that people who are inactive, or no longer members, in the LDS Church, hate being asked about when they did have faith, and how that changed.  They’ll often give sketchy answers, if any at all, and quickly change the subject.  Fair enough—private business is private business—but if you want to be taken seriously as a public opponent of something, don’t you owe the public an explanation that establishes credibility better than this? 

This author seems to base her credibility on the fact that her she was raised in a Mormon family (as if being raised by Darwin would automatically qualify you as a scientist), and the fact that she can quote distorted versions of some doctrines and out-of-context materials from the temple endowment ceremony.  So she can use Google.  Big whoop. 

You know how sometimes a reporter will try to play “gotcha” with a politician by asking him or her an incredibly simple question, like the number of amendments to the Constitution or the name of a foreign head of state?  Continue reading

Live and Die To Make Men Free

There are multiple versions of the Civil War marching song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The original words to the song include this line:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free. 

It’s easy to see why this would be inspiring to the Union soldiers singing it to build morale.  They were imitating the example of their Lord, who gave His life to free humanity from the bonds of sin and death.  This same Lord said, memorably, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  The North must have been encouraged by seeing themselves in the role of temporal saviors, risking and often giving their lives to free black Southerners from the bonds of slavery.  (The famous “grapes of wrath” from the first verse refers to God’s righteous indignation at the evil of the slaveholders, which was in immediate need of retribution, through the instrument of the Northern army.) 

Such an analogy was uplifting and appropriate for the soldiers of the time (and, indeed, for soldiers of any time).  However, as much as I like the injunction in the hymn to “die to make men free,” I also like the way those words are modified in the hymn book of my church, the LDS Church.  In our hymnal, that line reads:

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.

Continue reading

Politically Unprepared Mormon Virgins

The LDS Church has made another statement about illegal immigration, emphasizing their disapproval of “mass expulsion,” among other things.  I saw a news story yesterday about it and how, apparently, Church headquarters is being inundated by calls from conservative church members who are outraged by what they see as a betrayal of their principles. 

I won’t rehash what I’ve said about this before, but here’s a scripture-based illustration of my point:

In my neck of the woods, our Sunday School lesson next week will be about Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins.  In this story, ten women were going to meet their bridegroom.  Five had prepared, and five hadn’t.  When the surprise announcement was made that the hour for the wedding was at hand, the prepared five got to go in, but the other five were left with no groom but regret. 

The interpretation of this parable for Latter-day Saints has always been pretty standard: it’s meant to teach us about preparing for the Second Coming.  Since all ten women had clearly accepted the invitation to go to the wedding, they all represent members of the Lord’s church.  The sobering warning in the parable is that only about half of us–even half of those who are at least nominally on board with the Church–might be ready for the rewards we want when the final day comes. 

There are plenty of reasons why those five virgins (and many more Latter-day Saints) might be slack in their preparation for the Lord’s return, but in light of the blowback over the Church’s recent political stances, I wonder if some of those virgins might represent good people who let their faith be compromised by being offended by the Church’s positions on gay marriage and illegal immigration.

Has President Monson Gotten More Serious?

When President Monson was in the First Presidency, I rarely took notes on his talks.  Other speakers at General Conference would get a paragraph or so in my notebook, where I’d jot down the scriptures, doctrinal points, inspirational quotes, and directives given by each. 

But President Monson would usually just smile and tell cute stories that illustrated a simple principle (usually service).  He might frame a talk around a few basic imperatives (kneel down to pray, go forth to serve, etc.), but the bulk of his talks were just charming narrative.  When he’d come up, I’d set my notebook aside and just listen and enjoy. 

I loved the way he worked.  His style had its own value—he seemed content to leave the heavy stuff to the other guys, and he’d come in and be the coach pumping us up, motivating us by building desire to follow the examples in his stirring stories. 

But I think there’s been a big change in him in the last three years since he became president of the church.  I first noticed it in his closing remarks to the April 2009 General Conference.  Continue reading

President Monson’s “Marching Orders”

After every General Conference, my family tries to study the prophet’s talks to see what he wants us to work on, and we make a list of those priorities.  We usually summarize them in our own words, but this list is mostly copied and pasted directly from his text.  You might find more or less than these, but we saw 30 things he directly instructs Latter-day Saints to do:

Saturday Morning–Introduction

  1. May we continue to be faithful in performing such ordinances, not only for ourselves but also for our deceased loved ones who are unable to do so for themselves.
  2. Thank you, as well, for your faithfulness in paying your tithes and offerings and for your generosity in contributing to the other funds of the Church.
  3. May I suggest that if you are able, you might consider making a contribution to the General Missionary Fund of the Church.

Priesthood Session

  1. May we be worthy recipients of the divine power of the priesthood we bear.[start of talk] –> Safeguard it, treasure it, live worthy of it. [end of talk]
  2. May it [priesthood] bless our lives and may we use it to bless the lives of others.
  3. Continue reading

It’s Time For Politically Conservative Mormons To Follow Their Church On Illegal Immigration

I’ve written about this once in each of the last three years (here, here, and here), and as the Church’s position keeps getting clearer, the reactions of many of my fellow political conservatives keeps getting more hostile.  A posting on the Church’s official web site last week makes it clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favors some kind of amnesty–including guest worker programs, at the very least–for illegal aliens. 

Conservatives in general may blanche at this, and they’re welcome to–their suspicions about the Church’s motives in this don’t hold water, anyway.  (Pandering to Hispanic populations?  If the Church wanted to pander to politically sensitive groups, we wouldn’t have recently offended everyone who supports gay marriage.  Between that issue and this one, now we’ve alienated everybody!)

But for those of us who accept the divinity of the LDS Church’s claims and the authority of its leadership, there should be no argument.  In too many comments on other blogs and quotes in other news articles, conservatives are bristling about this to the point of rebellion.  Continue reading

Why Atheists Should Respect the Idea of “One True Church”

I read something recently where someone railed against the idea of any church claiming to be “true,” because it could only lead to pride and persecution.  I’m sure such has been the case at times, where some person or group has let their claims to truth give them license to alienate or oppress those on the outside of their vision, and this is awfully unfortunate.  But that’s hardly evidence that such always leads to violence, or that the claim is always untrue.  Actually, this is one religious claim that the most stridently secular among us should genuinely respect. 

A few years ago, I posted a message on a bulletin board for atheists that, if they were so inclined, they could consider the Book of Mormon as something they’d been missing but should be interested in–a physical artifact whose very nature could substantiate the existence of God.  That started a decent dialogue, but when some readers got the point that I was implying that religious claims were even capable of being literally, empirically accurate, they reacted with mockery.  That claim sounded like a fresh bit of arrogance, I suppose, but, once again, they should have seized upon it.

First of all, every religion’s depiction of reality can’t be accurate, because so many of them are contradictory.  So either none of them are, or one of them is.  Some combination of aspects of various faiths could conceivably be true, but unless multiple religions are exactly the same, only one could be purely, fully true.  The fact that any church makes such a claim–and there are few today which do–shouldn’t be an invitation to ridicule, but a recognition that even in religion, reason rules. 

If the popular conception of religion is that it’s merely a cultural tradition, or a product of wishful thinking, etc., I’d think that those who don’t find it valid (and who hold those critical assumptions about the origin of belief) would welcome a claim that not only is such not so, but that the seemingly supernatural claims of religion can be investigated, tested, and either authenticated or disproved. 

Finally! an atheist might shout.  A chance to definitively debunk this nonsense.  Which is exactly the opportunity the Book of Mormon offers the would-be skeptic.  At the same time, it provides the hard-headed devotee of reason an approach to religion that is as far from mystical as possible: a long, dense, sober text that begs to be scrutinized, studied, compared, researched, and analyzed until a verdict can be reached.  The text itself explains a method of experimenting on its truth claims that will yield consistent, reproducible results. 

The intellectually honest atheist should respect the exclusive truth claims of the LDS church because they are logically consistent, and because this is one religion that is ready to put up or shut up.

My New Mormon.org Profile!

I finished writing my profile for Mormon.org in December, but it took forever for it to get reviewed, I guess.  After a couple of weeks, I emailed the Church and asked about it, and a couple of weeks later, they replied that the review process was lengthy, and they were backlogged.  At any rate, they must have gotten around to it, because it’s online now.  To see it, click the “I’m a Mormon” button in the middle of the right sidebar.  I’ll be adding to it in the future, but I really like what’s there so far.  Hopefully it does some good for someone.

Some Thoughts on Feminists and Mormonism

Last month there was a fascinating exchange of ideas over at Millennial Star about the hype surrounding a resurgence of interest in feminism among some Latter-day Saints.  Eventually, the comments were closed, as they were becoming acrimonious.  My only contribution to that thread was a sarcastic jab, so here are some of the more substantial thoughts that have stuck in my mind since then.

The Mormon feminists (if I may lump them into a monolithic group for argument’s sake) don’t respond well to a major issue raised in the original post: the undeniable fact that most Mormon women are happy with the status quo…without being oppressed Stepford wives.  The first thing I’d like to hear them address is this: how do you know that your crusade to alter doctrinal emphases and the priesthood won’t result in unwanted burdens for the majority of LDS women?  Most importantly, can anyone address this need without resorting to insulting their sisters (“They just don’t know what they want / They need to have their eyes opened.”)? 

Or, to put it another way, have the feminists tried to account for the law of unintended consequences?  For example, would a universal priesthood result in an expectation for young women to all serve missions, as young men do?  Wouldn’t that naturally follow?  If so, how might this impact the college graduation rates of young women, or the increasingly precarious nature of dating and marriage for Mormons in their twenties?  Continue reading

Why Mormon Bibles Don’t Have the Words of Christ in Red

It’s not unusual for Bibles produced for general Christian audiences, and especially evangelical Bibles, to have the words spoken by Jesus Christ printed in red ink, to highlight them.  While this is a clever and reverent way of drawing attention to the most important aspects of a very long text, there’s a good reason why Bibles printed by the LDS Church could probably never do that.

A lot more than just some of the dialogue in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would have to be in red.  First, consider that Latter-day Saints know that Jesus was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, who spoke with Moses on Sinai.  This means that all the “thus saith the Lord” passages of the Old Testament would have to be written in red.  For example, everything in Leviticus chapter 1, after the first verse, would be red. 

That would be a pretty red-heavy text already, but then consider Doctrine and Covenants 1:38, which says, in part, that the Lord speaks to mankind, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”  Taking this literally, as we Mormons typically do, suggests that every word in all the scriptures, as inspired writings by authorized prophets and their disciples, could be in red! 

Besides losing the novelty of highlighting special text, an all-red Bible would just be creepy…

A Latter-day Odyssey

Last summer, the LDS Church sponsored a short story contest; entries were supposed to be about pioneers and had to be under, I think, 500 words.  I had an idea and quickly threw together the draft below.  However, I never revised it properly, and the deadline passed.  I forgot about it entirely until tonight, as I’ve been sorting through old documents on my hard drive. 

This is more of a rough outline than a story.  Obviously, I wanted to draw a parallel between pioneers trekking across the desert and Odysseus struggling back home after war.  I also had to throw in a reference to Joyce’s take on the epic.  I count eight good references to The Odyssey, just in a few short paragraphs–not too shabby. 

Actually, I think the idea has some merit, and the analogy is pretty clever.  Sadly, even if I fleshed it out, the story itself would have huge problems in reconciling the analogy with historical accuracy, as is probably evident from the snippet I drew up.  And the writing’s pretty clunky, even for me.  Still, it’s cute enough to post here.  Enjoy!

I even called the protagonist “Ulysses Mann.”  Geez, John Bunyan’s symbols are more subtle than mine…

**********

16 June 1848

May the most holy Spirit of the Lord our God be with me as I endeavor to chronicle my journeys, both spiritual and temporal, and preserve in the memories of all posterity those choice events that have brought me nearer to my fellow kindred saints, brethren, and our Father.

He set down the pen, not reviewing the opening words of this new journal so much as reflecting on all that they implied. Ulysses Mann had emigrated west with a company of saints after having consecrated ten years to the service of the Church—two missions, constructing the Nauvoo temple, and other assignments from the Apostles that had kept him exhausted and in danger but, worst of all, away from his wife and son.

When he had returned to Nauvoo from a mission to Canada he found that his family had already left for the Salt Lake Valley with one of the first companies, their finances growing smaller in his absence and their best opportunity to safely travel being as soon as they could possibly go. The long-expected reunion was delayed. The sealing of his family in the temple just four years before had kept him strong during the hardships of his work, and it sustained him through the journey across the land to join his people and his family in their new home.

His travels across the dust-dark desert had been arduous, trying him and testing him, but he found that his exodus prepared him to be a better man upon his settling back home. With his company of handcarts and walkers, he had faced numerous temptations: other travelers who invited him to abandon his journey and stay with them in their hedonistic frontier settlements, the loose women there who made it far too clear that they noticed he was without his wife and would welcome his adulterous companionship, and the outright savages who attacked their group in the night, assailing them with violence and terror.

But he had made it back to his wife and son, who was now a young man in his own right, and they were ready to settle in and enjoy the rest of their lives together in this harsh new land, made a pleasant paradise by their blessed coming together.

The Lord had other plans, though. In mortality, it seemed, there would be no permanent respite from trial and trouble. The prophet had called him to take his family and establish a settlement, to aid other travelers and to defend the territory from any who would seek to take the land they’d tilled and wrestled out from under them. No such interlopers would be tolerated.

Ulysses had already staked out an area for the buildings and had designated it Fort New Ithaca. He had presented his plans to his wife and she had heartily assented to support him in their calling together, saying again and again, yes.