Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom of Religious Belief: The Differences Matter

Extremist feet (size 13) in even more extreme shoes. Photo taken at the Holland display in Royal Park Rajapruek, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2015.
Three years ago, Wesley J. Smith writing for FirstThings.com described the assault on freedom of religion being conducted under the banner of freedom of worship. Aren't they the same thing? There is an important difference. When governments provide only for "freedom of worship," they may be willing to allow you to worship as you will in certified houses of worship, but when it comes to how you live your life outside of worship services, practicing your religion becomes more problematic.

Smith warned that in spite of explicit protection for religious freedom in the US Constitution and even in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), that liberty is being limited and assaulted in many quarters:
Strident secularism is on the march and freedom of religion is the target, with secularist warriors attempting to drive religious practice behind closed doors by redefining religious liberty down to a hyper-restricted, “freedom of worship.”
In his list of specific examples of trouble spots, Smith warned that Obamacare would force those who oppose abortion on moral and religious grounds to provide or facilitate that gruesome service, contrary to their religious beliefs. His concerns have proven to be grounded in reality. As Sarah Torre wrote at Heritage.org in 2014:
Perhaps the most egregious example of this whittling away of religious liberty is Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate. The legal showdown over the now famous rule entered a new round last week. The federal government continued its fight to force the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity dedicated to caring for the elderly poor, to cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception in violation of their faith. While the Supreme Court stopped enforcement of the mandate against some family businesses, non-profit religious organizations like the Little Sisters remain in danger of devastating fines for not complying with the coercive rule.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s HHS mandate is hardly the only assault on religious freedom and the right of conscience in the United States.

Obamacare is finding new ways to force individuals and families to pay for health plans that cover elective abortions. The law’s lack of transparency about abortion coverage, coupled with a mandatory abortion surcharge, is so serious an affront to conscience that it has led at least one family to file a federal lawsuit. The health care law also only includes limited protections for medical professionals who decline to participate in, perform, or refer for abortion because of their moral or religious beliefs. Those loose protections, coupled with the administration’s weakened guidance on federal conscience regulations, could endanger the ability of doctors, nurses and hospitals to continue working in accordance with their values.

Outside the doctor’s office and beyond the intricacies of health insurance, Americans are also facing new threats to their freedom to work in accordance with their beliefs about marriage. With the redefinition of marriage in a number of states (more often through the rulings of judges than the votes of citizens) has come increasing intolerance in both culture and law toward those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Most recently, a couple who runs a farm in upstate New York was fined $13,000 for declining to rent their family farm for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Others involved in the wedding industry, like photographers, florists and cake makers, have been hauled into court for declining to use their artistic talents to participate in same-sex weddings. Facing coercion by state governments to place children with same-sex couples, some Christian adoption agencies have even been forced to end foster care and adoption services rather than abandon their belief that children do best with a married mother and father.
In July of this year, Little Sisters of the Poor suffered a serious setback when a Federal Court ordered them to comply with the HHS mandate requiring them to subsidize contraceptive and some abortion services for employees or face large fines from the IRS. These Catholic sisters are free to listen to mass in Latin, English, or Vulcan if they wish, but when it comes to living their lives outside of worship services, their freedom of religion is curtailed as the State pressures them to promote something they find evil and reprehensible.

Freedom of worship is not much better than freedom of belief, and both are far less than the fundamental freedom that our Founding Fathers sought to protect. Freedom of religion should be the law of the land in the United States and other nations that have ascribed to that sacred concept, but it is being replaced with the much more limited freedom of worship or belief.

The difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship came up again recently when a US Senator grilled Homeland Security about a subtle change in wording on the government's test for immigrants to the US who wish to become citizens:
A Republican senator from Oklahoma pressed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at a hearing Wednesday about why the U.S. is “misrepresenting” Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion to immigrants who are applying to become U.S. citizens.

“We in the United States actually have freedom of religion, not freedom of worship,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told Johnson yesterday during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing.

Lankford was referring to the department’s decision to include “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” as a basic American right listed in the civics test that all immigrants must take to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Again, the difference needs to be understood and attempts to replace the greater freedom with the lesson one should be called out. I don't think the change in wording is just a careless mistake.

Here in China, where the social, religious, and political situation is much different than in the US, I am happy to report that we at least have freedom of belief. In fact, we foreign LDS members enjoy currently surprisingly generous freedom of worship, provided we carefully respect the law and avoid proselyting among native Chinese. (If you come to visit or live in China, please come worship with us, but don't bring religious literature to give to Chinese people, and don't get into detailed conversations about matters of faith--respect the law here!) In terms of officially condoned public worship, it is generally restricted to official locations provided for the five state-recognized religions in China: the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (a Protestant organization) and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (which does not recognize the Vatican), whose leaders are generally members of the Communist Party or selected by the Party's Administration of Religious Affairs.

Latter-day Saints are not one of the official five, obviously, but in several cities foreign-passport-holding Latter-day Saints like myself are allowed to meet and worship together quite freely at appointed locations, provided only foreign-passport holders attend our meetings. We are intensely grateful for this freedom, and we strive to respect the laws of China in order to preserve this right and the trust that has been given us. Given China's history and current needs and concerns, I can understand the reasons for China's policies. In the US, however, our heritage and fundamental privilege extends much beyond freedom of belief or freedom of worship. I hope that freedom can be preserved as well. Here in China, in my opinion, the trend over the past few decades has been one of increasing freedoms, still with challenges and problems. But the trends of decreasing freedoms that I see in the West are alarming.

Unfortunately, even freedom of belief and freedom of worship in the US and the West in general may soon come under fire. At least that's my cynical take on the news that the United States is collaborating with the United Nations to help stamp out ideologies (belief systems) that they label "extremist." Here's part of the Sept. 29, 2015 announcement straight from the United Nations, which begins by discussing the obvious problem of terrorism--now called "violent extremism," but paves the way for dealing with much broader issues and belief systems than the small groups that like to spread terror:
The Leaders’ Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, hosted by United States President Barack Obama on the margins of the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate, brought together representatives from more than 100 nations, more than 20 multilateral institutions, some 120 civil society groups from around the world, and partners from the private sector.

“Addressing this challenge goes to the heart of the mission of the United Nations, and it requires a unified response,” stated the Secretary-General, who intends to present a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism early next year to the General Assembly.

Our objective must be to go beyond countering violent extremism to preventing it in the first place,” he added.

In this regard, he outlined five key priorities: the need to engage all of society; the need to make a special effort to reach young people; to build truly accountable institutions; respect for international law and human rights; and the importance of not being ruled by fear – or provoked by those who strive to exploit it.

“We have a major challenge before us – one that will not disappear overnight – but one that we can address concretely by forging societies of inclusion, ensuring lives of dignity, and pursuing this essential endeavour inspired at all times by the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Opening the meeting, President Obama said that it is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield.

“We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas – a more attractive and compelling vision.” ...

And in all countries, it is vital to continue to build true partnerships with Muslim communities, based on trust and cooperation, so that they can help protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized, Mr. Obama continued.

“This cannot just be the work of government. It is up to all of us. We have to commit ourselves to build diverse, tolerant, inclusive societies that reject anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that creates the divisions, the fear and the resentments upon which extremists can prey.
Does it take a lot of paranoid imagination to see how "engaging all of society" and reshaping the minds of the young to denounce and curtail those who allegedly "exploit fear," threaten "dignity" (the sweeping new right mysteriously found in the Constitution that overturned the right of States to regulate and define marriage), and create "divisions" (i.e., disagreement with sanctioned PC views)  could point to government intrusions in not just freedom of religion, but even freedom of belief? After all, these statements imply that it is the belief systems that are responsible for extremism in the first place, and not just the relatively tiny fringe groups who exploit Islam in some parts of the world to promote terror. The language of this UN announcement shows that much broader religious belief systems are being targeted.

In fact, for many of our elite opponents, religion, especially Christian religion and most especially conservative Christian religion such as Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism, is inherently extreme, divisive, bigoted, hateful, and fear-based. In their view, opposition to their political or social goals is an expression of hate and bigotry. There is a divide, but divisiveness is due only to the existence of opponents on the other side. Their anger is just righteous indignation toward the unrighteous hate of the others. Tolerance is not a two-way street, but a strictly enforced one-way road.

Do you think there is no threat that some of the power-hungry who despise religion, if given the opportunity and power, will hesitate to make further incursions into the liberties that we now enjoy or once enjoyed?

If you don't believe that there might be a little bait-and-switch ruse in this effort to reshape global society, ask yourself this: If the problem being addressed is ISIS and the terrorism of other militant Islamist groups, then why does the mission of this international effort depart from stomping out militant Islamic groups and capturing the most dangerous terrorists among them (some of whom may be posing as immigrants crossing borders with documentation), instead morphing to the new goal of "reject[ing] anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that creates the divisions, the fear and the resentments upon which extremists can prey"? Whoa, it's you allegedly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant folks who are causing all that bloodshed? That's the real enemy now? Or maybe it's actually you anti-abortion folks who are the real problem here.

You can be as pro-Muslim and pro-immigrant as you want (for example, I'll take Daniel Peterson as a wonderful example of a Mormon who deeply respects Islam and has given us tools to appreciate it), but if you're in the cross-hairs of those who despise your particular religion, I bet the eye of the beholder will see something that looks horrifically ugly, or rather,  divisive, bigoted, and extreme.

Admittedly, that's an extreme opinion. Just one more reason (in addition to my shoe size) why I'm an extremist in need of reeducation or something. And yes, the broad statements in the UN announcement have not been passed into law yet. That won't happen, of course, until we go through the complex and often lengthy process involving both Houses of Congress and loaded with checks and balances as described in the US Constitution--or until an executive order is issued, which takes about 10 minutes on a Friday afternoon.

So is there really any risk that the US government might somehow brand large numbers of Christians as "extremists" who might need the helpful attention and services of, say, the US military? Is that utterly paranoid and ridiculous? A clue about the probability of such a bizarre situation might be found in an incident in 2013, as reported by Nicola Menzie in The Christian Post:
A U.S. Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief describes "Evangelical Christianity" and "Catholicism" as examples of "religious extremism," according to the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, who shared a copy of the documents with The Christian Post.

"The number of hate groups, extremists and anti‐govt organizations in the U.S. has continued to grow over the past three years, according to reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They increased to 1,018 in 2011, up from 1,002 in 2010 and 602 in 2000," reads the first page of the slide presentation labeled "Extremism & Extremist Organizations."

Listed alongside "extremist" groups and organizations like the Klu Klux Klan and al-Qaida, the U.S. Army slideshow has "Evangelical Christianity" as the first bullet, followed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and farther down on the slide, Catholicism.

According to the training documents, "Extremism is a complex phenomenon" that is present in every religion due to "some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only 'right way' and that all others are practicing their faith the 'wrong way,' seeing and believing that their faith/religion superior to all others."
Here's the offending slide from the presentation to US soldiers, published by the Christian Post. As stated, the list of religious extremists leads with Evangelicals. Further down is Catholicism. Toward the end is "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Real Mormons aren't on the list, I'm relieved to report. Whew, close call, but looks like we're safe, right? Perhaps, unless you also affiliate with the Jewish Defense League (I think some Mormons might) or have a very strong dislike of Islam ("Islamophobia"). That's not me, for the record, but I suspect there are some Mormons that fall into that camp. And some Mormons who converted from Catholicism might still retain some of their former "extremist" ways. Of course, this list is not meant to be complete. The list of potential extremists and their insidious traits could become very, very long. The shoes of extremism are so big that they can fit almost any foot, when it suits the accuser.

Of course, once Catholics, Evangelicals, and perhaps some other targeted "extremists" got wind of this, they objected and the US government quickly washed its hands, pointing out that this was an isolated incident, not representative of what the military is really doing, etc., etc. Maybe it was just a rare, inexplicable mistake. But the organization that helped prepare the materials appears to still be in good standing as an important ally of the Administration. Watch for more efforts to give government more tools and more power to fight the never-ending battle against the extremist spooks that haunt dark corners everywhere.

A crack down on "extremism" of any kind could be a beautiful tool for those who seek ever more power for government. It's not just the US government (and the UN) calling for this. David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK, gave a speech at the United Nations last year calling for something similar:
We must be clear: to defeat the ideology of extremism we need to deal with all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism.

For governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. We must work together to take down illegal online material like the recent videos of ISIL murdering hostages. And we must stop the so called non-violent extremists from inciting hatred and intolerance in our schools, our universities and yes, even our prisons.
While we all may dislike hate and intolerance, the danger is in defining those terms. If I'm the one making that call, should you be worried that anti-Mormon speech might be treated as hate speech? Will I find you are suffering from Mormophobia or Christophobia and need a few months in a reeducation camp? No, I wouldn't do that--but do you want to find out what a Mormon would do with that kind of power? Should we give anyone that kind of power? Some of the abuses we've already seen with "hate speech" legislation and policies suggest that an all-out international effort on stamping out any form of "extremism" that politicians dislike could be a very dangerous thing. Note, however, that extremism in government power will never be on the official list of extremism to stamp out.

May all Americans, whatever our faith, stand up for freedom of religion, not just freedom of worship and belief. Let me know what you think--but please don't say anything that might be viewed as divisive, bigoted, or extreme. I've got your IP address, and may have to report you. Make sure your words create a society of inclusion and harmony--or else.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Let Me Drown with Moses: Poetry from James Goldberg

Amazon recently surprised me with a recommendation for a book of poetry, Let Me Drown With Moses by James Goldberg. I was hooked with the sample poem it displayed for me, and knew I had to buy it. I wondered why Amazon was pitching a poet to me when I don't think I've bought poetry before on Amazon. Only after making my purchase decision did I learn that Goldberg is LDS, so that's how the connection was made. His biography describes him as "Jewish on one side, Sikh on the other, and Mormon in the middle." I like that.
Goldberg's poetry explores many issues, including some of the difficult aspects of Mormon history with local Indian tribes. Sensitive, broad in vision, painfully aware of the pain in human failings and of the joyful potential of the Gospel, Goldberg is a complex and interesting poet that deserves more attention, in my opinion. Nicely done!

Here's the "sample poem" that grabbed me, one of many thought-provoking works in his volume. As with many of his poems, it is not just for LDS readers. This poem may be of interest to many who treasure the Bible.
The Kingdom of God

Is not the feast. It's the cry that goes out
and echoes through the streets that you
and I and all the beggars have been summoned
tonight to the sovereign's table.

The kingdom of God

Is not the ship. It's the cord hanging off
the ship's side, the feeling of waterlogged
rope against the hands when you
and I are drowning.

The kingdom of God

Is not the tree. It's a seed so small
it can slip between our fingers --
any moment we may forget,
tomorrow we might wake and wonder
if we ever held it at all.
How easy it is for that seed to slip away and be forgotten.

Goldberg's poem nicely reminds us of the grace we need. We are all beggars, famished, but have been mercifully called to the sovereigns table. We are all bobbing helplessly in stormy seas, drowning. Though we may imagine that we can swim forever on our own, there is no shore in sight and no shore we can ever reach on our own. It is not a matter of sink or swim: we are all sinking and need to be rescued. Christ is the Rescuer.

The analogy about drowning really hit home after my recent unpleasant surprise of experiencing seasickness for the first time in my life while on choppy seas by Thailand. It was a trivial problem with no real danger compared to the challenges Nephi and his family faced on a small boat sailing to the New World, but it helped me better understand the sense of helplessness that the sea can create.

Though I was unable to scuba dive with my wife as we had originally planned months ago, I attempted to snorkel in low-visibility water near an island south of Phi Phi Island, being assured by the staff that I would feel better once I was in the water than I would in the boat. I found the effects of nausea in the undulating sea to be offer even less comfort than being on board, and while vainly struggling to hold down the remnants of my small breakfast and keep my head above water, I could easily imagine how helpless and terrified one could feel if the boat were sinking or if it were impossibly far away. I finally abandoned my snorkeling adventure and was much relieved to get back into the comfort and safety of the boat. I could better relate to "the feeling of waterlogged rope against the hands when you and I are drowning."

This is what the Gospel is about: being rescued from a state not from an abstract state we call "fallen," but from real disaster far worse and far more terrifying than just having your lungs fill with water in desperate gasps before you sink out of view. We are helpless and need a Rescuer who offers us a sturdy, waterlogged rope to cling to, helping to lift us into His ship. May we always be grateful for the Rescuing He offers and help bring others into the ship as well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Exposing a Dangerous Meme and a Powerful Cult: My Failed Attempt to Save Mrs. Jenkins

A few years ago in Wisconsin I tried to rescue an elderly woman who was infected with one of those silly religious memes that can spread like a virus. This meme, propagated by a lucrative cult, is based on the bizarre idea that ordinary mortals can somehow use "the force" or something to communicate across great distances with nothing but ordinary paper and ink if they carry out certain  rituals such as folding the paper, putting it in a cult-approved envelope, affixing a mystical adhesive icon purchased from the cult's many official outlets, and placing the envelope in a magic box controlled by the cult. True believers think that their message will somehow travel into the hands of the designated recipient even if they are in a state far, far away. It's a lot like the  old notion of personal prayer to a distant listening God.

I've heard that the cult running this scam has some kind of bizarre sci-fi name, something like the Universalist Pre-millennial Post-alien Supremacy teleportation service, or USPS for short, but this Post-alien "service" is often just called the Post-al service. You may have seen this "service" operating in your neighborhood without even recognizing that it was a cult.

Every week or so, that poor woman in my neighborhood would write her expressions of love or whatever to her grown-up son, and then fold it carefully and put in an envelope. She would then attach the adhesive USPS icon. These icons often had images of beloved dead people on them, or even alien (post-alien?) figures like Yoda. Maybe they are supposed to appeal to patron saints of some kind to move the message along its magic way. She would put her son's alleged location on the letter--someplace in California--and place it faithfully in an official USPS "mailbox" in front of her home. The USPS cult apparently has dozens of USPS jeeps and trucks that drive around collecting these envelopes, creating a sense that "something" is going to happen to the letters of their adherents (only if they had spent enough on adhesive icons, of course!).

Part of what make this sick meme so effective is the other end of the USPS business model. The USPS agent that comes around doesn't just take envelopes away. He or she dumps new envelopes in the box. This fuels a ridiculous thought: "Wow, a miracle--I've received something back!" Of course, upon inspection, nearly all these "blessings" are actually requests for money or advertisements for products to buy. What a scam!

I couldn't stand it any longer and tried to deprogram her from this destructive, wasteful meme.

"Mrs. Jenkins, excuse me for asking, but have you ever received a letter back from your son in California?"

"Well, not exactly." Her eyes teared up. Maybe I was reaching her!

"How do you think your letter will get to California?"

"Through the air--it goes by airmail"

"So it's just going to fly magically by itself all the way to California? You really believe that?"

"It doesn't fly by itself--it goes on an airplane, of course."

This was my chance to use a little logic. I asked her to think about the price of her magical USPS icon--about 41 cents at the time, a price that keeps expanding far faster than the rate of inflation (like I said, this cult is all about money--what a scam!). Now I asked her to compare that to the price of an airplane ticket. Even if that postal agent got the cheapest ticket possible to California, and even if he or she carried a whole bag filled with other petitions from believers with loved ones in California, there is no way that they could afford to buy plane tickets for every batch and still stay in business.

"Mrs. Jenkins, logic proves that this just can't work. Your son doesn't write back. They aren't flying your letters to California. It makes no sense. You've been deceived by a cult that is just a big business taking your money and exploiting your hopes."

I thought I had her, but she wasn't yet ready to be honest and admit that I was right. She resisted by offering anecdotal evidence of a friend or two who claimed they had gotten letters back from their children. Scattered, unreliable, second-hand stories. I asked her to come with me to the local library, where I would ask the librarian a question for which I already knew the answer: "Are you aware of any peer-reviewed, scientific studies that show that letters to children sent via the USPS cult actually reach them and cause communication to happen?" She thought it over and then said that wouldn't be necessary. I could see I was winning as she started to cry again. I gave her an awkward hug and said, "It's OK, Mrs. Jenkins. Welcome the 21st century!"

Sadly, the next week I saw her sneak over to her mailbox and deposit another letter. And she even sorted through the pile of junk mail waiting for her to see if something might be there from her son.

So terribly sad. What an awful, powerful meme. How can anyone be so deluded as to believe such silliness and go through all those ridiculous rituals so devoid of logic and so lacking in reliable scientific evidence? What a sinister group that Post-al "service" is.

Pray for Mrs. Jenkins--of course, I only mean that figuratively.

Comment: This brief post was intended to illustrate how seemingly iron-clad arguments came sometimes fail because of flawed assumptions built into the logic. Many times I think the arguments used to "decimate" the Book of Mormon or the existence of God are that way.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Blue Letter Bible: My Bible Study Tool of Choice

I am so impressed with a free online Bible study tool, BlueLetterBible.org, which makes it easy to explore the Greek and Hebrew meanings behind the words, to compare multiple versions, and to search with flexibility and power. It's the best tool I've found and I'd like you to know about it. Here's a 5-minute video showing the many features.

There's even an app you can download from the Apple store.

As an example of the things you can find more easily, you can use it as a tool to examine some of the intriguing remarks Matthew Bowen makes about the wordplays in Paul's epistle to Philemon. His article, "You More than Owe Me This Benefit: Onomastic Rhetoric in Philemon," is the most interesting thing I've read about Philemon and one that increases my appreciation for the abundant wordplays in the scriptures (something quite characteristic of the Book of Mormon, by the way). One of the intriguing points he makes is that Paul appears to making an artful pun on the meaning of the word Onesimus ('useful") by using an unrelated Greek root chrestos to describe how the converted slave, Onesimus, is now "useful" in Christ as part of Paul's very diplomatic request to allow Onesimus to continue in the ministry with Paul since all three men are now on an equal plane as servants or slaves to Christ. Further, in light of the normal practice of epistles being read out loud in meetings of Christians, it is valuable to understand that in Paul's day, chrestos would be pronounced nearly identically to the word christos, referring to the Anointed One, Christ, adding further meaning to Paul's words:
But Paul also deliberately plays on the name-title “Christ.” The word χρηστός (chrēstos) in the Greek of Paul’s time also sounded almost exactly [Page 5]the same as Χριστός (Christos, “Christ”).23 Thus Paul is also referencing Onesimus’s conversion to Christ: “in times past he was ‘without Christ’ [i.e., ἄχρηστον ~ achr[i]ston]24 to you, but now he is indeed ‘Well-in-Christ’ [εὔχρηστον ~ euchr[i]ston] both to you and to me” — a clever pun on -χρηστός (-chrēstos).25 This homophonic wordplay adds additional nuance to Paul’s play on “Onesimus.”
Interesting. With Blue Letter Bible, you can verify some aspects of what Bowen has found and explore related issues. For example, it's easy to find other uses of the word chrestos, including Matthew 11:29, which is used to describe the "light" yoke of Christ. Is there a further connection intended to Christ and/or anointing? Of course, since Christ probably spoke those words in Aramaic, the connections in the original language may have been quite different.

In any case, there are many tangents to pursue and so many things to learn that are easier to explore than ever thanks to tools such as this. Kudos to Blue Letter Bible!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

District Conference in Shanghai

Elder Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan Lindsay Gong, were with the Shanghai International District this past weekend for our District Conference. What delightful and intelligent people!

Apart from the big Saturday morning tours of Shanghai that we had organized for young single adults coming to District Conference, District Conference began with a Priesthood Leadership training session on Saturday afternoon. I had been asked to kick it off with a short talk (8 minutes), and used the theme of the Sabbath and its connections to the Temple. This is an area where modern revelation and ancient paradigms blend so well, IMO.

I began with a quick summary of the Sabbath connections in the construction of Solomon's temple. Built in seven years, dedicated during a seven-day festival in the seventh month, called a house of rest, a place where the Lord can rest, etc. I read a passage from Jewish scholar Jon Levenson on these connections, where the theme of rest connects the temple and Sabbath. That is beautifully amplified by Doctrine and Covenants 84, where modern revelation explains that Moses was seeking to bring his people into the presence of the Lord, which is the Lord's rest, the fullness of His glory. And then I referred to Elder Dallin H. Oaks' marvelous talk from April 1985 about taking the name of the Lord upon us and how it connects the Sabbath to the temple, for the covenants we renew in the sacrament point us not just to baptismal covenants but to the covenants of the temple, where we most fully take upon us the name of Christ, to which we witness our willingness to do so in partaking of the sacrament.

I then summarized by explaining that the temple, like Mount Zion, is sacred space that punctuates the plane of the mundane, while the Sabbath is sacred time that is distinct from the mundane week around it. The temple and the Sabbath are linked through the concept of divine rest, renewal of sacred covenants, and being sacred partitions (sacred space, sacred time) in the midst of the mundane. I urged us to help our members yearn for the spiritual uplift that the Sabbath should bring, as does the temple, and asked priesthood leaders to help members better develop their own personal observance of the Sabbath so it would be distinct from ordinary days, a time for preparing to enter into the presence of the Lord, and a time to renew and ponder upon sacred covenants, to help us draw closer to the Lord and to be more able to serve.

We then had a couple of panel discussions lead by Elder Gong and by our District President, Stephen W. Dyer, who introduced three-person panels and drew some valuable thoughts out of them. I really liked how the meeting ran. Topics were feasting upon the word of Christ, and how to follow the Spirit to better counsel members in dealing with their challenges.

What surprised me most was that after the meeting, Elder Gong came over and asked me where I had encountered the concept of sacred time and sacred space. I mentioned Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane, and was surprised that he nodded and began discussing Eliade. I shouldn't be all that surprised, but it was quite pleasant. My wife reminded me later that he was a Rhodes Scholar and probably knows (and reads) a whole lot more than any of us ordinary mortals. A very thoughtful and kind man, too.

His wife impressed everyone as well. She is equally eloquent and interesting, with a love of great books and literature as well. I especially loved the story she told of an LDS man in India who impressed her with his love for his wife and his healthy, happy family. She asked him how he met his wife. Anil said that he first met his wife on her wedding day, the day she was supposed to be married to a different man. Anil came as a guest--this was before he became LDS. But something went wrong. He heard yelling as the groom's family was demanding a bigger dowry from the bride's family. They now wanted a car to be thrown in. The poor family had no car and no hope of meeting that demand. It turned into a big argument. Then Anil heard weeping, and saw the beautiful bride hiding, sobbing, and even threatening suicide, she was so humiliated. Anil felt that he needed to do something, and that he could do something. He approached the bride's father. Here's how I recall the story:

"Sir, I can solve this problem. I will take your daughter as my wife."

"You? What will you demand as a dowry?"

"I ask for no dowry.  But if you allow me to marry her, I promise you that I will make it my business every day of my life to make your daughter happy."

Deal! Anil married the daughter, lived up to his promise, and they are now a happy couple and happy LDS family raising wonderful children in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sister Gong was really struck by what a strong, happy family those two people had created, recovering so well from a disastrous failed wedding day.

Men who love their wives and treat them with kindness and respect are such a treasure, and one of the most important intended fruits of the Gospel. Thank you, Anil, for your commitment to your wife and your commitment to Christ.

Another story from Sister Gong made me chuckle. Once while visiting a large LDS church in the U.S., she saw her young son (age 5, I think) was running laps in the hallways around the gym. When she saw him running, she called him by name and asked, "Where are you right now?" He stopped and answered correctly: "In Heavenly Father's house." Sister Gong then looked at him and said, "And?" Naturally, she expected him to say something about how he needed to be reverent. Instead, she got this: "And he's got a place where he plays basketball!"

District Conference in Shanghai is always a lot of fun. Come join us!

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Mormons and Fear: Introducing One of Our Favorite Fearmongers

In the comments on a recent post here at Mormanity, one of our critics stated that the Mormon concept of accessing the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship that involves seeking to follow Christ and keep His commandments causes us to live a life of fear. It's a common objection from some Protestants who may see things quite differently than we do, but I think it is based on possible misunderstanding. My semi-serious offering here won't solve the perpetual gap between widely divergent approaches to interpreting the scriptures, but might at least offer another perspective for those interested in understanding the LDS faith.

For those who have heard that Mormons live in fear, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite Christian fearmongers, in fact, an early Christian fearmonger whose words rightly caused the great Apostle Peter to feel concerned. Indeed, Peter warned that this particular man wrote things that confused many people about the Gospel, for his writings contained "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). So with that caveat, recognizing that there may be risk in relying too heavily on his sometimes confusing words, allow me to introduce you to the fearmonger named Paul.

Here is some of his fearsome preaching in Hebrews 4:
1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it....

9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
In other words, "Folks, be afraid, be very afraid, for you can fall and depart from the promised rest God offers to his people. So don't slack off, but labor diligently to enter into that rest, lest you fall."

Paul was big on fear. In Acts 13:26, he told his audience that "whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent." And after his conversion, when he joined up with the Christians in Judea and neighboring regions, they were soon "walking in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31). I bet it was his fault.

But plain old fear was not enough for Paul. He wanted something more dramatic, namely, fear and trembling. Wow. Thus, in Phil. 2:12, we have this extreme example of fear-based emphasis on obedience: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Read the words in bold out loud, slowly, and then ask yourself if this man could possibly be a Christian? It was no mistake--he used that same phrase in Eph. 6:5 and 2 Cor. 7:15. I know, I know, with all that talk of works, obedience, and fear, he has no more right to be called Christian than any Mormon does.

Naturally, I recognize such doctrine is a horrible departure from historic Christianity (here I use the generally accepted definition of "historic Christianity," namely, "that particular branch of Christianity that developed in a portion of northern Europe about 600 years ago"). But frankly, I still rather like the man. Guess it's my life of fear as a Mormon that helps me appreciate Paul's words.

So when Paul tells us to cleanse ourselves and seek "holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1), when he praises those who respond to his preaching with repentance and fear (2 Cor. 7:11), when he tells us to submit "in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21), when he encourages Church leaders to rebuke sinners so "that others also may fear" (1 Tim. 5:20), when he warns that willful sin will bring "a certain fearful looking" for the judgment of God (Heb. 10:27), and even says that it is a "fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:27), I'm willing to take his words with a grain of salt and, frankly, am still willing to accept him as a fellow Christian, in spite of Peter's warning about his words.

Peter, like many authentic early Christians, apparently had his own Mormonesque fear-based issues, as we see in 1 Peter 1:17: "And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear". Wow, Peter was also into that whole "fear God and obey him" Mormon-like thing. In fact, after warning his readers about Paul and the destruction that came upon some who misapplied Paul's words, he then tells them to "therefore ... beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3:17). Beware, be afraid, lest ye fall and face destruction. Yep, Peter was something of a fearmonger himself.

But in the end, I know that both Peter and Paul also understood the love and grace of God. They both realized that we can fall from grace and depart from the living God (1 Cor. 10:12), and that we needed to endure to the end to receive the full blessings of grace (1 Peter 1:3-10, though Peter sounds way too Mormon there, so, uh, beware). So telling us to not slack off, to "fear" or respect God, and to have some healthy fear about the grim alternatives if we depart from Christ, all was actually intended as a kind, loving thing to help us.  I think their heart was in the right place, so I'm willing to give both of them a pass on this. Hope the rest of you will soften your hearts and give them a break as well.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Looking for Help with a Reference on Early Christian Initiation Rites

An early and interesting examination of links between ancient Catholic rituals and the LDS temple was published by Marcus Wellnitz in "The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple," BYU Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, 1981. There's one passage that I'd like to use in something I'm writing, but his documentation is incomplete. I'm wondering if some of you with better access to university resources could help me look this up. He refers to a sixth century document, but doesn't mention what it is and only refers to a modern book that seems hard to find. The book is Arthur McCormack, Christian Initiation, volume 50 in The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1969). The citation is from page 50, though there may be material from pages 50 to 60 that I'd be interested in, if you have access to the book. Google Books and Amazon are no help in looking at content in this particular book.

Here is the excerpt from Wellnitz's article that I am examining:
Since Christ (Christos) means anointed, Cyril suggests that we can all become little Christs by the ordinance of anointing. By this imitation the person is now also "a priest . . . and a prophet, . . . royal in nature," as one theologian put it. 47 Oil is "the symbol of divine healing, the giving of strength and priestly power." 48 "The body is washed so that the soul may be purified; the body is anointed so that the soul may be made holy," wrote Tertullian. 49 He also associates it with the act of a ritual cleansing. 50 The oil is kept in special containers and is available to "cure, enlighten, pacify, and strengthen." 51 A person may be anointed on thirty-six different places of the body in the Coptic rite. 52 Touching various parts of the infant immediately after the baptism and anointing is still a ceremony of the modern Catholic rite; the priest touches the ears and the mouth of the child with his thumb, saying: "The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, and to praise the glory of God the Father." 53 The same ordinance in the sixth century employed the following monologue:
I sign your forehead. . . . I sign your eyes so that they may see the glory of God. I sign your ears so that you may hear the voice of the Lord. I sign your nostrils so that you may breathe the fragrance of Christ. I sign your lips so that you may speak the words of life. I sign your heart so that you may believe in the Holy Trinity. I sign your shoulders so that you may bear the yoke of Christ's service. . . . In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, so that you may live forever and ever ["Saeculum saeculorum"]. 54 [citing McCormack, Christian Initiation, 1969, p 50.]
If you can help me verify the McCormack reference and tell me what document McCormack is citing, please let me know. I've found some related sources from early Christian liturgy, but not one that speaks of signing or anointing the shoulders so that they may bear the yoke. If you know of that source or something similar, I'd be very grateful.

Update, Sept. 4:
Thanks to excellent help from kind readers, I've learned what McCormack was citing and found it on Google Books. So here is what I have so far:

Wellnitz cites Arthur McCormack, Christian Initiation, volume 50 in The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1969), 50. McCormack, in turn, cites Pierre Paris, L'initiation chrétienne: leçons sur le baptême [Christian Initiation: Lessons on Baptism] (Paris: Beauchesne et Fils, 1944), 26-27; available on Google Books via http://tinyurl.com/jlinterp-1. Paris refers to a 6th century rite from the Gallican lands (pays gallican), or Gaul in France, from a source that is described as "le missel gothique", the Gothic missal. The actual document he refers to is unclear. It may be the Missale Gothicum or other early Gallican liturgical documents discussed at "The Gallican Rite," The Catholic Encyclopedia, NewAdvent.org, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06357a.htm. My ultimate goal is to track down the document that was the source for Pierre Paris. It may only be in Latin or some other language, perhaps. Versions of Gallican rite documents I've found so far don't get into the details of the anointing/signing. Any leads?

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Sabbath Day and the Temple

Recently a Church leader (an Area Seventy) came to the Shanghai International District to provide some training and talked about the important decision recently made by Church leaders to give renewed emphasis to the Sabbath day. See "Church Leaders Call for Better Observance of Sabbath Day" at MormonNewsroom.com. There is great wisdom in this. I feel that when members understand and love the Sabbath day, they will have habits and attitudes that will help them keep growing in the Gospel and continue nurturing their relationship with the Lord even when it might be easy to drift away.

As we work to teach more about the Sabbath day, I expect we will also have some intriguing discussions about the connection between the Sabbath and the temple. The temple, after all, is the place of God's rest, and the place where we prepare to enter into the rest of the Lord. It is expressly called a "house of rest" in 1 Chronicles 28:2, and the symbolism of its construction in the Old Testament is rich with Sabbath themes. For example, it took Solomon seven years to complete it (1 Kings 6:38), following the Jewish agricultural law in Lev. 25:1-7 that included a cycle of six years of work and one of rest, with the seventh year called "a sabbath of rest" (v. 4). Solomon dedicated the temple during the festival of tabernacles, a seven-day feast in the seventh month (Deut. 16:13 and I Kings 8:2). Jewish scholar Jon Levenson (currently at Harvard) points out additional connections to the theme of rest linking Solomon's temple and the Sabbath:
His speech on that occasion [the festival of tabernacles] includes a carefully constructed list of seven specific petitions (1 Kings 8:31–53) [for details, see Jon Levenson, "The Paranomasia of Solomon's Seventh Petition," Hebrew Annual Review 6 (1982) 131-35, as cited by Levenson]. In short, both the appurtenances of the Temple and the account of its construction reflect the character of the acts of creation narrated in Gen 1:1–2:4a.

Since the creation of the world and the construction of the Temple are parallel, if not identical, then the experience of the completed universe and that of the completed sanctuary should also be parallel. In fact, the two entities share an interest in rest as the consummation of the processes that produced them. In the case of creation, God “rested” on the seventh day, the primordial Sabbath, after he had completed his labors (wayyanah, Exod 20:11), and he commands his servants to rest in imitatione Dei in similar language [e.g., Exod. 23:12 and Deut. 5:14,each with yanuah]. The same root (nwh) describes his experience in the Temple as well:
13 For YHWH has chosen Zion,
He has desired it for his seat:
14 “This is my resting place (menuhati) forever;
Here I shall be enthroned, for I desire it.” (Ps 132:13–14)
The book of Chronicles goes so far as even to say that Solomon, and not David, would build the Temple because the former is a “man of rest” (menûhâ) and of peace (šalôm) , as his name (šelomoh) would imply (I Chr 22:9).
[Jon Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), p. 144.]
Levenson then summarizes the relationship:
The Sabbatical experience and the Temple experience are one. The first represents sanctity in time, the second, sanctity in space, and yet they are somehow the same. The Sabbath is to time and to the work of creation what the Temple is to space and to the painful history of Israel which its completion brings to an end, as God has at last given Solomon “rest from all his enemies round about” (1 Chr 22:9). “The seventh day is,” in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s splendid phrase, “like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere.”
[Levenson, p. 145]
The temple is a house and a sacred mountain, a sacred space, for entering into the presence of God as Moses did on Sinai and for making sacred covenants to advance us in that cause. The Sabbath is a sacred time for drawing closer to the Lord and for remembering and renewing covenants.

Of particular importance on the Sabbath is partaking of the sacrament, where we witness that we are willing to take the name of the Lord upon us. There is great significance in this act, and part of the significance points to the blessings of the temple, where we most fully take on the name of the Lord. This point was beautifully explained by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in his April 1985 Conference talk, "Taking Upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ." One of many great resources to discuss and contemplate as we strengthen our approach to the Sabbath day.

I would welcome your thoughts on the meaning of the connections between the Sabbath and temple, along with suggestions on how we can better help members appreciate the beauty of the Sabbath day.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Lesson From Russell M. Nelson's On-the-Fly Heart Surgery Innovation: Sometimes Revelation Can Be Detailed and Technical

Russell M. Nelson examining a model of the human heart.
Last night I read an entire article from BYU Studies out loud to my wife so we could discuss and contemplate the remarkable content. The article is "Discovering a Surgical First: Russell M. Nelson and Tricuspid Valve Annuloplasty" by Austin A. Robinson and Curtis T. Hunter, BYU Studies, 54:1. A brief overview can be read on the BYU Studies website, and you can download the full PDF for $0.99 (better yet, just go ahead and subscribe to this excellent journal!).

As Austin Robinson mentions in his overview, the details of this remarkable event have not been widely appreciated. Most of what we knew came from Elder Nelson's description of the event in his April 2003 General Conference addresses, where spoke of an incident "during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart" when a stake patriarch from southern Utah suffered much because of a failing heart.
He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.

Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.

Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: "Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need."

His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, "What are you going to do for that?"

I said, "I do not know."

We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. "The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size."

But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, "It's a miracle."

I responded, "It's an answer to prayer."
As with many faith-promoting stories, things are often more complicated than they seem. There are many details related to the specific procedure that Elder Nelson invented on the fly, plus details of what was revealed to him, the relationship to other heart procedures that were known, and the technical matters related to the condition he faced. When these are considered, a cool faith promoting story blossoms into an incredible, gritty, granular episode that almost overwhelms me. Please take a look at this account.

Doctor Nelson had been part of the team that developed the first successful heart-lung bypass machine at the University of Minnesota, work that was the basis of his Ph.D. dissertation. After Doctor Nelson came back from further training at Harvard's Mass. General Hospital, he brought the technique to Salt Lake City in 1955, making Utah the third state in the nation with open-heart surgery capabilities. This technique allowed surgeons to see the living heart in action and understand the many mysteries of valve function and other details of the heart, one of the most brilliantly designed organs of the human body. Yes, of course it's designed. Intricately, carefully, brilliantly--it's amazing that it's even possible. Reading the details discussed in this article should further increase your appreciation for the majesty of this vital part of the Lord's Creation.

In spite of the potential offered with new techniques, the tricuspid vale had received very little attention among surgeons by the late 1950s. Most of the problems people had were with the other side of the heart in the mitral valve, where rheumatic fever was a common factor causing valve failure. When Doctor Nelson decided to operate on what medical science then declared was an inoperable condition, he did not have the benefit of the experience of other surgeons in operating on the tricuspid valve.

As he started the surgery on May 24, 1960, he found the mitral valve had the "stenosis" he expected and he was able to treat it with known techniques. Then he turned to the right side of the heart and its tricuspid valve, where he found the kind of inoperable damage he expected to find. He could thrust all five fingers of his right hand through the greatly dilated valve into the right ventricle. As he pondered the severe damage, he had a critical impression: reduce the circumference of the ring. But how? People who had tried constricting ligatures on the mitral or aortic valves had resulted in spectacular failures and death. Purse-string sutures into the external heart tissue would eventually tear through the heart. Belt and strap approaches had also failed. It would be impossible to simple apply mitral valve techniques to this very different system. There was nothing to guide him--except God.

At this point an image was placed in Nelson's mind that gave detailed instructions about how to apply sutures to the flaps of the valve to pull them together and reduce the annulus diameter, restoring valve function. Brilliant.

What most impressed me was how technical the revelation was. As he looked at the second valve, with no idea what he could do, he was given a specific piece of information about the need to reduce the diameter of the annulus. He expressed that goal to his assistants, but neither he nor they knew how to achieve it. And then an image was placed in his mind that showed specific details, even with dotted lines indicating where sutures should go. On the fly, without years of animal testing and analysis, he invented and implemented a surprisingly clever procedure that would provide to be brilliantly correct and successful. It didn't take a series of patient deaths after the animal tests, as in other heart innovations, before it began to work. It was successful on the first try. Truly a miracle.

The article is heavy in technical detail and was a bit overwhelming at times, but well worth the exploration and learning. Enjoy!

This may also be helpful in understanding just what can happen when there is "tight control" in revelation. Certainly shows the extremes that the Lord can achieve in giving revelation. It's not all just warm fuzzies.

Update, Sept. 5, 2015: A helpful commenter observed that Dr. Nelson was recognized as one of the top 20 most innovative surgeons alive today. OK, not sure where that list really came from, but it does remind us that Dr. Nelson has earned a great deal of recognition in his profession. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Even More Embarrassing Issue Involving the Book of Mormon

I may have erred recently when I spoke of the awkward phrase "in them days" as perhaps the most embarrassing language problem in the original text of the Book of Mormon. That phrase only occurs twice and is easy to miss, especially since it's long been edited out of the text. It was interesting, though, that it's not only acceptable Early Modern English, but also occurs in both cases in the midst of what appears to be Hebraic poetry, almost as if it were an ironic marker saying saying, "Look here! This is not as clumsy as you think."

A much better candidate for the most embarrassing language issue in the text is the ubiquitous and often annoying phrase, "and it came to pass." It has offended many, especially those eager to find fault with the Book of Mormon. Though it is biblical, of course, it is vastly overused compared to the Bible, occurring at over twice the rate found in the Bible. Clumsy, dull, awkward, annoying, and downright embarrassing. And it was even worse in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, since many of its most awkward and annoying occurrences have been edited out to make the text sound like better modern English, though it's still highly loaded with the phrase. So there's my candidate for the most embarrassing aspect of the original Book of Mormon text.

It's also a good candidate for a marker having other interesting meanings, including another "Look here! This is not as clumsy as you think" marker. Donald W. Parry, an instructor in biblical Hebrew at BYU, explained why, as quoted at FAIRMormon.org:
The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.
But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”
Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.
The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)
[Ensign (December 1992), 29]
Interesting, no? But it gets even more intriguing.

One of our persistent critics was recently asked on this blog if he could conceive of any evidence in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon that would at least motivate him to admit that it was "interesting." He took up the challenge and kindly responded by listing four things:
I think all of us doubters would be mightily impressed with a Central American inscription, written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, independently authenticated and dated to 600 BCE, that translated into I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents....

Pushover that I am, I would personally be satisfied with a Mayan inscription reading And it came to pass.... Or a 1600-year-old skeleton at the base of Hill Cumorah with a steel sword lodged in its ribs. Or the bones of a 1900-year-old horse unearthed amid the wheels and yoke of a chariot.
Nice list. Several are unreasonable and just aren't going to happen, but . . . be careful what you ask for, folks. As one of my other readers quickly pointed out with a link, there is in fact a Mayan glyph meaning essentially "and it came to pass," and a non-LDS scholar is the one who said "it came to pass" is a reasonable translation for it.

The Mayan usage and the whole story around "and it came to pass" is actually much more interesting, as told by Brant Gardner in "Does 'And it came to pass' Come to Pass Too Often?," Meridian Magazine, July 7, 2004. Read this, please. There you will see that "and it came to pass" was actually used frequently by the typesetter as a marker for breaks in the unpunctuated Book of Mormon text, akin to how it was used in Hebrew. You will also learn more about the surprisingly interesting Mayan connection. Since our critic was not, of course, serious in his statement, I can fully understand why none of this will actually be  particularly "interesting" to him and don't expect any softening of his stance, but to those open to investigating the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, this glaring, clumsy weakness in the text may actually be a surprising strength. It's worth thinking about.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Another Test: The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Use of Command Syntax and What It Tells Us About the Language in the Book of Mormon

In a recent post examining the language of the Doctrine and Covenants, I found that the Early Modern English style of using "did" for past tense, such a common feature of the Book of Mormon, was not common in the Bible. I mentioned that the next test would be to look at command syntax, which Carmack Stanford has examined with surprising results. Basically, he has shown that the complex grammar involving the verb "command" in the Book of Mormon is rather characteristic of pre-KJV Early Modern English (EModD), differing sharply from the Bible. The Book of Mormon favors complex "layered" structures like, "He commanded the blogger that he should stop writing such boring posts" instead of the more modern pattern, "He commanded the blogger to stop writing such boring posts." When "command" governs a subsequent verb, the Book of Mormon strongly favors the former finite pattern, lacking the infinitive "to," while the Bible and modern English strongly favor the latter infinitive form. The finite form is used 79% of the time in the Book of Mormon, but only 18% in the King James Bible.

Looking through the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as a tool for examining Joseph's language, I find 44 occurrences of the verb "command" plus a verb. 28 are in the infinitive form and only 16 in the finite form, for a 36% finite rate, way below what's in the Book of Mormon and much closer to the Bible. More to come....

Update, Aug. 9, 2016: Analysis of the use of command syntax in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as well as in our current edition shows strong differences in command syntax relative to the Book of Mormon. The results tend to be closer to the King James Bible's usage, though there may be an influence from Book of Mormon language in the Doctrine and Covenants text, especially for the sections written prior to publication of the Book of Mormon.

Note from Aug. 10, 2016: I have revised my counting method to more closely follow Dr. Carmack's preferred counting technique. Some of my previous numbers involved overcounting. If the infinitive "to" only occurs once after "command," it's one instance of an infinitive verb, even if additional verbs follows. Likewise, if there is only one "that" in a finite phrase, it counts as one instance even if more than one verb is governed by "command." The overall rates change very little because my overcounting affected both finite and infinitive forms roughly equally. The same applies for layered versus simple. One important error, though, was taking Carmack's rate of 73% layered in the Book of Mormon to apply to all uses of command. It actually applies to the finite verb cases. The overall rate of the finite case in the Book of Mormon is 58%. Sentences with "command" governing a verb are in finite form 79% of the time in the Book of Mormon, and 73% of those finite case are in layered format, for an overall layered rate of 58%.

The 1835 text has 40 instances of the verb "command" in some form directly governing one or more other verbs, with a total of 44 50 verbs that are so governed.  The governed verbs are in finite form 14 16 times, or 32% of the time, while they are infinitives 68% of the time. The 32% finite form rate is far below the 79% rate in the Book of Mormon (based on the Earliest Text), but somewhat higher than the 18% rate of the King James Bible.

Finite forms are often in the layered structure, e.g., "I command him that he shall...." instead of the simple form, "I commanded him to ...." However, "that" plus a finite verb can also occur in a simple, non-layered form, as in "I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift...."

A count of layered vs. simple format for command syntax in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants gives 31 35 occurrences of governed verbs in simple format and 13 15 in layered format, for an overall layered rate of 29.5% 30%. Carmack reports a layered rate of 58% 73% in the Book of Mormon, and 7% (37.5% of the 18.8% finite forms) in the King James Bible.

Of the 40 occurrences of "command" as a verb governing another verb, in 27 cases the command form was entirely simple, in 11 cases it was entirely layered, and in 2 cases a single instance of "command" was used with both forms. Thus, the verb "command" was used in layered forms 13 times (11 pure occurrences+ 2 mixed occurrences), and counting the mixed cases twice in the denominator, we get a rate of 13/42 = 31% for the rate at which the verb "command" is applied in layered formats. Similarly, the rate at which "command" is followed by finite verbs is 33%.

In tracking command syntax, I attempt to follow Carmack Stanford in identifying forms of the verb "command" that govern at least one other verb. Sometimes an instance of "command" governs two or more verbs, and in two cases the results are mixed, meaning, for example, that "command" governs both a finite verb and an infinitive, as in: "I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent [infinitive] and walk more uprightly before me, and yield to the persuasions of men no more; and that you be firm [finite form] in keeping the commandments...," which has one three infinitive verbs [to occurs once + verb(s)] and one finite verb [be] in a "layered" structure (e.g., "command you that you" + finite verb, which is often the auxiliary/modal verb should/shall + another verb).

The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants' first two occurrences of command syntax come from quoting Genesis 3 ("commanded that they should be brought unto Adam" and "The woman whom you gave me, and commanded that she should remain with me"). I exclude these from the statistics since they do not help us understand the language of Joseph Smith and the scriptures he created, but that exclusion has very minor impact on that statistics.

Our current printing of the Doctrine and Covenants is different in many ways, lacking the Lectures on Faith, having a variety of textual changes, and also having revelations given after the printing of the 1835 edition. Analysis of its command syntax shows the verb "command" in some form was used to govern one or more verbs 56 times, with a total of 60 70 verbs being so governed.  Of those 60 70 verbs, 46 53 occur in a simple form and 14 17 in a layered form, for an overall layered rate of 14/60 17/70 = 23.3% 24.3%. These verbs occur as infinitives 45 52 times and as finite verbs 15 18 times, for a finite verb rate of 15/60 18/70= 25.0% 25.7%. These rates are closer to the low rates in the King James Bible and remote from the high levels of the Book of Mormon.

The 56 instances of the verb "command" governing other verbs occur in purely simple forms 42 times, purely layered forms 11, and mixed forms 3 times. They govern only infinitives 41 times, only finite verbs 12 times, and mixed forms 3 times, showing a finite rate of 25.4%.

Though it may be a statistical fluke due to small sample size, the command syntax in the modern printing of the Doctrine and Covenants seems to show a high finite rate (over 50%) in the earliest sections recorded before the publication of the Book of Mormon.  Sections 5 (the earliest occurrence of relevant command syntax) through 19 (recorded shortly before publication of the Book of Mormon) show 15 occurrences of finite form command syntax and 8 in the infinitive, for a finite rate of 65%, rather close to the Book of Mormon. After that, the finite syntax plummets.

If that observation is correct and if it has any significance, then one might speculate that during the days of preparing the Book of Mormon and its manuscripts, it may have been that at least this aspect of Book of Mormon language was fresh and strong in Joseph's mind, and subtly influenced other writings or dictation at this time. Following publication of the Book of Mormon, perhaps his own language became more controlling.

The question, of course, is whether Book of Mormon language was influencing Joseph, or whether it was entirely the other way around. If he was a prophet and was obtaining revelation to dictate the text of the Book of Mormon with a tightly controlled process, I can see the logic of a the language of the translation affecting him strongly during this period. On the other hand, one can assume it was just his natural language all along, affected by his desired to sound archaic and scriptural, and that those constraints gave us the language of the Book of Mormon, which then may have changed naturally as he matured. Or perhaps other hypotheses need to be explored.

As with the exploration of the subtle use of "did" in the Book of Mormon for past tense, and its general absence in the Doctrine and Covenants, this tentative and possibly error-prone examination of command syntax suggests that an appeal to Joseph's natural language and his desire to imitate the KJV fails to account for the high level of layered, finite command syntax in the Book of Mormon. However, the presence of high levels of finite syntax during the early days of the Doctrine and Covenants that overlapped the Book of Mormon translation and preparation process could suggest that such high levels do not necessarily require miraculous guidance. On the other hand, those trends could also be explained as a side effect of the miraculous guidance that gave Joseph the text to dictate to his scribes in the first place, which may have subtly but strongly influenced how he formulated command syntax when giving other scripture during that time. As always, further work is needed, and this present work may contain a variety of errors requiring revision. Your feedback is welcome.

Friday, August 07, 2015

An Old Story Gets a New Face: The Seer Stone and the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon

Photo of the long-discussed seer stone used by Joseph Smith.
What's interesting news for many Latter-day Saints is, for some of our critics, simply earth-shattering and hopely faith-shattering for benighted Mormons. "Mormon church releases photos of ‘seer stone’ used by founder Joseph Smith" is the headline at the Salt Lake Tribune.

From the various accounts of Joseph's translation process for the Book of Mormon that have been published for many years, it has long been clear that Joseph used a seemingly ordinary rock as a "seer stone" for at least a significant portion of the translation process. See, for example, the Church's prior statement in the LDS Topics area of LDS.org entitled "Book of Mormon Translation" and Richard Lloyd Anderson's 1977 Ensign article on the topic (the Tribune says 1974, a minor error), where the mechanics of the seer stone and the hat are mentioned. Elder Russell M. Nelson also discussed this in detail in his 1993 Ensign article, "A Treasured Testament," which I highly enjoyed. As I understand it, Joseph stared at the seer stone in the darkness provided by a hat and somehow was able to dictate words hour after hour to his scribes to provide the original text of the Book of Mormon.

Was there something miraculous--something even cooler than iPad technology, for example--about this stone or the two stones in the Urim and Thummim that came with the gold plates? Did he actually see something with his physical eyes, as David Whitmer thought, or did he otherwise see or sense something in his mind? Was the real purpose of the physical stone simply to help him concentrate and receive inspiration? We really don't know.

We don't know what was going on in Joseph's mind, but we can be pretty sure what wasn't going on in the hat: he wasn't staring in the dark at a paper manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding or some mysterious team of scholars capable of plausibly describing places and even names in the Arabian Peninsula, and also capable of crafting Hebraic poetry, Hebraic puns, and awkward, even laughable English phrases that are good Semitic phrases. Of course, if there had been a carefully crafted text in the first place, why go through the hassle of spending three months dictating the text word for word? Just hand the text to the printer, or at least hand the text to a scribe to make a copy for the printer. Why add a painful three-month delay that would introduce many typos and result in a dictated text devoid of much-needed punctuation, that surely would have already been present in a real but fraudulent source manuscript?

Multiple witnesses of the process also affirm that he did not even have a Bible present, though the dictated text closely follows the KJV (though with hundreds of mostly subtle differences). It's close enough to the KJV, including parts that seem to have flaws, that many LDS people have assumed he must have had the KJV text to use when the Book of Mormon quotes the Bible, but something else may have been going on. The dictated text seems to generally use the KJV when it is close enough to the theological purposes of the Book of Mormon, not giving us the miraculous update to a perfectly translated pristine Ur-text that we would readily convince scholars today.

While the nature of the translation process is puzzling, it is clear, however, that the text was actually dictated to scribes just as they and other witnesses maintained. The surviving portions of the original manuscript make it obvious that this was an orally dictated text. That's an important part of the story in the recent release from the Church, which highlights the significance of the original text, the printer's manuscript, and the massive project to provide the papers of Joseph Smith (see JosephSmithPapers.org) and the massive work of Royal Skousen giving us the Earliest Text manuscript for the Book of Mormon.

Understanding the origins of the Book of Mormon requires careful, detailed consideration of the Earliest Text, our best estimate of the words actually dictated by Joseph. It is there we find much that was laughable in Joseph's day which has become a little more respectable upon further examination.

Regarding that text, the LDS.org statement on the translation process say this:
The manuscript that Joseph Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery and others is known today as the original manuscript, about 28 percent of which still survives. This manuscript corroborates Joseph Smith’s statements that the manuscript was written within a short time frame and that it was dictated from another language. For example, it includes errors that suggest the scribe heard words incorrectly rather than misread words copied from another manuscript. In addition, some grammatical constructions that are more characteristic of Near Eastern languages than English appear in the original manuscript, suggesting that the base language of the translation was not English.

Unlike most dictated drafts, the original manuscript was considered by Joseph Smith to be, in substance, a final product. To assist in the publication of the book, Oliver Cowdery made a handwritten copy of the original manuscript. This copy is known today as the printer’s manuscript. Because Joseph Smith did not call for punctuation, such as periods, commas, or question marks as he dictated, such marks are not in the original manuscript. The typesetter later inserted punctuation marks when he prepared the text for the printer. With the exceptions of punctuation, formatting, other elements of typesetting, and minor adjustments required to correct copying and scribal errors, the dictation copy became the text of the first printed edition of the book.
Elder Nelson's article on the the Book of Mormon goes on to discuss its Hebraisms and bad grammar in English that shows Semitic origins, and even cites the story of Sami Hanna, a neighbor and close friend of his, who was convinced of the ancient authenticity of the Book of Mormon's text after translating it into Arabic. (Brother Hanna gave a powerful fireside on his experience in my ward when I was a teenager that my mother still talks about to this day. Sadly, I skipped it. One of my regrets in life.)

Among the example of the laughable content in the original Book of Mormon, consider a section from a learned critic of the Book of Mormon, Martin T. Lamb, in his 1901 work, The Mormons and their Bible:

His first example is still with us in the current printing of the Book of Mormon, while the second example has long-since been corrected to more conventional English.

His objection to someone "being stabbed ... by a garb of secrecy" is readily resolved by considering the Hebrew origins of the text. John Tvedtnes explains:
In Helaman 9:6, we read that the Nephite judge had been “stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy.” Critics have contended that this makes no sense in English, since “garb” has the same meaning as “garment” or “clothing.” This idiom is the same as the English “under cloak of secrecy.”[iii] But what is most interesting is that the Hebrew word begged means both “garment” or “garb” (e.g., Genesis 39:12-13) and “treachery.”[iv] This is an obvious word-play in the Hebrew original of the Book of Mormon. As for the preposition “by,” in Hebrew its range of meaning includes “in,” (locative), “with” or “by means of” (instrumental).
This kind of thing is found on page after page of the Book of Mormon. Names, word usage, and grammar that is objectionable to learned critics turns out to be plausible or even to offer serious evidence for ancient authenticity far beyond the ability of Joseph Smith to fabricate.

But Lamb's second example is the really hilarious one from Alma 46:19 that he relishes at length. Joseph was such a clod that he didn't realize that once you "rend" a garment, you can't "wave the rent of the garment in the air" and you can't "write upon the rent." How utterly stupid, eh? No wonder it was later changed in 1906 to indicate that that Moroni waived "the rent part" of the garment. Funny thing, though, is that this expression reflects pretty accurate Hebrew. John Tvedtnes explains in BYU Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Autumn 1970), p. 50 :
[In] the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, we read that "when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air." (p. 351.) When the word "rent" is used as a noun in English, it may refer to a hole caused by rending, but not, to my knowledge, to a portion of rent cloth; the unlikely usage of "rent" in English as a noun no doubt contributed to the fact that, in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, it was changed to read "rent part" (Alma 46:19). But the Hebrews would, in this instance, use but one word, qera', "rent (part)," coming from qara', "he rent, tore," for nouns, in Hebrews, are derived from roots--as are Hebrews verbs--by the addition of certain vowel patterns that distinguish them from other parts of speech.
The original text has numerous such "flaws" which reflect its Semitic origins that "leaked" through the translation process, indicative of some level of "tight control" in the generation of the text that Joseph dictated. Understanding them helps us appreciate the nature of the dictated text.

But what of the awkward "had wrote" in Alma 46:19, which has since been corrected to "had written" to give it a more standard modern English form? Had wrote--isn't that just uneducated dialect? The issue is related to the very similar problem of "had smote" in the original text of the Book of Mormon that is discussed by Dr. Stanford Carmack in "A Look at Some “Nonstandard” Book of Mormon Grammar," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 209-262:
Next we consider I had smote. To many of us, smote seems to be a past-tense verb form defectively used in a pluperfect construction. The KJV doesn’t use smote in this way. From [Page 219]the perspective of that important biblical text, past-participial smote is a grammatical error; it seems like smitten should have been used in 1 Nephi 4:19 (and in Alma 17:39; 20:30; 26:29; 51:20; Ether 15:31). Indeed, in the latest LDS edition there is only standardized smitten in these contexts, a clear reflection of that view. But smote is specifically noted in the OED as functioning as a past participle for centuries in English, beginning in the 16th century. The OED contains about 10 examples of this usage. Here are two representative quotations from that dictionary, one with smote used in the passive voice,24 one with smote used in the active voice:
1597 Beard Theatre God’s Judgm. (1612) 309 He caused..the Citie of the Priests to be smote with the edge of the sword. 1658 Manton Exp. Jude verse 3. Wks. 1871 V. 98 The goose-quill hath smote antichrist under the fifth rib.25
As a result, we are justified in thinking that smote is the correctly translated word.
That conclusion is based on the thesis that Early Modern English is actually in the Book of Mormon as originally dictated, which I'll mention in a moment. First let me point out that a search of "had wrote" and "hath wrote" shows that this non-standard usage for our days also has deep roots in written English, suggesting that like its "hath smote" cousin, was not non-standard in the past. E.g., Shakespeare's 1608 King Lear has a "hath wrote." Other texts using it date to 1588, for example.  But why would we care about Early Modern English and think it has anything to do with the 19th century translation of the Book of Mormon?

In my opinion, a whole new level of rich data to explore has been opened up in Royal Skousen's careful work pointing to unusual elements in the dictated text that show numerous features of archaic English that actually cannot be obtained by simply imitating the King James Bible. Beyond the Hebraisms of the text, a controversial and somewhat shocking, even troubling discovery, something that should be much more interesting than the appearance of the seer stone, is the finding that much of the awkward grammar of the Book of Mormon, long thought to just reflect Joseph's poor education, is not so much bad modern English as it is good Early Modern English (EModE), often reflecting an era in the language slightly before the King James Bible.

This finding from Royal Skousen, who understands the original text of the Book of Mormon better than any other scholar today, coupled with heavy additional analysis from a linguist, Dr. Stanford Carmack, has been the subject of several posts here at Mormanity with some further analysis and exploration of my own. What it means and how it happened is the subject of ongoing speculation and debate, but it's something that demands attention for anyone interested in understanding how the translation took place and what it actually is. They suggest that their work buttresses the case that the dictated text had some level of tight control. It at least seems that something was going on that simply cannot be explained by Joseph fabricating the text himself or just making stuff up as he dictated hour after hour. That's part of the real story here and it's a story that is just getting started as we explore the data. Not sure where it will lead and if it will withstand more detailed investigation, but I look forward to learning more.

In any case, the stone is a blank slate for us, while the dictated text offers a treasure trove of information remaining to be dug out.