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

Friday, December 31, 2004

Great Article from Brant Gardner

Brant Gardner, an LDS intellectual with extensive Mesoamerican knowledge, has a great article at FAIRLDS.org from 2003: "A Social History of the Early Nephites." He finds abundant internal evidence in the Book of Mormon pointing to contact with other cultures in Mesoamerica when the Nephites came onto the scene. In addition to the interesting implications this has for the topic of DNA and the Book of Mormon, it also leads to some fascinating issues pointing to the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text from ancient Mesoamerica. For example, Gardner discusses several situations involving political structures (kings, judges) that don't make sense in the context of Joseph Smith's knowledge, but fit remarkably well into what we now know about ancient Mesoamerica. One example is the relationship between Lamanite kings, including the existence of a king over other kings. It doesn't fit a Eurocentric model, but is perfectly at home in ancient Mesoamerica.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Some Recommended Reading

Kim Siever has a good article on the epithet "cult" that is so often used to scare people away from the Latter-day Saints. See "Is Mormonism a Cult?" (I've also got an LDSFAQ article dealing with the claim that we are a cult).

On the FAIRLDS>org Website, John Tvedtnes has an excellent article, "Is God Only a Spirit?" He examines early Christian writings and the Biblical record to show that the LDS understanding of the nature of God is compatible with what John 4:24 actually teaches.

Regarding Joseph Smith's use of the KJV text in the translation of the Book of Mormon, and questions that arise due to differences in the Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament and the related passages in the Book of Mormon, see the FAIRLDS "Ask the Apologist" response to a question about Joseph Smith and Matt. 6:13 by Kevin Barney - an outstanding LDS intellect.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Appleton's Christmas Eve Devotional

I previously posted some information about the Christmas Eve Musical Devotional that has become a tradition in my part of the Midwest. In addition to my photos from 2003, a couple new pics from 2004 are below.

The event this year faced the ultimate challenge: with short notice, a Green Bay Packers football game was scheduled at the same time as our devotional. Which worship service would prevail? We feared that the pews might be empty, but again there were nearly 300 people present, just about a dozen less than we had last year. As usual, many non-members and less active members came, putting on the helmet of righteousness and the shoulder pads of faith.


A scene from the 2004 Christmas Eve Devotional in the Appleton Second Ward (Appleton, Wisconsin Stake).


Another view of the 2004 Christmas Eve Devotional.

New FARMS Review Available Online

A new volume of one of my favorite publications, the FARMS Review from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. You need to be a subscriber to gain full access right now, but this volume alone may be well worth the low cost of a subscription. One article that I found especially interesting deals with some of the inaccuracies in recent publications criticizing the Book of Abraham. It's "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking" by Larry Morris, who refutes some popular criticisms and raises a few questions for the critics involving impressive parallels between the Book of Abraham and other ancient texts.

Another valuable contribtion comes from John Clark in "Searching for Book of Mormon Lands in Middle America," which evaluates a couple of recently published works offering new proposals for Book of Mormon geography - proposals that fall short of the model that relates the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico with the neck of land.

There are 20 entries to read. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Larry King Live: President Gordon B. Hinckley Shines

As I write, I'm watching Larry King interview Gordon B. Hinckley. I'm impressed with President Hinckley's charm and wit, in spite of the toll of age, as he fields a wide variety of questions from Larry King. I also respect President Hinckley's optimism about life and the challenges we face.

I was intrigued with what I saw as a frank but gentle and understanding response to questions about working mothers. He's not out to give them a guilt trip, and understands the need for many to work, but wisely reminds us that our greatest satisfaction in life will come from our families, and that there are great blessings to children when they have mothers who are there for them. He urges us to simply "be careful, and do the best we can."

His comments on gay marriage had a similar tone: we love our brothers and sisters who struggle with the problem of homosexuality, and want to do all we can to help them. When asked if that problem is something people are born with or choose, President Hinckley said he didn't know, that he's not an expert in such things. The spirit of his remarks was on our desire to help, not to blame or condemn. "We are not anti-gay, but pro-family." Based on my experience in the Church, I fully agree with that. Of course, from the perspective of many in the gay community, to suggest that it is a problem or that homosexual activity is against the commandments of God is vile bigotry and hate, but they are wrong.

Overall, a lot of good answers and an interesting program, interspersed with some excellent music from an event with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Lessons from Nuns

Last week I had an inspiring visit with three nuns, members of the Franciscan Sisters of Charity in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. I went with a good LDS friend of mine whose father, a faithful Catholic, was served by the Sisters of Charity during his last days. My friend makes it a holiday tradition to visit the nuns, partly as an expression of thanks for how they helped his father. These compassionate women minister to the elderly and the terminally ill as they complete their mortal journey. I have met the sisters a few times and have been deeply impressed with their goodness. These are strong, intelligent, and happy women (even jovial) who have sacrificed much to serve others. I salute them, and thank them for the opportunity to talk with them and be uplifted by their goodness and humor (and I really made friends with their dog, Amber).

Most Latter-day Saints understand a basic fact of life: we do not have a monopoly on truth, on godly service, on Christian living, nor on divine inspiration. There is much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in many other faiths (that is so basic and obvious, but a few people may need to be reminded). For me, I've found Roman Catholic nuns to provide a relatively rich vein to mine when looking for inspiring examples of saintly character. Of course, I believe that we have much to offer that our fine sisters among the nuns may yet wish to receive - things like the blessings of authorized priesthood ordinances and especially the Temple - but I believe that these blessings will be added to them in the Lord's own time, probably after their mortal missions are completed.

As for the rest of us, we need to learn lessons from these good sisters now before it is too late. Merciful, loving service for the sick and the dying is so urgently needed. May we magnify our callings and reach out more to those who suffer and despair. May we focus less on material and carnal pleasure and more on blessing the lives of others and building the kingdom of God. And may we shun selfishness and the vile sins of the world, seeking instead to repent and follow Christ. There is so little time left before our eternity begins. Let us repent now and serve Him. Take that first step now - and rush!

Oh, one final suggestion: youth leaders, you might consider taking your young men or young women to visit a convent or another church or religious organization of some kind to broaden their horizons. One of my favorite experiences when I was bishop of my ward was taking the priests one year to visit one of the Kaukauna nuns that I had met at a local interfaith meeting. She gave us a tour of their beautiful church and explained much about her work as a nun and some of the basics of Roman Catholicism. The young men really enjoyed it, and so did Sister Goodman, the fine nun who helped us and treated us so kindly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Recommended Reading: A Distant Prayer: Miracles of the 49th Combat Mission

A Distant Prayer by Joseph Banks and Jerry Borrowman (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2001) is a gripping, troubling, and inspiring tale of a Mormon soldier in World War II, Joseph Banks. He was a flight engineer on B-17 bombers who was shot down on his 49th mission (he would have completed his flight duty on his 50th mission). He went through hell, but experienced many miracles as the Lord helped him to endure, survive, and eventually escape.

In a sense, his story can be viewed as a model of our own predicament here behind enemy lines in spiritual Babylon, where we must turn to the Lord daily to escape the threats that surround us and flee to Zion. Certainly the Lord could have spared Brother Banks from being shot down in the first place, just as he could place any of us far from whatever challenges he now face - but there is much to be learned and gained by taking whatever trials the Lord allows us to face, and doing all we can to endure to the end in faith.

I love the miracles in his experience. Below is one brief passage describing his miraculous survival after his plane was accidentally blown up by a fellow B-17 that dropped its bombs on his plane (the lead plane in formation took a hit on an engine right as it was about to release its bombs, causing it to slow down and come over the rear and lower plane in the formation as it released its bombs). He was knocked unconscious for a while after the first bomb struck his plane. Then when he came to,
". . . it took me a few moments to figure out what was going on. . . . I found myself in a tubular section of the fuselage that was open on both ends, spinning in the air as we fell towards the ground four miles below. . . .

I was relieved to feel that my parachute was in place, but I couldn't use it because I was stuck against the wall of the fuselage, held there by the centrifugal force. . . . I couldn't get out. I'd try to get up only to be forced back against the wall. In desperation I looked down and saw one of my crewmates lying next to me. I reached out and touched him, but he didn't move. Apparently the explosion had killed him. I knew that I had to muster every ounce of energy I had or I would go down to my death in that section of the aircraft. I tried several times, but to no avail. I was just too weak to pull free, and so the only thing I could do was pray. I asked the Lord to please help me get out somehow. I said it out loud, the words choking in my throat, but He heard me anyway.

Suddenly, as clear and as clam as if she was standing right next to me in the living room of our home, I heard the voice of my wife Afton say, "Joe, look down at your legs and you'll see that there's cable holding them. Pull the cable!" That's all she said. I looked around, but couldn't see anyone. Even though I was stunned, I looked down and sure enough there was a cable lying across my legs. I reached down and pulled it with all my might. At first nothing happened, but then I was suddenly sucked out of the fuselage and started freefalling. I later learned that the cable was attached to two pins that held an escape hatch door. When I pulled them loose, the door separated from the fuselage. Talk about incredible. It probably took a second or two for me to get over the shock of being hit by the wind, but then I realized that I was falling backwards through space.


And yes, his parachute worked, allowing him to land in enemy territory, where angry villagers surrounded him and probably would have killed him if a couple of German guards - also not especially nice - had not taken him away for interrogation. Things got incredibly tough for Brother Banks - but his example is inspiring. I strongly encourage you to read this book!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Free Online Courses at BYU: Genealogy, Religion, Mission Prep

I was pleased to learn that BYU now provide a variety of free online courses through their distance learning program. These free independent study courses include topics in Family History, Family Life, and Religious Scripture Study, such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. There are some pretty specialized topics, such as FHFRA 77 — French Research: Alsace-Lorraine, or FHGER 73 — Germany: Jurisdictions, Gazetteers, and Maps. I signed up for a course myself.

Thanks to Walter Reade for bringing this to my attention.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Brave Parent Opposes Gay Indoctrination in School

A story at WorldNetDaily.com tells of a mom who tried to videotape some of the gay indoctrination efforts at her kid's school - and was thrown out by officials. Parents everywhere need to be aware of the pro-gay agenda that is being pushed in many schools and speak out against this. The gay activists behind this do not want parent interfering with their disorientation. Parents, stay involved!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Interview with the Atheist Converted by Science

An exclusive interview with Antony Flew is available on the Biola University Website (thanks to Daniel Peterson for pointing out the article). Dr. Flew is the famous British atheist and philosopher who recently accepted belief in God (a theistic view) on the basis of scientific evidence. He is interviewed by Dr. Gary Habermas, a philosopher from Liberty University who has previously debated Flew several times on the existence of God. The discussion is interesting reading and includes such things as Flew's views on C.S. Lewis (he knew him, and while not convinced by Lewis' arguments, found him to be a very reasonable person).

Now I wonder if he'll be willing to look at Book of Mormon evidence, too? (Probably not. The idea of a revelatory God is still quite far from Dr. Flew. In fact, he says "I still hope and believe there's no possibility of an afterlife." Please, Dr. Flew, it's better to prepare now than to hope for the fantasy of non-existence.)


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Photos from the 2003 Christmas Eve Devotional in Appleton, Wisconsin

Related to my previous post on the Appleton, Wisconsin Christmas Eve Devotional, here are a couple of photos from the Dec. 24, 2003 event:

The congregation and choir joins in a Christmas hymn, led by Brother Dale Jepson during the Christmas Eve Devotional in 2003.


Tracy Price, Natalie Price, and Daniel Lindsay provide beautiful brass accompaniment, joining Ellen Jepson on the organ.

Famous Atheist Now Believes in a Supreme Being: Compelling Evidence of Design

The LDS blog A Soft Answer calls attention to a Dec. 9 story at ABC News [June 2007 update: the ABC link fails, so use a story from Accuracy in Media instead] about a famous atheist who now believes in God due to the weight of scientific evidence pointing to design. An excerpt follows:
A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.
This is great news.

The more I learn about the details of life and the cosmos, the more convinced I am that the scientific evidence is rife with the fingerprints of a supremely intelligent Creator. Even given the existence of such a Being, I am often stunned that it was even possible to find the technical solutions that have been devised to enable life, vision, thought, reproduction, a brain capable of enjoying and producing music, stable stars, planets like earth, and so forth. See, for example, my discussion of alleged design flaws in the Creation.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Christmas Eve Services: The Appleton Experience

One of the most successful missionary efforts I've seen in my part of the world has been the annual Christmas Eve Musical Devotional sponsored by the Appleton Second Ward in Wisconsin. It's just one hour long, typically from 4 PM to 5 PM, to give families time to be home for the evening. It's not preachy, but emphasizes outstanding musical performances with some short Christ-centered readings interspersed throughout the program.

We expect over 300 people to attend each year, including dozens of non-members and less active members from all over the region and members from several wards. It fills a real need for a worshipful experience on Christmas Eve, and adds tremendous beauty to the occasion. It's become so successful that people clamor for a chance to participate, complicating the heavy task of running this program and keeping it brief. Many thanks to my highly talented friend, Brother Dale Jepson, who was the inspiration for this program and has personally led it to success each year, taking on huge burdens to do so. His leadership has created a success that has touched many people. Indeed, for many it is a spiritual highlight of the year.

We found that running a purely optional devotional on Christmas Eve was controversial. Out West, apparently, many LDS people grew up with the notion that the Church should never schedule anything on Christmas Eve because it was sacred family time. That's one of those "unwritten rules" or urban legends that ought to be discarded. As for sacred family time, a few minutes of sharing sacred, uplifting music has proven to be a healthy thing - in fact, a wonderful tradition now - for my family, and I look forward to this year's event again.

When I lived out West, I also heard that Christmas Eve was off limits just to have a time when Church leaders could take a break. The way Brother Jepson (with his good family) runs the program, it's almost zero-stress for the leaders (thanks to all his hard work and preparation). The program began when I was Bishop, and I only had to show up and read a simply passage and perhaps add a few improvised remarks. Other leaders and members that don't want to participate are free to stay home.

Is the Church doing anything like this on Christmas Eve in your neck of the woods? If not, perhaps it's time to follow our example. Christmas Eve is the ideal time, in my opinion, especially for those who grew up in other churches with a tradition of Christmas Eve worship. But to make it successful, you need someone with a lot of musical experience and taste, a lot of energy, who you can trust to get a difficult job done. Put that person in charge, make the mission clear, give them many months to plan and prepare, and then get out of the way and let the musical miracles occur. If you're interested, I'm sure I can get you in touch with our local experts and pass some program ideas on to you.

Monday, December 06, 2004

More on Dreams (or Moron Dreams?)

A comment on my previous post on dreams raises the issue of people who have dreams that suggest doing something unwise (like not joining the Church). Yes, that happens. If I actually did just 10% of the things I've dreamed about, I'd have been locked up long ago. Remember, inspiration given to us in dreams is very similar to inspiration given to our mind and heart when we're awake: we need to filter out random thoughts from the whisperings of the Spirit. Many random thoughts are negative and must be discarded, and many random dreams are the same. So how do we tell the difference?

From my experience, learning to hear the voice of the Spirit is somewhat like learning to recognize a new language or new vocabulary words. It's a skill to be cultivated and requires learning. When a prompting comes from the Spirit, in my opinion, there is often an "outside" flavor to it - it's not just me alone thinking that or dreaming that up - and there is a "sureness" or solidity to it that demands attention. Like a logically conjugated verb that we don't yet fully understand, it just seems to fit. And upon further reflection and prayer, it makes sense, though it may require trust and faith.

When I've had dreams that I think were inspired, I often awoke sensing that it was a dream to heed, and there have often been positive fruits to heeding them. Other dreams just seem like random dreams and can be ignored (or must be ignored!).

Some dreams may seem like ordinary or minor dreams but can provide a perspective or information that can be of surprising help later. For example, one day on my mission in Switzerland, I dreamed that I was in the library looking for information about Indonesia since we had a new investigator from that land. Though only a few seconds long, it felt like a serious dream. A few hours later, we knocked on a door and met a woman who said she was from Indonesia - the first Indonesian I remember meeting. Her husband wasn't home and she didn't seem very interested, but she us to come back later -- something we might not have done but for that dream. We definitely came back - and ended up having many great visits with that family (a Swiss man, his Indonesian wife, and their young child) and had one of the best meals of my life with specialties from Indonesia. They came close to baptism, but did not join the Church, at least not while I was there, but I think the relationship we developed was a blessing to both of us, and I hope the Lord continues to bless those fine people.

Of course, it would be insane to heed every dream, so we must learn to filter the rare gems from the normal dross of random mental processes. But perhaps we can learn from even the stray ones or the bad ones. Dreams in which we commit sin, for example, can remind us how fallible we are and how careful we must be.

One of my most troubling dreams came when I was about 10 years old. As with many of the darkest dreams of man, this one involved marketing and marketers. I was starring in a commercial for Ajax cleanser (the powder with a chlorine bleach in it) and was dressed in armor as a knight, riding on a white horse. There were other actors also in armor. There were TV cameras and a director who told me that when the cameras started rolling, my job was to take my lance and charge at one of the other knights in dark armor who represented dirt to show how well Ajax can clean. Cameras! Action! I took my lance and charged at the opposing knight on my trusty stallion. Excellent! My lance went right through the dark knight's armor, knocking him off his horse. It was perfect for the commercial. Cut! As I dismounted, I realized that the other actor was dead. I had thoughtlessly killed another human being in order to market a product. I was in shock at what I had done and awoke, trembling with the bitterness of that experience. I will never forget it. It sure looks like a wacky random dream, but I feel that I can learn from it. (Now, after all these years, I'm in Corporate America, helping to develop consumer products. I'm happy to say that my workplace as well as my home is 100% lance free.)

Dreams

I had an interesting experience yesterday, similar to several other experiences I've had involving dreams. Shortly before I woke up, I had a couple of dreams about an LDS Hmong girl I know in Appleton. I used to be in our local Hmong branch and still maintain contact with a number of Hmong members, but it had been a couple of months since we had visited her and her family. In one dream, I knocked on a door belonging to a Hmong family and she was the one who opened it and greeted me warmly. I don't recall the other dream except that she was in it. When I awoke, I knew that I needed to visit her.

After our three-hour block (1 PM to 4 PM), while driving home, I asked my family if they wouldn't mind stopping at Lee's house on the way home. We had a busy schedule for the evening and taking time at the moment was somewhat inconvenient - it meant they might not have time to eat for a couple more hours - but they were willing (hoping for a brief visit, naturally). We pulled up to her house and I knocked on the door. Interestingly, Lee was the one who opened the door - something that I can't recall happening on past visits. This sweet but very strong 18-year-old girl has been struggling with serious health problems and was near death for several months starting about a year ago, so usually someone else from her large family would open the door. She was excited to see us and told me that it was really strange that we came by today, since she had just had a dream (I believe it was the night before) that she saw me in a midst of missionaries (standing out by virtue of being taller) and was excited to see me again and waved to get my attention.

I'm not sure why this visit was so important. We had a good chat and learned of some exciting progress and even of an award her former high school gave her for her example of courage. I think the visit was helpful both for her as well as for my family, but there was no obvious urgent need that was being met that would seem to require a visit that day driven by guidance through divine intervention. Nevertheless, I believe that there was a reason why we needed to be there, if only to help maintain her ties to the Church (her father has left the Church, and she is pretty much the main Latter-day Saint of the family, and still hasn't been able to be at Church for a very long time).

I've had a number of other experiences where dreams provided important guidance on issues. It's only about 2% of the time for me that some significant new insight or inspiration comes from dreams, but that small fraction of what I believe to be inspired dreams prove to be very helpful. Related to dreams, sometimes there is just a thought of something important that I must do that is strongly present right before I awake, and those thoughts often prove to be accurate or meaningful when I pursue them.

About two months before I was called to be Bishop, I had a dream that I was sitting in the chapel when my boss from my previous job came and sat next to me (Dr. Richard Ellis from my days as an associate professor at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology on the Georgia Tech Campus). He is not LDS, but for dream purposes was a nice choice of a respected authority figure whom I trusted and admired. He leaned over to me and whispered, "You know you're going to be called as Bishop, don't you?" I didn't know, but that dream made me confident that it would happen and helped me get a head start in preparing for that challenging task.

Interestingly, there was a time when I sensed another calling coming, and through what I believe to be divine guidance from several different angles, including a dream, I was able to be firm in doing what I had never done before: turning down a calling. (I am quite sure that I needed to say no - that is not to say that issuing the calling to me was wrong, and in fact it was very logical, but I believe it was right for me to turn it down. My first experience ever issuing a calling, by the way, as a counselor in the Tucker Ward of Georgia, was a case where I believe the Bishop was inspired in having me issue the calling to a less active woman, but it would have been wrong for the woman to accept. When I issued the calling tears came to her eyes - was this an spiritual experience for her?? - and then she blurted out: "I need to get out of the Church. How do I do that?" Well, she needed the Bishop's attention, if only to resolve her membership status, and the calling set things in motion that otherwise would not have happened. I'm OK with that.)

Regarding dreams, the scriptures point to many cases where they are a means of providing revelation to members and non-members alike. I think we should be grateful for this divine tool and not overlook the possibility of inspiration or teaching that may be provided in them occasionally.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Word of Wisdom Info: Mar|juana and Mental Health

The pro-mariju*na lobby has long claimed that mariju*na is not harmful. But in addition to several adverse health effects, a new study points to mental health problems. A Dutch study showed that cann*bis users are more likely to have psychosis. [To avoid blocking by Internet filters, I'm making annoying spelling changes names of certain substances.]

For those interested in other health effects of mar:juana, useful information is provided by National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some technical information is provided in the Workshop on Clinical Consequences of Marijuana - Abstracts and Speaker Biographies. The abstract of one paper, "Pulmonary/Respiratory Consequences of Marijvana" by Donald P. Tashkin, M.D., provided insights into the lung damage that mariguana brings:
First, habitual mariguana [spelling change mine] smoking can cause potentially serious airway pathology at a relatively early age despite the absence of any clinical or physiologic evidence of disease. Second, regular mariguana use appears to be at least as damaging to the epithelium of the central airways as the smoking of tobacco, despite the far smaller daily number of mariguana joints smoked by mariguana smokers (three to four joints) than the daily number of tobacco cigarettes smoked (>20), suggesting a more damaging effect of mariguana than tobacco per cigarette smoked.
Hopefully accurate information about the physical and mental health effects of mariguano (that's my favorite incorrect spelling, suggestive of the kind of contaminants that ruthless drug dealers might add as filler) will help us weed out the myth that it's harmless.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Physical and Mental Health Resources: LDSDiabetics.com

LDSDiabetics.com is a valuable new site by David Olsen that provides resources and a discussion group for LDS people and those of all faiths struggling with the spiritual, mental, and physical aspects of diabetes. David's work can also be of value to those struggling with mental illness in general. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Matthew 19: Can You Explain This Away?

In Matthew 19:16-21, a man approaches Christ and asks "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"

Quiz time! Which of the following was Christ's answer?
  1. "Thou cultist! Knowest thou not that there is nothing one must do to be saved, for salvation cometh by faith alone."
  2. "If thou wilt enter into life, just believe. But if thou believest thou must keep the commandments, thou shalt be cast into hell with the Mormons."
  3. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."
There are several other places in the New Testament where Christ gives similar teachings, but Matthew 19 is especially interesting. Those who claim that we are a cult because we believe in seeking to follow Christ in word and deed really puzzle me. If the Bible has more for us than just one verse (such as Ephesians 2:8), what are we to make of the frequently repeated plea of God for man to keep His commandments? I've had some Protestants try to explain that Christ was being ironic, and that He was deliberately trying to mock the idea of keeping the commandments in this case. Please!

Latter-day Saints, this is a useful scripture when teaching those with sincere questions - but don't waste your time arguing over this or any other verse with those who just want to argue and refuse to listen.

Some related passages include Luke 10:23-28, Mark 12:28-34, Mark 10:17-22, and many more, including many from Paul (yes, Paul - such as 1 Tim. 4:16).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Idolatry in the Book of Mormon

John Tvedtnes has a great article in Meridian Magazine, "Idolatry in the Book of Mormon." An interesting point is that the rise of idolatry among the Nephites, Lamanites, and Jaredites is likely due to the influence of neighboring peoples who were already into idol worship, as was the case for the Israelites in the Old Testament.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Swords and the Book of Mormon

One of the more common criticisms of the Book of Mormon is the claim that "swords" were unknown in the ancient Americas, in contrast to references to swords among the Nephites, Lamanites, and Jaredites. Many of you may have read about the actual "swords" among Mesoamericans that as described by the Spaniards. For example, here is an excerpt from my Mormon Answers response to the question about swords on my page about Metals in the Book of Mormon:
Q. Isn't the mention of swords in the New World another anachronism?

A. Many say that it is. Certainly swords were known in the ancient Old World, but the Book of Mormon speaks of swords used for centuries in the New World, where it is "common knowledge" that swords as we know them were not in use prior to the time of Columbus. But the ancient peoples in Book of Mormon lands, especially in Central American lands, definitely did use weapons that qualify as swords and were even called "swords" by Europeans who later saw them in use. These New World swords were non-metallic, incorporating obsidian blades. Examples of such swords from the Aztecs are discussed in the online article, "A Technological Mystery Resolved" by Terry Stocker at http://www.cmog.org/page.cfm?page=278.

A well known form of these pre-Columbian New World swords is the macuahuitl or the macana. Though the macuahuitl has been described as a "war club with sharp rocks embedded in it" by a Book of Mormon critic, the Spaniards that came to Central America consistently described it as a sword, not a club, as is shown by Matthew Roper in the article, "Eyewitness Descriptions of Mesoamerican Swords," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1996, pp. 150-158. Roper notes that the early Chroniclers of Mesoamerica, Durán and Clavijero, regularly called that weapon a sword. . . . [continue reading]
As an update, this year I also learned about related club-like weapons further north in the Americas. For example, theNew Georgia Encyclopedia has an article about the archaeology of the ancient Indians in the Georgia area entitled "Indian Warfare." This article discusses weapons and describes "the atassa, which was actually a wooden sword shaped like a pirate's cutlass." A helpful drawing is also provided. The word "sword" in this article is not Mormon spin.

A related article is "Warclubs and Falcon Warriors: Martial Arts, Status, and the Belief System in Southeastern Mississippian Chiefdoms" by Wayne W. Van Horne, Kennesaw State College, paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Anthropological Society, Beloit, Wisconsin, March 20, 1993. This scholarly overview has the following passage:
During the Mississippian and early historic periods Southeastern warriors used the warclub as their primary weapon, and they were experts in using it. The wide variety of warclub types that existed is part of the evidence of their importance in warfare. Warclub types included utilitarian types that were constructed for use as actual weapons, and ceremonial types, which were clearly non-functional and were used for culturally symbolic purposes. Utilitarian warclubs can be categorized into several general types based on construction. The first type is a stick that is one to two feet in length with an inset projection at the striking end made from a flint blade, animal tooth, or bone or antler fragment. The second type is a globe-headed warclub one to two feet in length with a thin handle and a ball shaped head that sometimes has an inset projection on the striking surface. The third type is the atassa, a wooden broadsword that is one to three feet in length and is shaped like a European broadsword, or falchion, without a hilt. The atassa was the most prevalent form of warclub in use in the protohistoric period. [emphasis mine]
Again we encounter the theme of wooden swords among the ancient Americans.

If the swords used by Lamanites were at least partly made from wood, then a once puzzling discussion of such swords in the Book of Mormon makes sense, as noted by Matthew Roper in "Swords and Cimeters in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999, pp. 34-43. The passage is in Alma 24:12-15, where a group of converted Lamanites make an oath to bury their swords and "stain" them no more with blood:
Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.

Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
Metal swords are easily cleaned and do not stain with blood, but the wooden handles of a macuahuitl or other sword-like weapon could absorb blood and become stained. They would be difficult to clean - and would almost take a miracle to remove the stains, much as the converted Lamanites understood that it was the miracle of Christ's grace that had removed the stain of blood from their souls. I think the reference to the swords being made "bright" could be a metaphor referring to a lighter color or bleaching of the cleansed swords as a whole or to the shiny brightness of the cleaned obsidian blades.

In any case, I am intrigued by the richness of weapons used in the ancient New World and the possible correspondance to weapons in the Book of Mormon. This post only scratches the surface of this fascinating topic.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Gratitude

An important but often overlooked scripture on gratitude is Doctrine and Covenants 59:21:
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.
To confess the hand of the Lord in all things, to me, means to recognize His doings and be grateful. Even in adversity, He is there, helping us to learn and to grow. He intervenes more than we recognize. He helps more than we acknowledge. We must learn to walk closer to Him and as we look for His doings and thank Him, I suspect that He will bless us and guide us even more.

There is so much that He has done for me that I can be grateful for. How blessed I am to see, for example, and to behold the majesty of His creations. Since obtaining a digital camera last year and going a bit crazy with photography, still a total novice, my awareness of light and color and beauty has noticeably increased, and I marvel and just how beautiful this planet is, at just how marvelous a human being can be, and how precious the gift of sight is. But eye hath not seen the marvelous things that await for us in the kingdom of heaven, when we can see as we are seen (Doctrine and Covenants 76:94) and behold God's creations with immortal eyes. For those who are not blessed with the gift of sight at the moment, rejoice in the blessings that await you and all of us in the resurrection. The mortal gift only scratches the surface of what wonders we will then behold.

How blessed I am to taste, to witness the symphonies of flavor that He has created. When I peel a banana or pomegranate, for example, I wonder if He once contemplated the fruit salads or other marvelous concoctions that we children would one day make from these small but stunning creations. Strawberries - what a miracle they are. They are far too delicious and intricate to be explained by chance evolution. Don't insult me with such theories. They are exquisite art by a master artist and master chef. Much better to tell the Iron Chefs that their creations are the results of blind chance that to say that strawberries were not designed by the hand of a loving genius with exquisite skill.

How blessed I am to have had the parents God gave me, parents who taught me to love life and dare to grow and learn and who taught me as a child to pray and trust my Heavenly Father. I owe so much to them.

How blessed I am to have the wife and family that I do. To be surrounded with such fine and noble people who inspire me to be better and cause me to marvel at their goodness and talents. Nothing I ever did or could do merits the family I have been blessed with. But it is this way with so many of the Lord's blessings. They are grace in action.

How grateful I am to live in a time when the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is on the earth, with the gifts and blessings that were in the primitive Church. How grateful I am for the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, another witness of Christ. It has blessed my life and given me hope and guidance in so many ways, as has the Bible.

How grateful I am to know that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ, and that God will have all men come unto Him and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), if only we will let Him rescue us, His children.

There is much real evil that we must work to oppose, and much true suffering that we must work to relieve. But wherever we are, in whatever state, there are great blessings from God available to us for which we can thank Him. May we always recognize and confess His hand in all things.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Excising God: California

The Cupertino Union School District in California has prohibited a teacher from passing out harmful materials to students - you know, dangerous documents like the Declaration of Independence and the writings of George Washington. Gaia forbid, such documents might stir religious sentiments in impressionable students since they make reference to banned topics such as God and a "Creator." The anti-religion forces there would have us believe that the Declaration is unconstitutional. Who knows, maybe the whole Constitution is unconstitutional. Time to ban all historical documents and put the atheists in charge.

Kudos to the Alliance Defense Fund for filing suit against this wacky California district.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Google Scholar: Information on Mormon Health

E-mail from Allen Wyatt called my attention to a new Google service, Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/), which compiles information from academic publications. I searched the term "Mormons" and found a number of interesting articles about health among the Mormons. Here are a couple you may already have heard about:
I find it interesting that decreased smoking alone does not seem to account for the lower cancer rates among Mormons. Perhaps there is even more benefit to the Word of Wisdom than some people have appreciated.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Separation of Church and Sports

During a few seconds of random radio listening while driving around today, I chanced upon ESPN radio and heard the coach of the University of Utah football team discussing the BYU-Utah rivalry shortly before today's game. He began talking about the "intensity" of the relationship, but then switched to the more accurate word: "hate." Several times he referred to the "hatred" that exists between the teams.

Hatred between two Utah schools? Maybe most of the hate comes from the Utes or their fans (so I would like to believe), but it is still shocking that "hate" would be the proper term adjective. The coach said it was strong and implied you have to see it to really believe it. What hath football wrought?

Church sports don't always seem to promote the best of feelings between different wards or branches. I remember when I was back in Provo, a young new bishop was called in the ward where we attended, and on his first Sunday as bishop, this man - a really fine and even great man - felt compelled to humbly apologize to the ward for the poor sportsmanship and inappropriate language he had used in the recent past during Church basketball events. He asked forgiveness of all those he had offended.

How many Latter-day Saints have been on the spiritual sidelines with sports-related injuries to the soul?

Do we need separation of Church and sports? If only we could apply the principles of the prayer circle from the Temple to sports, encouraging people to participate only if they have the best of feelings toward the others.

Fortunately, out here in Wisconsin, we don't have an organized sports program - and Zion prospers.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Religious Liberty: Increasingly at Risk

The Alliance Defense Fund is a Christian group providing legal assistance to people whose religious liberty is threatened. Some of the cases they have handled are simply shocking, such as the city in California that punished a church for trying to put up a school by not only not allowing them to occupy the new building, but also imposing strict rules on when they could have activities in their old building (banning weekday activities that go past 7:00 PM, for example). That story is "Rezoned Church."

I also appreciate ADF for speaking out against the Pentagon's absurd anti-Boy Scout warning to military bases. (Does the Commander in Chief have anything to say on such issues?)

Anybody have any experience with ADF?

The Rutherford Institute is another private group that uses lawyers to help protect religious liberty in this country. I've been impressed with some of their accomplishments over the years.

Latter-day Saints, when religious liberty is gone, let me warn you that your religion is on the top of the problem list. This is the time to stand up for liberty and to support honorable groups that still care about the Constitution and liberty. The Far Left despises the Church for its pro-family, anti-abortion, pro-morality positions that simply cannot be tolerated in the "tolerant" society they wish to enforce on us. Of course, there are right-wing people who call themselves Christians who may be happy to join in the attack on the Mormons (you know, the kind who stir up audiences with hate films in the name of "ministering to Mormons with love"). But they're pretty high on the list, too, so if I were them, I'd forget their theological differences and join with fellow Christians of all kinds to stand up for freedom of religion, one of the greatest gifts God has given us - and one of the liberties Satan despises most.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Visiting Other Wards and Branches When Traveling


This is a photo of people "punting" on the Cam River in Cambridge, England. Looking at this picture and some other photos I took in Cambridge last year reminded me of the wonderful visit with the local LDS ward there. A pleasantly diverse group of Saints that seemed to really cherish the Gospel and enjoyed healthy discussion in Sunday School - that's how I remember them.

When I travel on business, I always hope that I can attend a local LDS Church if I'll be away on a Sunday. In addition to the spiritual need, observing fellow Latter-day Saints in different settings, especially different countries, helps me appreciate the universal nature of the Gospel. The flavor of the Church varies somewhat with locale, just as some practices vary with time, but the core is universal.

Greetings to my fellow Latter-day Saints in England and all over the world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

How can there be marriage in heaven? Doesn't that contradict the Bible?

A common question I've been asked regards eternal marriage: "How can there be marriage in heaven? Doesn't that contradict the Bible?"

Many people have quoted the story in Matt. 22 ("they neither marry, nor are given in marriage" in heaven) to suggest that eternal marriage is not possible. To understand that passage, we must first recognize that marriage is an ordinance bringing change in relationships and is thus an ordinance for this mortal world that must be performed before we enter into the eternal realms in the presence of the Father. We do not marry in heaven - that ordinance must be done beforehand. To have eternal power to seal in heaven what is sealed on earth, the sealing of a man and woman must be performed in the Temple by one who has received the sealing power that Christ gave to Peter. This is what Temple marriage is all about. And it can only be done on earth.

Further insight into this questions comes from Dan Bachman (e-mail, March 1999):
It may interest you to know that the Matt. 22 story of the woman and her seven husbands was one of the very passages which caused Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord about marriage. The Lord's response to his prayer is known as Doctrine and Covenants 132, and is the main revelation responsible for our belief in eternal marriage. What I'm saying is the very passage you say refutes the idea of eternal marriage is the one which led to its introduction in the LDS Church. How so?

The story told to Jesus by the Sadducees was about a specific woman and her seven husbands. They wanted to know "in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?" (Matt. 22:28) The Savior's reply is extremely interesting and merits a great deal of thought. He said that they erred in denying the resurrection on the basis of this story for two reasons. First, they did not know the scriptures. Second, they did not know the power of God. That is interesting, because these were supposedly the scripture experts of that day -- yet he said they did not know them.

He went on to say "For in the resurrection THEY neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. Let me make the following points regarding the Savior's reply.

1) The word "they" refers specifically to the 8 people in the story, and not necessarily to all other people. Who were these people? In verse 25, the Sadducees say "there were WITH US seven brethren," suggesting that the seven men in this specific case study were Sadducees also. Sadducees were a rather worldly group that denied the resurrection and generally rejected Christ. They aren't likely to be in the kingdom of heaven, so their marriages on earth are irrelevant. Yet, most Christians believe that this verse means that nobody is married in heaven. That is wrong - and fact made even more clear by the next point below.

2) If you read verse 30 carefully, Jesus clearly speaks of two groups in
heaven: a) people who are married in heaven and b) angels.

I believe it is this implication that perhaps led Joseph Smith to inquire of God about the meaning of this passage. Joseph left two records about what he learned by revelation in answer to his question. The first is a summary statement about the story, which comes from the minutes of a meeting where he told a questioner that he learned that a man must marry for eternity or else he would be single in heaven. The more detailed account can be found in D&C 132:4-28. The most pertinent verses are 7, 15-17.

Verse 7 explains that for a marriage to be eternal it must meet four conditions which are: 1) it must be made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. 2) It must be performed by "him who is anointed"--in other words who is properly authorized to perform the eternal marriage. 3) It must be done "both as well for time and for all eternity." And 4) it must be done by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed."

Now verses 15-17 explain that the reason the woman and her seven husband were not married eternally is because they did not meet these four requirements. Verses 16-17 make clear the distinction between being eternally married and being an angel. They read:
16) Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants.... 17) For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever."
If the story in Matt. 22 is understood in a more generic sense, not just applying to the seven Sadducee brothers, it is still technically correct. Temple marriage, like baptism, is an ordinance of change and covenant making that must occur prior to entering into heaven. They are ordinances intended for mortals to prepare them for the endless state of Eternal Life in God's presence by bringing mortals into unchanging, eternal covenants. Christ did not say that the married state does not exist, nor that husbands and wives will not be sealed in the heavens, but he said that marriages aren't performed in heaven. Neither baptism nor marriage is performed in heaven, but must be done on earth. Christ gave Peter power to seal, such that what is sealed ON EARTH might remain sealed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). Temple marriage is also called "sealing" since a husband and wife are sealed together. It is an ordinance that can only be done on earth, like baptism, but if done with proper authority and if the terms of that covenant are fulfilled, then the sealing will be valid in the heavens and the husband and wife will be heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).

Thus, in a generic sense, Christ explained that after we are resurrected, there would be no confusion about relationships because marriages aren't performed there. Marriage, baptism, and some other covenants are handled on earth, either by the living themselves or by the living vicariously for the deceased, and sources of confusion will need to be ironed out and resolved with God's help before we enter into Eternal Life in His presence.

In Matt. 19:4-6, shortly after Christ gave Peter power to seal in heaven what was sealed on earth, Christ spoke of marriage:
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them in the beginning made them male and female,

And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Adam and Eve, before they fell, were immortal and were joined by God. There is no indication that God said "until death do you part" in joining them. They were married in an immortal state and were intended to remain joined together. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." In the LDS view, based on direct and clear revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we know that marriage is intended to be eternal, that a husband and wife are meant to be sealed together in heaven. Those who have experienced the rich joy of true love between a husband and wife - as I have - should marvel that God would want it any other way. Marriage is one of the greatest and most divine gifts - a gift that is not eradicated in the resurrection. The world has lost this knowledge, but I'm grateful for the Restoration of the fullness of the Gospel and for the restoration of the Temple, where such sacred ordinances are performed.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Modern Revelation: A Paradigm that Fosters the Intellect

On Mormon Inquiry, Dave has a post on The Evangelical Mind that refers to an article on pointing to "built-in barriers to careful and constructive thinking" found in typical evangelical movements. This issue came to mind again this morning when I read a story about the Seventh Day Adventists insisting that the earth was made in six 24-hour days ("literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week," according to a recent Adventist decree). I respect the Adventists, but feel that they are locking themselves into an untenable position on this issue. While we must take the Bible seriously, if we mistake it as the source of all revelation and see it as the final authority rather than our living God, then we shut out the possibility of further revelation, limit the scope of future knowledge, and create a paradigm in which intellectual inflexibility often ensues. Sadly, mental rigor mortis can be mistaken for firmness in the faith.

On the above-mentioned post at Mormon Inquiry, Dave asks if we Latter-day Saints have the same challenge. Comments from Clark Goble and myself on that post identify the LDS belief in continuing revelation as a key factor that frees us from the barriers that may keep some of our fellow Christians from being able to deal effectively with scientific progress or with other intellectual developments outside their religion. In practice, of course, it is natural and comfortable for us humans to build our own barriers against thought (LDS examples are not hard to find--myself included), but that is not what our religion and our God ask of us. And naturally, our critics will assume that we have abandoned thought simply by virtue of being LDS or Christian or non-atheist, but this is an unthinking assumption on their part. True LDS religion opens up the doors of intellectual progress, challenges us to look forward to further revelation, calls us to learn from the best books, urges us to get all the intelligence we can, tells us to see true religion and all other true knowledge as compatible, and teaches us that the Spirit works not just on our hearts but also our minds (see D&C 8:2-3 and 9:7-9).

Latter-day Saints, do you understand how radical and intellectually liberating our concept of continuing revelation is in today's world? The Ninth Article of Faith, which we tend to take for granted and not contemplate nearly enough, has momentous importance: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." This means, of course, that we do not have all truth. We do not know it all (and do not have a monopoly on truth). Further, taken with the Eighth Article of Faith, we can understand that no text written by inspired humans, copied and edited by humans, translated by humans, and printed by humans can possibly represent God in perfect accuracy, but even if it did contain all that God had revealed with no loss, no error, no human influence of any kind, and no limitation in language, it would still be incomplete. It would not be the final authority on all matters, for that authority resides in God the Father, not in any physical object made with the hands of man (can the Bible be an idol? Bibliolaters, beware!).

God has not finished speaking - nothing in the Bible says He has, and Revelation and other books of the Bible indicate that there will yet be more prophecy and more revelation. (Here's a tip to our critics from Paul: "Despise not prophesyings" (1 Thessalonians 5:20).) We don't know it all - and that is a remarkably liberating thought. It inspires us to continue learning, to revise old assumptions when they appear to have been wrong, to assimilate new data, but not in a way that lets us be tossed about by every sleight of man: see Ephesians 4, which shows that it is the divine guidance provided by prophets and apostles - continuing revelation - that helps us avoid such deception, coupled with the anchor of a testimony of God and the revelations of the standard works (knowing, however, that they may not be perfect due to human influence and that they are not yet complete).

If there are conflicts or great unresolved matters, we can look to further revelation and information to provide clarity. Thus, when faced with new knowledge that seems to challenge our preconceived notions, we do not need to flee or build walls to keep the new knowledge away. We can examine it and move on. We keep our trust in God, and look to Him as the ultimate authority, knowing that when previously revealed information does not provide what we need, we know He can and does reveal more.

This dynamic is illustrated in our approach to science. I believe that Latter-day Saints once commonly assumed that the earth was created in six 24-hour days and was 6,000 years old. When scientific data contradicted those claims, the intellectual flexibility of our religion allowed us to go back to the text and realize that the word "day" in Hebrew can refer to an era, not just 24-hours. Nothing in LDS scripture actually required a young-earth view of Creation. In fact, LDS scriptures tell us specifically that God has not yet revealed the details of the Creation, and that significant future revelations await us on this matter. Here is Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-35:
32 Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things-

33 Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof-

34 Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven.

This implicitly warns us to avoid thinking that we know all there is to be known about the Creation, and also warns us about the limitations of science, for even after all the advances man can make, we will rely on God to give the correct answer: Here is how the earth was made.

Our flexibility on the Creation is paralleled by our flexibility on understanding the reality behind the Book of Mormon. Early LDS leaders tended to assume that Book of Mormon told us everything about the origins of ancient Americans for all of North and South America. In the past century, LDS scholars and leaders have increasingly recognized that other migrations were possible, and when information came out pointing to heavy Asian origins for many of the ancient peoples of the Americas, it was easy to recognize that many nineteenth-century assumptions were not required by or even compatible with the text itself. Thus, to our critics chagrin, when they point to evidence that Asian genetic influence is dominant among Native Americans, it did not cause our testimonies to fly to pieces. In fact, the DNA evidence poses no serious trouble for the Book of Mormon, but may require some of us to discard old assumptions about the text and read the book more carefully.

Part of the healthy LDS approach to matters of the intellect also comes from recognizing the limitations of our leaders, including the prophets. Just as no text that passes through human hands is infallible, no human leader, whoever inspired, is infallible. The Bible shows that prophets can and do make mistakes. We revere our prophets, but recognize that they may have biases and other shortcomings, and do not demand that every opinion and every sermon is something we have to accept. By the same token, we should recognize that some of our own views may be incorrect and may need to be corrected.

Let us rejoice in the restored doctrine of continuing revelation. Surely if there is a true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, it will be one that He leads as He led His original Church: through continuing revelation to living prophets and apostles that He calls and authorizes. Surely if there is a Church of Jesus Christ that He recognizes as His Church, it will be one that accepts continuing revelation from Him. We don't need the faith-promoting urban legend about the "17 Points of the True Church" (if the story is really reliable, let me know, but I don't think so). To get started, one should consider this one point first: a true church of Jesus Christ, IF such exists at all, will be one that is open to continuing revelation from Him. And I'm so grateful that such a church is on the earth today.

Latter-day Saints, do you appreciate how significant, how expansive, and how intellectually exciting the doctrine of continuing revelation from God is? We should rejoice in this matter and look forward with great earnestness to receiving yet more from Him. But we hold back the flood of revelation, I fear, in not fully accepting, using, and living what has already been revealed. Now get out those scriptures and study - and take time to learn from the other "best books" that came from sources outside our religion as well. The more we open and fill our minds, the more God can add.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Questions about Allegedly Missing Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon

I've had lots of request for information about allegations regarding missing plants and animals in the Book of Mormon. You know, questions about horses, barley, elephants, and so forth. As a resource, my answers to these questions are compiled on my Mormon Answers page about plants and animals in the Book of Mormon. If you are aware of interesting developments on any of these topics, please let me know.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Except ye become as a little child...


After posting this photo from Appleton, Wisconsin on a page of recent photos in the Appleton area of my Website, I was touched by the simple beauty and harmony of the two children as they selected flowers at our local farmers' market. In a world of anger and hate, how desperately we need to remember the plea of Jesus Christ that we become as little children. One of several such passages is found in the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 9:22:
Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.
I love the way many little children - the sweet ones - play together (not all are sweet all the time, of course - some learn to be nasty far too early, and some just have bad days every now and then). For these archetypical little children, differences in skin color, religious beliefs, economic status, and political viewpoints do not stand in the way of friendship and enjoyment of one another's company. There is a childlike openness and warmth that seems akin to the charity that Christ calls us to seek - a gift that is miraculous and beyond the abilities of us jaded adults to feign or develop ourselves. It takes a miraculous rebirth and infusion of God's power, as Moroni 7 teaches ("pray with all the energy of heart" that we might receive this gift of charity).

We all need this gift. I know I do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Amazing Story of Forgiveness

The LDS Aaronic Priesthood Manual II has a wonderful lesson about forgiveness that I got to help teach last Sunday. I was amazed at how the rowdy group of teenage boys were touched and quietly contemplative about the powerful example of a Dutch woman's forgiveness of a Nazi tormentor. Go to the link above to read the full copyrighted story. Below is an excerpt, describing Corrie ten Boom's reaction when, after preaching a sermon on forgiveness after war, she was asked for forgiveness from a once-cruel German guard from the camp where she sufferred and where her sister was killed:

“I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow, terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’

“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. … ‘Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Atheist Hospitals, Soup Kitchens?

National Review Online posted an interesting e-mail that raises an interesting point (if only to highlight a P.R. problem among faithful atheists):
Let's see, we have scores of Baptist Hospitals, Methodist Hospitals, Jewish Hospitals, Catholic Hospitals, etc., etc. Each of these have 'outreach' programs both here and in the most dismal places on earth, staffed with dedicated medical doctors and nurses. Where oh where are the Atheist's hospitals, or soup kitchens? I, perhaps somewhat leaning to your ideology, am not so religious... but I am married to one of the most delightful, beautiful and dedicated Catholics on this earth. I delight in her absolute faith, her praying, her laughter, her zest for life, her acceptance of those of lesser faith (like me), her tolerance. All which seems so absent from the liberal atheist.
I marvel at the compassionate service I see from the Christian community. In spite of theological differences, the work of serving selflessly brings Christians together from all over the world. Other religions also organize for great humanitarian causes (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.). But do we see similar organized efforts from the atheists? Yes, I do have atheists friends who have done things like Peace Corps and engage in plenty of community service - but they honestly seem like exceptions. Maybe it's just a perception problem. If you know of any atheist hospitals, soup kitchens, and foreign missionaries serving the world, please let me know.

(Nov. 10 update: Some atheists have taken objection to this post. I know a lot of you are actively engaged in service, but there is at least an image issue involved here. And from my perspective, biased as it is, I will still admire the outstanding humanitarian efforts that seem to naturally flow from religious faith. It's one of the very positive fruits of true religion, in spite of the bitter fruit that its power-hungry corruptors have brought from time to time. But if bitter fruit is your hang up, don't blame religion! Yes, religious bigotry has led to terrible crimes - not the least of which was the persecution of early Latter-day Saints and the murder of Joseph Smith. But the most terrible mass slaughter of human beings has occurred in this century at the hands of atheistic and Marxist totalitarian governments - 60 million in Mao's China, 40 million in Stalin's Russia, millions under the National Socialists of Germany, millions under the Marxists of Cambodia, and so forth. And the radical Marxist leaders of today's terrorists, such as Yasser Arafat, are hardly sincere believers motivated by the teachings of their religion, but abuse religion as a tool to achieve their totalitarian aims. The blood of over a hundred million murdered people screams from the ground against the godless crimes of Marxism. Be offended, but so it is.)

Monday, November 08, 2004


Just in time for hunting season, some anti-Mormon ministeries are extending their product line.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

LDS.org Resources on Internet Use, Abuse

LDS.org has prepared a helpful collection or resources on the Internet to help individuals and parents better protect themselves. One of the article is about risks to newly returned missionaries (let your guard down after your mission and you're easy prey - seriously). One of the resources is an excellent article on Internet addition, "Tangled in the Web."

These resources are so good, I couldn't stop reading them. Kudos to LDS.org for their excellent Website - they've really got me hooked.

One disappointment on the LDS.org page, though, is that they provide a link to ContentWatch.com, an Internet filter company in Salt Lake City. They are just one of many commercial services. I paid for ContentWatch on one of our computers, but it has been a disappointing experience (disastrous installation problems are possible, and the filtering is based solely on looking at the text of each page that is being downloaded with no intelligent reviews or domain filtering - my tame pages and blog entries are routinely blocked, while lurid photos fly right past the filter).

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Remembering Arafat

With Arafat perhaps dead or very close, we can expect a gush of media outpouring about the contributions of this great Nobel Peace Prize winner. Since Latter-day Saints tend to be intensely interested in Israel and the conflicts with its enemies, I would suggest that we turn to more reliable sources than the pro-Arafat media to appreciate Arafat's role in the modern world. His work as a radical terrorist and a supporter of terrorists makes him a criminal who both Muslims and non-Muslims should condemn (and many Muslims do). Consider the article by Ion Mihai Pacepa, "The Arafat I Know," published in The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10, 2002.

Those who actually know Arafat may be interested to find that he is a far cry from his depiction in the American media, and much more accurately represented in the Book of Mormon description of Gadianton robber operations. The Gadiantons had the audacity to demand to be taken seriously as the legitimate representatives of the people over them they had seized power. They made impressive sounding but hollow claims in their quest for power, and readily found dupes among the Nephites (kingmen and order of Nehors types) who supported them internally. They used terror and assassination as tools to gain power. They worked with secret combinations and allied themselves with traitors and wicked people at all levels. They applied external military pressure coupled with internal intrigues in achieving their political objectives. I think it would be worthwhile to study modern terrorism in terms of Book of Mormon teachings about the dangers of secret combinations, and to consider how men like Arafat fit into the depictions therein.

Joseph Smith could not possibly have fabricated the amazingly accurate and precise descriptions of the political workings of secret combinations based on his limited education. Most Americans are still totally oblivious to such things. But Arafat's rise to power and the role he and others have played in this century is marvelously paralleled by Book of Mormon elements that were compiled and preserved for our day.

As Yasser Arafat leaves this mortal realm to receive his eternal reward (my forecast: sorry, no virgins!), I join the thousands of victims of Arafat's terror in remembering him.

Parallels Between the Isolated Left and Anti-Mormons

I'm amazed at how outraged the leaders and "intellectuals" of the Left are over the election. They are in total shock, unable to comprehend how anybody could have any point of view other than their own. A difference in opinion is not possible among intelligent people, they think, so the problem is obviously that everyone else is an unteachable moron, blinded by ignorance and bigotry. This inability to understand differences in viewpoints is the exact opposite of the concept of "diversity" and "tolerance" that they preach so eloquently (when it's about accepting their personal immorality or their viewpoints).

Though many of the most vocal anti-Mormons appear to be Republicans, I find a remarkable similarity in the worldview of the shocked leaders of the political Left and the attitude of many anti-Mormons toward Latter-day Saints. They tend to see Mormons the same way that isolated left-wingers see the inhabitants of the red states: mindless, deceived, ignorant fools who deserve contempt for not seeing the obvious truth of our opponents' viewpoints.

As an example, look at the recent article from the good liberals at Slate entitled, "Why Americans Hate Democrats--A Dialogue: The unteachable ignorance of the red states" (Jane Smiley, Nov. 4, 2004). It is informed by an arrogance, intolerance, and level of prejudice that I find to common to many of the most popular and vocal anti-Mormons. Here is an excerpt:
Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. . . . The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are . . . and they have a taste for violence. . . .

Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you--if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent. American politicians ALWAYS operate by a similar sort of flattery, and so Americans are never induced to question themselves. That's what happened to Jimmy Carter—he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do--they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.

Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor. But by this time you don't need much encouragement—you've put all your eggs into the ignorance basket, and really, some kind of miraculous fruition (preferably accompanied by the torment of your enemies, and the ignorant always have plenty of enemies) is your only hope. If you are sufficiently ignorant, you won't even know how dangerous your policies are until they have destroyed you, and then you can always blame others.

The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class. . . . They know no boundaries or rules. They are predatory and resentful, amoral, avaricious, and arrogant. Lots of Americans like and admire them because lots of Americans, even those who don't share those same qualities, don't know which end is up. Can the Democrats appeal to such voters? Do they want to? The Republicans have sold their souls for power. Must everyone?

Progressives have only one course of action now: React quickly to every outrage--red state types love to cheat and intimidate, so we have to assume the worst and call them on it every time. We have to give them more to think about than they can handle--to always appeal to reason and common sense, and the law, even when they can't understand it and don't respond. They cannot be allowed to keep any secrets. Tens of millions of people didn't vote--they are watching, too, and have to be shown that we are ready and willing to fight, and that the battle is worth fighting. And in addition, we have to remember that threats to democracy from the right always collapse. Whatever their short-term appeal, they are borne of hubris and hatred, and will destroy their purveyors in the end.
Whew! Look, there are honest critics of the Mormons who do try to understand our views and sincerely differ with us, but the most popular and vocal anti-Mormons have a sad tendency to follow the kind of "thinking" that I see in Jane Smiley's article. They can see us only as evil and deluded, as hopelessly unteachable bigots who have sold their souls and who must be opposed with every tactic possible. But I believe change is possible, and hope that some of them may be touched by the Spirit, as happened to Saul, the erstwhile persecutor of Christians, that they may repent and join us, or at least show a little tolerance.

Fortunately for our critics, the Mormons aren't going to take over the country and lead America into the Dark Ages, so they won't need to flee to Canada or Cuba to seek utopia - unless, like some extremists on the Left, the thought of a country that would tolerate Republicans is more than they can bear.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Good News: Americans Care About Moral Issues

Unlike a majority of Americans who consider themselves religious, I did not vote for President Bush (we can discuss my third-party leanings in another forum). But I am impressed with the reasons Americans gave for their votes. More important than the war in Iraq or terrorism were moral values: abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. The left was caught entirely by surprise. Moral issues mattered for as many as 32% of those who voted. These issues were entirely off the radar screen for Kerry's people.

Religious people are almost entirely absent from the movers and shakers in the media (polls have shown that the people in the media are overwhelmingly left-leaning, pro-abortion, non-religious, etc.). Listening to the news, one would never suspect that religious values were important factors in the lives of ordinary Americans. I'm sure the media will continue to ignore religion, apart from occasional dire warnings about the danger of entering the Dark Ages if religion enters the public limelight instead of sexual perversion, or suggesting that certain politicians are unfit for office because they have been tainted with religion. But I am grateful that so many Americans actually do care about these matters - and not just in the Bible belt.

There are still a lot of decent people out there who share basic family values. The rejection of same-sex marriage in 11 states is further evidence of that. I may disagree with most voters on a lot of issues, including politics and religion, but I'm grateful that they care about values at all. There is hope for America, no matter who the President is.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Religious Fervor at the Polls Leads to Miracles in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been a inundated in religious frenzy far greater than anything Joseph Smith saw before the First Vision, stirred up by regular visits from Bush and Kerry, and endless preaching from their ministers, speaking of hellfire and damnation if we make the wrong choice. (Sincere seekers wonder which of all these parties is true? I believe the answer is a familiar one. . . .) The origins may not be divine in our case, but we are witnessing supernatural results as a result of political faith.

Supernatural? You bet. Quiet little Appleton, according to tonight's newspaper is experiencing a 125% turnout of its registered voters. I think much higher turnouts will be experienced in other parts of the state. Milwaukee's city leaders insisted on printing 900,000 ballots to handle the turnout from its population of 400,000 and its base of about 150,000 eligible voters.

With the outpouring of election miracles in this state, we may see over 10 million votes from our 5.5 million inhabitants. I think it will be 65% for Bush, and 72% for Kerry - another miracle, to be sure. How is it possible? I don't know, but it is getting awfully close to the resurrection. One organization representing deceased voters may provide part of the answer.

Monday, November 01, 2004

An Educational Sabbath Experience

When life gets busy, it's easy to find that one's "ox is in the mire" when it comes to keeping the Sabbath day holy. But many times, the ox is actually fine and all we've done is splash a little mud around through our careless meandering. I had an instructive experience yesterday and today that reminded me to think about the Sabbath more carefully.

As the weekend approached, I found myself with a big work-related task before that could easily eat up the whole weekend. I needed to help get a complex patent ready to meet a deadline, and an unexpected change in legal resources meant a lot more work for me than I had planned on. I got some work done on Saturday, but a big part of Saturday afternoon and evening was taken up with a church activity I had committed to do long ago. I assumed that I would need to spend every spare moment on Sunday working on the patent. Since I had lost time on Saturday for church work, surely I would be justified doing my work on Sunday. That may be the case in many such situations, but I took a moment Sunday morning to contemplate my day in prayer, and honestly felt that I needed to not worry about my work that day and just make it a normal Sabbath. It was a risky decision, I felt, but it just seemed right to let go.

We had some good time together as a family, helped some Hmong kids get to Church, had a good experience in our meetings (including a wonderful spiritual experience helping to teach the Priests about forgiveness, featuring the dramatic story of Corey ten Boom forgiving a guard from her prison camp she met after the war), organized and passed out dozens of photos I had taken of ward members in our activity the day before (thanks to 1-hour processing on Saturday night), did a last minute home teaching visit (a great one for my youngest son who really enjoyed what turned out to be fascinating political discussion with a brilliant member of the Church in our area, whom we really enjoy visiting), worked on a couple magic tricks (some awesome instructions purchased from Ellusionist.com), did some reading together, made a new version of pomegranate salad with blueberries and cinnamon blended into the whip cream, did a little writing, updated my journal, handed out candy to trick-or-treaters, phoned some of my family members in Utah, answered some e-mail, and so forth. A busy and rewarding day - and no progress on the patent. Would I be toast on Monday?

The wisdom behind that prompting to let go on Sunday became clearer on Monday. It was a wonderful day at work. I simply skipped a four-hour meeting in the morning and focused on the patent. I grabbed a sandwich in our world-class cafeteria (Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Neenah, Wisconsin - come join us!) and brought it back to my office, taking a few minutes that made me a little late to another meeting but made a needed lunch essentially take zero work time. The biggest challenge of the day was a meeting I was in charge of in the afternoon that would take a couple hours of preparation time, but given that one key person no longer could attend, I realized that it would be best to simply postpone that meeting - and voila, the afternoon was free. And these liberated hours proved to be highly productive. My work just seemed to come together rapidly and more efficiently than normal, and at the end of the day, I was surprised to see that I was ahead of where I needed to be by Monday. In fact, I am essentially done. Wow - I really feel blessed. Sure, it may all be wasted effort in the end, but this little process reminds me that sometimes the mire is not so deep or so urgent as we thought - and frequently is simply muck that we have splashed on our poor beasts. I hope I can take the Sabbath more seriously in the future.

To those who don't believe in God and such things, there is a simple explanation for my trivial little story: I got some rest on Sunday and worked rapidly on Monday. Big deal. But to me, there was a spiritual prompting to sacrifice my work on Sunday, with a feeling that things would work out. And they did in a manner that strikes me as a minor but real blessing from God. Yes, I know some of the bitter critics out there cannot believe that God would help someone with something so trivial as their personal life at work or with their family on the Sabbath day when there are wars raging and people being killed all over the planet. (Is God bound to do nothing for anyone until world peace has been ushered in and all suffering has been eradicated by these wise critics?) I don't have the answers for the terror that man inflicts upon man, but even for those who suffer in the darkest prison cell or in the most desperate crises of health, thousands have born witness of the reality of God and of His power even when we are torn and distressed. His kindness is available in countless settings - why not my little setting here?

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Seminary - Is It Worth It?

Nine-moons has a post on seminary that raises some interesting questions. Same for Gordon Smith's T&S post on teen apathy. The increase in demands from school and other activities makes it increasingly difficult for kids to get to these painfully early classes - sometimes at 5:30 AM (currently 5:45 and 6:00 am in my region). Many would drop it instantly if it weren't for BYU's emphasis on seminary for those seeking scholarships. Seminary can be worth it - not just because BYU scholarships - when the teachers respect the sacrifice of the students and seek to feed them real content and spiritually strengthening material. Content is the key, in my opinion. But over the years, I've been pained to see teachers think they need to have fun and games and food instead of content, trying to make it more "appealing" to the kids. These kids are smart and serious - they don't need to suffer sleep deprivation for fluff. Feed them something worthwhile! I'm grateful for our teachers who do that (kudos to the great local teachers we have in the Appleton area!) and who have done that (and a little fun and food is certainly OK). But even with the best teachers, it's easy to question if we need to be so serious about seminary. Does it have to be so early, so long, and every school day?

Sadly, over the years, my testimony of seminary has waned, especially when I think back to my seminary classes at Brighton High School in Salt Lake City and moan over the ridiculous doctrines that were sometimes taught to kids by CES employees. Grant Palmer, now an anti-Mormon trying to "help" the Mormons, was part of the Brighton seminary scene a couple years after my time there - his gullibility regarding salamander myths would fit in well with some of the things my wife and I encountered there (one teacher, for example, told us he had secret knowledge about the sacred Jupiter stone; others taught us speculative and sometimes offensive doctrines). There were some fine teachers, but a few pushed bogus esoteric doctrines every now and then - and most kids couldn't tell the difference. Many of the teachers were fine, I think. Perhaps 80%? I hope it's much better these days. (Hey parents, don't assume that your kids are being nourished spiritually just because they attend seminary. Or Sunday School, for that matter. We have a real need in the Church to improve the quality of instruction everywhere.)

On the other hand, the release-time seminary program I had at Brighton High did provide an important benefit by sponsoring local "seminary bowl" competitions. My future wife and I were on the same team. These after-school events and practices meant that a certain young man with a car would need to give a certain young lady rides home on a frequent basis, and hang out with her a lot. This makes up for a lot of the damage done by inadequate teachers. (We were also on the Brighton High debate team - another demanding setting requiring that we see each other frequently - what great days those were! And they've only gotten better.)