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

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Casting Your Bread Upon the Water

In contrast to the admonish to not "cast pearls before swine," we are commanded to cast our bread upon the water (Eccl. 11:1-6) and to share our wealth with others. How to do this properly is a challenging issue, especially when one is faced with the overwhelming needs of some of the poor in our midst. In spite of the generous fast offerings which many Latter-day Saints give (thank you!) and the generous offerings that so many of our Christian brothers and sisters make through their churches and other charitable organizations, I suspect that we as a people still are far too selfish - myself certainly included. Today I would like to urge all of us to think outside the box and look for ways to do more to help the needy of the world.

What box am I referring to? One "box" that may limit some of our thinking and our charity is the idea that fast offerings and Church welfare is sufficient. Make no mistake, the revealed principle of the fast is a true and authentic concept restored through Joseph Smith, including the ancient concept that linked personal fasting with giving to the needy (see the discussion of the restored and ancient concepts of the fast on my Mormon Answers page on LDS practices. When I was bishop, I was so grateful for that inspired program and for the way it could the needy, with zero overhead and with personal attention to individuals in a way meant to strengthen and uplift them. What a fabulous program, and how grateful I am to those who fasted and gave generously. But I also frequently saw needs that could not be met using fast offerings for a variety of reasons. How grateful I was to the members who went the extra mile to help others directly without limiting their generosity to fast offerings alone. For example, one fine man simply gave me a chunk of cash and said that he knew that I might know how to use that money in ways that fall outside normal Church welfare routes to help some needy Hmong children in our ward have a better Christmas. Several people joined that effort in various ways, and it was a fabulous experience.

Another "box" that might limit many of us is the common idea that the best way to help beggars is to let existing programs like fast offerings and social programs help them. It is often said that giving to them directly will not help them because they will just use it to buy drugs or alcohol, or that in foreign countries, to give to the many beggars one encounters would be impossible due to their numbers and the risk of being mobbed once they know you are generous. I recognize that many beggars on the streets of US cities might be addicts and that giving them money directly might not help them, but there may be other ways (food, for example). But in Mexico, a place of particular interest to me, I can't imagine that the poor Indian women with young children who hold out their hands for money are addicts looking for a quick fix. The needs are great, the hands are many, but I think it may be possible for those who travel through that country and other countries to do much more to help, with little real risk and much opportunity for good.

My thoughts on this matter were inspired by a passage in Jacob 2 that struck me particularly hard last Monday night, when I was with my family in Oaxaca, Mexico, holding a brief home evening under the stars on the roof of our hotel among the wonderful and friendly people of that great city. Jacob in Jacob 2:17-21 offers words that I find truly powerful and inspiring on this matter. I'll say more about this later.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"Casting Pearls Before Swine": When to Be Quiet about Spiritual Experiences

I've always struggled somewhat with understanding the meaning of Christ's warning not not cast one's pearl's before swine. Clearly there are sacred things that He meant for His followers to not share too freely, and I often assumed this referred to details of Temple worship and other particularly sacred or sensitive topics, without feeling terribly clear on this topic. But a recent exchange with a good friend added a possible new dimension to this area.

We recently had a very successful Stake musical that involved much sacrifice from many people, and brought reports of many tender spiritual experiences. On the night we attended, there was a big snow storm, and some cast members traveling from over an hour away faced genuine risk, but were able too get to the performance safely and return safely. That same night, three wonderful young people from my town (not LDS) were killed on the same highway that many cast members had to use. A casual remark from one person about how cast members were blessed and protected stirred some painful questions in one faithful LDS friend who asked how we can talk about divine intervention to get people safely to a play when three precious young people died in the same storm - does it mean that God cared less about them?

We discussed this from several angles with many of "the usual" lines of analysis about God's love and mercy, his timing for our lives, the need to be grateful for whatever blessing we receive and not to make unwarranted assumptions about those who are on a different timetable in God's eyes, etc., but finally concluded that sometimes we - myself especially included - are too quick to share events and experiences that may show God's intervention or blessings. Sometimes by casting our pearls of spiritual experiences about freely, we may actually be acting like swine ourselves and splash spiritual mud on others who may be troubled by the implications of our experience.

I remember on this blog when I shared what I thought was a touching case of divine intervention to help my family in a trying moment, there were some sarcastic comments from some upset people who couldn't believe that God would help me with my little problems while over a hundred people in South America died in a terrible fire that week - were they less important? That negative response shows that sharing spiritual experiences can really perturb others, which is not our intent.

I am not advocating silence, but am wondering about finding the right balance. On a public blog like this, how can one share spiritual experiences without "casting pearls before swine" - no offense intended to those who are on different wavelengths - perhaps I should say "without acting like swine."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

(Nearly) My Last Post on Terri

Faithful LDS people and Christians of all denominations can come to opposite conclusions about many events and issues in the world without denying their religious principles and without deserving condemnation from others of their faith. The emotion-packed case of Terri Schiavo is complex and the information people have may differ wildly depending on what sources they trust. Based on exposure to some mainstream sources, for example, it's easy to conclude that meddlesome people are playing games with the law in trying to stop a bereaved husband from ending the senseless suffering of his brain-dead wife who wanted the right to die if she were ever in a hopeless persistent vegetative state. Others who have followed some of the legal details of the case may assume that the courts must have acted in good faith, and see no reason to denounce the professionals in the courts who have to wade through the complex and emotional issues of the case. Yes, differing views can be held in good faith.

Of course, from my perspective (here we go again...), many people who reluctantly accept the notion that the courts have acted with due process and according to high and noble principles of established law believe so, IN MY OPINION, as a result of not having been exposed to the clear and convincing evidence that the courts have grossly misbehaved in this matter, acting in violation of basic principles of justice. As the esteemed and respected (my views) Robert Bork put it in a talk-radio interview I heard the other day, the courts "have acted badly" in many ways. He was quite disturbed at the violation of just principles behind the move to let Terri die. Judge Bork's opinion ought to suggest that just maybe something is wrong. And he is not the only highly respected and professional authority who has raised major questions about the case for killing Terri. For example, it is widely claimed that all reputable meical authorities in this case have established that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state. NOT SO! Please read the news story, "Florida neurologist:
Terri's no vegetable
." There are many other articles of significance at the same site.

It's fine to have different views, but how can you deny the fact that a prominent neurologist has contradicted the common assumption that Terri is just a vegetable? If there is doubt, shouldn't we error on the side of life until the doubt is removed?

I may not post more on this troublesome issue - there are so many other topics begging to be explored, but Terri's case is one that highlights some significant trends and dangers in our society. If we do not speak up for the unborn and the handicapped, if we can allow others to slay someone by just believing that she is brain dead when that is not the case, then we have crossed a terrible threshhold. It's been crossed before, and I don't like where it leads.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

These Things Are Not Without Precedent....

A thoughtful comment on my previous posting pointed out that a careful legal process has been followed regarding Terri Schiavo, with high legal standards based on clear and convincing evidence, and that we should trust and respect the process that has been followed. Very good points - and I am tempted to agree, recognizing that my concerns may be in error in this case). But this is a temptation that I have to resist at the moment due to some nagging concerns. Here is my response to that post:
Thanks for your comments. If the process has been fair and objective, in a good-faith effort based upon the weight of clear and convincing evidence, then my concerns are overblown.

I wish I had more respect for the judiciary - perhaps then I could shrug my shoulders and trust the process. But the judiciary, in my view, has become highly liberal as a result of decades of drift in academia and among the movers and shakers of this country, resulting in a modern judiciary that can claim to be upholding the Constitution while overseeing the slaughter of over a million innocent unborn infants every year in the name of a "right to privacy" that was concocted out of thin air. We have a judiciary that can find great evil in organizations like the Boy Scouts, who now have retreated from the schools rather than face the continued crushing weight of legal assaults from the ACLU, with the assistance of corrupt courts. We have a judiciary that is turning the sin of homosexuality in a protected and exalted lifestyle to the detriment of the laws and institutions the courts should be protecting. We have a judiciary that, at least in some courts and some states, is worse than just morally bankrupt. They have become activists seeking to impose their view of how the world should be.

Such trends are not without precedent. The Western, nominally Christian, modern, and well educated judiciary in Germany assisted in the execution of millions of Jews, all done in accordance with the high standards of law, wearing their lordly robes and walking in the courts of the elite.

In another advanced society, we read of a network of activist judges who became key drivers for the corruption of law and for the consignment of innocent people to death, contrary to the fundamental legal principles of their nation. In fact, we read that the efforts of such judges was laying a "foundation of destruction" for their people (Alma 10:27), that some of them went out of their way in an attempt to starve two innocent men to death (Alma 14 - but they were delivered by the power of God), and that similar judges later acted secretly - in conspiracy - to cause the executions of prophets and other righteous people (3 Nephi 6:25-30). They were part of trends and movements, whether they all understood it or not, that would lead to a loss of liberty and gross expansion of central power in the hands of evil people and to the loss of freedom and even destruction of that people. These ancient events were selected and described to aid us prophetically in our day, and we are told when we see such things among us, we are told to "awake to a sense of [our] awful situation" (Ether 8:24).

I'm starting to awake....

I wish I could sit back and say that we can trust our courts, that all will be well, that they surely are doing the right thing for Terri. I admit, the facts of this case are puzzling and it is possible that the judges and lawyers involved really are doing what's right and wise - but in some courts, with some judges, it's clear that we're heading into a classic Book of Mormon scenario - and trouble is brewing.

Whether Terri's case has been fairly adjudicated or not, the anti-life, anti-freedom tendencies of our courts need to be watched and resisted, in my opinion. It's a time to awake.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

uTerri Schiavo: Am I Bamboozled?

I admit that I may be all wrong on the Terry Schiavo case - I am no expert, I don't know her personally, and can only sift through the conflicting reports that are available.

I understand where many of you are coming from: if I were comatose, brain-dead, on life support with no hope of recovery, if every reasonable avenue had been pursued and I was plainly just a vegetable, then I, too, would want the cord plugged, and would probably expect my loving wife to give the final head nod.

But none of that applies to Terri's case - unless I've been totally bamboozled.

Look at the compelling case presented by John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council. She is not comatose. She is not brain dead. She is not on artificial life support other than being fed. She is not terminally ill. She can hear and see. There is no clear evidence of her intent to be terminated under any circumstances. Reasonable avenues such as therapy have not been adequately pursued, but were prematurely terminated by a husband who (according to her parents) may have been the cause of Terri's injury and who has a great deal to gain with her death.

Clearly, we don't know the answers. We can agree on that. So what is the next step? WE GIVE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT TO TERRI AND TAKE MORE TIME TO SETTLE THE QUESTIONS. Some say she's brain dead - clearly wrong, but OK, let's check the brain waves. Some say therapy was helping - OK, let's see if that's true. Some say she responds to jokes and tries to communicate - OK, let's do a serious study. Some say all this is impossible with a damaged cerebral cortex - OK, let's do another CAT scan and run some neurological tests and let the experts identify definitive tests to be sure. THERE IS ROOM FOR DOUBT - AND UNTIL WE ARE CERTAIN THAT KILLING HER IS RIGHT, WE SHOULD FEED HER.

Fourteen medical professionals (including 6 neurologists) affirm that that Terri is NOT in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS).

Yes, there is a coverup. Somebody - perhaps millions of bodies - is being bamboozled. Sure, maybe it's just me and few paranoid wackos and a dozen or so medical professionals. OK, let's resolve the issue once and for all - but don't let the woman die a painful death as long as reasonable doubt remains.

Honey, in case you read my blog, if I am ever in a degraded physical state where it's hard to talk or move, but am NOT in a persistent vegetative state and am still even slightly or occasionally alert, aware, responsive, and able to continue living without artificial life support, then please give me a chance with prolonged therapy (Mr. Schiavo shut that down 10 years ago, when she was showing progress), please don't starve me to death (honest, Honey, I hate starving!), and please don't make them kill me, no matter how much money you're going to get. I can imagine that my cognitive disabilities might be pretty annoying and make me a whole lot less fun to be around (or perhaps an improvement??), but we don't shoot handicapped people, do we? Give me a chance and let me live. No, I'm not afraid of death, but I don't want my death to be premature and unwanted. And if we let people kill me because I'm inconvenient, we could end up turning my crazy Planned Unparenthood, Inc. concept into reality - with a new improved option for unwanted spouses. No, let's not go there.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Terri Schiavo and the Right to Kill

Join me in praying for Terri Schiavo tonight - and in praying for America. May she survive, may those who wish to kill her be ashamed, and may we as a nation be stirred to remember the sanctity of life.

Many thanks to Mary Beth Bonacci, one of our allies at "The Catholic Herald for her still timely Dec. 2003 article, "The Schiavo Case: Right to Die or Right to Kill?" Here is an excerpt:
But make no mistake — this is most definitely not a right-to-die case. It’s a right-to-kill case. And the stakes are high, not just for Terri, but for all of the vulnerable, disabled people of the world.

First of all, numerous doctors have observed that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state. The state of Florida defines persistent vegetative state as "a permanent and irreversible state of unconsciousness in which there is an absence of voluntary or cognitive behavior and an inability to interact purposefully with one’s environment." Terri is in no such condition. Videotapes show Terri closely watching her family’s movement, verbalizing in response to questions, responding to simple commands and laughing when listening to her favorite music. No fewer than 10 physicians are on record with the court saying that Terri was aware and her condition could improve with therapy. In fact, a Nobel nominee in medicine, Dr. William Hammesfahr, has offered to treat her and provide her rehabilitation without charge.

And then there are the issues surrounding her guardian and husband, Michael Schiavo. He has repeatedly denied Terri the rehabilitative therapy recommended by medical professionals treating her. He has also repeatedly ordered that Terri not be treated for life-threatening infections and blocked "swallowing tests" that would determine whether Terri could be taught to eat without her feeding tubes. Schiavo has also blocked tests that would determine if Terri sustained bone damage around the time of her collapse, clarifying lingering suspicions that her collapse may have been the result of abuse at Schiavo’s hand.

In 1995 Schiavo moved in with girlfriend Jodi Centonze, and in 1997 the two announced their engagement. The couple, still cohabitating, now have two children together. And yet Schiavo refuses to divorce Terri. . . .

Terri Schiavo is aware of her surroundings. She feels pain. And starvation is not a painless way to die. It is, in fact, a particularly torturous and cruel death.

This case is not about the right of a terminally ill person to refuse useless life-prolonging treatment. It is about the right of an adulterous, neglectful and possibly abusive husband to sentence his wife to a slow, excruciating death.
Now it may be that she is in a permanent vegetative state and has no hope of recovery. Let's explore that possibility - let there be decisive tests, let the results be carefully reviewed, let us pursue the last glimmer of hope. There are those who maintain she responds - I heard one of her nurses today say that Terri smiled in response to her joking. Others say that CAT scans show no hope of serious brain function. Were the CAT scans interpreted properly? Has a mistake been made? Are her responsive actions random twitches? Let's find out - and not force her to die.

Susan Nunnes in a comment posted on Alas a Blog put it well:
It's the PRECEDENT it sets, NOT Jeb's dubious involvement, NOT the right-to-lifers' involvement, or Michael Schiavo’s dubious "saintliness" that's the issue.

I have YET to read ONE coherent argument in favor of Schiavo having his wife killed by starvation. NOT one.

And this is from somebody who is pro-choice on abortion, but this case stinks to high heaven on the part of the "husband."

Do Animals Count More Than Humans?

My wife was just wondering whether they will give Terry Schiavo pain killers as they starve her to death to reduce the pain this causes, but she quickly realized that they won't: "They always assume that living things that don't talk to you can't feel pain." But I know of many people who advocate court-ordered euthanasia for the inconvenient and the horror of partial birth abortion for unwanted infants - both of which can be painful and gruesome practices - who are also passionate advocates of animal rights and feel great concern for the possible pain that humans may cause in dolphins, seals, cats, dogs, etc.

Yes, I believe animals can feel pain and that we need to be compassionate in how we deal with them, but let's not lose our moral grounding completely by turning everything upside down. If unnecesary pain in animals should be avoided, how can we justify slow torture for Terry Schiavo (she does feel and respond - she is not brain dead!) or the atrocity of partial birth abortion? If the life of an animal counts, why not Terry's? And if one can go to jail for destroying the eggs of an unborn turtle or other protected species, shouldn't the unnecessary destruction of unborn humans be a cause for concern?

A Tip on Managing Your Household

A certain young married relative of mine told me last night about some serious progress they have made in their home thanks to a tip she got in Relief Society: OrganizedHome.com. This site helped them figure out ways to manage their household better with the very limited time they have, and even led to enhanced harmony (better planning can lead to less stress, fewer unpleasant surprises). The household notebook concept was especially helpful, as were some of the tips on organizing chores.

Another tip is to explore the resources at ProvidentLiving.org, the LDS Website. The section on resource management looks especially helpful. Young people, let me put in a plug for saving: instead of going out for a $50 dinner, try something cheaper and put $30 into savings. Saving small amounts regularly now can lead to great rewards in the future, but it requires a habit of financial discipline that needs to be developed now. Look to the future and plan ahead.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri: Brain Dead or Alive and Communicating?

The Terri Schiavo case matters to me because it's related to the sanctity of life. Who has the right to take life, and under what circumstances?

My concern is that Terri may be more alive than many patients who we would never think of killing. Consider this information I received in e-mail from the Family Research Council:
Terri Communicates . . .

Over the weekend there was significant movement in the effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive. Breaking news included an audiotape of Terri and her father communicating last Friday, which is posted on FRC's website. Listening to the audio, you can plainly hear Terri respond to her father's questions, definitely aware of her father's presence and queries. As the case of Terri Schiavo grips the nation there is still a large amount of ignorance regarding her condition. Major news outlets report Terri as being in a coma, on life support, or worse - brain dead. None of these claims are true; she is awake and aware. Terri is not on life support, but merely a feeding tube. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, and his attorney, George Felos, have refused to allow Terri to have any therapy. In fact, they have even refused Terri an MRI, a non-invasive brain scan. Since Terri's brain injury numerous medical professionals have testified that Terri is alive and aware, yet the judge in the case refuses to even allow relevant medical tests. Instead he issued an order to put Terri to death in one of the cruelest ways possible - by dehydration and starvation. While Mr. Schiavo and Attorney Felos would like people to believe Terri will die peacefully, the facts speak for themselves. The human body suffers from extreme lack of food. The mouth dries out while the tongue swells up and begins to crack. The eyes sink back into their sockets, giving the person a skeletal effect. When the stomach lining dries out, dry heaves can occur. The major organs fail, resulting in death. This death can take anywhere from two to three weeks.
I have little respect for the predominately atheist and ultra-liberal judges courts in this country. Some of them seem more interested in advancing their social agenda than in following the law. Is this what's happening with Terri's case? The Marxist agenda, so akin to the eugenics of Nazi Germany, is to have the State rule supreme on matters of life and death. The ideal State in their view must have the power to eliminate the unwanted, the inconvenient, the unproductive, and the uncooperative. That includes the unborn as well as the born.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Thinking about Ritalin and the Word of Wisdom

At the risk of offending many people, I'd like to express my concerns about the role of public schools in promoting widespread use of an addictive mind-altering drug among our children. While there may be cases where Ritalin is needed and where it has helped (I know some people who are convinced that it helped them), there are some who provide convincing evidence of over-prescription of this dangerous drug. See, for example, the work of Dr. Peter Breggin at Breggin.com.

It seems that some teachers and administrators in public schools frequently tell parents that they need to get their child to a doctor to get Ritalin because the child exhibits problematic symptoms -- things like talking in class, wiggling, having lots of energy, not paying attention, and showing other tell-tale indications of, well, being young (or having a boring class). I'm familiar with one recent example where a healthy, intelligent child I know seems to have anything but a mental disorder, yet Ritalin is what the teacher says is needed. By doping the kids up on Ritalin, they apparently cause less trouble (as if sitting quietly were the goal of our educational system), but parents are often not told of the side effects and risks.

According to testimony from Dr. Breggin, the warning label on the drug as provided by the manufacturer fails to provide critical information that would be required of other medications, such as these facts:
  • Ritalin is not a "mild" stimulant as the label claims, but one of the most powerful and addictive of stimulants, comparable to methamphetamine;
  • Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which is the highest schedule for drugs having a medical use (Schedule I means there is no acceptable medical use, while less dangerous drugs fall into Schedules III, IV, or V), putting it among the most dangerous and abuse-prone drugs that can be legally prescribed.
  • Ritalin has the potential to be addictive and has a severe potential for abuse - in fact, it is frequently stolen and sold illegally to drug abusers.
  • Withdrawal from Ritalin can have dangerous side effects (warning: if your kids are on Ritalin, please see a doctor before taking them off - there can be dangerous side effects to withdrawal).
Tear down the "Drug Free Zone" signs that mask the reality in so many schools: they are zones where powerful drugs are routinely pushed upon families, including many LDS kids. Most LDS parents would never think of getting our kids started on an addictive drug like nicotine or amphetamine unless there truly was no other way to deal with a dangerous medical problem. Many LDS parents urge their children to avoid Diet Coke because it contains the stimulant caffeine, but Ritalin is a far more dangerous stimulant than caffeine. If a teacher told you that your kids needed a shot of java each morning to do better in school, would you do it?

The fact that millions of kids are urged to get on Ritalin for mild behavioral problems may be one of the great tragedies of our day - and a potential violation of the Word of Wisdom that faithful LDS parents haven't considered.

I am not a medical doctor and my personal opinions and those of Dr. Breggin may be wildly incorrect, so please check things out for yourself and consult your doctor before doing anything. Don't accept viewpoints just because some fool has expressed them on a blog! But when a teacher tells you that your kid needs Ritalin, for heavens' sake, understand that the teacher has no right to make such a diagnosis and may not understand just what a dangerous course they are advising.

"Drug Free Zone" indeed!

Other resources that may be of value:

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

New Academic Study: Mormon Teens Cope Best

A major new study from the University of North Carolina finds that of all religious group surveyed, Mormons best handle the challenges of adolescence. Here is an excerpt from the story, "Mormon Teens Cope Best," at NewsObserver.com:

A groundbreaking study of American teenagers and religion conducted at UNC-Chapel Hill finds that of all the religious groups surveyed, Mormons fared best at avoiding risky behaviors, doing well in school and having a positive attitude about the future. Conservative Protestants came in second.

The study, a four-year effort, included telephone interviews with 3,370 randomly selected U.S. teenagers ages 13 to 17, followed by face-to-face interviews with a subset of 267.

The result, called the National Study of Youth and Religion, is a massive compilation of data on Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and religiously unaffiliated teenagers. The study was led by UNC sociologist Christian Smith and financed with $4 million from the Lilly Endowment.

Smith reports the results in a book just published with Melinda Lundquist Denton titled "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers," (Oxford University Press).

He found that most American youths believe in God and expect to continue in the religious traditions of their parents. Roughly two-thirds of teenagers are involved in religious activities, and 69 percent are now or previously have been involved with a religious youth group.

But while teenagers who are religiously involved fared well overall, the 2.5 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Mormon fared best when it came to traversing the choppy waters of adolescence.

"Across almost every category we looked at, there was a clear pattern: Mormons were first," said Steve Vaisey, one of the researchers involved in the study and the person who interviewed most of the Mormon youths.
And early morning seminary may be part of the answer!

Way to go, Latter-day Saint teens!

Thanks to Walter Reade for sending me e-mail about this story.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Too Malicious? A Prank on Bandwidth Thieves

I have a lot of photos and other graphics on my Website, JeffLindsay.com, that occasionally are stolen by others. Copying my images illegally is bad enough, but what really irks me is when people steal my bandwidth as well to display an image from my server on their site. When they do this, they use HTML code with the URL for my image on the server I pay for. It's "double theft" that steals copyrighted work and limited bandwidth at the same time.

I typically spot the thieves by looking at statistical information for my site, which includes information about external sites referencing my pages and graphics.

I've given up on sending e-mail to the guilty parties or their account administrators to complain. For a while I just disabled the image by changing its name and modifying my Web pages. But this week I hit upon a much more entertaining solution. Since the offending Web pages are stealing an image from my server, guess who's in control of the content being displayed? And guess who can change the content of the image to anything I want?

It may be some time before the offending parties realize that the images they stole now have unfamiliar content - and content that they may disagree with. "Real men don't do pornography" shows up in bold on a site with some questionable morals. "Abortion stops a beating heart" and other pro-life messages show up on another left-leaning site. Several sites now display ads for the Book of Mormon. My family thought it was hilarious to watch one of these sites with a stolen image suddenly change when I refreshed the screen to display a customized message of mine. (Note: This is Benjamin Lindsay, 15-year-old son, writing now: "Correction: Jeffrey laughed at his own joke more than anyone else--as usual.")

Of course, the replacement graphics that I prepare are smaller files than the originals to save bandwidth.

Is this effort too malicious? Naw, I don't think so. Who knows - it may save a soul or two.

Bandwidth thieves, repent!

New resources on the Web

Doctrine and Covenants Revelation Sites is a new Web resource with information about and photographs of the physical locations pertaining to each section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Beautiful photography and interesting historical information makes this a valuable companion to study of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Another resource that I would recommend to every LDS defender of the faith and to every serious investigator is Barry Bickmore's site on Early Christianity and Mormonism. Comparing modern LDS concepts with the writings of early Christianity and modern "mainstream" Christianity provides powerful evidence that an Apostasy has occurred, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is part of a divine Restoration of the Gospel. Not every modern LDS practice or doctrine agrees with every early Christian writing, make no mistake, but there are some surprising patterns that our critics just can't explain away. What's great is that you can go to the original sources and explore for themselves. The idea that modern "mainstream" Christianity represents authentic "historic Christianity" is certainly cast into doubt, unless you limit "historic" to time periods after the 15th century for some issues or after the 3rd century for other issues.

I'm also happy to see that some Latter-day Saints have helped to protect the name of Joseph Smith by creating a pro-LDS site at JosephSmith.com. The site has some links to a few of my favorite LDS apologetics sites and two links to my essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon (one at JeffLindsay.com, and the PDF version that is available at LDS.org).

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"The Savior of the World" - I had my doubts, but . . .

I was filled with doubt about "The Savior of the World" - not the divine Being, but the musical that my stake decided to produce, one of only 3 stakes in the world attempting to put on this large musical production that originally premiered in the new LDS Conference Center. For the relatively small and geographically disperse Appleton, Wisconsin stake to undertake such a massive task and do it justice just seemed unreasonably ambitious. The sacrifice asked of so many members - long rehearsals, frequent travel, so much work - struck me as too much to ask. Would the musical succeed? Could it possibly work? (I wasn't one of the cast members, but I know some of them shared similar concerns.)

I went to one of four performances last night in Appleton. My doubts were quickly dispelled. Though we may lack the talent that can be found in Salt Lake, the musical far exceeded my expectations and touched me deeply. It was beautifully done, well acted, and a pleasure to watch. The set was impressive (occupying the stage and a large section of the adjacent cultural hall floor), costumes were OK, lighting turned out well in spite of archaic equipment, the singing went well and had some really beautiful moments. But what really hit me was the power of the message. I was really touched by a quiet scene when Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant out of wedlock - it gave me some insights I had missed and new respect for what Joseph dealt with. And then I was most touched by the power of the testimony it provided regarding the reality of the Savior of the World and the need for all of us to be witnesses of Him. He is real. He lives. There were and are witnesses of Him. As foolish as it is to the world, we have not been fooled by cunning fables, but we know that He is the Son of God and lives.

This grumbler came away with increased respect for the faith and vision of our Stake leaders, driven by the vision and commitment of an incredible director, Tanya Fordham, and the others in the cast and crew.


A flyer for the Appleton, Wisconsin Stake's 2005 production of "Savior of the World."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Semitic Peoples in Ancient Mesoamerica: Evidence from Artifacts

I just updated the "Ancient Melting Pot" section of my page on DNA and the Book of Mormon to provide some additional information about the evidence for ancient Semites in the New World. Here is an excerpt, part of which has been updated:

The studies of ancient crania pointing to high genetic diversity and non-Asian features in ancient Native Americans corresponds with the diversity of ancient ceramic figurines of humans in Mesoamerica, showing that many non-Asian racial types were present before the Conquest. John L. Sorenson (1998, p. 18) states:
These ceramic figurines [shown on pages 18-22 of Sorenson, 1998] are mainly in private artifact collections in Mexico. The late Alexander von Wuthenau and other investigators have been struck with the variety of human types revealed by these objects and have drawn attention to this variety by photographic documentation [see especially Alexander von Wuthenau (1975) and Calderón (1977)]. They maintain that this is all the evidence needed to demonstrate that a wide variety of ethnic or racial types were present in Mexico and Central America.
This passage has a footnote given on page 228 of Sorenson:
Certain noted academic physical anthropologists concur. See, for instance, Eusebio Dávalos Hurtado, "El hombre en Mesoamerica hasta la llegada de los Españoles," Memorias y Revista de la Academica Nacional de Ciencias 49 (1964): 411, where that distinguished expert says that the "falsehood" of the claim of a single northeast Asian ancestry for American Indians has been exposed by the figurines shown in von Wuthenau's Unexpected Faces in Ancient America. Moreover, William W. Howells, a noted U.S. physical anthropologist, in "The Origins of American Indian Race Types," in The Maya and Their Neighbors, ed. Clarence L. Hay et al. (New York: Dover Publications, 1977), 3-9, stated that there is probably greater variety among Amerindians "than there may be found in the White racial stock" (p. 5). An extensive literature on both sides of the question is summarized in John L. Sorenson and Martin Raish, Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1996).
Sorenson points to figurines with Semitic and Mediterranean features on page 20, for example. The evidence for pre-Columbian contact with Africans in ancient figurines is also hard to ignore, yet again is utterly inconsistent with the Siberia-only paradigm for Native American origins.

The findings of von Wuthenau have fascinated some non-Mormons who see possible evidence for ancient Hebrews in the Americas. One example is Hope of Israel Ministries, whose page, "The Saga of Ancient Hebrew Explorers: Who Really Discovered America?" argues that ancient Hebrews were in the Americas, possibly from Solomon's navies. The author actually interviewed von Wuthenau and made these comments:
Were Hebrews in the Americas long before Columbus? More evidence comes from the investigations of Dr. Alexander von Wuthenau, whom I interviewed at his home in Mexico City. His living room was filled to overflowing with terra cotta pottery figures and objects d' art. In his book The Art of Terra Cotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America, Dr. Von Wuthenau published scores of photographs of these art objects. He tells of his astonishment, when he first noted that in the earliest, lower levels of each excavation he encountered -- not typical Indian heads -- but heads of Mongolians, Chinese, Japanese, Tartars, Negroes, and "all kinds of white people, especially Semitic Types with and without beards" (p. 49).

At Acapulco, von Wuthenau found that early Semitic peoples lived in considerable numbers. "The curious points about these essentially primitive figures are that, first, there is an emphasis on markedly Semitic-Hebrew features," he declared (p. 86). Female figures found in the region are also markedly Caucasian, with delicate eyebrows, small mouths and opulent coiffures.

Cyrus Gordon, who has studied the collection, points out: "In the private collection of Alexander von Wuthenau is a Mayan head, larger than life-size, portraying a pensive, bearded Semite. The dolichosephalic ("long-headed") type fits the Near East well. He resembles certain European Jews, but he is more like many Yemenite Jews."
The cranial evidence for other racial types among the ancient Americans suggests that not all ancient genes have been thoroughly preserved among modern Native Americans, and that DNA testing may not be telling the full story of ancient genetic diversity. And the presence of many Semitic features in depictions of ancient peoples may provide evidence that Old World peoples, including Semites, were represented in the ancient Americas. The view that all ancient Native Americans came from Siberia simply does not agree with all the data and cannot be used to rule out other ancient migrations of European or Semitic peoples to the Americas.

American Political Culture: "Surprisingly" Absent in the Book of Mormon

When Richard Bushman was preparing for a speech during the 1976 celebrations of the bicentennial of American independence, he expected that it would be easy to find a few good quotes from the Book of Mormon that resonated with the principles in our Constitution. Instead, he was perplexed to see that when one looks beyond a few superficial issues, the political attitudes and structures in the Book of Mormon are quite different from what we have inherited in this country. Over at FARMS, Ross Geddes discusses this point in his short article, "Patrick Henry, Gideon, and the Book of Mormon." Here is an excerpt:
Historian Richard L. Bushman, responding to accusations that the Book of Mormon contains "evidence of nineteenth-century American political culture," concluded that in fact "most of the principles traditionally associated with the American Constitution are slighted or disregarded altogether" in the book. "So many of the powerful intellectual influences operating on Joseph Smith failed to touch the Book of Mormon."

For example, Bushman noted that patriotic orations and writings in Joseph's time depicted the American Revolution as "a struggle of heroes against oppressors, a brave people versus a tyrant king." The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, consistently describes groups of people being delivered from bondage not through heroic resistance or confrontation but by flight into the wilderness facilitated by the power of God. Whereas 1820s patriotic rhetoric portrayed an enlightened people overthrowing wicked monarchs, Book of Mormon peoples generally clamor for a king; and when the monarchy is abandoned, it is a king (Mosiah2) who instigates the change. Bushman also argued that a careful reading of the Book of Mormon reveals that its seemingly democratic elements bear little resemblance to American ideals: elections are rare, the separation of powers does not exist, there is no written constitution, the concept of "no taxation without representation" is absent, and hereditary succession prevails, even among the "judges."

One of the heroes of the American Revolution is Patrick Henry, revered for the stirring declaration "Give me liberty, or give me death!" The Book of Mormon, however, turns this sentiment on its ear. When the people of King Limhi are threatened by a much stronger Lamanite army, Gideon, the king's captain, counsels, "Let us pacify the king [of the Lamanites] . . . ; for it is better that we should be in bondage than that we should lose our lives" (Mosiah 20:22). King Limhi apparently agrees that there are worse things than bondage, for later he tells Ammon that "it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 7:15). . . .
This raises a fundamental question for critics of the Book of Mormon: where did it and its ideas come from? Most critics say Joseph made it up, just drawing ideas from his environment (and the vast Joseph Smith Frontier Library, of course). But if that's so, then why is the political culture of the Book of Mormon so unlike anything in Joseph's day - yet so filled with ancient Mesoamerican elements?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Population Control - Bogus Fears, Genuine Evils

The misguided fear of the "population explosion" has been used in the past century to justify massive government intrusion into the lives of millions of people in the world, including terrible abuse and repression in China and other nations. In this land, it has been used as one of the justifications for the slaughter of millions of innocents in American abortuaries. It's time we learn to understand the lies and the evil behind the work of "population planners." One useful resource on this topic is the Population Research Institute.

I also have an older essay, "Is Human Population Really the Problem?"

Prophetically anticipating later worries about overpopulation and the alleged scarcity of resources, the Lord declares:
And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. (Doctrine and Covenants 104:15-17)

Paul on Self-Control

We Latter-day Saints and those of all faiths need to be reminded that self-control over the appetites of the flesh is vital, not just for our own health and temporal success, but for our spiritual well-being. As Paul taught, even great religious leaders like himself could fall if they lose control over the body. Consider 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Yes, even Paul recognized that he could be cast out (of the kingdom of God) if he did not keep his body under subjection.

This may seem odd or even harsh, until one observes the catastrophe that lack of self-control often brings. Inability to control one's temper leads to frequent harm to others; those who are captive to lust tend to become caught up in immorality or at least become deaf to the Spirit, their lives becoming a spiritual wasteland even if they don't commit adultery or become deviant; inability to control the tongue leads to great devastation through gossip; and those who cannot control other appetites become, at a minimum, less able to serve God through their captivity to the flesh.

May we seek the guidance of the Spirit in our lives to be able to follow Paul's teachings on gaining mastery over the flesh, that we not be castaways ourselves.

By the way, the passage from 1 Cor. 9 is also one of many passages from Paul showing that some modern Protestant doctrines really need to be reconsidered in light of the Bible. If Paul was concerned about becoming a castaway and said the we all need to run to obtain the prize, how can we accept the idea of "irresistible grace" in which those who God chooses to save are saved no matter what, or the idea that once we choose Christ God cannot let go of us? Paul's paradigm is much more consistent with the LDS view of salvation by grace offered to us in a covenant, in which we must keep the terms of the covenant to gain access to that grace. Effort in striving to follow God and keep His commandments does nothing to save us or "earn" salvation, but is required under the terms of His generous covenant (and is an expression of our faith in Christ): we are to follow Christ, keep His commandments, repent of our many sins, and through His Atonement gain access to the infinite grace He offers us unworthy creatures. And of course, in all of this, we have free agency - freedom to choose Christ, and freedom to reject Him, and that freedom to reject is not taken away once we move toward Him. For this reason, it is no surprise that a few verses later Paul said, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). Yes, we can fall - anytime - if we are not cautious. Gaining self-control over our bodies is one of the things we need to do to keep ourselves from falling.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Any Happy Users of LDS Collectors Library 2005?

Back in December I purchased LDS Collectors Library 2005 from LDSLibrary.com - heavily hyped as the latest and coolest Gospel study software, packed with more information than ever, better tools, etc. - and a higher price than its earlier competitors. After installing the 2-CD system, I've tried to use it several times but have been unimpressed - and even dismayed by its sloppy interface. Surely I'm missing something. Yes, there are some cool features and valuable additions, and it may well be worth the cost. But GospelLink 2001 seems much easier to use and more functional in several ways. In fact, if you think that this program ought to offer everything that GospelLink 2001 had plus more, you're in for a real surprise.

With GospelLink and related older programs, navigating and searching were relatively straightforward. With LDS Collectors Library, it's easy to get lost and difficult to move around. Again, am I missing something? As I began writing this post, I searched for other reviews and found that I am not alone. See the reviews at DeseretBook.com and also at Oaknorton.com.

GospelLink and other CD study tools let you copy and paste formatted text to other applications. Graphics could also be copied and pasted. The new software only allows you to take unformatted text outside the application, and does not provide formatting tools of any kind within the application. You can copy graphics and paste them inside the "SmartCopy Preview" window and print them, but that's it. It lacks a composer or useful export feature to allow you to take formatted work outside of the program. It's as if they went to market with the program before they had finished adding basic features.

Further, GospelLink 2001 includes numerous non-LDS sources valuable in studying the ancient world or other issues related to LDS apologetics. The LDS Collectors Library 2005 seems limited to LDS writers only. I would have thought that they would at least include everything GospelLink 2001 had and build on that - but I think more has been deleted than added. Disappointing. For example, Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews is a vitally important book that students of the Book of Mormon really ought to have (many anti-Mormons allege that it was a source for the Book of Mormon - actually reading Ethan Smith's work is a fine cure for that notion), and it was available in GospelLink 2001, but not in the new system. A shame.

However, there are some nice additions, but once you find a book of interest, good luck reading it. The scroll bar for navigating is tied to the entire library, not just the target source you are reading, and moving the scroll bar just a pixel or two will propel you to a different book - and unless the place you were reading was a hit from your latest search, there may not be an easy way to get back to where you were.

The program is also slow. Want to copy a simple paragraph with SmartCopy? On my 2 GHz laptop, I have to wait for slightly over 10 seconds for that Herculean task. Not bad for a tool that will leave you with nothing but plain text in the end. "New improved 'Virtual Legacy' features: get Commodore 64 performance from your modern machine!" But that's really a mean and unfair statement: I'm sure that copying was never that slow on the Commodore or other antique systems.

Again, this product may be worthwhile for many purposes and I'm not suggesting that you avoid it. I'm glad I have it for some of the books it contains, but it could have been so much better. Perhaps an update will come along that will provide features and sources available in GospelLink 2001. I sure hope so!

Mormons, Polygamy, and Federal Law

Mormons and the Law is an intriguing and blog entry by Nate Oman at Times and Seasons. Nate discusses the issue of polygamy and the legal issues around Federal laws and statehood for Utah. I appreciate his historical insights and the additional insights in the comments from others. (I also link to Nate's piece in my LDSFAQ comments on polygamy.)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Grateful for Religious Liberty: Remember England and the Pilgrims

While working in our local Family History Center this week, I encountered an old book on their shelves that I have checked out and truly enjoy: Saints and Strangers by George F. Willison (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1945, 512 pages). The book is about the origins and lives of the Pilgrims, that small band of Separatists in England who were harassed by Anglican authorities and sought religious liberty in Holland and eventually the New World. The opening pages review the history of religious oppression in England from the time of Henry VIII onward. England, the country that long prided itself on its civility and advanced principles, offered little freedom for nonconformists. Kings and queens seemed to understand that if men were allowed to criticize the state religion and choose another, they might turn such freedom to criticize their rulers and even wish to choose another. When I read of the power of Anglican bishops to throw people into jail for years without trial, or to even have people tortured or killed in barbaric manners, and when I ponder the struggles of those who sought to practice their own separate faith, I am filled with pain at the abuses rising from concentrated power in the past, and filled with gratitude for the many freedoms we still have left, in spite of the increasing tendency for government to become ever more powerful and concentrated in our era.

How rare and precious religious liberty has been in the history of this world. How grateful we should be for what we have. How diligent we should be to preserve our freedoms, and stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ has made us free indeed.

May we, like the Pilgrims (in spite of their faults), seek to be separate from the world, and seek to establish liberty in whatever lands we are in.

By the way, for those interested in the genealogy associated with the Mayflower, a useful resource is MayflowerHistory.com, which includes information about a recent discovery involving Peter Browne, many genealogy resources, and primary text sources.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Self-mutilation and Cutting: New Dangers for Youth

"The Cruelest Cut" is an editorial at the Washington Times on a new degrading trend in our culture. Michelle Malkin writes:
Have you heard of "cutting"? If you're a parent, you had better read up. "Cutting" refers to self-mutilation -- using knives, razor blades or even safety pins to deliberately harm one's own body -- and it's spreading to a school near you.

Actresses Angelina Jolie and Christina Ricci did it. So did Courtney Love and the late Princess Diana. On the Internet, there are scores of Web sites (with titles such as "Blood red," "Razor blade kisses" and "The cutting world") featuring "famous self-injurers," photos of teenagers' self-inflicted wounds and descriptions of their techniques.

The destructive practice has been depicted in films targeting young girls and teens (such as "Thirteen"). A new music genre -- "emo" -- is associated with promoting the cutting culture. . . . [MORE]
Of course not all cutters are into any one type of music, and not all cuters do it for the same reason. But it is growing in popularity. And as one cutter told me, "It's a disease." Parents and youth leaders need to be aware of this dangerous trend and watch for its signs.

For those dealing with victims of self-cutting, or for those dealing with the problem, it's important to understand some of the many different factors involved. While it may be a result of peer influence for some, there may be severe emotional pain that the victim is dealing with. One cutter wrote, "You cut to trade one kind of pain for another." One helpful article is the Wikipedia entry on "Self-Harm."

To the cutters, I would suggest that there are safer and wiser ways to deal with whatever motivates you to cut. Recognize that your pain and this behavior of cutting is something that really needs help - help that doesn't harm your body. Open up and talk to your parents or a doctor or counselor or someone who can listen. God did not make our bodies for this purpose, so if you feel a drive to damage yourself, something is terribly wrong, and people who care for you need to be involved to help you find the assistance you need.