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

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Are German Anti-Mormons Next?

Now that a man in Germany has been jailed for insulting Islam under a law that provides up to three years of jail time for insulting religious beliefs, one can only wonder if anti-Mormons are next. Somehow, though, I don't think they have much to worry about. Of course, it's not that anti-Mormon antics in Germany are sometimes been offensive and bigoted.

Much as I detest anti-religious bigotry, I'd rather live with it than have our opponents locked up for expressing their views.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"The Decline of Covenant in Early Christian Thought"

"The Decline of Covenant in Early Christian Thought" is a chapter by Noel Reynolds in the useful new book, Early Christians in Disarray (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005) that explores the rapid loss of emphasis on covenants in the early centuries of Christianity. While there are hints of the restored covenant framework of the Gospel in some early Christian writings, it is true that in reading early documents such as those grouped in the Apostolic Fathers, there is relatively little overt emphasis on covenant relationships - in spite of the many affinities for LDS thought one finds in such documents (e.g., when it comes to issues like faith and works or obedience and repentance, many of the earliest documents sound like something out of an LDS General Conference, sometimes in stark contrast to the theology of those who claim to represent "historic Christianity"). So how did the issue of covenants fade away so quickly?

Reynolds refers to the work of the non-LDS scholar, George Mendenhall, who observed that the early Christians did regard themselves as a community bound by covenants, but this covenant framework was affected by cultural forces. Mendenhall noted that the term "covenant" itself referred to the Law of Moses for those in Israel, and for the Roman Empire the word referred to illegal secret societies. Thus, Mendenhall concludes that "the old covenant patterns [soon became] not really useful as a means of communication, and may have been dangerous in view of the Roman prohibition on secret societies" (George Mendenhall, "Covenant" in The Interpreter's Dictionary (New York: Abingdon, 1962), pp. 722-3, as cited by Reynolds, p. 305). Other scholars such as Daniel Eleazar have made similar observations.

One can see how these forces would also lead to problems with maintaining sacred ceremonies and rituals that were not for public consumption.

In any case, I find Reynolds' chapter to be a helpful discussion about this aspect of change in early Christianity. Many more interesting details are there. A recommended read (and buy the book - it's excellent).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

To Always Remember Him: A Key to Avoiding Temptation

Elder W. Rolfe Kerr of the Seventy in a recent talk reported in the Church News (Feb. 11, 2005, p. 5) said that faith in Christ is the best defense against the many temptations of Satan. He emphasized that this faith needs to be "consciously in place" - held in our minds and not forgotten.
If you are consciously thinking of the Savior, you will not allow temptations to overpower you. More importantly, if you have the Savior and your faith in Him firmly in your mind and in your heart, you will not allow yourselves even to get into tempting situations.
In this world where dangerous temptation may be just one click away, and where avoiding temptation often requires active effort, our only hope is to always remember Christ and our covenants to follow Him. May our faith in Him not be dormant, but consciously and firmly in place as we remember Him throughout each day.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ben S. on Revelation 22:18-19

Over at Millennial Star, where I have been guest blogging a bit, I was pleased to read an essay on Revelation 22:18,19 - you know, the famous passage that is the #1 evangelical weapon against new scripture like the Book of Mormon. He does a great job in summarizing key points and adding some new insight on the issue of curses.

A quick and easy but compelling argument, in my opinion, is based on Deuteronomy 4:2, where Moses also forbids adding to or subtracting from the inspired words that he had given. He then went on and added many more chapters, and numerous prophets, apostles, and others added new books of scripture for centuries afterwards. Clearly Moses, like John, was telling people not to alter his words. Neither meant that God could not continue speaking and revealing truth and having it be recorded as scripture. To think that the heavens have been forever closed based on Rev. 22:18-19 (or Deut. 4:2) requires massive blinders indeed.

Children of the Most High

One of the things I really like about LDS doctrine is the understanding that human beings are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. It's a beautiful Biblical doctrine that has been lost or diluted among much of the Christian world. I'm glad it's back!

Among the relevant Bible verses to ponder, one of my favorites is Psalm 82:6:
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High.
I also like Acts 17:28,29:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
And then there is Hebrews 12:9, which refers to God as "the Father of our spirits," and Job 38:7, which indicates that all the sons of God shouted for joy when the earth was created. Yes, we were already in existence then as spirit sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.

How marvelous to know that He is our Father, that we are not "wholly other," as some theologians have declared, but that we are offspring of God with the latent potential to put on the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-10). No wonder Jesus quoted Psalm 82 in John 10:34-36, referring to the divine potential of man:
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken;

36 say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

Torah Bright

Torah Bright, the LDS Australian snowboarder, is the subject of a post at The Messenger and Advocate. I'm impressed! Things didn't work out well for her due to a shoulder injury in the middle of a run, but she showed real spirit and still finished fifth in that competition.

Just a quick observation: Latter-day Saint young people who take their religion seriously often stand out as incredibly positive and wholesome role models. Such results aren't bad for a perverse religion based on ignorance, greed, fraud and corruption. (Of course, the same is true for many other religions as well. No, not so much the part about ignorance and fraud, but the part about good role models being produced when people take their religion seriously and abide by high moral principles.)

I do have one criticism for Torah. As Latter-day Saints, we should sustain and honor the law. I think this should include natural law such as the law of gravity, something Torah and her fellow snowboarders been violating for some time. As Gerry Mooney put it long ago, gravity isn't just a good idea. It's the law.

Thanks, Torah! You're gold all the way through. And I love your name!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The LA Times Discovers Another Very Old Story: DNA and the Book of Mormon

Geoffrey Biddulph over at Millennial Star discusses the recent "news" story at the LA Times on DNA and the Book of Mormon. It's an old story, years old, retold with the finest anti-Mormon blinders firmly in place - but somehow it merits front page attention. Never mind all the real news going on - stories like the national security disaster of turning over six major US ports to an Arab company. The fact that some anti-Mormons have an old argument against the Book of Mormon is the headline that Americans need to see.

What I especially appreciated about Geoff's post was his find of a great post on the DNA issue at Right Side Redux, a blog by Justin Hart that I had not seen before. Justin's post includes a listing of numerous LDS articles on the DNA issue (including mine) that might have helped the LA Times get some accurate information about what the Book of Mormon really teaches and how the DNA evidence affects (or does not affect) the Church.

Thanks Geoff and Justin!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Another Trial of my Faith

Yesterday the Bishop approached me right after opening exercises in Priesthood meeting and said something in a very serious tone: "Jeff, there's a letter from Salt Lake in my office with your name in it. Please come in later so we can talk about it." I couldn't get any more hints than that from him in the few seconds he had. After getting the High Priests Group meeting started and turning the time over to our instructor, my mind turned to this ominous letter. Was this some kind of call? His voice and body language had suggested that the letter meant trouble. Was I in trouble? For what? Ah, could it be my Web site?! Or my blog? Hmmm, was some General Authority upset about something unorthodox I may have said, or was there a new policy discouraging LDS Web sites and blogs? Look, the Church is true, but there's still a large percentage of mortals among its leaders and poor decisions can be made - but there also might be a wise and inspired purpose in asking me to redirect my efforts. Freedom from site-related email and updates and blogging and site design and generating new pages? But my site is needed, isn't it?? That couldn't really be it, or was it?

The suspense was becoming agonizing as I pondered the possibilities, so I got up and left in the middle of the lesson, hoping to catch the Bishop in the hallway. I did find him there, but he was in a conversation. I would need to wait until right after Church.

When I finally got into his office, he looked at me with a serious, even ominous look and asked a question that probably made my heart skip a beat or two: "Brother Lindsay, how are your finances?"

How are my finances? Oh no, they're going to ask me to do something that will require living off my savings. But what? Where? Are they serious? I've been working hard to save and invest wisely, but shutting off my income was not something I was planning to do right away. "How are my finances?" I blurted out. "Well, they are, uh, . . . come on, what's this letter about?" He then opened the large envelope on my desk and pulled out a letter on a rich cream-colored paper with an elegant letterhead. It looked official, serious, and lengthy. I wasn't getting any more comfortable.

He then explained that this was a letter from the LDS Medical Department noting that my son Daniel had needed an extra vaccination for his mission while he was in the MTC, and that they hoped the Lindsay family would be able to cover the $112 fee. It was a long letter talking about the need to be sensitive to family finances and so forth. Why didn't they just send this letter to me? But this was all a huge relief. Even with some of my favorite stocks dropping last week, I can handle $112.

"Bishop, I can handle that. But why all the suspense? I was thinking they wanted me to shut down my Website or something, and had been making decisions about how to deal with that."

He smiled and said that he occasionally likes people to be able to review all the possibilities before giving out the details. I guess that can be healthy process.

"Interesting. Well, anyway, I'm relieved. And now I can call the Methodists and tell them that the deal is off."

He chuckled. He knew it was a joke. And I sincerely hope it was.

The main trial of my faith here may have been helping me to see if I had enough patience to sit through the priesthood meeting I'm in charge of without walking out in the middle to satisfy my curiosity. I guess I need more faith.

(By the way, the Bishop and I joke with each other a lot. The question about finances was a tiny little joke, and the brief delay in telling me the content of the letter was certainly not malicious. He had no idea what was going through my head. And even if he had, I would excuse it as a joke, just not the kind I want to hear every week. Those few nervous minutes gave me something to think about, and to blog about - so all is well!)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Guest Blogging at Millennial Star

I've been invited to be a guest blogger over at one of my favorite LDS blogs, Millennial Star. I've done a couple of posts so far, one on the "Hidden Wisdom of the Gospel" and another on "Letting Go."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Bible versus The Book of Mormon

Thanks to Brant Gardner for the valuable essay, "Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion" at FAIRLDS.org. It's a rebuttal to Living Hope Ministries' latest misinformation campaign about the Book of Mormon, the film The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon.

In spite of my respect for Brant, I do strenuously object to his comparison of the anti-Mormon video to a slick magic show. As an amateur magician, I think he gives too much credit to the producers of this latest video. A slick magic show leaves one entertained, even uplifted with its artistry, and leaves even highly educated people wondering how the effects could possibly be done. Should I believe that regurgitating old and long-exposed anti-Mormon deceptions will have that effect? While it will fool the gullible, it is easily exposed and offers none of the charm of a serious magic show.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Honesty Tip: Avoid Pirated and Stolen Goods

A number of years ago in a distant ward, a counselor in a bishopric told me how he was approached by someone on the street selling watches. The sales pitch was straightforward: "Wanna buy a luxury watch? It's cheap because I stole it." I was shocked as this member of the Church then explained that he bought the watch for $40 and went to a jeweler to see what it was worth. The jeweler took one look at the watch and said, "Let me guess. You bought this from someone who said they had stolen it, right? These are worth about $7. They are shipped here in bulk from China." Ha ha. We were all supposed to chuckle and continue our work, which at the moment involved processing tithing donations (I was a clerk at the time). But I was troubled, wondering how this man could be comfortable with having such stewardship in the Church.

The same watch scam continues all over America today, though the thieves selling the watches may not overtly state that the goods are stolen. But they are stolen, for these pirated goods violating the trademarks and patents of reputable companies represent some degree of theft of their brand and intellectual property. To profit from the illegal pirating of goods is simply wrong. To purchase counterfeit goods, or goods that were obviously produced by outright theft of intellectual property and trademarks is wrong.

Unfortunately, counterfeiting of goods has become rampant. Theft of intellectual property is rampant. And some of it is institutionalized and made to appear acceptable. When you purchase a $40 DVD player, for example, you can be sure that the foreign company that produced it has not paid the over $20 of royalties (and perhaps much more) that should be due at a minimum to the holders of the patents governing DVD technology. OK, maybe we don't need to make WalMart's problem in sourcing become our moral dilemma. But I would like to encourage all of us to do our best to avoid the temptation to buy goods that are stolen, or based on some form of theft.

Oh, and did I mention Ebay? When you buy a commercially available consumer product there for far less than its normal retail price - like razor blades, for example - you are probably dealing with stolen goods. A thief can walk out of Gillette warehouse carrying thousands of dollars of razor blades. Then what? Why Ebay, of course. (But this does not mean that heavily discounted goods were stolen, but certain product categories are subjects of rampant theft. And yes, there are many legitimate outlets of discounted and often discontinued goods.)

Update: One particular problem is ripped off DVDs and music. For organized crime groups, it is now more profitable to deal in pirated DVDs than illegal drugs. When you buy DVDs of hot movies from a street vendor at one-half or one-fourth the price of the actual DVD, or if you are buying it before the official release of the DVD, you are almost certainly buying a product of organized crime. And yes, it's a stolen product. Not that the physical DVD was stolen from someone's warehouse, but the content of the DVD was stolen from its owner and illegally reproduced and sold, without the owner receiving any compensation for his or her investment and creation. To enjoy these stolen goods (and to support organized crime) surely must be considered a sin.

"Wanna buy something cheap? It's stolen."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Help, Please: Any of You Know Ken Jennings? Or President William Ide?

I've got two requests, and hope some of you might be able to help.

#1: Do any of you have contact with Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame? If so, the people of Wisconsin (at least some of us) would love to find out if he could be enticed to come our way to do a fireside or community luncheon (April 7, ideally, or any time) . I know it's unlikely that he could, but hope springs eternal.

#2: Do any of you know if there is any evidence that William B. Ide, former President of the Republic of California, was actually LDS? A page at Uncle Dale's Readings in Mormon History states that there isn't any evidence, and I think he's right. He had lived in Springfield, Illinois, not far from Nauvoo, and an Oregon newspaper in 1846 said he was a Mormon Apostle, but back then newspapers were not yet infallible. William B. Ide is featured at the Famous Mormons site, but perhaps he should be moved to a site for famous alleged Mormons. Maybe ReluctantMormons.com?

The story of William B. Ide and his brief Presidency is a great one. Thirty Americans, stirred up by rumors against the Mexican government, marched on Sonoma, captured the leading citizen there as their sole prisoner, raised the famous Bear Flag, and declared that they were now an independent Republic with William Ide as President. Not bad for an afternoon's work. Shortly afterwards, California became part of the United States. Now, instead of being a Republic ruled by a Mormon President, California has become a subject nation ruled by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals - and it actually does include a Mormon, Jay S. Bybee (also featured at the Famous Mormons site). Some things never change.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The "Courage" of Brokeback Mountain and that "Brokeback Mormon" Thing -- And an Example of Real Courage

I was surprised - well, not that much - to hear critics and the media speak about the great "courage" that it took to make Brokeback Mountain. How much courage does it really take to release a politically correct movie whose subject matter is almost guaranteed to receive massive favorable coverage and numerous awards? How could the New York Times do anything but offer adulations? Same goes for the new off-Broadway "Brokeback Mormon" play, Confessions of a Mormon Boy. The latter is another pro-homosexuality production aimed more squarely at the gay community. This autobiographical solo is performed by a gay ex-Mormon, Steven Fales, who divorced his wife and left his children, then went to New York to become an escort. Expect more praise for its unmitigated courage.

When it comes to real courage, my hat goes off to those who dare to say unpopular things that need to be said. In my view, an example of real courage is an LDS missionary going to Manhattan or anywhere else to tell people that they need to have faith in Christ and repent of their sins (including sexual immorality). No one wants to hear that. Popular culture will reject it. The media will denounce the message. The elite will mock it. Bigotry is ensured, sometimes by the loudest proponents of diversity and toleration. There will be no academy awards for the elders and sisters in the supporting role of a missionary, but it will do more for people's lives than any actor's performance.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

New York Times on the LDS CEO of Dell

Back in September, the New York Times ran a positive article about Kevin B. Rollins, the LDS CEO of Dell Computer (the link is to a reprint at BYU). When I started reading the article that was forwarded to me, I didn't know he was LDS. But my immediate reaction to his picture was, "Hey, he kind of looks Mormon." Yeah, I know that's weird, but that was my fleeting reaction (I'm often been wrong when I say that - but Whoopi could still join the Church and prove me right after all). Anyway, I'm impressed with the story and the kind of CEO he has been. Here's an excerpt:
In the back-slapping world of big business, where deals are often consummated over glasses of bourbon or bottles of fine wine, Mr. Rollins also stands out. As a Mormon, he has never consumed an alcoholic beverage.

He plays the violin several times a week, and occasionally performs publicly. He's a skier and a mountain biker, and he races motorcycles and fast cars, a pastime he occasionally shares with Joseph M. Tucci, chief executive of EMC, the computer storage device maker that has been a Dell partner since 2001. "He is very different once you get to know him," Mr. Tucci said. "He can come off as aloof, but he's far from it." . . .

KEVIN ROLLINS naps. He admitted as much not long before Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, one of Dell's top customers, was scheduled to speak to a group of Dell executives. Mr. Rollins reckoned that his famous visitor might have fun with the tale, so he broke the news that Mr. Immelt had called him on a recent vacation in Mexico and caught him in an afternoon snooze. Many people inside the company had the same reaction: "He naps?"

The very idea seemed incongruous to those who work for him and see him put in 70- to 80-hour workweeks. (He still finds the time to run four or five miles several times a week and to pursue a long list of hobbies. And when he's in town, he attends church every Sunday.) So, too, did the idea of Mr. Rollins putting on a cowboy hat, mounting a stage at a basketball arena and accompanying himself on the violin while belting out a song spoofing a computer industry foe. But he did that, too, at a Dell event.

Imagine if they knew that he once had shoulder-length hair - and that, while a teenager in Provo, Utah, he was the lead singer in a rock 'n' roll band. As he told it, the band, called the Gents, was good enough to play in New York City and to land a spot in a "battle of the bands" in Boston. "Music is still very important to me," Mr. Rollins said.

His sandy brown hair is now neatly trimmed, and Mr. Rollins, still tall and fit, has an exceedingly polite demeanor with customers, analysts and others. "Don't mistake politeness for a lack of intensity or competitiveness," Mr. Dell said. "He has mega-mega-mega doses of that."
Kudos, Brother Rollins!

(Maybe more of us should all take up napping -- and jogging and violin and 80-hour work weeks and successful competitive intensity.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

China: The Future

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I've been in Manhattan chasing the Chinese dragon with limited time and Internet access. I was as a fabulous conference on China and intellectual property, an issue of great interest for those of us who care about patents and other forms of intellectual property. Made some new friends from China and the States, gained a little guanxi, learned a ton about law and business in China, and stared into the face of the world's Chinese future. As far as I can tell, we cannot avoid a world that will be increasingly dominated by China, like it or not. Yes, I've been busily brushing up my Mandarin that I studied back at BYU, and would encourage more of you to take Mandarin classes.

I had some wonderful conversations with the father of China's patent system, a kind and wise man that I respect. Before I rushed off to the airport today, he told me that he had met other Mormons and went on about how he respects their values and goodness and so forth. Naturally, I told him that we have plenty of problems and aren't all that good, but I was grateful to hear his kind comments.

I don't know when religious freedom will become a reality in China, but that time will come and may catch us all by surprise. Will the Church be ready for that amazing day?

Qing nimen dou yubei hao.