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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Corn and the Disappointments of Life

In a comment on a recent post about Mongolia, Brian V mentioned that a Mongolian missionary who taught his family "thought it disgusting that Americans eat corn [for] in Mongolia, at least where he lived, corn was for animals, not humans." That reminds me an experience I had in Switzerland on my mission.

In Switzerland, corn on the cob is relatively uncommon because most corn is raised to feed animals. In fact, I don't think we ever ate corn in the first half of my mission, until one kind sister in the Basel ward asked if we like it. Yes, we love it, we explained, and told her how we missed it over there. "Oh, I didn't know missionaries would like it. It's one of my favorite dishes," she said. "When you come for lunch this week, we'll have a special corn feast."

My companion and I were excited as we approached her home for our lunch appointment later that week. On her table was a vary large covered bowl with steam escaping from the sides. Our mouths watered as we had a blessing on the food. And then she took off the cover, revealing a huge mound of gooey corn meal, cooked with some onion and cheese, as I recall.

I glad that we were able to eat graciously and do a reasonable job of feigning enjoyment. We didn't want the dear sister to get any hint of our little disappointment. It wasn't too bad, as far as corn meal goes. And we did recognize that this offering was a sincere and loving gift from a kind woman, sharing one of her favorite dishes with us. That was a treat, indeed, and the yearning for corn on the cob would just have to wait much longer to be fulfilled.

Life is like that, and employment can often be like that, too. We hunger and yearn for an expected reward, and find out that the world's definition of corn might not agree with ours. Don't let these little disappointments wreck your feast or lead you to offend others. But keep your eyes open for the real corn on the cob!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Harvard's Clayton Christensen: Feb. 07 Ensign Article and His Testimony on His Website

Professor Clayton Christensen at the Harvard School of Business is one of my heroes in the business world. His series of books on disruptive innovation have changed the way I think about new products, and provide theoretical tools that have assisted my approach to intellectual property strategy in my work (even though IP strategy is not discussed in his works). I was happy to see an article from him in the February Ensign (not yet on the LDS.org site) - I hope you'll read it. Also, I was impressed to see that he has made his personal testimony of the Gospel available on his Website, ClaytonChristensen.com. It's in the form of an essay about his beliefs called "Why I Believe." Since it's almost guaranteed to cost him some business, I admire his courage and kindness in sharing that.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tip for Helping Missionaries: Add Spices to Their Life

Sadly, many missionaries don't know how to cook much of anything, and what they do cook is often bland. One tip on how to enhance the quality of missionary life is to make sure your missionaries have a good collection of spices and know how to use at least some of them. Spices not only can transform a boring dish into a much more delicious meal, but provide numerous health benefits. This month's Scientific American, for example, has an article on the scientific interest in one of my favorite spices, turmeric, for its possible health benefits. It's antioxidant activity and multiple other effects may be helpful in a number of areas (and some have speculated that turmeric may be a factor in the very low rate of Alzheimer's disease in India, though it's just speculation now). Many spices have strong antibacterial potential and are rich in antioxidants and just make sense as part of a varied and balanced diet. Cinnamon has also gained a lot of publicity recently for its effects in reducing cholesterol. A doctor of a stroke victim I know told him to add more cinnamon to his diet, in addition to expensive medication.

Use spices with wisdom and balance, but use them! That's my opinion, anyway. And I think they make an excellent gift for missionaries. Small plastic containers can travel easily as elders move about, and yet provide a big kick to meals.

My suggested essential spices for missionaries (besides salt and pepper): basil, oregano, turmeric, cayenne pepper (or another hot pepper - Aleppo pepper is best but harder to get), garlic powder, cinnamon, and a curry mix (with or without turmeric as a major ingredient). Cumin and paprika might also be considered, and perhaps a popular blend such as Italian seasoning. Other essential spices?

On my mission in Switzerland, we had a rack with 22 spices that I accumulated, and it certainly made life even more worthwhile. But I think a smaller number will do just fine for most elders.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mongolian Wisdom: A Story from a Missionary in Wisconsin

Following up on my last post about the emergence of the Church in Mongolia, let me share a story from one of the elders from Mongolia who served in Wisconsin, as related by a fellow missionary. The brief story shows the deep wisdom of the Mongolian people, wisdom that the Western world would do well to adopt.

The Mongolian elder, shortly after arriving in this strange land of America, was invited to a dinner appointment in a member's home. In the middle of the meal, the elder was shocked and troubled about the animal that walked freely into the room. He couldn't believe that the family simply sat back and tolerated the presence of that animal, which he viewed as a wild pest on the order of rodents, something that should at least have been kicked out of the house. It was difficult for him to accept that Americans treat cats this way.

There is deep wisdom there. I think we need to reconsider our ways. Please don't assume that I speak from any sort of personal bias, possibly affected by growing up with cats and thinking for years that I had bad hay fever when it turns out I'm allergic to the darling little devils. I actually like cats, but the Mongolians have a point.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mongolia: Stories from John Groberg

Anytime, Anywhere by John H. Groberg is an inspiring book that I received as a Christmas gift from a kind woman in my ward. Among his many stories of experiences around the world as a General Authority are several stories from Mongolia. Since the Appleton, Wisconsin area has been blessed by a couple of faithful missionaries who came from Mongolia, I was especially intrigued by some of Elder Groberg's experiences about bringing missionary work to the wonderful land.

In 1994, when Elder Groberg was assigned to the Area Presidency over Asia, the new mission in Mongolia faced a serious crisis. An official in Mongolia decided that there would be no more visas issued to Mormon missionaries. Elder Groberg was asked to rush to that land and try to solve the problem. When the news came, his daughter was visiting with him and his wife in Hong Kong, having just completed a mission in Slovenija. He brought her and his wife with him to Mongolia before his daughter returned to the States. He found the official in Mongolia to be unwilling to bend. Efforts were made to reach other officials to find some other solution, but nothing could be done. Finally, he asked the small branch there to join him in fasting and prayer to find a solution. After fasting, he met with the branch and asked if anyone knew of any other contacts they could work with to get help. No one had any ideas, but after a while one man mentioned that he had heard of a high-ranking official who had been friendly to the Church, and who now assigned to Europe and was back in Mongolia briefly because his son was in the hospital. With no other leads, Elder Groberg arranged to meet this official.

The official was serving as an ambassador in Europe. He was kind, but explained that he had little influence over domestic matters. He also said that his son was better than expected, so he was about to return to Europe again and was anxious to get back to work there, where he faced a difficult challenge now that a new country had been added to his responsibilities - the nation of Slovenija. He knew little about that land and its people, but had to attend a meeting in the capital, Ljubljana, in a few days and needed time to prepare.

Slovenija? Well, Elder Groberg was able to explain that his daughter, who was with them in Mongolia, has spent 18 months in Ljubljana, Slovenija and would be happy to help answer his questions. He was soon meeting with Jennie Groberg and was impressed with her knowledge. He hadn't known that women served missions and asked many questions about the missionaries. After the very positive meeting, he noted that he did have one friend in the government who might help.

That lead was the critical connection that gradually led to more meetings, negotiations, and eventually a happy resolution of the crisis, with more visas being issued to missionaries. The Church was able to grow and become several thousand strong in that land - strong enough to send diligent, faithful missionaries to distant corners of the earth like Appleton, Wisconsin.

So many things came together to answer the prayers of the Saints in Mongolia. How strange that Elder Groberg's daughter had been called to the same land that the Mongolian ambassador needed to work with, and that she was available in Mongolia at the right moment. How opportune that a member had heard about the official being back in the country and could recommend him as the last resort for Elder Groberg to consider. How wonderful that the thin threads of coincidence could come together to weave a solution to crisis the Church faced in Mongolia.

One valuable lesson for me is to not give up when there appears to be a dead end, but continue faithfully doing all possible to obtain the Lord's help and find a solution. The Lord can reach down and give us the tiny miracles that eventually help us find our way through, if we do all we can in faith and seek the guidance of the Spirit.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ancient Transoceanic Contact with the New World: Evidence from Plants

" Scientific Evidence for Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages to and from the Americas" by John L. Sorensen is a detailed two-part manuscript with extensive scientific evidence for transoceanic contact between the New and Old Worlds. Some of you have probably heard about representations in pre-Columbian India of sunflowers and maize, suggestive of contact with the New World, but there are dozens more well documented examples pointing to transoceanic contact. The evidence goes beyond plants, including fauna such as an Asian hookworm parasite found in South American mummies. Lots of interesting food for thought.

Temple Aqueduct and Ritual Bath Excavated Opposite Temple Mount

Recent news from Israel tells us of a "Temple Aqueduct and Ritual Bath Excavated Opposite Temple Mount." This points to the ancient Jewish practice of ritual immersion known as Mikvah, which provides a historical background for the Christian practice of baptism (links are to Wikipedia articles). Some critics have mocked the presence of baptism in the Book of Mormon as horribly anachronistic, but the idea of pre-Christian baptism is more plausible than it used to be. Related rituals were in place before the time of Christ.

An interesting reference on baptism and its relation not only to Judaism but to Hinduism is "A Study on Baptism" by M.M. Ninan.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Single Men: Let's Keep Polygamy Forbidden and Illegal

I'm asking the single men of the Church to step up and help out in keeping polygamy illegal, or at least forbidden. Let me explain by pointing out why that practice might not have been so crazy after all, in terms of one interesting explanation Brigham Young offered. The forbidden part is easy: if you'll follow inspired guidance from the prophets, we'll be OK. (The illegal part might be a bit more difficult as our nation increasingly revises laws and definitions of marriage to support alternative lifestyles - and soon it will be hard to tolerate everything except polygamy. Well, I'll settle for forbidden.)

Here's my wordy explanation:

It has often been argued that polygamy may have been instituted in part to help provide for women and ensure them the blessings of marriage, when otherwise it might not have been possible. It's easy to shoot down some of the associate legends about large numbers of Mormon men being killed by mob persecution, creating a need for men to care for more than one wife: the numbers of men killed were pretty small, and in general there were actually more men in Utah during the time of polygamy than there were women. (And polygamy began during a time of peace before the real trouble in Missouri and Illinois began.) But there may be some support for the idea that polygamy helped provide marriage opportunities for women to faithful males, when the women otherwise might have been unable to find a suitable mate. See "Single Men in a Polygamous Society: Male Marriage Patterns in Manti, Utah" by Kathryn M. Daynes, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 24. No. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 89-111. (The link is to an 8 MB PDF file for entire edition, including Daynes' article.) This article points out that when one looks at the distribution of men and women of prime marrying age in Utah, there was often a surplus of women. And if one factors in the non-LDS segment of the population, which was overwhelmingly male, and the relative lower rate of men who received their endowments versus women, then there was a significant shortage of qualified men for temple marriage during the time when polygamy was in force. This shortage is examined using the population in the Manti area as a case study.

Interestingly, Brigham Young indicated at least once that a key reason for polygamy was to compensate for the tendency of many men to not marry, thus providing an opportunity for more women to enjoy the blessings of marriage. Here is a fascinating quotation from a talk given in 1868, parts of which are also quoted by Kathryn Daynes:
There is a little matter I want to speak upon to you, my sisters. It is a subject that is very obnoxious to outsiders. They have given us the credit for industry and prudence; but we have one doctrine in our faith that to their view is erroneous, and very bad; it is painful to think of. Shall I tell you what it is sisters? "Oh," says one, "I know what you mean, my husband has two, four, or half a dozen wives." Well, I want to tell the sisters how to free themselves from this odium as many of them consider it. This doctrine so hateful and annoying to the feelings of many, was revealed from heaven to Joseph Smith, and obedience is required to it by the Latter-day Saints,-this very principle will work out the moral salvation of the world. Do you believe it? It makes no difference whether you do or not, it is true. It is said that women rule among all nations; and if the women, not only in this congregation, Territory and government, but the world, would rise up in the spirit and might of the holy gospel and make good men of those who are bad, and show them that they will be under the necessity of marrying a wife or else not have a woman at all, they would soon come to the mark. Yes, this odious doctrine will work out the moral reformation and salvation of this generation. People generally do not see it; my sisters do not see it; and I do not know that all the elders of Israel see it. But if this course be pursued, and we make this the rule of practice, it will force all men to take a wife. Then we will be satisfied with one wife. I should have been in the beginning; the one wife system would not have disagreed with me at all. If the prophet had said to me, "Brother Brigham, you can never have but one wife at a time." I should have said, "glory, hallelujah, that is just what I like." But he said, "you will have to take more than one wife, and this order has to spread and increase until the inhabitants of the earth repent of their evils and men will do what is right towards the females. In this also I say glory, hallelujah. Do men do that which is right now? No. You see travelers-young, middle-aged, or old-roaming over the world, and ask them where their families are, and the answer will generally be, "I have none." You go to the city of New York, and among the merchants there I doubt whether there is one man in three who has a wife. Go to the doctor and ask him, "where is your wife and family?" and, "thank God I have none," will be his reply. It is the same with the lawyer. Ask him about his wife, and his reply will be, "O bless me, I havn't [haven't] any, I say it to my praise, I am not troubled with a family." You to the parson, and were it not for his profession, the cloak of religion that is around him, not one in a thousand of them would have wife or children.

Do not he startled, my sisters; do not be at all afraid; just get influence enough among the daughters of Eve in the midst of this generation until you have power enough over the males to bring them to their senses so that they will act according to the rule of right, and you will see that we will be free at once, and the elders of Israel will not be under the necessity of taking so many women. But we shall continue to do it until God tell us to stop, or until we pass into sin and iniquity, which will never be. . . .

Now, sisters, I want you to see to this. I advise you to have faith and good works; be fervent in spirit and virtue, and try to live so as to bring the men to the standard of right, then we shall have no trouble at all. I believe that in Massachusetts they have only 27,000 more women than men; but that is not many. There is a cause, perhaps, for this. A good many young men go into the army, or go here or there. What is done with the daughters of Eve? In many countries they stick them in the factories, into the fields, the coal mines, and into the streets-as I have seen hundreds of them-gathering manure, &c., working all day and getting a penny at night to buy a loaf of bread with. They stick some of them down into the iron works, under the ground to pack the ore, or into the building to lug off the iron. But the young men are sent to the wars. When England and the rest of the nations learn war no more, instead of passing a law in this or any other nation against a man having more than one wife, they will pass a law to make men do as they should in honoring the daughters of Eve and making wives of and providing for them. Will not this be a happy time? Yes, very fine. If you will produce this to-day, I'll tell you what I would be willing to do, I would be willing to give up half or two-thirds of my wives, or to let the whole of them go, if it was necessary, if those who should take them would lead them to eternal salvation.
--Brigham Young, Discourse given at the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Aug. 9th, 1868, Journal of Discourses, 12: 261-262.
Daynes notes that the number of women receiving their endowments points to a significant imbalance in the sex ratio:
In every year sampled from the Endowment House records listing endowments of the living, however, women who received their endowments outnumbered men who did so. During the year preceding 5 May 1856, only 82 men were endowed for every 100 women. Four years later-during the year from 20 August 1850 to 15 August 1860--the number of men endowed for every 100 women dropped to 76. Ten years later . . ., it had dropped even further to 73. A decade later, by the year ending 3 June 1880, it had risen to 83 but fell again to the nadir of 73 ion the last full year endowments were given in the Endowment House, 15 October 1883 to 16 October 1884.
Daynes then turns to Manti, a settlement about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City, using it as a crucible for more intensive investigation of marriage and gender ratios. Manti was small enough to permit detailed investigation of the records while being a significant population center and the first place in Utah outside of Salt Lake to be designated for a temple. As in other parts of Utah around 1880, Manti had about 25% of its total population living in polygamous family units, and was within the mainstream of the Utah polygamy experience based on other indicators as well, though there were relatively fewer men in Manti than in other parts of Utah. Interestingly, what polygamy did was shift the advantage from men to women when it came to finding a spouse. The relative abundance of women of marrying age in Manti would have put them at a disadvantage, but with polygamy in place, the balance shifted such that there were many more single men than single women of marrying age. At one point, around 1860, there were about three times as many single men between ages 15 and 29 as there were women in the Manti area. Nevertheless, nearly all men who wanted to marry eventually did. The competitive pressure drove bachelors to marry somewhat younger than normal, and to also compete for wives younger than them, or, in some cases, by seeking wives among widows or older women. Daynes notes that the competition for women to marry improved the position of women by giving them more options and the ability to be more selective. Also, when a marriage did not work out, "Women in unsatisfactory marriages could expect opportunities for remarriage if they divorced their husbands, and thus they would not necessarily feel trapped in unhappy unions by economic pressure" (p. 110). Thus, women had more bargaining power than men in the marriage market.

Another interesting observation from Daynes:
Like many traditional societies with a high sex ratio, Mormons fostered a protective morality towards women, and women were most valued as wives and mothers. Mormon leaders' insistence on patriarchal authority thus becomes more explicable. On the one hand, it showed a protectiveness toward women. On the other, the emphasis on patriarchy reflected a desire to maintain authority over women because high demand for them increased their value and hence potentially increased their power. Plural marriage thus not only affected marriage choices for everyone who lived in Utah but also altered the relationships between the sexes. (p. 111).
So, in terms of the allowing more women to marry, many polygamy wasn't such a terrible idea after all. Maybe the Lord wasn't crazy in having this temporary practice during the early days of the Church. But I'm still glad it's over. And let's keep it that way: come on, you single men who aren't planning on marriage, quit wasting time! If you don't shape up, there's a risk that - gasp - polygamy will come back to take up the slack.

2012 Update: The link to Daynes' article has been updated. The new site for the Journal of Mormon History, by the way, is a tremendous resource with all editions now available as PDF files. Courtesy of the Mormon History Association.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Leg Up on the Critics: Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham


Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham represents "Abraham fastened upon an altar" according to the Book of Abraham translation that we received from Joseph Smith. The critics have mocked this assertion endlessly, insisting that this is nothing more than an ordinary funerary scene from the Book of the Dead, depicting a dead person being embalmed.

It is true that the figure has common elements with the common funerary scenes dealing with embalming and mummification. But as several LDS defenders have pointed out, the critics may have erred in overlooking the significant differences between this figure and the truly ordinary ones they compare it to. One important difference involves the depiction of the person on the table (a "lion couch"). Unlike the embalming scenes of ordinary Egyptian lore, this person does not look like a mummy-wannabe. Please notice that sprightly leg that is raised from the table. And the hands are up as well (some say that the arms and hands are drawn incorrectly, an issue addressed in the links below). And notice the feet: they still have slippers or shoes on and frankly, they look anxious to run.

Compared to the mummies of ordinary funerary scenes, there is something quite different about this person. A very big difference -- a life and death difference.

Is there any other embalming scene in Egyptian lore in which the dead person, is raising a leg and both arms? Dead mummies are always depicted as lying flat, to my knowledge, not with arms and a leg raised. So what does that mean? The figure, according to chapter 1 of the Book of Abraham, depicts Abraham as he was about to be sacrificed. In verse 15, Abraham explains what he did then: "I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard. . . ." He was miraculously delivered from the murderous priest as he prayed to the Lord. So here we have learned critics scoffing at the Book of Abraham and the ignorant Joseph Smith, who thought that Facs. 1 somehow depicted the living Abraham who, according to the text, was praying to the Lord.

Significantly, the person with the raised arms and extended leg is drawn in the exact posture used for the hieroglyph meaning "to pray," but rotated 90 degrees to be on the table or altar. The drawing is clearly and deliberately intended to depict a live person PRAYING - just as the Book of Abraham suggests.

For evidence, turn to the highly respected work of Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being An Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd Ed. (Oxford University Press, London: 1966), p. 32, paragraph 24, where we find this (many thanks to Stan Barker for sending these figures):


and


The glyph above for death shows a figure depicted in the normal manner for funerary scenes: clearly immobilized and wrapped up, quite unlike the most unusual depiction in the Book of Abraham. A couple of other portions of Gardiner are also relevant. The figure below comes from Gardiner, page 445, paragraph 30:


The man with outstretched arms is used in the following excerpts to help convey prayer, praise, and supplication:


Now stop and think about this. Is it just a coincidence that Joseph Smith's interpretation of the figure makes a lot more sense than that of his learned critics? Was it just dumb luck that Joseph understood the more plausible meaning of the facsimile? (The issue about whether or not the hands of the figure are actualy raised in the original drawing is discussed on my LDSFAQ page on the Book of Abraham, Part 2, and in great detail by Kerry Shirts in "On Thumbs and Wings and Other Things." Also see the FAIR Wiki article on the Book of Abrahama.)

We must not forget that Facs. 1 is far from an ordinary funerary scene. Is there any other lion couch scene in which the reclining person is fully clothed with the garment and slippers shown in Facs. 1? Related figures show mummies or nudes, but nothing identical to our Facs. 1. What is the significance of this? The symbolic meaning fits well with the Book of Abraham text, as Kerry Shirts shows on his page about the garment of Abraham.

Now there are non-embalming lion couch scenes in standard Egyptian lore in which a living person with a leg up is being resurrected or uh, contemplating procreation. But in these scenes, the person is in the nude, without shoes, and with one arm below the body or at the side of the body. These details don't fit Facsimile 1. In fact, as Kerry Shirts demonstrates in "The Lion Couch is Extremely and Significantly Unique" (that section is halfway down the page), there are numerous details about Facsimile 1 that take it outside the realm of any typical Egyptian scene involving the lion couch. What he have here is not a common scene from Egyptian lore, but a drawing that is obviously based on Egpytpain elements but apparently modified significantly to tell a unique story. And I don't think any other story fits the details better than this: a living person on an altar is praying, exactly as the Book of Abraham says.

I think Facsimile 1 and Joseph Smith's interpretation is worthy of a little more respect than it has received in the past.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Outrageous Quotations from an Early Church Leader

Critics of the Church enjoy digging through the statements of early Church leaders to find seemingly outrageous comments. Sometimes these quotes really are bizarre and seem to teach doctrines that don't jive with any official doctrines of the Church. For such statements, I just have to shrug my shoulders and say I really don't know what that particular person was thinking. If it's something outside of real LDS doctrine, I don't have to justify it.

Congrats to the National Champs!
The Ohio State-Florida game was amazing. Though I respect Ohio State, it was exciting to watch an underdog beat the favored powerhouse, resulting in a new national champion rising to the top. And yes, I predicted who that national champion would be. Congratulations, Boise State!

More difficult to deal with are statements that do jive with official doctrine but, when presented without explanation or in a negative context, can really shake people up. Here are two examples from one early Church leader which could get a Christian investigator all stirred up, if presented without explanation. Can you guess which leader made these statements?
Quotation 1: But if thou dost not believe the prophets, . . . the Lord Himself shall speak to thee, "who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but humbled Himself" . . . yea, I say, the Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God. Is it not then monstrous, my friends, that while God is ceaselessly exhorting us to virtue, we should spurn His kindness and reject salvation?

Quotation 2: It [the knowledge of the Gospel] leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods; after we are freed from all punishment and penalty which we undergo, in consequence of our sins, for salutary discipline. After which redemption the reward and the honors are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with perfection, and ceased from all service, though it be holy service, and among saints. They become pure in heart, and near to the Lord, there awaits their restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Savior.
(emphasis mine)

In the first quote, this Church leader spoke of learning from the example of Christ how man may become God. And then in the second quote, he teaches the concepts of eternal progression, of the need for obedience on our part to access the gift of grace from Christ, and of the exaltation of the righteous to be "gods" among other "gods" who will be with God (the God of all), thanks to the gift of eternal life made available to us by Christ.

These statements, in the hands of some of our vocal Christian critics, could have genuine shock effect and might be used to make others think we are a deranged non-Christian "God maker" cult. Perhaps the quoted leader should have toned things down a bit, but it's way too late now to change what he wrote. And unlike some of the puzzling statements from some leaders, we can't deflect these statements by saying that he was quoted second hand or months after his speech, since this leader apparently wrote these statements himself and was not a careless writer. Yes, I'll admit it: I believe what he wrote and cannot deny it. But like some of the other things this leader said, the above statements can disturb our friends in mainstream Christianity if offered without explanation.

Can you name the leader who gave us such "outrageous" statements? And can you name the source of these quotes? Brigham Young, perhaps? No, try again. . . . And no, it wasn't Lorenzo Snow, though he said some similar things.

The answer is near the beginning of my Mormon Answers page on Theosis (the Christian Doctrine of the Divine Potential of Man).

The Hidden Imam, Elijah, the Three Nephites - and Our Nuclear Crisis

I am intrigued by the related traditions among several major religions regarding hidden holy men who will one day be revealed or return. We have Elijah from the Old Testament, the Three Nephites of the Book of Mormon, the Hidden Imam of the Shi'a Islam faith, and, in a special category, Christ himself of the New Testament. Add to the list the Apostle John, whom later day Saints believe was "translated" like the three Nephites to allow him to live and operate for special purposes on the earth until the Savior returns, and Enoch, who was taken with his city to return one day with his New Jerusalem.

All of these mystical figures are hidden from us, and all will help God achieve his purposes that will eventually bring about a glorious new world, typically after great tribulation.

The Hidden Imam is particularly critical these days. He's in the news - or should be - given that the President of Iran seems to have a mission to help bring about his return, and has encouraged a popular association of himself with one of the "nails" (special servants) of the Hidden Imam who will help prepare the world for his return, a glorious event that will bring peace to the world and convert everyone to Islam.

Unfortunately, the crazed leaders of Iran might be thinking that the path for the return of the Hidden Imam requires plunging the world into apocalyptic chaos. "The frightening truth of why Iran wants a bomb" by Amir Taheri, former Executive Editor of Iran's largest newspaper, offers a perspective wildly out of line with the popular American view that we can work things out with Iran by just sitting down and negotiating. A financial journal focused on energy issues also raises much the same point, in even more frightening terms. But the media seems pretty silent on the real threat we may be facing, especially now that Iran has shocked the world by announcing that they are processing nuclear materials sufficient for 20 or so nuclear bombs.

Any illusion about Iran's leaders being sensible people ready to bargain for peace and for the well-being of their people can be dismissed when we recall what they have already shown with the Basij movement, millions of people trained to be martyrs, indoctrinated like the Hitler Youth or the Red Brigade to live for the State, with the added risk of being much more willing to die for martyrdom. In the Iran-Iraq war, thousands of Basij children were sent out into minefields to become human mine detectors, assured of instant paradise. Human waves of Basij youth were sent against fortified Iraqi positions, where there corpses would pile up as they youth kept coming. Steve Christ offers this chilling perspective:
Founded at the birth of the new Iranian regime begun by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, the Basij shook the world during the Iran-Iraq war as they marched themselves in human wave attacks against the enemy. Not unlike the infamous Nazi Youth, these brainwashed brigades, made up mostly of children, walked into minefields and certain death at the hands of Iraqi gunners, armed only with plastic keys and the promise of paradise after their deaths.

"They come at our positions in huge hordes with their fists swinging," an Iraqi officer remarked in 1982. "You can shoot down the first wave and then the second. But at some point the corpses are piling up in front of you and all you want to do is scream and throw away your weapon."

Out of this fanatical carnage, the Basij emerged as national heroes and spurred a growing movement that embraced the cult of self destruction ("martyrdom") as a way to promote their religious agenda.

In today's Iran, these Basij have appeared in nearly every level of society. And like Hitler's Brownshirts before them, they violently snuff out any dissent without fear of retribution. Even more troubling is their numbers. At present they are some nine million strong, making up nearly 12% of the population.

Among them is none other than the president of Iran himself. In fact, he and routinely praises the Basij culture, which has enjoyed a renaissance during his reign, growing in both power and influence.

It is into these dangerous and demented hands that Iran's nuclear weapons will someday fall-endangering not just the U.S. and Israel, but the entire modern world.
Frankly, I miss the days when Israel dared to take pre-emptive actions when Middle Eastern neighbors were developing nuclear threats. I fear that our pressure on them to "get along" and give in to the US State Department's treacherous mentality has only made the Middle East all the more dangerous - and not just for Israel, but for the whole world.

If ever there was a time for the Three Nephites and John and maybe even Enoch to step in and help out, this may be it. And if there is a Hidden Imam out there, I hope he'll come out and call off Iran's crazy plans.

Monday, January 08, 2007

That Murderous Cousin of Yours: Torture Revisited

Suppose you have a relative, neighbor, or student you knew and cared for that somehow fell into forbidden paths and joined a violent gang. He has committed murder, maybe many murders. He has refused to discuss his crimes and reveal information about his gang. He has information that could prevent other crimes from being committed. You have the privilege of being the interrogator. How "vigorous" could you be, in good conscience? Would you feel justified in applying the arts of pain creation to coerce information? Would beatings or injections of damaging substances be justified? How much could you do, knowing that you would later stand before others in your community or extended family to explain and justify what you did?

Now suppose the murderer is your son and someone else in your community is the interrogator. How much physical coercion would you feel was justified? At what point would you not be able to say, "Sure, Mr. Interrogator, you were just doing what was reasonable. There's no need to apologize. We all support what you did."

Suppose we have a civil war that divides your community in half, with some of the once-promising LDS young men in your ward now serving on the other side - perhaps a vile and wicked side that has brainwashed many into violent behavior. You've captured one of them in a bloody battle that killed some of your own ward members. Now it's interrogation time. You know these young men. They once had promise, but have fallen. So how far can you go in interrogating them? The information might save lives. A little waterboarding, perhaps, that puts the fear of death in them over and over? Maybe just a few shallow cuts, some brief choking, and only a few dozen volts applied to sensitive parts of their body? Or maybe you're a bleeding heart sissy kind that doesn't go much beyond a little old-fashioned humiliation of disrobed prisoners?

As evil as murderers and terrorists are, as worthy of death as some of them may be, how can we forget that they are human beings like ourselves, like our own sons and daughters who also may fall? How can we justify the "interrogation" techniques that have been used? Consider, for example, the case of Benyam Mohammed as reported in The Guardian (or, for those who think that's just a liberal rag, as also reported in the much more right-wing magazine, The New American).

These men are people. Murderers, perhaps, or at least soldiers we are fighting. But they are sons of our Heavenly Father just as much as we are. They are human. Wrong in their views and actions, yes. But how can we as a nation justify physical abuse of captives because we claim that the end justifies the means? If they deserve death, then execute them - humanely, and after proper procedures have been followed. If they deserve captivity, then incarcerate them - humanely. There are reasonable limits to what can morally be done in interrogation of a prisoner, even of a serial killer. These limits must not be abandoned if law, justice, and human dignity are to mean anything.

Surely you cannot have missed the fact that our Government has taken vigorous actions to sidestep the Geneva Convention regarding accused terrorists. Doesn't that concern you? Shouldn't it terrify you? Have you noticed what happens when nations become police states?

So how do we define torture? I'm not sure. There may be some gray areas. But creating intense and repeated panic or approaching suffocation with waterboarding doesn't sound like what I think we could do in good faith to the captured sons of our neighbors or fellow Church members even in the terror and frenzy of a civil war or in dealing with someone we care for who became a violent gangster.

But sadly, we have gone far beyond these supposedly non-injurious but still abusive tactics. Read the articles linked to above about Benyam Mohammed - one of many witnesses. Or consider this excerpt from Newsweek's article, "The Roots of Torture," dealing with Abu Ghraib:
"The photos clearly demonstrate to me the level of prisoner abuse and mistreatment went far beyond what I expected, and certainly involved more than six or seven MPs," said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former military prosecutor. He added: "It seems to have been planned."

Indeed, the single most iconic image to come out of the abuse scandal--that of a hooded man standing naked on a box, arms outspread, with wires dangling from his fingers, toes and penis--may do a lot to undercut the administration's case that this was the work of a few criminal MPs. That's because the practice shown in that photo is an arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade. "Was that something that [an MP] dreamed up by herself? Think again," says Darius Rejali, an expert on the use of torture by democracies. "That's a standard torture. It's called 'the Vietnam.' But it's not common knowledge. Ordinary American soldiers did this, but someone taught them."

Who might have taught them? Almost certainly it was their superiors up the line. Some of the images from Abu Ghraib, like those of naked prisoners terrified by attack dogs or humiliated before grinning female guards, actually portray "stress and duress" techniques officially approved at the highest levels of the government for use against terrorist suspects. It is unlikely that President George W. Bush or senior officials ever knew of these specific techniques, and late last week Defense spokesman Larry DiRita said that "no responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses." But a NEWSWEEK investigation shows that, as a means of pre-empting a repeat of 9/11, Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war. In doing so, they overrode the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell and America's top military lawyers--and they left underlings to sweat the details of what actually happened to prisoners in these lawless places. While no one deliberately authorized outright torture, these techniques entailed a systematic softening up of prisoners through isolation, privations, insults, threats and humiliation--methods that the Red Cross concluded were "tantamount to torture."
No, I'm not an anti-American or Al Qaeda sympathizer. I do not support the political agenda of the ACLU. I am conservative on most issues. If we must fight in a war, I want us to win and win quickly (and then get out). But I am shocked and horrified at the softening of America's moral fiber, at the loss of standards at so many levels, that would allow even a tiny minority of people in our military to feel justified in abusing captives beyond what we would tolerate for criminals taken from among our own.

Finally, at a purely selfish level, I oppose torture of captives because one day I may be the captive, having offended some official for offensive remarks made on this blog or in a private conversation in my home monitored by some thug with a listening device. If I am accused, I want to at least be treated humanely. And that excludes even waterboarding, one of the more benign tactics that have been used in our efforts to police the world.

Our enemies are human. They are more like us than we may realize. And if they, though human, have acted like vile demons, there is certainly no need for us to become more like them.

Improving Sleep: A Tip from Revelation

I have sometimes struggled getting decent sleep. One key tip that took me years to fully appreciate comes from Doctrine & Covenants 124:88:
Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.
Though this just looks like basic folk wisdom ("early to bed, early to rise"), in my case it proved to be very important wisdom that I was able to take seriously. I am under constant temptation to stay up late to get just one more task done, and then another, and then another - but if I stay up until I am exhausted, the quality of my sleep deteriorates. In fact, I find that with my schedule, staying up much past 11 p.m. results in waking up a lot earlier than I want to, with difficulty in getting back to sleep or having deep sleep after that. And if I stay up a lot later, then it becomes harder to fall asleep.

I've also found that physical activity during the day helps. And that I can ruin my sleep by eating much food late at night (after roughly 9 p.m.), and that sugar-rich foods like ice cream are very likely to detract from good sleep. A healthy diet, consistent with the food-pyramid-like nature of the Word of Wisdom, really helps.

I suggest that good sleep is part of the Word of Wisdom blessing of being able to "run and not be weary, and . . . walk and not faint."

May you all sleep well. And if the above advice doesn't help, try spending more time with this blog!

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Positive Side of a New Trend in Video Games

I've offended many sensitive souls in the past, and challenged many weak testimonies, by occasionally slamming video games. But my hardened heart softened a bit when I read of a Mayo Clinic studying that shows adding activity to video games fights obesity. Well, I love innovation - especially disruptive innovation. And the new Wii trend of adding physical activity to video games could result in new levels of health to video game addicts - as long as you don't smash your fingers, break your arm, or shatter your TV screen in the process. Getting a physical workout while you play, well, it's a step in the right direction. And isn't physical activity implicitly a part of the Word of Wisdom, which says that the obedient will walk and not be weary, and will game and not faint? Or words to that effect.

Game on! (But stick with clean, non-grotesque games, not the loser games that . . . oh no, there I go again.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Church Music Website: Learn to Sing Parts

The LDS.org Church Music Site has some amazing resources. I am especially glad to see that it can help you learn any of the four parts for any hymn by playing just the parts you select, or the whole song, or by changing the relative intensity of any of the parts (e.g., make the bass line twice as loud as the rest). And you can transpose the key up or down, and change the tempo. (For people in some wards - not mine! - you now no longer need to actually go to Church to hear your favorite hymns played at laboriously slow or ridiculously fast tempos, but I think you should still go.)

A hat tip to Dale Jepson.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

No Foundation to China Rumor - or Mars Rumor

The Dec. 23, 2006 issue of Church News carries a short note, "No Foundation to China Rumor." The rumor being put to rest maintains that people have received mission calls with the field of service left blank. A note allegedly told the recipient to call a phone number, and those who did were "patched through to Gordon B. Hinckley" and asked to serve a three-year mission in China. This rumor is untrue. (At least for now.) And not even that creative.

If you're going to start a rumor, make it a little more interesting. How about a secret mission to Iran? Or better yet, a long-term mission for a new colony on Mars?

Anybody want a "Mormon Mission to Mars" T-shirt?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Boise State!

As a former resident of Boise, congrats to all you Boise State fans for the victory tonight. What courage that team showed. Most exciting game I've seen in a long time - not that I've seen many in recent years, but tonight was just amazing.