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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Evidence for the Mundane Versus the Evidence for the Divine: Archaeology and the Scriptures

I believe in the Bible, in spite of some obvious, irrefutable textual problems and human errors -- i.e., "as far as it has been translated [or preserved] correctly." It is a precious, divine text, though it is not without problems, like any text that has passed though human hands. While I believe in it and fully accept its testimony of the role of Jesus Christ as our Savior, I would hesitate to say that there is archaeological and scientific "proof" for its divinity.

I think some people make far too much of the evidence pertaining to the historical reality of some parts of that text and fail to appreciate that faith is just as essential for accepting the Bible as it is for accepting the Book of Mormon. Those who endlessly insist that there are mounds of evidence supporting their faith in the Bible, in contrast to an alleged lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon, often fail to understand the differences between the two texts and why the mounds they speak of are not nearly as significant as they might think.

Of course the Bible is an ancient text from an easy-to-locate part of the world. It comes from the Jews [Hebrews] in ancient Israel. There has never been any question where that is. Their chief city of Jerusalem is still there and, unlike many ancient cities, bears its ancient name even today and has pretty much been continuously occupied for thousands of years and has long been well known to the rest of the world. So when the ancient text of the Jews speaks of Jerusalem, and we can see it is still on the map, yes, we have evidence of something, but not evidence of the divine nature of the Bible. Try using that to convert someone. It's entirely mundane and does nothing to support the miraculous claims of the Bible.

When we find references to other cities in Israel and surrounding regions and we either find those cities on maps today or uncover ancient writings that give the names of those cities (in the Ebla tablets, for example), we have evidence of something - but is it evidence that God is real, that Jesus rose from the dead, that Elijah rode a chariot of fire into the sky, or that Moses parted the Red Sea? No, it's primarily evidence that some of the cities mentioned in the ancient traditions of real Israelites in ancient Israel were actually there. Either the names persisted in tradition or were recorded in writings from ancient times, which is certainly nice to know, but is it truly surprising or inspiring? That evidence is helpful in refuting some critics of the Bible who said that some particular stories were entirely made up, for now we know that some of the place names at least were real. It's kind of like future archaeologists finding that some of the buildings in the movie Dark Knight actually existed in contemporary Chicago. Some parts of the backdrop may have been real, but does that prove the main plot is true or that any of the special effects are plausible?

It's the "special effects" of the Bible that really matter. Though often in dispute by some critics, the reality of the backdrop - ancient cities, tribes, wars, geographical features, and lifestyles - when confirmed by archaeological digs or other ancients texts may help increase our understanding and appreciation of the text, but may not be relevant in ascertaining the divinity of the text. We know it came from real people who may have lived in real cities and had genuine ancient Semitic names, but did one of them named Moses use miracles to induce Pharaoh to free his Hebrew slaves? Did some of them foretell the future? Did some of them see the Resurrected Messiah and touch and feel his real, tangible, glorious body of flesh and bone and know that God's Son was now immortal and alive?

To "believe in the Bible" is not just to acknowledge that Jerusalem is on the map and its ancient inhabitants wrote a text that mentioned some other real places. It is to accept the message of God's dealings and revelations. That's the real plot. The backdrop is of very little significance. But the "overwhelming evidence" we often hear about is directed to the backdrop, not the plot and its all-important special effects that testify of the reality of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ.

If there were scientific evidence proving or strongly confirming the reality of the Resurrection, for example, what need would there be for faith? I think such evidence will be withheld from us to try us and to give us a chance to grow by acting in faith before we see the miracles that truly are there for us in our journeys toward God. I think that evidence for the other miracles of the Bible are also going to be hard to find, by design, always leaving us room and freedom to close our eyes to God and not believe.

The Book of Mormon is a different matter. It was provided miraculously with the help of God's power and the ministry of a real angel who showed Joseph where the ancient text on metal plates had been stored. It was divinely translated through Joseph Smith. The gold plates, of course (add smirk here, if you wish) are not available in any museum to offer undeniable confirmation of its reality. There were witnesses of the plates, yes, and there are many interesting evidences for plausibility - perhaps just enough for those willing to exercise faith, and nowhere near enough for those lacking it - maintaining the proper balance of things, with God stacking the deck in favor of our free agency and our need to grow in faith before the miracles are seen with our eyes and felt with our hands. This balance requires quite a different approach with the Book of Mormon. Since the whole text came through a purported prophet of God, writing about peoples, places, and civilizations unknown to his time, with no clear direction about just where these Nephites and Lamanite civilizations were, very little in the text is of a mundane nature. By that I mean that confirming details of the backdrop is not irrelevant to the divinity of the text. For much of the text, direct hits pointing to plausibility in the backdrop help can be helpful in helping us to appreciate the potential reality of the main plot, for even the backdrop becomes part of the "special effects" associated with the miraculous origins of the Book of Mormon.

It begins in Jerusalem, which is mundane and not terribly exciting in terms of evidence, but soon we have Nephi and his family wandering through the Arabian Peninsula. They encounter a valley with continually flowing water that flows into the Red Sea. If such a valley can be plausibly identified - and an excellent candidate has - it is interesting. They move south-southeast until they came to an ancient burial place called Nahom. If such a place with such a name existed in Lehi's day, and there is compelling evidence in favor of this possibility, it is interesting. And then they turn due east and eventually arrive in place they called Bountiful, with trees, water, honey, fruit, flint, ore, etc. If such a place existed, and there are at least two reasonable candidates in Oman for this place, then it is interesting. All these "interesting" factors together help suggest that the backdrop of First Nephi may have been rooted in reality. Not proof, but evidence for plausibility. Now if First Nephi is rooted in reality, and if that hint of reality cannot readily be explained by plagiarism or other human means - those who read the text and study these matters with a little faith may see it that way - that may very well say something interesting about the entire text and the role of Joseph Smith as a prophet.

Please, I'm not saying that the fascinating evidence from the Arabian Peninsula "proves" anything, and it certainly doesn't prove that Jesus is the Christ. But it does open the door for further inquiry, and may open the minds of those who have heard that they can reject the Book of Mormon because there is not a shred of evidence for it. There are some rather palpable shreds, and while many pertain to the backdrop, in our case, such evidence has more significance than, say, finding evidence that there was an ancient city named Gomorrah in the Near East.

Of course, I would much prefer that someday, when the infant state of archaeology in the New World begins to catch up with the Old, scholars dig up ancient Semitic writings from the early days of Nephite culture, with many details that clearly fit the Book of Mormon. That's my will, for the record, but I'm afraid mine is not the will that matters - and most of you can be grateful for that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Anti-Mormon Tactic: Deliberately Creating Confusion

Mormanity gets plenty of comments from critics with tactics that I sometimes consider to be "anti-Mormon" (e.g., off-topic posting of a long-list of alleged beliefs mischaracterized in ways meant to shock and confuse). Disagreeing with us and having objections to LDS beliefs does not necessarily make one "anti-Mormon," but when the goal is simply to attack and to throw out numerous objections without engaging in real dialog, then "anti-Mormon" begins to be more apt. And when a critic appears to be creating deliberate confusion about our beliefs, I tend to find the effort worthy of the "anti-Mormon" moniker that is, admittedly, often abused - but also often deserved. There is rarely any value in attempting dialog with those employing such tactics.

The tactic of creating confusion about LDS beliefs is often done by contrasting "Christian" belief with some mischaracterized LDS belief. This can be done in lengthy diatribes, but it can also be done in a short drive-by postings or list of bullet points, like the "Mormonism vs. Christianity" list at the disreputable MormonCult.org.

One critic who has come on this blog recently to post a lot of standard anti-Mormon stuff recently gave us an interesting example of a brief attack aimed at creating confusion. It came in response to another person's comment that mentioned the Holy Spirit. Here is the attack:
What do you mean when you say "Holy Spirit"?

LDS - "A spirit man. He can only be at one place at one time... " (Mormon Doctrine by Bruce McConkie, p. 359.)

or,

according to the Bible, the third person of the Trinity/Triune God (Acts 5:3-4).
Ah, sweet dichotomy. In typical anti-Mormon style, LDS doctrine is succinctly misrepresented and then "contrasted" with "Christian" doctrine. This person, who has "studied" the Church for a long time and has had numerous encounters with Mormons, surely knows that we believe that the Holy Ghost is the third person of the Godhead. He surely knows that we fully accept Acts 5:3,4 and every other biblical statement about the Holy Ghost. And he surely knows that we believe that the power and influence of the Holy Ghost can be everywhere and fill the immensity of space. True, we have difficulty with some aspects of the post-biblical doctrine of the Trinity, for which some man-made formulations offer imponderable metaphysics that go far beyond the Bible (or in our view, clearly contradict the Bible and earliest Christian belief), including the concept of all members of the Godhead being utterly immaterial and not being located in any one place. So we think in terms of the Holy Ghost having power and influence that can be everywhere at once, while our critic thinks that the Person himself must be everywhere at once. Fine - I can accept the difference. It's a distinction in metaphysics and interpretation of scripture, but he presents it as if it is slam-dunk evidence that we reject the Bible. He does it in a way that I feel is aimed at deliberately creating confusion. It is looking for an argument rather than looking to understand, which I find to be essential anti-Mormonism (but in a relatively gentle form).

This person surely knows that we believe that the Holy Ghost is the 3rd Person of the Godhead. The "question" he asks is not intended to understand more or engage in discussion, but simply to attack. Further, his misleading and sloppy quotation from Bruce R. McConkie excises information to create a bone of contention. McConkie clearly explains that the Holy Ghost is the 3rd person of the Godhead and that His influence and power can be everywhere. Here is the beginning of McConkie's actual entry on the Holy Ghost: "The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a Personage of Spirit, a Spirit Person, a Spirit Man, a Spirit Entity. He can be in only one place at one time . . . though his power and influence can be manifest at one and the same time throughout all immensity.

"He is the Comforter, Testator, Revelator, Sanctifier, Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit of Promise, Spirit of Truth, Spirit of the Lord, and Messenger of the Father and the Son, and his companionship is the greatest gift that mortal man can enjoy. . . . "(Mormon Doctrine, p. 359)

We may differ on metaphysics, but there is no real basis for claiming that our beliefs regarding the Holy Ghost are non-Christian or non-biblical, in spite of the deceptive appearance he creates. This little lecture won't change the behavior of this critic, of course, but I hope it will remind us that some of the questions we get are offered by people with no interest in understanding the answer. And answering would be a complete waste of - oops, what have I done??

Saturday, July 26, 2008

One Night of Drinking, A Lifetime of Regret: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The bartender set the glass on the bar in front of [Kathy] Kidd-Wuest. She took a sip.

The drink was good and strong. Kidd-Wuest finished it and ordered another. Then another. She wasn’t the kind to get cut off; liquor made her sleepy and giggly, not loud or obnoxious.

The bartender kept them coming.

Kidd-Wuest had five drinks in all. They cost $2.50 a pop. That seemed a bargain. But 18 years later, Kidd-Wuest still is paying the price for drinking during the first five months of her pregnancy.

So is her son, now 18, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

This excerpt from Cheryl Sherry's article, "Mother’s risks last child's lifetime: Wisconsin's tendency to binge drink key in high rate of fetal alcohol cases," is part of a daring series on alcohol in Wisconsin by our local award-winning Post-Crescent newspaper.

The mother didn't know that she was pregnant when she swallowed those drinks. "It was the worst feeling in the world, of pure guilt," she said about when she learned she was pregnant. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a terrible affliction that is given so unnecessarily to thousands of infants. Something like 60% of them will end up in prison. The health and social impact of this dread disorder are staggering.

I have seen too many tragedies that began with alcohol. Accidents, death, disease, and many times children are the victims. Why not give up drinking today and stay in control of your body and mind?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Moviegoers, You Have the Freedom to Walk Out

Just a quick thought this morning: Walking out of a theater can be a liberating experience. When you're sitting through a movie that increaingly assaults your soul with violent images and other questionable content, even if so many of your friends have told you how good the movie is, guess what? You don't have to stay there and watch it. Once you realize you've made a bad choice based on unreliable guidance from others, you don't have to sit there and watch dozens more people get blown up or tortured. It's OK to say, "This is disgusting. I'm out of here."

I'm puzzled why so many devout Christians spend so much of their time and money voluntarily absorbing the hideous or often lascivious imagery that the denizens of Hollywood's cesspools wish to dump into their brains.

From our 13th Article of Faith: "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." Not many modern movies fit that bill, IMHO. We need to be more vigilant about what we allow into our skulls.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Shaken Faith Syndrome

The Shaken Faith Syndrome is Michael Ash's book dealing with the problems some members have when encountering anti-Mormon arugments that shake their faith. Here's an overview from the Web site:
In today's Internet world, an increasing number of Latter-day Saints are encountering anti-Mormon material. Since most members don't have all the answers at their fingertips, LDS-critical claims can be unsettling or create doubt. Some arguments have caused a few members--even active members with strong testimonies--to lose their faith. Backed by extensive research and decades of experience dealing with anti-Mormon allegations, Michael Ash explores how we can be both critical thinkers and devout believers.

Because misconceptions can make us vulnerable to a shaken faith, the first half of this book offers suggestions on how we can strengthen our intellectual foundations against challenging issues. Ash invites us to fortify our testimonies as we develop a more mature appreciation of the role of prophets and personal revelation, as well as a greater understanding of the inherent limitations of science, history, and even the scriptures. The second half of this book exposes common anti-LDS tactics and ngages some of the most frequent criticisms.
I haven't seen the book yet, but respect what I've read from Mike in the past, so I expect high quality. Any of you have it already?

Here's a sample chapter: "Confusing Tradition With Doctrine." He makes some great points. It's important to understand that many of the attacks of anti-Mormons on the Church, the Book of Mormon, etc., are really attacks on the non-canonical opinions and views of individuals, including prominent Church leaders, but whose views, however widely repeated, need not constitute official Church doctrine. How tragic that some members of the Church, even a Mormon bishop in one case, have left the Church over the DNA vs. the Book of Mormon issue, when the conflict of DNA evidence is not with anything in the text of the Book of Mormon itself, but with traditional and rather naive interpretations of and assumptions about the text, or even hostile misunderstandings about what those popular interpretations really were. Please don't confuse tradition and popular opinion with official doctrine.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading this book. We need to do more to help members be prepared for the arguments that are out there. When caught off guard, without the knowledge to understand the assumptions behind the attacks or the frequent flaws in the arguments, people really can be caught off guard. Ditto for Christianity in general. Don't send your Christian child to college without a firm grounding in defending the Christian faith and Christian values.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ammon and the Waters of Sebus: Mesoamerican Culture Fills in Some Book of Mormon Gaps

Ever been puzzled by the strange events in Alma 17-19 regarding the Nephite missionary Ammon, the dramatic battle scene at the Waters of Sebus, and the ways of King Lamoni and his people? Why was Lamoni so interested in bringing this Nephite enemy into his family or court? Why couldn't the powerful Lamanite king deal with the raids of a band of thieves? Why had no armed guards been sent, and why did it not occur to his servants to fight and slay the thieves? Why did Lamoni execute his own servants when the flocks were scattered by these incompetent thieves who scattered rather than stole flocks? And why were family members of the thieves and even some of the thieves themselves hanging around the household of the king afterwards? Weren't they afraid that they would be recognized and arrested? The story, inspiring as it is, doesn't make a lot of sense to us given all the gaps that seem to be there.

Interestingly, a knowledge of Mesoamerican culture may help fill in the gaps and make the story more intelligible to us. So argues Brant Gardner in
"The Case for Historicity: Discerning the Book of Mormon's Production Culture." I recommend his article for many reasons, but I find the small section on Ammon and the Waters of Sebus especially interesting. Here are some of his thoughts:
Mesoamerican political tensions supply the missing content [in this story]. Maya kings balanced their own power base against competing lineages. The translated texts tell of some instances that appear to indicate a change in the power balance, with a new lineage assuming the throne and creating a new dynasty. Historian David Drew describes the problem for the Maya kings:
Increasingly recognized today...is the likelihood of a constant, dynamic tension between the ruler, along with the family group, the royal lineage that surrounded him, and other powerful and long-established lineages within a city state. The centralizing success of royal dynasties almost certainly obscures the extent to which kings depended upon and negotiated with other political factions. For each dynasty of the Classic period had in earlier centuries been merely one among many such patrilineages or kin-groups. It is impossible to know with any precision how ruling lines established themselves at the end of the Preclassic period--as war-leaders, perhaps, or as mediators in local disputes. However they came by their authority, they could only have maintained it through consent and co-operation, despite the impression of absolute power that their monuments create. From the eighth century, at Cop�n in particular, there is some evidence of the negotiation that must have gone on behind the scenes. There is little reason to believe that this kind of jostling was not seen in earlier centuries too.[David Drew, The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 324.]
All aspects of the story of Ammon at the waters of Sebus make perfect sense against the backdrop of a Mesoamerican king struggling with competition from a powerful rival lineage. Note that when the king is discussing the incident with Ammon he asks: "tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks" (Alma 18:20, emphasis added). While it is possible that the phrase "my brethren" is extremely generic, it would be very unusual to presume robbers as "brothers" of a king, and equally as unusual to include anyone outside of the city as one's "brothers." These thieves really are "brethren," and that is the whole reason for the trouble. Now let me retell the story against the backdrop of political tensions with Lamoni's "brethren."

Ammon comes before the king and asks to be a servant. Ammon is a Nephite and therefore not only an outsider but an enemy. The king offers to make him family by marrying one of his daughters. If Ammon had accepted, he would also have accepted rule by the new family and therefore be under the king's control. By refusing, Ammon continues to be an outsider and therefore potentially uncontrollable. The king decides to place Ammon in a position where this condition of being outside the city's political intrigues might be advantageous: He sends him to water the flocks at Sebus.

The dumb thieves who don't get much from their raids are actually getting everything they want. Key to understanding the story is that whatever ruse was employed to allow the fiction that they were robbers, the reality was that they were well-known to the servants and to the king. They were members of the rival lineage who were attempting to alter the balance of power. By scattering the king's flocks they were embarrassing the king and therefore diminishing his appearance of total control. Because the rival lineage was sufficiently powerful, the king could not move against them directly without creating civil war. Therefore, the king could not send armed guards. If he killed the members of the competing lineage it would break whatever illusion of cooperation there was and instigate civil disorder. The guards cannot defend themselves for the same reason that the king could not send troops.

The king could not, however, allow the situation to completely embarrass him. Therefore the fiction of thievery is either created or allowed to remain. Because something had to be done to restore the king's honor in the situation, the guards are punished for their "failure." The king places the failure on the guards and executes them to demonstrate that he is still controlling the situation.

Along comes Ammon, who is an outsider to the political intrigue. Ammon is not a member of either lineage and as an outsider would be unaware of the identities of these "brethren" thieves or the delicate political situation; he is a wildcard in a high-stakes game. The king deliberately puts him into a situation where it is possible--even probable--that he will use his sword, where all other servants have held theirs. It is quite possible that the king expected Ammon to do some damage, but ultimately fail to protect the flocks. From the king's perspective, any damage that Ammon did would improve the king's standing in the political impasse by gaining more revenge without the political cost--because it was done by an outsider.

When Abish finds many relatives of the robbers as well as the brother of the slain "thief" close by, we have our confirmation that this is a delicate political dance. Only if the family is part of the royal court would so many relatives of outlaws be that close to the home compound of a king. That a family of a thief is that close to the king tells us that the thieves were also that close. The thieves at the waters of Sebus were not from another city. They were not miscreants ostracized from this city. They were of a family that was sufficiently prestigious that it spent time in close proximity to the king. It had to be a competing royal lineage.

This reinterpretation of the events against a Mesoamerican cultural background creates sense from the near nonsense of the contextless account. Our analysis of Book of Mormon politics tells us that not only do the structural elements trace more firmly to a Mesoamerican context, but that the Mesoamerican context provides needed information that fills in the gaps between the assumed understanding of the writer and the reader.
This is one of those numerous little gems in the Book of Mormon where the text is "smarter" than any nineteenth-century forger could have been. In this case, what might look silly to a reader in 1830 or our day begins to make a lot more sense when we important new knowledge from the ancient world. The possibility of delicate intrigues between rival noble lineages in King Lamoni's own court and extended family help explain much in Alma 17 and 18. Kudos to Ammon for being a much better wildcard than Lamoni expected, and kudos to Brant Gardner for the Mesoamerican insight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Food Storage Yes, Wealth Preservation No: A Mormon Enigma in Preparing for Hard Times?

Received a request to re-post my rather secular March 2006 entry, "Food Storage Yes, Wealth Preservation No: A Mormon Enigma in Preparing for Hard Times?" I'll just give the summary and a link instead.
Summary: Many Mormons do a great job of preparing for hard times with aggressive food storage, but often do little to preserve wealth should there be severe economic disaster. Those who are diligent savers and investors tend to put their wealth in stocks, bonds, and cash, leaving themselves unprotected for many potential economic problems in the future (inflation, recession, weakening of the dollar, etc.). Why is it, for example, that so few Mormons have considered precious metals as an element of wealth preservation?
Remember, the dollar is eroding. Even if your stocks are up over the past few years - not the case for many - once you factor in real inflation, you may be at a loss. Kudos to those who have taken steps to protect themselves from inflation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You Get More of What You Subsidize: The Problem with Bailouts and High School Day Care

A maxim of life and economics is that you will get more of whatever you subsidize. Make it easier to be a drug addict and you'll get more drug addiction. Bail out poorly managed banks, free the bankers from the consequences of their greed, and you will get more mismanaged banks in the future needing bigger and bigger bailouts. And put a day-care center in a high school to make life easier for teenage girls who get pregnant, and guess what you'll get? At least that's one plausible theory for the pregnancy boom at Gloucester High. That progressive high-school put in a day-care center so that teenagers with babies wouldn't be unduly inconvenienced. It was a subsidy for teenage pregnancy, one that also highlighted the "glamor" aspects of motherhood (seeing the adorable little babies and their teenage mothers enjoying the unconditional love of their child every day in the halls of the school). And guess what? Now there are 17 more pregnant teenagers who will soon be benefiting from the subsidy as well. You get more of what you subsidize and condone. Some forms of "compassion" can actually be harmful.

Oh, I hear that many of those moms are just 16 and have unwed fathers who are 18-year-old men (maybe even older?). Sounds like a culture of sexual child abuse. Anybody for sending in tanks to the Gloucester compound to haul away all the children to safer foster homes? I hear Massachusetts has a much safer foster care program than Texas, so it should be OK. Anyone care to make an anonymous hoax call to get the process started?

Markets Still Tumbling, Your Dollar Still Being Stolen - Anybody Seen the Constitution Lately?

Asian markets are tumbling this morning, reacting to renewed fears about the impact of the financial crisis that began with the bubble of easy credit created by Greenspan and the harmful policies of the incredibly unconstitutional Federal Reserve Bank. The dollar is down as well. It's lost around 30% of its value in the past couple of years. Do you realize that the creation of vast amounts of new money by the Fed - always cranking up the printing presses - simply steals money from all of us? That's what our government is doing through reckless deficit spending and reckless monetary policies.

And on top of the theft of your savings and income by inflationary spending that destroys the dollar - a hidden tax - they have the gall to seize billions more of your tax dollars to bail out the banks of their friends, rather than let them face the consequences of the speculative policies they pursued that made them rich while credit was cheap and easy. We have to give our money to prop up Bear Stearns, IndyMac, Fannie Mae, JP Morgan (via the Bear Stearns deal), etc. Just where in the Constitution does the Federal Government have the right to seize your funds to bail out somebody else's business? It's redistribution of wealth on a massive scale - shear Marxism by the biggest capitalists around (the lesson of Marxism is that the rhetoric of "equality" is all about a handful of gangsters on top forcing everyone else to be equally poor and enslaved). Someone's living in a gangster paradise, and it's not us.

I'm not kidding when I use the term Marxism. One of the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto calls for centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. Marxism is about centralized power, and that takes government control over all the money (along with elimination of gold and silver as money so that paper money can be printed at will to finance the cancerous growth of government). No nation has survived for long when government was allowed to debauch its currency. No government can resist the addiction to easy money creation that gives them added power while selling out the future. The lessons of the Weimar Republic (Germany), Rome, Zimbabwe, and many other catastrophes are there for our review.

So what are you doing? Any of you spoken out by writing your Congressmen to demand that the Constitution be followed on this or any other issue? How's your food storage? And have you thought about moving some of your net worth into something that isn't on its way to zero? Have you compared the progress of your 401k to something like silver, which I advocated here in 2006 when it was about half the price it is today?

Now we have the specter of the big boys at the Fed and the Treasury (headed by the former CEO of Goldman Sachs) recommending that the bankers at the Fed be given even more power to bring "order" to the markets. Power to regulate the entire financial industry. Sweet deal, if you're on the inside with them. Centralized power in the hands of a few unelected officials totally tied to the banking interest - no, there's no "special interest" involved here. Just a big business that needs more power to regulate itself and make sure that the rest of us enjoy "order" (as in their orders).

This is not a "conspiracy theory" rant. It's about business theory - actually, it's not just theory, it's the practice. Business practice. You have to understand that businesses like to make money, and you make money through networks that collaborate toward mutually beneficial ends. So if you're a company and you can get your former CEO in as Secretary of the Treasury or Vice President, it can be good for business. Is that a big surprise? Does one have to be a lunatic to suspect such a possibility? The person may be totally honest and not exert undue influence in favor of friends and personal interests, which is totally cool. Or they may take one step after another which strengthens their friends and advances personal interests, which is totally cool for them and their friends. But it raises certain questions. But the two former CEOs I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg when one looks at the deep and extensive webs of possibly questionable business relationships and alliances that permeate our world. Follow the money. Who are the ties that influence our President and his cabinet? The media? Our two collectivist candidates for President? And so forth. Why is that such a shocker that people are influenced by their networks and private interests and people they are beholden to? The shocker is that we have disabled the safety mechanism to prevent too much influence in the hands of a few possibly corrupt people. That safety mechanism is the Constitution, and I think we ought to reactivate it. Especially before the next President steps on board and continues faithfully executing the business of transforming America and its assets.

Hah - I did it! I got through an entire post on corruption in our government without once mentioning any crazy Book of Mormon stuff like "secret combinations" and the Gadianton businessmen. I've got more self-control than I thought!

P.S. - I should have mentioned that the Book of Mormon contains marvelously appropriate and prophetic descriptions of a corrupt, arrogant society some years before the First Coming of Jesus Christ showing patterns and behaviors so much like those we see today. There are powerful warnings and lessons to be gleaned. These are serious times, and it's time to take the message of the Book of Mormon seriously if we are to be prepared and overcome the challenges to our freedom that we face. When you lose your freedom, you can't just say "no thanks" and easily go back to your old lifestyle. Learn from Germany, from Cuba, and nations where freedom has been lost when power-hungry gangs took over. Better yet, learn from the Book of Mormon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Remembering Zeezrom

When it comes to rapid repentance and forgiveness of sins, we often recall the story of Alma the Younger, the great rebel who fought against the way of God and yet became one of the great prophets of the Lord after his miraculous conversion. But the story of Zeezrom should also be remembered. Zeezrom was the corrupt lawyer in Ammonihah who tried to publicly discredit Alma and Amulek and sought to destroy them. But in their responses to him, his lying ways were exposed and his heart was somehow touched by the simply preaching of the word. When the other elite rulers chose to arrest Alma and Amulek and to persecute the believers, Zeezrom tried to speak out for them but was himself driven out of town. And then he began feeling the pain for his crimes and sins, tortured with the knowledge that two prophets of God may have been killed because of his opposition, and that many others have been persecuted and harmed as well. But Alma and Amulek would be miraculously delivered from the prison where they were meant to die. We read of Zeezrom's state in Alma 15 in the Book of Mormon:
[3] And also Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness, for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat.

[4] Now, when he heard that Alma and Amulek were in the land of Sidom, his heart began to take courage; and he sent a message immediately unto them, desiring them to come unto him.

[5] And it came to pass that they went immediately, obeying the message which he had sent unto them; and they went in unto the house unto Zeezrom; and they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was exceedingly sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.

[6] And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?

[7] And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.

[8] And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.

[9] And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.

[10] And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.

[11] And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.

[12] And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.

[13] And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.
Zeezrom probably was among those priests and teachers Alma ordained in Sidom. We don't know the rest of his story, apart from being mentioned in Alma 31 as part of Alma's missionary team that went among the apostate Zoramites. But like Alma, the rebel who also found immediate relief from the pains of sin when he turned his heart to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Zeezrom also may have labored with all his heart for the rest of his life to serve God and to help heal some of the people he once had injured.

Unlike Alma, his repentance was not triggered by the miraculous visit of a mighty angel calling him to repentance, but by the brave testimony of a neophyte to the Gospel, Amulek, a man who himself had rejected religion until shortly before his "reactivation" with Alma's help.

Cunning, crafty, vile, corrupt, wealthy Zeezrom, one of the worst men in the wicked city of Ammonihah, repented of his sins and became a follower of the Messiah, a saint and fellow Christian. Keep him in mind when you encounter others who seem hopelessly lost and vile. All that may stand between their lost state and the repentance of their sins and receiving the grace of Jesus Christ may be a few inspired words from a humble servant of God at the right time and place.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

IndyMac and Looming Bank Failures

Breaking news from Reuters on IndyMac:
U.S. banking regulators swooped in to seize mortgage lender IndyMac Bancorp Inc (NYSE:IMB) on Friday after withdrawals by panicked depositors led to the third-largest banking failure in U.S. history.

California-based IndyMac, which specialized in a type of mortgage that often required minimal documents from borrowers, became the fifth U.S. bank to fail this year as a housing bust and credit crunch strain financial institutions. . . .
How's your food storage? Thought about spending less on vacation and more on preparing for the future? Though less important than food, have you thought about moving some assets into something like silver or other things that don't drop to zero over night, and that can withstand a plummeting dollar?

If ever there has been a time to take the teachings of the Church seriously in terms of preparing for the future and living providently, this is it.

The financial crisis stemming from the housing bubble and insane banking policies is hardly over. While investors, home-owners, and ordinary consumers are being punished, the big boys in banking are moving for one of the biggest power grabs ever, as they assume centralized control over regulating their own industry. I was chilled this week as I listened to a speech from Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke pushing for transfer of new powers to the Federal Reserve Bank to better ensure "stability" and "order" - meaning that the taxpayers are going to bail out selected bankers at huge expense, and that vast new powers are being given to the folks who really need to be investigated. Check and balances? Constitution? Throw those babies out the window. The Book of Mormon's parallels to this time (Alma, Helaman, and 3rd Nephi, and even Ether) are meaningful, prophetically selected, and worthy of careful study.

I DON'T think we're facing chaos and total disaster - don't panic or become depressed. I think the unwinding in future months may in fact be orderly - but it could be a gradual unwinding of your retirement and financial well-being. Great caution and preparation are needed. Focus on basics, on getting out of debt, and on following the teachings of the prophets in preparing your family temporally. Do expect food prices to continue to climb in the long-term and prepare.

And while you're at it, why not encourage America to produce a little more of the vast energy resources we are not using to help us become more secure as a nation?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Comments from a Convert Who Faced Serious Anti-Mormon Pressure

In a previous post, "Have Anti-Mormons Won the War?," I received a recent comment from Jim, a convert who faced a lot of opposition when he decided to join the Church. His story might give some hope to others going through similar experiences now. I especially enjoy the encounter he had with his Pastor - one of those entertaining episodes when the the wise men of the world are confounded by the young and untrained who are touched by the Spirit to remember the right thing at the right moment.
I converted to the church at 18 years of age in rural Mississippi after 3 years of trying to disprove the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because that is what my preacher wanted me to do, and so I dug in and studied all the lit I could get my hands on. I found that when harmonized, the scriptures indeed testify of him and his church..... The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The testimony I gained at age 17, by reading, pondering and praying about the Book of Mormon and than getting baptized just before my 18th birthday led me to serve a highly successful mission in Japan. Think of it, the worst educational state in the union, where I hated Spanish class, Mississippi, from a Southern Baptist Family, to still being fluent in Japanese and the Gospel today some 34 years later, some 7 kids later, and now living in Utah....well it just is hard to imagine. I had to tell you since reading your eloquent words and fine research that it has given me even more ammo for testifying. Thanks!

Just to give you a hint of what a young kid in 1972 had to face from loving parents that thought I wanted to join a cult and no, a girl was not driving the issue, it was hard. I remember specifically and as vivid as it was yesterday when my Mom spoke with me and said well Jim, if you are bent on trying to join the Mormons, would you please speak with our Pastor and Preacher as he has helped many get out of the cult of Mormonism. I said sure Mom, if he has some new info, some exciting revelations and I laughed, bring it on. We had great relationship and my Dad was sort of non committal, so that I could joke around and not feel threatened. The preacher wanted to prep me by giving me some anti-Mormon lit a week in advance, you know, Adam God Theory, Polygamy doctrines, to being saved by grace etc.etc.etc.

The day came and we invited him in. Me and the Preacher! He had graduated from Seminary, University and me a senior in High School, gave great fire and brimstone sermons, and invited many to come to Christ....and by the way, pass the offering plate and you don't want to go to the other Baptist Church down the road he would say as they don't have a real good youth program.

For some reason, even today, I remember listening to his pleas, and hearing the nasty things he said about the Church, and how that they don't even believe in Jesus, and that there was no need for Prophets today as we have the Bible....and as the conversation continued and me smiling, as I absorbed all that he had to give and I had a rebuttal for each and everyone . He said in finality....you know Jim, when the Mormon Missionaries tell you about a burning in your heart....well that is of the devil....and that we should never, never let the missionaries in your home again.

I had a bright light go on in my head and had the Preacher turn to Luke 24 in his KJV Bible.
13 And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. 14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15 And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. 16 But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. . . . 28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. 29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. 30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
Jeff, the look on his face was priceless! I felt sorry for the man! He couldn't say another word and did not say much. Of course I was baptized the next week.

Well, just a couple days ago, my Mom from Mississippi called and she said that she had a couple of things for me. My 35th year high school reunion invite came in the mail as all they(reunion committee) had prior was my BYU address from late 70's. She said that there was one other thing that she wanted to say or read to me. Oh yeah she said, I have the local Sun Herald paper for Gulfport and Biloxi that had a letter to the editor and she started to cry. It went something like this as she read it. To our LDS friends! We want to send our condolences to all of you in regards to your great loss of President Hinckley. As Hurricane Katrina was so devastating to our community, it was the LDS (Mormons) with truckload after truckload of relief for our community that arrived first on the scene. You surely showed Christlike love to our community and we want to thank you! My Mom wept through the whole thing and I was just paraphrasing. Than the moment of truth! Jim, you are in the right place! The feeling of love and testimony came all over me! Your testimony comes through that way as well and I thank you.
Thank you, Jim!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Painful Price of Disobedience: A Cowboy's Perspective

David Walls' "What I Learned as a Cowboy" is a painful and moving story in the March New Era, the Church's magazine for teenagers.

David recounts a lesson he learned at age 12 when he and his friends in southern Utah wanted to go on a horseback adventure that would involve camping. He begged his mother for permission to take her horse on this outing, and she gave in, but made him promise to follow the basic rules for caring for one's horse.
We arrived at our campsite at dusk and started to prepare for the night. I remembered the instructions given to me by my parents. They had taught me how to tie up my horse to a strong live tree; how to leave the rope just loose enough for him to feed from the ground, but not so loose that the horse might step over the rope. I also remembered them telling me, "Never eat your dinner until your animals have been fed."

Everyone took care of his own horse before turning his attention to his own needs--everyone, that is, except one. In haste to fix his dinner, my friend Billy tied his horse to a small dead tree and hurried off to the campfire. By the time we finished our duties, it was dark. Billy finished his dinner and then turned his attention to his horse. When he approached his horse in the dark, the horse spooked. Billy then made the fatal mistake of striking a match too close to the horse's face. The horse reared back and pulled the dead tree from the ground. The tree, attached to the rope, hit the horse, which sent him off on a dead run. I will never forget the sound of that horse running into the darkness and the crashing of the tree he dragged behind him. The noise continued for 10 to 15 seconds, and then there was silence . . . followed by a loud crash.

One of the adults had run after the horse and was first to reach him. We grabbed our flashlights and followed. After searching in the dark, we found the horse at the bottom of a 50-foot cliff. As long as I live, I will clearly remember watching that horse die.

We were a group of solemn boys as we worked our way up the cliff and returned to camp that night. Each one quickly and quietly bedded down. All that could be heard throughout the night was Billy’s sobbing and the rustling of nervous horses that seemed to sense what had happened. It was a very long night.

That experience became a life-changing moment. As I lay in my bed gazing at the millions of stars in the heavens, the events of the day passed through my mind. I began thinking about the advice my parents had given me as I was growing up. Suddenly it all began to make sense. I had come to a point in my life where I was responsible for my actions. The decisions I was making now not only affected me but those around me. I began to see that the results of my disobedience could be disastrous, especially to those who depended on me. My mother had entrusted me with her treasured horse. How grateful I was that I had been obedient to her instructions.
I think this experience is worth pondering. We all know of the grace and mercy of our Savior, and how we can be forgiven of our sins when we disobey. But what pain and sorrow we can cause to others by our mistakes. So many of the commandments are there to help us avoid hurting others and ourselves, though the disobedient rarely understand what sorrow and harm they cause and what opportunities may be missed. Promiscuity, adultery, and moral sins in general are this way - the guilty rarely understand how much damage they are doing.

The guidelines of the Gospel really do help us live happier lives and help us to do good rather than evil to those around us. When we understand this, we will understand why the scriptures teach that charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, is the greatest gift of all, one that we must seek with all the energy of our heart (Moroni 7). Without it, we truly are nothing - no matter how obedient we think we are. True obedience must lead us not just to following God's law, but also to charity and a cautious, generous walk in life, that we may avoid causing harm and instead do much good.

Remember, disobedience so frequently results in others being hurt (or perhaps prevents us from being able to help others that we might have helped), whether it's a loved one, a neighbor, a stranger, or beloved animal like Billy's horse.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Irreantum: A Word from Ancient South Semitic?

Paul Y. Hoskisson, with Brian M. Hauglid and John Gee explore possible meanings of the Book of Mormon term "Irreantum" in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 11, 2002. There are several possibilities, but they present an interesting case that it is derived not from Hebrew but from ancient South Semitic, a language Lehi's group would have been exposed to during their years in the Arabian Peninsula. The Book of Mormon's statement that it means "many waters" is actually quite plausible. The construction from Hoskisson et al. points to "watering of (super)abundance" as a possible meaning. Not as straightforward as the Hebrew meaning of Liahona, but still worth considering.

By the way, thanks to everyone that participated in the talk radio show tonight on K-Talk radio. Appreciate all the questions and comments! I had a lot more fun than I did on the first program I did.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Misguided Zeal: DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography

There are a few LDS folks giving seminars and firesides trying to prove that the correct location for Book of Mormon lands is in the New York and Great Lakes area. Some of these stir up excitement about the vast hoard of Michigan Relics that supposedly support the Book of Mormon (lots of slate engravings and some copper relics as well). Unfortunately, these have been determined to be fraudulent. Twice, in fact. They had been donated to the Church but, in light of their lack of relevance to the Book of Mormon, the Church recently gave them to the Michigan Historical Museum. I would be suspicious of any lecturer claiming that these are authentic, and especially claiming that God has told him that they are real. People are welcome to their views on the difficult topic of Book of Mormon geography, but when unauthorized voices begin telling us what God thinks on this matter, for which no official revelations have been given, something may be out of whack.

One voice in particular, the author of the DVD, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography, appears to be claiming inspiration and divine guidance as he challenges or rather ignores the body of evidence presented by LDS scholars over many years pointing to Mesoamerica, and implies that LDS scholars are akin to apostates for allegedly not taking Joseph Smith's revelations seriously. His approach may well be described as "misguided zeal," the title of a response being prepared by FAIRLDS.org. See part 1 of this response: "Misguided Zeal and Defense of the Church" (PDF file). The motivation for the FAIRLDS response is not so much that they disagree with the arguments, but that inappropriate claims of divine guidance for matters relevant to the whole Church are being made. It's sad that such critiques are needed for the work of fellow LDS people, but people may be harmed by basis testimony on bad science that can easily be refuted, at the risk of damaging their faith in the process.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sunday's Radio Show: How to Listen, Call In, or Email Questions

I'll be the guest on a talk radio program for two hours this Sunday night, discussing topics like science and the Book of Mormon and what Latter-day Saints ought to know about some popular attacks on the Book of Mormon and the Church. If you're like approximately three other people in North America (hi Mom!), you won't want to miss it!

The program is Van Hale's weekly radio show, with Don Ormsby as the host this time. It's broadcast from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm Mountain Time by the Voice of Utah, K-Talk Radio (AM 630 in the Salt Lake market) with streaming audio on the Internet, available at www.k-talk.com (click on the yellow "Listen Now!" button at the top right) or via mms://stream.netro.ca/ktkk (the latter will launch a media player like Real Player for streaming audio).

Please call in with your questions, or send them by email. Call in numbers are:

801-254-5855
801-470-5855
801-670-5855

Email to the show on-the-air may be sent to: van.hale@k-talk.com.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Regretted Anti-Mormon Zeal:

I received a poignant letter recently from a man who regrets his anti-Mormon zeal on the woman he wanted to marry, inspired by the rhetoric he heard at his church. The relationship he damaged may be beyond repair, but he gave me permission to quote from his letter in hopes that it might benefit others. I disagree with his suggestion that he should have converted for love without necessarily believing in the religion (though investigating, attending services, and learning what the religion is really all about from our perspective would have been a great step), but I find value in his painful recognition that his intense anti-Mormon efforts were misguided and morally wrong. I hope things work out for him somehow.
A few months ago, I started dating a Mormon woman. I came to love her dearly, and still do.

After imagining spending my life with her and raising a happy family together, she told me that there was no longevity in our relationship because of religious differences. She didn't want there to be any "friction" in her family. I now understand why it is important for her to maintain religious cohesion in any family she might have, but at that time, I felt like she might as well have said that we couldn't be together because I'm Scotch-Irish and she's a German Swede. I was devastated. I have come to believe that the biggest concern was her desire for a celestial marriage in the Temple. Obviously I couldn't be in the picture unless I converted. If we couldn't be together forever, we couldn't be together temporarily on Earth either.

It was a two-way street though; I think it always is in this life. Having been brought up in a church that often espoused anti-Mormonist rhetoric, I have been conditioned to manufacture poorly constructed arguments against their beliefs and, having had a potential spouse at stake, my fervor to defeat the forces keeping us apart was increased tenfold. My strategy, attempting to apostate her so we could be together, was fundamentally and morally flawed. If I had been more tactical, I would've known that the people in my life are more important than their beliefs. I would've happily done whatever necessary to gain the Priesthood and enter the Temple with her. I would've known that the idea of being together forever is a beautiful thing, not a wrong thing. Now she very well may be lost from my life forever because of the offenses I have committed.

This kind of inter-religious contention shouldn't be happening. It is counter-productive to the peaceful harmonization that I know Christ wanted. As long as we love all things, the mechanics of religious doctrines are completely unimportant. This is evident in the early disciples' readiness to conform to certain aspects of a target population's dogmas so that they might be more willing to accept the message of Jesus Christ. It is our duty to Christ to love those who we think are "lost" even more than we love those who are "found." Slanderous conflict is in opposition to His will.
There are real and meaningful differences between various Christian that can't be glossed over, especially when you have folks like us who really believe that a divine restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ has occurred, but we all can recognize that we each may have some very strong reasons for waht we believe that we can discuss and even debate, when appropriate, without destroying friendships, stirring up hostility, and belittling those who disagree. And yes, this cuts both ways.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Amazing Latter-day Saints in Las Vegas

My wife and I were in Las Vegas recently to pick up our youngest son, Mark, at the National Forensic Tournament where he was competing in debate (second time at nationals) for Appleton East High School, which has an awesome forensics program. While there, we met up with another son, Daniel, currently at BYU, who came down to visit us and introduce us to friends he made while serving in Las Vegas as a missionary. I was so impressed with the people we met. Some were recent converts, some were moving toward baptism, and others were long-time members of the Church. Very positive experience to meet these great people and hear their stories.

While there, we spent a couple days with a wonderful LDS couple that knew my son well. Though we had only just met these people, they treated all of us like family. On the first morning after meeting them, a Saturday, my son's car needed some unexpected work that would make us immobile for most of the day. Amazingly, the family gave us the keys to one of their two cars while the car was being repaired so that we could visit more people instead of being stuck. It was such a strange feeling to be driving all around Las Vegas in the car of someone I had just met a few hours ago. I'm glad that we returned it in good shape. We also had access to their home and their refrigerator while they were away that Saturday.

I really appreciate the bonds of friendship and trust that active participation in the Church builds, especially via missionary service. How tragic when that trust is misplaced (a rare event, fortunately), but how wonderful it is to enjoy the blessings of true fellowship. What I especially like is the ability to show up at a new ward in some new city and to suddenly feel like you're home with a great group of friends and relatives. This must happen in many faiths, cultures, and organizations, but I sure love those Mormon ties.

With its reputation as Sin City, some people don't know Las Vegas has a high concentration of Mormons. In fact, the first non-Native American settlers in the area were Mormons, as I understand. You won't find any Mormon missionaries on the strip (forbidden territory - probably at least partly due to the high concentration of indecent ads there), but Las Vegas is a great place for missionary work and for the Church, with many strong wards and stakes, a temple, and amazing Latter-day Saints. But get your car in shape before showing up - you might not be as lucky as I was.