Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Not By Faith Only

I've had a few people try to explain to me that I'm not a real Christian because I don't believe in salvation by faith alone. I love the twisted definitions of "Christian" that people contrive to justify their prejudice. Latter-day Saint doctrine definitely teaches of the essential nature of faith in Christ and that it is only by the merits of Christ that we are saved, but we are not taught that God does everything and that nothing is required from us, or that the only requirement for salvation is faith alone, a faith that is given to us by God totally apart from any agency or effort on our part. I find it interesting that some people would use "faith alone" or "faith only" as a key criterion for being Christian, when Christ taught no such thing (see "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" - Matt. 19:17, alone with many other scriptures dealing with salvation). Even more interesting, the only time the phrase "faith only" or "faith alone" occurs in the Bible, as far as I know, is in James 2:24, which expressly denies the modern man-made doctrine of salvation by faith alone: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." I hope some of our critics will reconsider their position.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Problem with Praising People: From Management of the Absurd

For those interested in management and leadership, I'd like to recommend Richard Farson's Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, 172 pages). I see many insights in this book that could be helpful for Church leaders and parents, though it is primarily aimed at managers in Corporate America.

In Chapter 3, for example, Farson argues that "management skills" and techniques are not the way to deal with people, especially those closest to us. The more a relationship matters, the less "skills" matter, and the more important it is who were are, not what techniques we practice. Using techniques from a book or course to deal with relationships can backfire, for people figure out that they are being manipulated with techniques. To illustrate his point, he asked adults what things about their relationship with their parents they especially prized. None of the results were something that you could find in a parenting handbook, and none are things that you can readily teach to others. They were things like parents pretending to be monsters while playing, or a father in his suit sitting down on the ground to eat dirty potatoes that a child had baked for him. They were spontaneous expressions of love and kindness that aren't covered by memorized techniques.

Intrigued, the author asked similar questions of people about their relationships with bosses, and again got answers far outside the realm of management techniques, often covering spontaneous expressions of humanity, but nothing that could be taught to someone. It was character that counted, not techniques. It is who were are that matters most, not the skills we apply, when we are dealing with people.

I especially appreciated his insights in Chapter 12, "Praising People Does Not Motivate Them." He points out that praise is often a form of evaluation - "you are doing a good job" - and people often don't like being judged, even when the judgment is favorable. Praise can also be a way of gaining status over someone. If I were to tell a grandmaster in chess that he or she plays the endgame very well, it would be presumptuous, as if I were smart enough to sit in judgment. A better compliment would be "I love to study your endgames" or "You look much better than Bobby Fischer."

Importantly, most people know that praise is often associated with criticism. There have been some Church leaders I've worked with who would always preface criticism with some form of praise. Whenever they told me that I was doing a great job in my calling, I learned to brace myself for some painful criticism. The "sandwich" technique of preceding and following criticism with a sugarcoating of praise destroys the value of praise.

Praise can also be an easy way out of real communication. It's easier to give praise, according to Farson, that it is to provide brilliant insights or helpful criticism or witty retorts.

Praise matter most, according to Farson, when it has real credibility, when it is clear that it isn't part of manipulation or sugarcoating or bland conversation. For example, praise about us in a letter written to a third party by someone who did not know that we would ever learn of the letter can be credible and truly helpful praise.

Now that I think of it, one of my pet peeves in the Church has been the shallow praise that well-meaning leaders (myself included, in retrospect) occasionally heap upon their people, especially the youth. When I attend a youth conference and hear speakers who don't know the kids or youth leaders tell them that they are the choicest generation ever, I want to raise my hand and say, "Hey, I thought my generation was the choicest ever. That's what we were told. What makes these kids so much better than us?" OK, so I'm jealous and a sore loser, I guess, but I think the kids aren't especially convinced or motivated by the praise. On the other hand, I know these leaders really love and respect the young people, especially those who really know them, so the praise may be meaningful. I just wonder if "mass" praise to youth in a youth conference has much value. I'd appreciate any thoughts you have.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Keeping Anti-Mormon Ads Off Your LDS Blog

When I first started this blog at Blogger.com, I was surprised to see ads for anti-Mormon sites appearing at the top of my page. I sent a complaint in to technical support. Wonderfully, they listened and upgraded my account to an ad-free blog. I have noticed some other LDS folks with blogs have anti-Mormon ads showing up. Don't settle for that kind of abuse, brothers and sisters. Jewish sites should not have to bear anti-Semitic ads, and Mormon sites should not have to deal with anti-Mormon ads. (But if your low-carb blog gets some high-carb ads, I wouldn't worry too much.)

When I contacted the support team, I asked if I could pay to get rid of the ads. They noted that this option is not available presently, so kindly upgraded me to the ad-free status. I really appreciate the service at Blogger.com/Blogspot.com.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite Defused?

I've had several people tell me that Napoleon Dynamite was one of the funniest movies they've ever seen and that it was made by some BYU grads. I was just about to take my family to it, when I checked online for information. The previews offered at foxsearchlight.com immediately raised a red flag. That's humor? Am I missing something? Then I found Roger Ebert's review. I love goofy humor, but after seeing the previews and reading the review, all of us were glad to stay home. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Ebert had an interesting line at the end of his review:
I'm told the movie was greeted at Sundance with lots of laughter, but then Sundance audiences are concerned with being cool, and to sit through this film in depressed silence would not be cool, however urgently it might be appropriate.
Have I deprived my family of a valuable cultural experience and a journey into sublime humor?

Nephi's Psalm: 2 Nephi 4:16-36

I just read an insightful essay by Matthew Nickerson entitled "Nephi's Psalm: 2 Nephi 4:16-35 in the Light of Form-Critical Analysis," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1997, pp. 26-42. It's available free online at FARMS in HTML or PDF formats, but the FARMS site often has trouble with PDF files such that you can't open them directly, so stick with the HTML version for this article.

Nickerson demonstrates that Nephi's psalm closely follows a classic Hebrew psalm structure known as the individual lament, a structure characterized by scholar Hermann Gunkel in 1926. Elements such as the complaint, confession of trust, the petition, and the vow of praise are present in ways that suggest an authentic ancient Hebrew source. Nephi claimed to be learned in the ways of the Jews, and this knowledge appears to have included a solid understanding of the literary devices of Hebrew psalms. One could argue that Joseph just tried to copy elements he saw in other Psalms in the Bible, but some of the parallels just seem too subtle to be picked up by osmosis. For example, in the vow of praise segment (verses 34 and 35), Nephi captures the abrupt transition found in other laments, and includes the element of a certainty of being heard by the Lord. Such subtle touches that weren't appreciated until nearly a century after the Book of Mormon just seem too much to expect from that master scholar, Joseph Smith, no matter how large his vast frontier library was.

Not only did Nephi master a form of classic Hebrew Psalms, he was also a master of other Hebrew poetical forms such as chiasmus. Interestingly, Nephi's psalm also appears to include a subtle and fascinating ancient Hebrew form of parallelism that also occurs in some other Hebrew psalms in the Bible, the paired tricolon (see the last section of the page, or my previous post at Mormanity) - another form not appreciated until long after publication of the Book of Mormon.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Testimony: It's Not Just Emotion

I'm intrigued by how often anti-Mormons deride the LDS concept of personal revelation and testimony, especially when the Bible teaches that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" in Revelation 19:10.

Gaining a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just an expression of emotions. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3 indicates that revelation is given to the mind as well as the heart. However, the "burning in the bosom" phenomenon - one of many manifestations of the Spirit - is also not simply an emotional fantasy synonymous with indigestion or puppy love, nor is it an unbiblical concept as some of our critics say.

Don't forget what the disciples of Christ on the road to Emmaus experienced when Christ was teaching them from the scriptures, as reported in Luke 24:13-32. In verse 32, as they reflect on what they just experienced, they said, "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" And on the Day on Pentecost, as reported in Acts 2:37-38, those who heard the preaching of Peter were "pricked in their heart" and asked what they should to (answer: repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost). There was more than logical reliance on the popularly approved teachings of learned scholars - they were having a spiritual experience that affected them in their hearts. Yes, that is a legitimate manifestation of revelation.

There are many ways in which a person can gain a testimony and experience the Spirit, just as the scriptures show God revealing knowledge to prophets and others in many ways. We should not be frustrated when our response to the Spirit differs from that of a friend or parent. Learning to discern the Spirit and recognize its voice or workings is an important and lifelong exercise, in my opinion. But there are some helpful factors to keep in mind, factors that will help us distinguish it from emotion or our own personal yearnings. A valuable article on this topic comes from Elder Gerald N. Lund, "Is It Revelation?," New Era, July 2004, pp. 44-48 (also available as http://tinyurl.com/4zpu3. The young people of my ward were given copies of this article to read on our recent trip to the Chicago Temple, and I would encourage others to read it as well.

Gay Marriage and the 10% Myth

As we deal with the controversial issue of gay marriage, one peripheral issue that may come into play repeatedly is the number of people who may be in need of this "right." I expect calculations to be begin with the commonly asserted belief that 10% of the population is gay. In fact, the 10% number is a pillar of the P.R. effort to make homosexuality seem acceptable and normal because it is so common. According to Tom Stoddard, former member of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, "We used that figure [10%] when most gay people were entirely hidden to try to create an impression of our numerousness" ("The Homosexual Numbers," Newsweek, March 22, 1993, p. 37). But the 10% number is truly a fraud.

The bogus 10% claim has been a centerpiece of sexual misinformation ever since the famous Kinsey report on sexuality shook up the nation in 1948 (Alfred C. Kinsey, W.B. Pomeroy, and C.E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 1948). In its wake, sexual acts that were once widely considered to be perverted and unhealthy have been gradually reclassified as normal and acceptable in response to political pressures. The Kinsey report fueled the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and Kinsey's conclusions and data continue to power efforts to make homosexuality acceptable and even a favored minority, rewarded with special benefits. But the 10% figure is simply propaganda. Gay activists and their advocates claim it is derived from the "scientific" work of Kinsey, but not even the grossly fraudulent Kinsey report supports the 10% number for the general population. Kinsey's famous but fraudulent work would suggests that 10% of males are homosexual. He concluded that about 6% or less of women are lesbians, making "the general population" no more than 8% homosexual. But these conclusions are based on a terrible and even criminal fraud. Kinsey had an agenda - a very selfish agenda - and was not a dispassionate scientist in search of truth.

Kinsey's errors, fraud, and even felony crimes associated with his world-famous study have been most fully exposed in the recent work of Dr. Judith Reisman, president of the Institute for Media Education, a nonprofit technical education and research agency. She is the author, with Edward W. Eichel, of Kinsey, Sex and Fraud: The Indoctrination of a People (Lochinvar-Huntington House, Lafayette, Louisiana, 1990), and, more recently, she authored Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences (The Institute for Media Education, Arlington, VA, 1998). A related Web resource is Dr. Reisman's article, "Kinsey and the Homosexual Revolution."

Kinsey claimed he was trying to understand the sexual behavior of the average American male. However, there is no hiding the fact that Kinsey used a grossly disproportionate number of prison inmates and sex offenders in his study. Kinsey reports data for over 1,200 convicted sex offenders, and it turns out that most of these were included in the sample of 5,300 volunteers from which Kinsey's most famous conclusions were drawn. One of Kinsey's co-authors, Pomeroy, wrote a book in 1972, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research (Harper and Row), describing the work with inmates:

We went to the [prison] records and got lists of the inmates who were in for various kinds if sex offenses. If the list was short for some offenses - incest, for example - we took the history of everybody on it. If it was a long list, as for statutory rape, we might take the history of every fifth or tenth man. Then we cut the pie another way. We could go to a particular prison workshop and get the history of every man in the group, whether he was a sex offender or not [pp. 202, 203, as cited by Reisman and Eichel, p. 22].

By 1946, [we] had interviewed about 1,400 convicted sex offenders in penal institutions scattered over a dozen states [p. 208, as cited by Reisman and Eichel, p. 22].

Kinsey also sought out volunteers from various groups he contacted, including prison inmate leaders and leaders of homosexual groups. Among 32 groups of "contact" persons who helped obtain volunteers were male prostitutes, female prostitutes, pimps, prison inmates, and several other classes of criminals.

While Kinsey was not open about how many inmates and criminals were included in his sample of 5,300 men, a variety of indications discussed by Reisman and Eichel in Kinsey, Sex and Fraud confirm that roughly 25% of his total sample were prisoners. Further, members of the Kinsey team have noted that prison inmates have a much higher rate of homosexuality than those without prison experience.

Reisman and Eichel also point out the sampling problems that have long been known to make Kinsey's numbers highly suspect (pp. 20-21). In his study of adult males, Kinsey relied on volunteers who were willing to talk about intimate details of their "sexual history" and sexual practices. In using volunteers rather than a set of people randomly selected from the general population, it becomes highly likely that bias is introduced. Those willing to volunteer don't necessarily reflect the general population.

The issue of volunteer error in the Kinsey study is one of the most extreme and least publicized examples of dishonesty in an allegedly scientific study. At the beginning of Kinsey's study, the famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow, warned Kinsey about the potential for error in using volunteers, for it would result in a sample having personality types unrepresentative of the population supposedly being sampled. In a 1942 paper on female sexuality, Maslow concluded that "any study in which data are obtained from volunteers will always have a preponderance of [aggressive] high dominance people and therefore will show a falsely high percentage of non-virginity, masturbation, promiscuity, homosexuality, etc., in the population (Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 16, pp. 259-294, 1942, as cited by Reisman and Eichel, p. 182).

At first, Kinsey agreed to work with Maslow to examine the possibility of error in his use of volunteers. Maslow already had psychological assessments of many of his students at Brooklyn College. By comparing the psychological data for students which volunteered for Kinsey's study, Maslow was able to confirm that the volunteer bias would strongly affect Kinsey's work. Kinsey was gathering data from volunteers who were likely to have a greater number of unconventional sex histories than would be seen in a truly random sample of the general population. At this point, when Kinsey could compare sex histories with Maslow's psychological profiles, Kinsey broke off the cooperation with Maslow and refuse to give Maslow the sex history data he had obtained from Maslow's students, data which would have allowed Kinsey and Maslow to quantify the error introduced by the volunteer effect.

Six weeks before his death, Maslow retold the story to a colleague:
[W]hen I warned him about "volunteer error" he disagreed with me and was sure that his random selection would be okay. So what we did was to cook up a joint crucial test. I put the heat on all my five classes at Brooklyn College and made a real effort to get them all to sign up to be interviewed by Kinsey. We had my dominance test scores for all of them and then Kinsey gave me the names of the students who actually showed up for the interviews. As I expected, the volunteer error was proven and the whole basis of Kinsey's statistics was proven to be shaky. But then he refused to publish it and refused even to mention that it in his books, or to mention anything else that I had written. All my work was excluded from his bibliography. So after a couple of years I just went ahead and published it myself.

(Letter from Abraham H. Maslow to Amram Scheinfeld, April 29, 1970, Archives of the History of American Psychology, NB Box M424, University of Akron, Ohio, as cited in Reisman and Eichel, p. 182)

Kinsey and his associates acted as if the collaboration with Maslow never took place. The facts, apparently, did not support Kinsey's agenda, which was not publishing scientific truth. Reisman and others have shown that he had a personal agenda of making perverse behavior seem normal - behaviors that were pat of his life - and had an agenda of obtaining fame. As Maslow wrote, "Al was setting out then to be the world's No. 1 sexology (sic) - and by gosh, he succeeded, though by means which we'd hardly endorse." (Reisman and Eichel, p. 183).

Independently of Maslow, Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University critiqued Kinsey's report in 1948, collaborating with statistician Quinn McNemar. The internal evidence within Kinsey's reported data alone demonstrated to McNemar that there was serious bias. According to Terman, McNemar's calculations "confirm the suspicion that willingness to volunteer is associated with greater than average sexual activity. And since the volunteers account for about three-fourths of the 5,300 males reported in this volume, it follows that Kinsey's figures, in all probability, give an exaggerated notion of the amount of sexual activity in the general population" (L.M. Terman, Psychological Bulletin, 45: 443-459, 1948, as cited by Reisman and Eichel, pp. 20-21). Terman also noted that many of the volunteers came looking for advice on their personal sexual problems, such as learning more about the potential harmful effects of excessive sex. Those volunteering out of a need for advice on such matters are likely to be greatly over represented relative to the general population. Careful random sampling is required if results are to be extrapolated to the general population.

Even apart from the bias introduced by relying mainly on volunteers is the bias introduced by Kinsey's questioning. Rather than devising an objective means of polling people, Kinsey used a "burden of denial" technique which put pressure on his subjects to confess to high levels of sexual activity. Kinsey described this technique himself:
The interviewer should not make it easy for a subject to deny his participation in any form of sexual activity. . . . We always assume that everyone has engaged in every type of activity. Consequently, we begin by asking when they first engaged in such activity. [Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 53, emphasis in original.]

Kinsey's work was tainted by blatant fraud and even gross criminal behavior (sexual molestation of young children) to justify Kinsey's views. It was a fraud, and it is the result of ongoing fraud that his work is repeated as foundational truth even after it has been thoroughly exposed. From the perspective of some significant people in our society, it doesn't matter whether Kinsey's conclusions were true or not - all that matters is that his conclusions support favored lifestyles and attitudes of the immoral, self-anointed elitists who pursue their vision of how society ought to be - a vision that is remarkably immune to facts. The 10% myth fits the political objectives of the self-anointed ones, so it will be repeated, regardless of its disconnection to truth.

Depending on which study is used, more accurate estimations of the gay population range from 0.8% to about 3% - numbers well below the wildly inflated and mythical 10% figure. See How Many Gays? - an article from National Review by Michael Fumento. For example, in 1990, a study by the University of Chicago estimated that no more than 1.6% of the population in the United States was homosexual (Tom Smith, "Adult Sexual Behavior: Number of Partners, Frequency and Risk," Paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, New Orleans, February 1990). Numerous other studies confirm that somewhere from about 1% to about 3% of the population is homosexual, depending in some cases on how homosexual is defined. Kinsey's fraudulent claim of 10% remains unsupported. It's time we drop that myth!

Interestingly, several major pro-homosexual groups have acknowledge in a legal brief that less than 3% of the population is gay. This admission is documented by Peter Sprigg in his article, "Homosexual Groups Back Off From '10 Percent' Myth" for the Family Research Council. The legal brief was filed as an amicus curiae brief in the Lawrence v. Texas case before the Supreme Court. I suspect that this backing off was for credibility purposes in their legal arguments. Will they back off from the 10% claim in other forums? Something tells me that students and the public in general will keep hearing that 10% of the population is gay.

See also my other blog posting, The Danger of Gay Marriage.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Remembering Neal Maxwell: "Let's get this show on the road"

Last night I read Elder Neal A. Maxwell's last General Conference address, "Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been," out loud to my family before bedtime. I really appreciated his point about misjudging his former bishop who seemed to be delaying the mission that Neal was anxious to begin after returning from World War II. "Let's get this show on the road" was his impatient comment in pressuring the bishop to move. Only years later did he learn that in slightly delaying the mission, the bishop was acting out of kindness to his family, wishing to give them a little time with their son who had been away so long already. "Hearing this, I chastised myself for having been too judgmental."

I've had a few experiences of this nature on both the giving and receiving ends. My most recent one came last Wednesday when the Appleton Second Ward was scheduled to take young people to the Chicago Temple to do baptisms for the dead. It's a three-hour drive from Appleton, and we were planning to leave the Church at 1:00 PM. Unfortunately, the weather forecasts were looking bad as noon approached. A large storm system was moving in that might pound us on the entire drive down and back. Thunderstorms were predicted for our route in Wisconsin, and for northern Illinois there was a severe thunderstorm warning, with threats of severe winds, heavy rain, and damaging hail.

My feelings were that the trip should be cancelled for the sake of safety. I expressed my views with supporting data to our Bishop, John Ponczoch, and thought it was a pretty easy decision. He hesitated, and asked that we all meet and the church anyway and review the latest information then. I had the feeling that the trip was not going to be cancelled, and wondered if I should stand up for safety and oppose it. Frankly, given pressures at work, I would have appreciated the chance to work instead of taking a half-day of vacation to drive through crazy traffic while getting my car pounded with hail.

As I contemplated the situation, I realized that the Bishop would probably ask me to do something that went against my personal views and would bring risk that I'd rather avoid. I was irritated at first and grumbled, and then prayerfully considered it for a moment. I thought of Zion's Camp and other adventures in which some Saints were asked to make sacrifices that didn't seem to turn out well. I realized that there is risk in all we do, that even asking people to come to Church on Sunday is to invite the possibility of death on the highways. Though the risk was higher than I was comfortable with, I felt that asking us to drive to Chicago in adverse weather for a good cause was not unreasonable. I decided that the real issue here was my willingness to follow counsel, and decided that I should. That's not to say that we should accept every request that every leader makes - we do need to think and seek inspiration on our own, trusting the Lord completely but mortals less. Human leaders are fallible , and there are times when we should say no. But not every time, not most times, probably not many times, and for me, not this time.

I concluded that if the Bishop said we were going, that I would go willingly. I would drive safely and seek the Lord's help, but if adversity should strike or if my car should come back heavily dented, it would be OK. If I tell the Lord I am willing to sacrifice all things if necessary, but balk at the risk of hail damage or driving in perilous weather, then where do I stand? For those of you outside the Midwest, hail damage is a very real thing. We've had the roof of our home damaged twice by hail, and I was simply amazed last year at the experience of being trapped in a car during heavy hail: big chunks of ice racing to the ground at terminal velocity make a wonderful lot of noise when they hit your vehicle. But my car came out OK. More serious is the risk of an accident in heavy rain, but that's also manageable.

We met at the Church, and the Bishop asked for my counsel. I gave him the latest gloomy weather report, but said I'd go if he wanted us to and said it in a way that tried to show my sincere willingness to accept his decision. He consulted with his counselors, and asked that we go. If we hit seriously bad weather, we would turn around, but he said we should seek the Lord's help to get us there safely. This was the point where I chose to accept priesthood counsel and engage in a wholesome and worthy cause that I personally disagreed with. Not that I disagreed with Temple service, but felt that the weather would be too bad. But I gave up any negative emotions and chose to willingly and cheerfully move forward and do my duty.

We had a great trip. On the way down and back, we saw dark storm clouds, but only a few dozen raindrops ever hit my windshield. I don't think I ever needed to turn the wipers on. The roads were dry, though we could see some puddles where there had been rain earlier. There were no accidents to deal with, the traffic was great, and my car came back without having been struck by a single hailstone. There was even sunshine for about half the trip down. The kids had an excellent experience, and some important work was done. I am grateful for our good bishop, John Ponczoch, and his inspired decision to not follow my advice. Instead, he acted properly to "get this show on the road" when I wanted to keep it off.

Renaming the EXMO Virus

Based on the comments from offended people regarding my EXMO virus post, let me point out that the EXMO virus does not describe all former Mormons by any means, but was meant to refer to those who become outspoken anti-Mormons actively fighting the Church. (Actually, it was just a silly joke not to be taken too seriously.) I like the sound of "EXMO" as a virus name since it has the flavor of other known virus names, but to be more sensitive and politically correct, I would like to rename the virus as the "Rare Former Mormon Who Becomes a Raving Anti-Mormon Quite Unlike Most Ex-Mormons Who Are Really Nice and Intelligent People" virus. It's a more accurate name, but somehow just seems less catchy.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Neal Maxwell Passes Away: A Marvelous Disciple and Thinker

The LDS.org newsroom for July 22 has the passing away of Elder Neal A. Maxwell as its top story. Such an inspiring man and Apostle! I always perked up when he spoke at General Conference, anxious to hear to enjoy his rich use of the English language and his insights into the Gospel. He seemed to exude a deep and intelligent enthusiasm for God and the Gospel. I always felt that he spoke as one who really knew and understood.

His fondness of C.S. Lewis sparked my own interest in Lewis' marvelous writings. (Lewis has much to offer for Latter-day Saints and Christians of all denominations, and has some perspectives so close to LDS viewpoints that its easy to think of him as "nearly Mormon" - a label that I'm sure would have shocked him while he was in mortality.)

Elder Maxwell's personal example in dealing with suffering also inspires me. His loyalty to God and the Gospel was not based on convenience. The strait and narrow path provided some exceptionally straitening moments for him, but he endured to the end, firm in his testimony of Christ. He will be missed.

FARMS Review of Blood of the Prophets

In recent months, critics of the Church have worked hard to stir up negative emotions regarding the Mountain Meadow Massacre. It was a terrible moment in history, but the attempts to blame Brigham Young for the crime are utterly unjustified. One much-publicized work on the topic is Will Bagley's book, Blood of the Prophets. To understand some of the major errors in this work, I recommend Robert D. Crockett's article on the FARMS site, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets."

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

FAIRLDS Apologetics Conference

The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIRLDS.org) is hosting the the sixth annual FAIR Mormon Apologetics Conference, August 5-6, 2004, at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Utah. I'll be in Utah in August myself but not during the conference, otherwise I would love to go. If you are able to attend, please let me know what you thought of it. They have some outstanding speakers with impressive backgrounds. My guess is that the quality of information they will present will be one more reason why some intelligent non-Mormons have noted that the anti-Mormons are generally losing the battle without knowing it.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Warning: EXMO Virus Alert

A number of Internet users have been struck by the EXMO virus. The EXMO virus can infect both PC and Mac users, leading to severe and lasting damage. The effects include the following:
  • Damage to memory, wiping out all data pertaining to spiritual experiences, and faith-promoting or testimony-building events.
  • Corruption of the hard drive, making it impossible to store data and facts that portray the Church in a positive light.
  • Alteration of logic processing, such that the writings of Ed Decker appear to be logically sound.
  • Damage to graphics drivers, such that kindly, good-looking old men like Gordon B. Hinckley appear as demonic beasts.
  • Large quantities of spam sent to everyone in the address book. The content of the messages varies in complex ways, but they typically contain sarcastic criticism of Mormons or scandalous rumors about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Automatic generation of spiteful contents in e-mail sent to LDS people, including frequent uncouth inquiries about the underwear being worn by the target.
  • Damage to the clock, such that the user's system remains stuck in the distant past, typically prior to 1978 and frequently focused on nineteenth century dates associated with the Mountain Meadow Massacre or polygamy.
  • Deteriorating performance of some software. Most notably, electronic versions of Jeopardy may no longer be enjoyable for those infected with the so-called SickofJennings variant of the EXMO virus. Word processors such as Microsoft Word may also become corrupted, resulting in automatic replacement of many names with silly abbreviations. For example, "Mormon" becomes "Mo", the Book of Mormon becomes BoMo, the Mormon Church becomes "the Morg", etc.
  • Automatic downloading of offensive images and other inappropriate material from unsavory Internet sites. The computers of infected users often have images of Mormon underwear and Temple garments in various folders, along with bizarre documents from "anticult" extremists.

If you or someone you know has been infected with the EXMO virus, don't panic. Their system can be cleaned and restored to a healthy state, if they are willing to take the proper steps. Infected people should carefully read the user manual. For further help, contact technical support - an entirely free service. Other online resources may also help. Former victims have been able to have their memory entirely restored, their logic processing returned to normal operation, their clock reset to the present, and their hard disk repaired. They have even been able to enjoy Jeopardy once again.

{end spoof}
Returning to the real world, those do leave the Church and become ex-Mormons often have very sincere and logical (from their perspective) reasons for doing so. My post above is meant as a tongue-in-cheek jab at some of the antics of antis who claim to be ex-Mormons or who are ex-Mormons (people who leave the Church but can't leave it alone). In fairness, we need to realize that a significant fraction of our brothers and sisters who leave the Church are not antagonistic and don't accept the silliness we see from some of the more virulent anti-Mormons.

Frankly, it's very easy to find reasons to leave the Church. Even among the disciples of Christ, John 6:61-69 (esp. vs. 66) indicates that many became offended and left Him. If early Christians were offended by Christ, how much easier is it for Christians to be offended by fallible mortals in Christ's church? I've known good, honest people who were deeply offended at comments or actions of fellow members, of Church leaders, of historical figures in Mormonism, or were offended at Church policies, biases among members, etc. Some have genuine trouble with doctrines, with gender roles, with moral issues, and so forth. I could choose to leave the Church for things that I struggle with as well. I wish to emphasize the word "choose." Leaving the Church is a choice. Regardless of the offense or the issue, it is a personal choice that must be made: do I accept the Restoration, do I choose to follow Christ in this divine but human-filled Church, or do I choose to let offenses or differences drive me out?

I believe we must each choose to cling to the iron rod, even when we can't see past momentary mists of darkness that come from our blindness, the deceptions of others, temptations of the adversary, or genuine flaws and stupidities of other members. Though we may find the sacrifices or offenses from others too painful at times, may we have the attitude of Peter, when asked if he also would leave, said to Christ, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life." This is where testimony becomes important. When we know through the power of God that the Restoration is real, that the Church of Jesus Christ is upon the earth today, that the Book of Mormon is divine, then we can have strength to overlook the faults of men or to bear the challenges of sacrifice and choose to stay on that strait and narrow path that leads to life. Where else should we go?

Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices

John Tvedtnes has an outstanding article at FAIRLDS.org, "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices." If you've been to the Temple, this article may be extremely interesting. It's amazing how insights into the ancient world continue to reinforce the concept of the Restoration of ancient, divine concepts through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Overlooked "Famous" Mormons: Olivas Aoy

The Borderlands Local History Project of El Paso Community College has a tribute to Olivas Aoy, a relatively unknown Latter-day Saint who made important contributions to education in El Paso. Brother Aoy was born in Spain in 1823 and traveled to Cuba and then to the Yucatan Peninsula, where he lived with the Mayans for a time, learning their language and seeking knowledge. He came to the southwest and joined the Latter-day Saints in 1873. An excerpt from the story follows:
In 1887, Aoy found himself in El Paso, where he dedicated himself to teach children unable to speak English who were being ignored by the city's fledgling public schools. Historian C. L. Sonnichsen writes that he rented an old building behind Dan Reckhart's assay office on San Francisco Street in downtown El Paso for $5 a month. He furnished the rooms himself with seats and blackboards and bought books for the needy children in the neighborhood.

Besides teaching his students English, writing and arithmetic, Aoy included music, calisthenics, manners, patriotism and the love of God. Moreover, he provided them with food, clothing and medicine, all out of his own scant resources. He was the original counselor: he listened to his students' problems, and he helped them find jobs. By 1890, Aoy had 65 students, one-third of them girls. To help pay for his school, he taught Spanish to American adults at night. He had discovered his true calling.

There is also evidence that he assisted with the translation of the Book of Mormon to Spanish.

The quiet life of Olivas Aoy is a reminder of the contributions Christians can make to the world as we follow the Gospel and seek to do good wherever we are.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Temple Marriage: Reflections of a Father

As my son Stephen was sealed to his bride, Meliah, on July 16, I was able to think about the temple from a new perspective. I came away more appreciative than ever of the beauty and power of the LDS Temple and the way it calls us to live higher, nobler lives. The remarks of the sealer, Lynn Johnson, called upon the new couple to truly follow Christ, and helped us all see how Christ-centered and Atonement-center the sealing ceremony is. As I contemplated the simple, quiet, and brief ceremony, I felt personally challenged to be a better husband, to put away my impatience and pride, to treat my wife better, and to pay more attention to what the Temple stands for and calls us to be. It was a deeply profound, spiritually edifying, Spirit-filled experience. Those who approach the Temple with the right preparation and desire to follow Christ should come away as better people, if they will live up to their Temple covenants. The LDS Temple is a genuinely divine expression of the covenant-based Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I urge all to seek the blessings it makes available for this life and the next.

My son and daughter-in-law at the Chicago Botanic Garden shortly before being married for time and eternity in the Chicago Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Narrative of Zosimus: The Critics' Best Hope to Show Book of Mormon Plagiarism?

In spite of all the cries of plagiarism by the critics of the Book of Mormon, I marvel at just how weak the alleged parallels are to other texts that Joseph Smith might have had access to. The Spaulding manuscript is a case in point. It has long been the best hope of the critics, but even Fawn Brodie advised her fellow anti-Mormons to give it up as a hopeless effort. After the Spaulding manuscript became available, BYU became the first and only publisher of this manuscript to make it possible for people to read it for themselves - and to see just how unrelated it is to the Book of Mormon. (See, for example, Kathy Quito David's review of the book at Amazon.com.)

The weak parallels that critics are able to find pale in comparison with the many parallels that I found to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The resulting page shook up a couple Mormons (a few cases of humor impairment syndrome are found among the Saints, I must admit) until I made it clear to them that the impossibility of plagiarism in 1830 from Whitman's 1855 publication meant that the page was a spoof. But it was a valuable spoof, in my opinion, because it shows just how easy it is to find "impressive" ties when they are most likely due to chance. To show real plagiarism, stronger parallels must be provided than anything one can find in Spaulding or the other numerous sources that critics point to.

There is a document that just might qualify as a candidate for plagiarism, based on the numerous close parallels to First Nephi -much stronger than what the critics have cooked up as they scour the writings of the past. It is a little known early Christian document called The Narrative of Zosimus (the link is for a translation available in the writings of the Early Christian Fathers (Ante-Nicene Fathers), which is a wonderful resource for Latter-day Saints interested in understanding early Christianity and the evidences for apostasy and a modern Restoration, a resource which Barry Bickmore has mined with great success in his site, Early Christianity and Mormonism).

John Welch explored the numerous and puzzling parallels in "The Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, 1982, pp. 311-332. The article can be downloaded for $2 from BYU Studies.

The Narrative of Zosimus is an early Christian document from Palestine, originally written in Hebrew, dating to no later than the 4th century A.D., though it may date to 70 A.D. or earlier. It was included in the early canons of some Christians, but fell out of favor and become unknown until the late nineteenth century, when a Russian translation was found. Now a variety of texts have been found.

There are some interesting parallels to the story of Lehi and his vision of the tree of life. The story occurs at the same time as Lehi, around 600 B.C., at the time of Jeremiah, and refers to a people that God led out of Jerusalem. Some have even wondered if the story of Zosimus was based on ancient contact with Lehi.

Here is a brief excerpt from John Welch's article:
According to the Narrative of Zosimus, a righteous man named Zosimus, dwelling in a cave in a desert, prays to the Lord and obtains spiritual passage to a land of blessedness. In order to arrive at this land of promise, Zosimus must wander in the wilderness without knowing where he is being led. He is pushed to the point of exhaustion but attains his destination by constant prayer and divine intervention. Zosimus at length arrives at the bank of an unfathomable river of water covered by an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Catching the branches of a tree, Zosimus is transported across the water where he sits beneath a beautiful tree, eating its fruit and drinking of the life-sustaining water which flows from its root. Zosimus is then met by an angelic escort, who asks him what he wants, shows him a vision in which he thinks he beholds the Son of God, and ultimately introduces him to a group of righteous sons of God. These elders tell Zosimus of their history and instruct him in their ways of righteousness. Their history is engraved upon soft stone plates. It explains how the group, led by their father, escaped the destruction of Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah and how as a nation they survived the scattering of Israel. They were allowed to occupy their other-worldly land of paradise and abundance only because of their righteousness. Their religion is based upon prayer and chastity, and they receive knowledge of the wickedness of the outside world by revelation. Notwithstanding the wickedness of the people at Jerusalem, Zosimus rejoices when he is shown a book in which he learns that mercy will be extended to the inhabitants there.

The many parallels between the early chapters of the Book of Mormon and this Narrative require little elaboration: dwelling in the desert (1 Nephi 2:4), being led by prayer and faith (1:5, 11:3, 16:29), wandering through a dark and dreary waste (8:7), being caught away to the bank of a river (8:13), crossing to the other side of a river or abyss and passing through a great mist (8:32), coming to a tree whose fruit is most sweet above all (8:11), eating and drinking from the tree which was also a fountain of living waters (11:25), being greeted by an escort (11:2-3), being interrogated as to desires (11:2), beholding a vision of the Son of God (1:6,11:29), keeping records on soft metal plates (3:24), recording the history of a group of people who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah (1:4, 7:14), being led to a land of promise and of great abundance due to righteousness (18:25), practicing constant prayer (Alma 34:21-27), living in chastity (Jacob 2:25-28), receiving revelations concerning the wicked- ness of the people of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 10:11), and yet obtaining assurances of the mercy to be extended to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:14, 10:3).

For a reader to appreciate and evaluate the similar characteristics of these two writings, a detailed examination of both is required. The extensive parallels which exist between them may substantiate the great antiquity of both.
Welch then explores the text in detail and find additional parallels and insights. Well worth reading!

The parallels may be more numerous and significant than one would expect to find by chance in such a short text, certainly better than what has been dug up by the critics, in my opinion. At the least, it suggests that First Nephi follows patterns that are evidence of authentic ancient Semitic roots. But the connection may be even more significant. One thing is for sure: Joseph could not have plagiarized from this text.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

A Beautiful LDS Doctrine: Baptism for the Dead

A couple years ago while participating on a maillist of scientists who were Christians, I read the following from a sincere and intelligent Christian who was troubled over the issue of salvation for those who never had the chance to learn of Christ:
It is a stunning, and somewhat depressing, fact that if our understanding of demographics and history are correct, the vast majority of human beings who are living or who have lived are not Christian. Furthermore, among those who are living, a majority will die not being a Christian. This implies that the destiny of most of the human race is Hell.

Consider the Chinese rice farmer, the Indian beggar, the Russian mobster, the Pakistani Moslem priest, or the French intellectual: each will go through life in a different way--some in misery, others in luxury but each with their own unique loves, joys, aspirations, fears, desires, triumphs and failures. And yet their future is the same: an eternity of unimaginable terror. All of human history with its complexity, texture, drama, mystery, and vice is to be sent through a sieve to produce an elegant, bipolar universe of rapture and horror that defies comprehension.


How grateful I am for the restoration of divine truth about the justice and mercy of God, and the restoration of the authentic ancient Christian and modern Mormon practice of baptism for the dead.

In my reply, I referred to God's love and justice, and his desire to "have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4) I then introduced the scriptures in Peter that refer to preaching of the Gospel to the dead (1 Peter 3:18,19 and 1 Peter 4:6), and then referred to baptism for the dead. What a beautiful doctrine!

At the time of Joseph Smith, about the only hint at this ancient practice was in 1 Cor. 15:29, which doesn't explain much. But we now know from numerous other sources that at least some early Christians did practice vicarious baptisms for those who had died. LDS scholars are not the only ones who recognize this!

The actual performance of baptisms for the dead in the Temple is also a spiritual and uplifting time, one that many LDS people cherish when they have the opportunity to do this. It's a wonderful youth activity, especially if the kids are properly prepared.

Monday, July 12, 2004

More on Miracles: Rawlins Airport, Wyoming, 1983

In a previous post I discussed the issue of miracles. Here's one more story from my father that I have permission to share. In 1983 my father left KSL radio to work with the Utah Jazz (the business side). The new manager of KSL radio, Tom Glade, invited him to be a guest at the big BYU-Wyoming football game in Laramie, Wyoming that fall (late October or early November). My father is a big fan of BYU football and was happy to go. It was a long and miserable game, made much worse for my father by illness (flu) that struck on the way to the game in a private airplane. Glenn Tuckett, BYU Athletic Director, helped my father out by inviting him to his heated booth in the press box, where he could stay warm and dry in the cold weather that soon became a snow storm. By the end of the game, with BYU losing soundly, there were several inches of snow on the ground. The blizzard appeared to be over, though it was still overcast as the group packed up and prepared to fly home. The following is from the my father's written account, as typed by my mother:

As we took our places on the plane, the pilot, Jack Johnston, suggested that we should have a prayer before we took off. Jack called on me to say the prayer, which I did gladly.

We took off without any problem , and soon climbed above the low cloud cover that extended all the way to Salt Lake. According to weather advisories, the entire area was completely soaked in with clouds. Just as we leveled off to head straight for home, the power supply in the plane failed, leaving us in total darkness. Jack [Johnston] and Duane Southwick, who was in the co-pilot’s seat, found flashlights and began to try to see what the problem was, and what they could do to correct it.

They were unable to do anything about the situation, so the engine was running and we were flying, but with no radio, radar, compass, etc. Being alone above the clouds, we were lost. What a hopeless, helpless feeling.

As Jack and Duane frantically tried to make something work, without success, more silent prayers were said. Suddenly, the clouds directly beneath us seemed to part, revealing the lights of a city below. Jack circled to stay in the opening in the clouds and began his descent. As we dropped lower and approached the city, an amazing thing happened. The lights to a landing strip came on, guiding us to a safe landing at the Rawlins, Wyoming airport. It seems that there was one person on duty at the airport that night, and he though he heard a plane, so he felt he should turn on the lights just in case.

We stayed at a motel in Rawlins that night. The next morning, Jack and Duane had a local mechanic sent to check out the plane and everything worked fine. We climbed aboard and headed home without incident.

As I look back on this experience, it was one of the worst, most miserable times of my life. Yet it was a miraculous experience that I will never forget. Miraculous because of questions like these: What if the clouds had not parted? What are the chances that the clouds would part over a city in one of the least populated areas in America? And what if the landing strip lights had not been turned on?

We were truly blessed and I am grateful that I am here to tell about it.

These kind of experiences are certainly not unique to Mormons. Many people of all faiths have experienced miracles of this sort, events where it seems clear that God has heard and answered prayers and removed all doubt that for that instant, His hand most certainly was there.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Linguistic Ties Between Old and New Worlds?

Brian D. Stubbs, one of the few linguists working with Uto-Aztecan languages (covering the US Southwest down to southern Mexico), wrote a controversial article, "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49 (a PDF version is also available and easier to read - you may need to download it to your hard drive and then open it). It goes against mainstream views of many linguists, including some LDS linguists, I understand, but opens an issue that may not have been previously explored in any depth. Stubbs makes systematic comparisons of ancient Hebrew words and forms to those of Uto-Aztecan languages. He is among a small handful of people who know both Semitic languages and Uto-Aztecan languages.

I hope there will be additional people who study both Semitic and Native American languages with the credentials to fairly explore the possibilities raised here.

In any case, I think it's important to understand more about how languages change with time and what remnants of Semitic languages one might hope to find in the Americas. As with the confusion over DNA studies and the Book of Mormon, a reasonable approach to linguistic evidence requires an understanding of what the Book of Mormon does and does not say about other peoples in the land, and how small the at-least-part-Semitic populations might have been compared to the all the other groups here.

Define Love

Sword of Truth awardWhile this logo is bogus, it conveys my opinion about the use of the word "love" by several groups that claim to be reaching out to Mormons with love. (I awarded it to myself on one of my spoof Web pages where I demonstrate the weakness of anti-Mormon charges of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon.) Their definition of "love" is quite different but not much better than the definition of "love" used in pop culture, although anti-Mormon love at least has the benefit of not spreading STDs. Like the respected anti-Mormon ministers who led mob efforts in Missouri and Illinois, some of these folks just want to love us to death.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The LDS Temple: Restoration of Ancient Practices

The Chicago Temple, July 9, 2004, by J. Lindsay

Yesterday I had the privilege of being at the Chicago Temple when my awesome daughter-in-law-to-be received her Endowment. She's a very smart girl, was well prepared, and was excited about the experience. One thing is for sure: the temple truly is a different place, even foreign and "strange" by modern standards, entirely separate from the profane world. To enter the LDS temple and participate in the temple experience is to enter into a sacred environment and into an ancient tradition as well.

As I've mentioned before on my Web site, my understanding and appreciation of the meaning of the LDS Temple grew most dramatically not by reading LDS writings, but by reading two books by modern scholars dealing with ancient religious practices and symbols. Most helpful of all was the book Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985) by Jon D. Levenson , a Jewish scholar at the University of Chicago. (Sadly, it's out of print.) Also of great value to me was Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane, transl. W. R. Trask, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959). Eliade helped me to see the Temple from the ancient perspective of sacred space, to recognize its meaning and symbolism as the cosmic mountain, an axis that connects the underworld, the living, and the heavens and that provides orientation and directions for our journey in mortality. The significance of altars, of ritual drama, of the emphasis on the Creation, and many other ancient aspects of the modern LDS Temple became much clearer and profound after reading Eliade. But Levenson's book was most valuable. On page after page, I encountered evidence that ancient Temple practices - covenant making, symbols, meanings - had been restored in a pure and powerful way in the modern LDS Temple.

One of the most exciting discoveries to me was that the typical ancient form of covenant making had been restored (at least in my opinion). This ancient pattern for making a covenant between God and man or a king and his subjects is known as the "covenant formulary" and includes six major steps, though many ancient examples may only have a subset of the six:

  1. The preamble
  2. Historical prologue (description of what the king has done for the subjects)
  3. Stipulations (to secure fidelity of the subjects to the king)
  4. Deposition of the text of the treaty or covenant (special writings and other means to ensure that the covenants aren't forgotten and are recorded and reviewed)
  5. List of witnesses
  6. Statement of curses and blessings (the results of disobedience or obedience)

This ancient pattern is becoming relatively well known now, and has even made its way into some mainstream Christian sermons such as a recent sermon by Reverend Neil Bramble-Chapman (amazingly, he even mentions the ancient Christian doctrine of theosis in his sermon).

While I do not desire to discuss details of the Temple, each of the six elements of the ancient covenant formulary is present in the LDS Temple, in my opinion. I do not believe that Joseph Smith could have fabricated the structure of ancient covenants based on information available to him, for modern recognition of the ancient covenant formulary only dates back to the 1950s, when George Mendenhall and Klaus Baltzer began comparing biblical literature with other ancient treaties (see discussion in Levenson, p. 26; see also George Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1954, pp. 50-76, as cited by Stephen Ricks in a related essay that I also highly recommend, "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," in King Benjamin's Speech, ed. John Welch and Stephen Ricks, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998, pp. 233-275, with references pertaining to Mendenhall and other related sources cited on p. 274). Though these elements can be found scattered in the Bible, their significance and their relationship to each other was not appreciated in Joseph Smith's day.

There is much more in Levenson and other modern writings of ancient practices which puts the LDS Temple squarely into the realm of ancient practice. Some of the elements which deeply impressed me were the relationship between the Temple and the Sabbath day (sacred space and sacred time), the symbolism of the baptismal font (and subterranean waters in general) in the Temple, the relationship between mountains and Temples (also found strongly in the Bible and the Book of Mormon), the significance of covenant making, the link between Zion and the Temple, the things one does to show reverence for sacred ground, the significance of the Creation story, and so on. Levenson probably knows nothing of LDS Temples, yet his writings about the ancient Jewish experience did more for my understanding of LDS Temples than any modern LDS writer had.

That background helped me appreciate the insights into the ancient world that Hugh Nibley has offered in many of his writings.

Recommended reading:

  1. Barry Robert Bickmore's excellent book, Restoring the Ancient Church (Ben Lomand, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999), now available online at FAIRLDS.org.

  2. Was Freemasonry Derived from Mormonism? - a well-documented article by Eugene Seaich. Ancient roots are shown for some of the Masonic elements that are similar to LDS temple concepts.

  3. The LDS Temple Endowment: An Introduction - by Barry Bickmore.

  4. What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology by John Lundquist - a review of what scholars know about the ancient temple concept in the Middle East. Those familiar with Mormon temples and the history of the Temple in Mormonism should see extensive evidence that it is a restoration of an ancient concept that could not have simply been plagiarized from Masonry. See also "Sinai as Sanctuary and Mountain of God" - an article at FARMS that builds on the work Lundquist.

  5. Mormonism and Early Christianity - an excellent site by Barry Bickmore.

  6. Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices by John A. Tvedtnes at FAIRLDS.org. This offers strong evidence for the ancient nature of the Temple.

  7. The House of the Lord - information about LDS Temples at LDS.org.

  8. Can Temple Ceremonies Change? - an article at FAIRLDS.org.

  9. Christian Envy of the Temple by Hugh Nibley.

  10. The Early Christian Prayer Circle by Hugh W. Nibley.

  11. The Meaning of the Temple by Hugh W. Nibley.

  12. Secrecy in Ancient Christianity - An excerpt of Michael T. Griffith's book, One Lord, One Faith: Writings of the Early Christian Fathers As Evidences of the Restoration (Horizon Publishers, 1996).

  13. Masonry and the Mormon Temple - another great Web page and book excerpt from Michael T. Griffith.

  14. Them Sneaky Early Christians by Barry Bickmore.

  15. Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? - William J. Hamblin reviews a book alleging that the Kabbalah influenced Joseph Smith. Available in FARMS Review of Books, 1996, Vol. 2, pp. 251-325.

  16. Covenant, Treaty, and Prophecy by E. C. Lucas. This article discusses the ancient six-part treaty concept proposed by Mendenhall and reviews some recent criticisms of Mendenhall's views.

Please let me know of other resources you recommend on this topic.

Biblica Article: Example of gestures Used as a Penalty in Ancient Hebrew Oaths

On my Web page about Mormon Temples and Alleged Connections to Masonry, I have long had some basic information about the arcane issue of "penalties." I ran into some new information today when looking at the online journal Biblica. An article related to this topic is Paul Sanders, "So May God Do To Me!," Biblica, Vol. 85, No. 1, 2004, pp. 91-98. (The link is for a PDF file. There is also an HTML version, but if you don't have Greek and Hebrew fonts installed, some parts will not look right.) From the summary:

In the Hebrew Bible we find the self-imprecation "So may God do to me and more also!" (2 Sam 3,35, 1 Kgs 2,23, etc.). In many cases, the phrase is immediately conditioned: "So may God do to me and more also, if you will not be the commander of the army" (2 Sam 19,14). God may punish the speaker, if the latter fails his promise. Ancient Mesopotamian sources suggest that the word "So" in the Hebrew expression originally referred to a gesture in use when taking an oath: the touching of the throat.

Nearly 20 years ago while in Provo, my friend Bruce Porter (another big Nibley fan) explained to me that in Ruth 1:17, when Ruth says "the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me," the statement was probably accompanied by a gesture across the throat. The new article in Biblica adds further insight to the issue.

I'm perfectly happy with the elimination of the "penalties" from the modern Temple, since these optional instructive tools are easily misunderstood and probably just too ancient, foreign, and even offensive for many modern folks. But their earlier use in the Temple again points to ancient Semitic roots.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Mormon Jeopardy

A friend at work quizzed me today about Ken Jennings, the amazing Jeopardy contestant who has been taking America by storm - obviously part of some vast Mormon conspiracy. My friend didn't say that, but was tremendously impressed with the intellect and demeanor of Brother Jennings, who struck him as a truly decent and impressive guy. I noticed a blog post on Ken Jennings by fellow LDS blogger Kim Siever, who called attention to an article in The Salt Lake Tribune. Nice story!

Being the fair and objective LDS apologist that I am, I feel obligated to provide both sides of the story. I contacted my good buddies at the Saints Alive Total Anticult Network (still located in Hell, Michigan) to get their take. They are still working on the press release, but gave me some highlights to paraphrase:
The good people at S.A.T.A.N. contend that Ken Jennings is part of the Church's contrived media blitz to create the impression that Mormons are likeable and intelligent people. Nobody is really that smart and that nice! Everybody knows that Mormons have minimal intelligence, so the whole thing is obviously rigged. It may even be that Jennings has borrowed the Urim and Thummim from President Hinckley, allowing him to obtain demonic access to information long before other contestants. In fact, Ken Jennings may even be the great 666 in Revelation. His fans are the ones who really putting their souls in jeopardy! He should not be allowed to play unless first searched for illegal revelatory devices, and inspected for the mark of the beast (believed to resemble the logo of either CBS or MTV). And to make sure that the questions are fair, anti-Mormons should be allowed to submit questions about current events, like Mormon underwear and polygamy. Now that would be a game show!
Now you know the rest of the story.

Good luck, Brother Jennings, and may the daily double always be yours. As for the rest of you, what are doing, sitting around surfing the Web? Get away from that computer and read a book! Follow Brother Jennings' example and learn something for a change (a whole lot of change).

LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Some of you may have seen or linked to an online version of the book, LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls that used to be at kbyu.org. It's now at byubroadcasting.org. You can start with the table of contents or jump to my favorite chapter, "The Book of Mormon and the Dead Sea Scrolls" by Stephen Ricks. Be sure to examine the additional sections of that chapter, (section 1, section 2, and the conclusion).

By the way, my spellchecker suggests that byubroadcasting.org really should by byproducts. I wonder what that means?

Occult Symbols on LDS Temples??

I received a thoughtful question from a sincere investigator with a great testimony of Christ who was troubled about the symbols on some LDS temples. The investigator had dabbled with the occult, and knew that symbols such as the sun, the moon, and stars played a role there. The five-pointed star was especially troubling. Why were these evil symbols on some LDS temples? My answer follows:
You raise an interesting question about symbols on temples. The pentagram is currently a widely used symbol in occult movements, but that is a recent development. It did not have those connotations when the Joseph Smith taught the LDS temple concept. The five-pointed star was used in the Nauvoo Temple and other early temples, but it's meaning was wholesome. Inverted stars did not generally become associated with the occult until after the time of Joseph Smith. For documentation, please see the excellent article by Matthew Brown, "Inverted Stars On LDS Temples," available at "http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/Stars.pdf. This article also shows that stars, including inverted stars, were used by early Christians as valid Christian symbols. The symbol of the star - whether it has five or six points - and the pentagram can be used for good or evil purposes. The fact that Satan worshippers have given evil meanings to the star, the broken cross, the goat, the moon, or whatever does not make the symbols inherently evil.

FYI, Bible uses the symbolism of heavenly bodies to describe the work of God. Specifically, the symbols of the stars, the moon, and the sun are used in describing the next life (1 Cor. 15: 40-42 and other places). Is it a shock to find the same symbols on some LDS temples, given that the temple is about preparing us for the next life? Further, in Revelation 22:16, Christ refers to himself as "the bright and morning star," and for early Latter-day Saints, the morning star symbol referred to the coming of Christ and His millennial reign - a perfectly appropriate symbol for the temple.

Similarity in symbols does not mean similarity in meaning. The cross-like Ankh symbol was used in pagan rituals of Egypt, but that does not make the symbol of the cross something pagan (though we prefer not to use the cross to remember Christ, wishing to focus on his victory over death through the Resurrection). If I walk into a cathedral and see a cross, it would be silly for me to condemn the Catholics for promoting pagan Egyptian rites with that symbol. The same applies to those who see stars, moons, or suns on the Salt Lake Temple.

I hope this answer helps, and I pray that you will continue looking into the Gospel.

This information is also available on my Mormon Answers page of "Slightly Facetious (?) Questions about Mormons and Mormon Beliefs."

Related post at Mormanity, Feb. 2011: "No, French Catholics Are Not Satanists: Understanding the Inverted Pentagram in Historical Christianity" - with photos of a French Catholic church with prominent inverted pentagrams displayed.

Also see SymbolDictionary.net on the pentagram, where we learn that it was used as an ancient symbol for Jerusalem and was used by medieval Christians to symbolize the five wounds of Christ. There we also read that, "It was not until the twentieth century that the pentagram became associated with Satanism, probably due to misinterpretation of symbols used by ceremonial magicians."

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Ammonihah and the Threat from Lawyers

The story of Alma and Amulek in Ammonihah provides fascinating insight into the corruption a civilized society can face when wicked and wealthy men modify and exploit the law for their advantage. Crafty lawyers are the problem in this city, which appears to have been in an advanced state of social decay with amazing parallels to our own society today. In fact, the parallels to our generation seem much stronger than they were to the world Joseph Smith knew, suggesting again that the Book of Mormon truly is a prophetic volume of scripture written for our age. The parallels between Alma 8-12 and our day struck me after reading a speech by Walter Olson, "The Threat from Lawyers is No Joke," given to Hillsdale College.

I frequently work with a number of fine and highly ethical lawyers -- patent law seems to be an especially good place for ethical lawyers -- and I know many ethical lawyers in other areas. But I think most of them agree that the bad apples in the profession can do and have done a great deal of harm to our society. If they were to read the story of Ammonihah, I think they also might be impressed with the insights that the Book of Mormon provides for our day.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Christ a Cultist? Surprise Announcement ...

Daemon Guy and Wanda Burnham, directors of the Saints Alive Total Anticult Network (not to be confused with the Sandra A. Tanner Anticult Network), a well-known anti-Mormon ministry located in Hell, Michigan, made a surprise announcement today regarding an anti-cult investigation of early Christians. According to Daemon Guy, "It turns out that the earliest so-called Christians, including most of the apostles and Christ himself, were cultists, not Christians." The investigation was based on charges from Mormons that the working definitions of "cult" used to classify the Mormons as a cult would also condemn Christ and his followers. "It was a real revelation to us to see that these charges were actually true," said Guy. "But not revelation in the sense of revelation from God, since that can't happen anymore, but revelation in the sense of like, wow, it was something new that God was showing me."

Though this may be surprising to many Christians, Burnham explains that a simple analysis of the standard evangelical definition of a cult readily shows that Christ and his followers were cultists. For example:
--Early Christians honored and respected a man, Jesus Christ. Extreme devotion was given to him and his sayings.

--Early Christians introduced new books of scripture. Though the analysis is not yet complete, most of the books of the New Testament that S.A.T.A.N. has examined so far appear to have been introduced as new scripture.

--Early Christians did not accept the standard doctrine of the Trinity, but believed that Christ had a body (see the end of Luke 24) or that God and Christ could were separate beings (e.g., Acts 7:55,56).

--Early Christians did not believe in salvation through faith alone. In fact, the only place in the New Testament that mentions "faith alone" or "faith only" is a verse that explicitly denies the accepted Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone (James 2:24).

--Christ and his followers taught that men must "keep the commandments" to be saved (e.g., Matthew 19:17).

--Followers of Christ were asked to make substantial financial sacrifices for the "cause."

--Accepted religious leaders of the day condemned the movement as being a fringe group outside normative religion.

--Its leaders were convicted of serious crimes and often executed for these by the authorized legal powers of the day.

--Early Christians claimed to have apostles and prophets among them with special power from God.

And the list goes on. The leaders of S.A.T.A.N. point out that while most of the New Testament must now be rejected for its cult-like teachings and for being "new scripture," Ephesians 2:8 remains in force, as do several other verses from Paul, but even Paul appears to have taught unsound cultist doctrines and to have been guilty of many doctrinal errors contrary to the accepted norms of historical Christianity (i.e., Christianity since the time of Martin Luther).

"Having to condemn Christ and his earliest followers as non-Christian cultists was certainly a surprise, but it was the only intellectual honest thing to do in our spirit-breathed battle against cults like the Mormons," said the somewhat chagrined Daemon Guy.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Prophets and Patriotism in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon offers many lessons about patriotism. Mormons often ponder the example of that great warrior, Captain Moroni, who led Nephite armies in defensive battles against enemies and saved many lives with his brilliance and faith. But the Book of Mormon, and even Captain Moroni, have much more to say about patriotism and war. Since the book was compiled for our day, we need to consider its message and apply it to situations we now face.

A key point to me is that prophets and other men of God like Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon are not afraid to speak out against unrighteous rulers and laws. While they are true patriots who stand for and even fight for the freedom and welfare of their nation, they are often accused of being unpatriotic or even treasonous.

When Abinadi stood before King Noah and his court to stir them to repentance and to remember the deliverance and liberation of their fathers through the power of God, he stood as a "conservative" standing up for the true legal principles of liberty, denouncing the corruption of a bloated government growing fat and wicked on heavy taxes. He warned that they would lose their freedoms and come into bondage unless the people and their leaders repented (Mosiah 11: 21-23; 12:2-5). King Noah accused him of being divisive and stirring up contention (Mosiah 11:28) and wanted him dead. Ultimately, King Noah put him to death for speaking out against the King and the people (Mosiah 17:8,12). Alma, who believed Abinadi's message and started preaching privately, was also condemned for "stirring up the people to rebellion" (Mosiah 18:33) and thus King Noah sent his security forces after Alma. Abinadi and Alma were accused of being threats to the security of the state and had to be eliminated, but they were true heroes and patriots.

Alma in Ammonihah would also be condemned for speaking out against the rulers and laws of that nominally Nephite people. "This man doth revile against our laws which are just, and our wise lawyers whom we have selected" (Alma 10:24). Alma was being unpatriotic according to his accusers, but he was on a mission from God, who told Alma through an angel that wicked men in Ammonihah were plotting to overthrow the liberty of the Nephite people (Alma 8:17). Alma was working to preserve Nephite liberty, and was preaching a message that would have brought freedom and security to the people of Ammonihah. But he was imprisoned for his treason and would have been killed had God not miraculously delivered him.

A related scene occurs in Helaman 7 and 8, when people gather around Nephi on his tower and hear him condemn their wickedness and the secret combination that is gaining power in their political and economic systems. Some supporters of that combination essentially accuse him of being unpatriotic and anti-Nephite, stating that he had reviled their law and their nation (Helaman 8:2-6).

Captain Moroni spoke out and fought against kingmen, and was ready to overthrow the ruler of the land (Pahoran) if his suspicions had proven correct. Some of the most dangerous enemies he faced were those within Nephite society.

Christ, the true source of freedom, was condemned for treason against Rome, and Joseph Smith also was accused of treason.

True prophets have long faced such accusations, even when they are valiantly fighting for the principles of liberty and freedom.

In the future, do not be surprised to see Latter-day Saints accused of not being true Americans or of being "divisive" and harmful to democracy for opposing gay marriage, or for preserving the institution of the family, or for speaking out against sin and corruption.

And do not make the mistake of thinking that those who object to possible wickedness or corruption in high places are being unpatriotic.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Meat Before Milk? Dealing with the Divine Potential of Human Beings

I received e-mail from a person who felt that my introduction to the Church was deceptive because I refer to returning to the presence of our Heavenly Father without explicitly stating that we think we will become "gods." Some of you may get similar questions when you are teaching the Gospel to others. While I do refer to the divine potential of human beings on that page and give a link to my Mormon Answers page on theosis (the ancient Christian concept of humans potentially becoming "gods"), I personally feel that the whole of issue of "gods" is an advanced topic that we don't know a lot about, so I consider it as meat (actually, dessert) that doesn't need to be served as the first course.

I asked my critic how he taught the Bible to potential believers. I asked if he started off by teaching them advanced scriptures like Psalm 82:6 or John 10:33-36? Both of these scriptures, by the way, refer to humans becoming "gods." (See also Rev. 3:21, 1 John 3:2, Matt. 5:48, 2 Peter 1:3-4, etc.) If he's not comfortable throwing such concepts out on day one, then I hope he'll understand why I prefer to start with faith in Christ and the basics rather than jump into the mysteries of God's wondrous gifts.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Partakers of the Divine Nature: The Byzantine Perspective

Orthodox Catholicism has long retained some aspects of the early Christian understanding of theosis - the potential for humans to become "gods" through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How ironic that modern LDS Christians practicing restored Christianity are condemned as non-Christian cultists for having that restored understanding. A great non-LDS article on this topic is "'Partakers of the Divine Nature' (2 Peter 1:4) in the Byzantine Tradition" by non-LDS writer Norman Russell. He discusses some early Christian views on what it means to become partakers of the divine nature and even be "gods." Search for the use of the word "gods" in this document, based upon ancient Christian concepts, and see how misguided the modern critics are in excluding Mormons as Christians for accepting this authentic Christian concept.

Also see my article on "The Divine Potential of Human Beings."

Mark of the Beast: Could This Be It?

Many Christians have speculated about the meaning of "the mark of the beast" and 666 in Revelation 13:16-18. Many have suggested that human implants of microchips or barcode-like tattoos could be the way a Satanic big brother tracks people in the last days, according to prophecy. The technology is there to make it happen in the future, I admit. But after reviewing recent legislation from the European Union that goes into effect tomorrow, July 3, 2004, perhaps the mark of the beast is already upon us.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Photos from the Arabian Peninsula

For those of you interested in the growing body of Book of Mormon evidence from the Arabian Peninsula, I've got a few photos on my Book of Mormon Evidences page. All were posted with permission, some from The Nephi Project photo gallery and others from Omanet.om, the official site of the Ministry of Information of the Sultanate of Oman. They were most gracious - and I would love to return the favor by making a visit to their beautiful country someday. The Omani Website apparently was down for a while as they switched from a ".com" to ".om" domain, but I'm glad to see it up and even better than before.

To access the photogallery at Omanet.om, go to their site and click on "gallery" and then "tourism," and click through their photos. Amazing views! Some of these photos help demonstrate the plausibility of the place Bountiful in First Nephi, said to be due east of Nahom/Nehhem, which puts Bountiful on Oman. Remember, it's a place the anti-Mormons have said simply couldn't be there. (They also denied the possibility of the River Laman in the Valley of Lemuel, and now we've got photos of an entirely plausible candidate for that, thanks to the Nephi Project.)

A related photo from Salalah is on a page at the Dhofar Tourism site and another photo or two of interest can be found at the Tourism Oman site (look at the photo of green mountains in the center column). Also see the Port of Salalah site. Useful links are given at the bottom of their Salalah page. A flash-intensive site, Khareefsal.om, also provides a photogallery of scenes from the Dhofar region of Oman.

A related previous post here was "Forgetting Arabia."