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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Voice of the People as the Voice of God: Missouri and the Dangers of Democracy

Ultimately, the Mormon disaster in Missouri in the 1830s, culminating with the Mormon War of 1838 and the expulsion of the Saints under a vicious extermination order, was a result of democracy. The state of Missouri was not operating as a constitutional republic under the rule of law in the manner envisioned by the Founding Fathers, but had essentially become a democracy, as far as the Mormons were concerned - quite the opposite of what the Founding Fathers were seeking. In a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God: vox populi = vox Dei. And when the people speak, it's usually time to run for your life if you're not writing the script.

A sober reminder about the dangers of democracy comes from this excerpt from Richard Bushman's marvelous biography of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling (p. 344):
After their experience in Jackson and Clay counties, the Mormons felt they must ask nearby settlers for permission to move in. They requested meeting in Ray County, where the desired lands were located, to present their case. Without hesitation, the Ray citizens said no. Mormon migration would "retard the prosperity of the county, check further emigration of any class except Mormons, and disturb the peace." With no assurance of protection, the Mormons had to pull back. Before they left Clay, they wrote the governor about their "fear lest the inhabitants will rise up to mob us, in other places, or in other Counties." They wanted to know whether the governor would "quell these mobs, and help us obtain a location."

Governor Dunklin was less sympathetic than when they had appealed to him during the Jackson County riots. Again he told them to use the courts for redress, but, he admitted, "there are cases, sometimes, of individual outrage which may be so popular as to render the action of courts of justice nugatory, in endeavoring to afford a remedy." He suggested that the Saints themselves must be at fault for the citizens' enmity, but could not say why. As the Mormons said, "not one solitary instance of crime" had been lodged against them in either Jackson or Clay courts. The governor noted somewhat diffidently, "Your neighbors accuse your people, of holding illicit communications with the Indians, and of being opposed to slavery," for which he had no evidence. He was helpless to offer a solution. "All can say to you is, that in this Republic, the vox populi is the vox Dei."
Sorry, Governor Dunklin (and ditto for his successor, Governor Boggs) - that's no republic you described. It's mob rule - the ultimate expression of pure democracy. And the most dangerous form of government.

As an aside, the establishment of "democracy" in Iraq has resulted in the most severe persecution of Christians that that ancient land has seen in centuries. Christians from the oldest continually operating Christian communities are now fleeing, after centuries of being able to abide and worship with some degree of freedom.

Please, let's don't "democratize" any more nations. Or at least let someone else pay for it - we are about to collapse in debt over here from our global democracy efforts. And when collapse happens, when our economy and infrastructure and support systems fail, I fear that all we will be left with is democracy in the streets. But we will be building Zion even then, and where Zion can flourish, there will be hope and relief and care for the poor and needy of all races and backgrounds and faith, if we are prepared. (This is why we must have food storage and lots of it: to feed the hungry in our neighborhoods and cities. There will be many we can bless if we prepare.)

Do not lose faith when the collapse comes, but turn to the Lord with renewed hope, as the Saints in Missouri did in their darkest days, and go forth to build or rebuild Zion. We are on the winning team if we follow Jesus Christ, though we may yet have our Missouris and Liberty Jails.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Death of the Dollar

I hate to bring this up, but many of you just lost about 3% of your net worth in the past few days due to the declining value of the US dollar. And it's likely to get much worse. Clive Maund's "Death Knell of the US Dollar..." provides some of the cheery news of the season that we need as we get out our credit cards for the upcoming pagan holiday season, where Mammon and Lucre are the objects of worship. Hey, if you're going to worship an idol, at least choose one that maintains some value as the dollar declines - or that could greatly increase in value. Silver is still incredibly cheap. Just a word to the wise (and to the rationally greedy).

Meanwhile, get out of debt. Get food storage. Live providently. Save and invest wisely. The insane spending and printing of bogus fiat dollars in the past couple of decades is bringing this nation to an untenable state. When a few major parts of the world abandon the US dollar in favor or euros or precious metals, the dollar will plummet and the Fed will face strong pressures to ramp up interest rates to extremely high levels to maintain foreign interest in US treasuries - and that will only amplify the pain in the economy. We are facing troubled times. Living in debt will only make the pain much worse for you and your family.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Book of Abraham Suddenly Makes More Sense: It's Discussing Geocentric Astronomy

I just watched Daniel Peterson's video on the geocentric nature of the Book of Abraham, and came away with a better appreciation for the astronomy presented in that ancient text. (The video is "'And I Saw the Stars': The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy" by Daniel C. Peterson, William J. Hamblin and John Gee, produced by FARMS.) Rather than trying to reconcile Abraham's views with modern science, we can now appreciate that Abraham's discussion of astronomy was based on the ancient geocentric perspective.

In the Book of Abraham, Abraham is looking at the stars from his perspective on earth. The Lord tells him a few things about what he is seeing, not to give him a detailed scientific understanding, but that Abraham might be prepared to converse with Pharaoh. And to achieve that purpose, the Lord explains things using the basic paradigm that educated people of the world had back then, the geocentric perspective. Peterson points to many clues that support this. And once you realize that, all the discussion of one heavenly body being above another and having slower times and so forth all fits beautifully with ancient geocentric astronomy.

Now if Joseph really just made up the Book of Abraham by absorbing cultural influences, one would expect him to have a Copernican perspective. Geocentrism was long dead in his day, but there it is, richly presented in its ancient form in the Book of Abraham.

Here is an excerpt on this topic from the FairWiki entry on the Book of Abraham (see the source for the footnotes):
With regard to astronomy, we find that in Joseph Smith's day "heliocentricity" (as proposed by Copernicus and Newton) was the accepted astronomical view. Nineteenth-century people (including the most brilliant minds of the day) believed that everything revolved around the Sun--therefore the term "heliocentric" (Greek helios=sun + centered). (In the twentieth-first century we generally accept an Einsteinian view of the cosmos.) The Book of Abraham, however, clearly delineates a geocentric view of the universe--or a belief that the Earth (Greek geo) stood at the center of the universe, and all things moved around our planet.

According to ancient geocentric cosmologies and what we read in the Book of Abraham, the heavens (which is defined as the expanse above the earth--no celestial object is mentioned to exist below the earth) was composed of multiple layers or tiers--each tier higher than the previous. Therefore the Sun is in a higher tier than the moon, and the stars are in higher tiers still (compare Abraham 3:5, 9, 17).[34] According to geocentric astronomy, celestial objects have longer time spans (or lengths of "reckoning") based upon their relative distance from the earth. "Thus, the length of reckoning of a planet is based on its revolution [time to orbit around the center, in this case the earth](and not rotation [time to spin on its axis, as the earth does every 24 hours])."[35] The higher the celestial object, the greater its length of reckoning (compare Abraham 3:5). Likewise, in Abraham 3:8-9, we read that "there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still; And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob."

Ancient geocentric astronomers believed that the stars were "the outer-most celestial sphere, furthest from the earth and nearest to God."[36] We find in the Book of Abraham that the star Kolob was the star nearest "the throne of God" (Abraham 3:9). In the ancient, yet recently discovered, Apocalypse of Abraham (which dates from about the same time period as the JSP [Joseph Smith Papyri]), we find that God's throne is said to reside in the eighth firmament (the firmaments, being another term for the varying tiers in the heavens above the Earth).[37]

The Book of Abraham also reveals that those celestial objects that are highest above the earth, "govern" the objects below them (see Abraham 3:3, 9 and Facsimile 2, fig. 5). This sounds similar to the beliefs of those who accepted an ancient geocentric cosmology:
Throughout the ancient world the governing role of celestial bodies was conceived in similar terms. God sits on his throne in the highest heaven giving commands, which are passed down by angels through the various regions of heaven, with each region governing or commanding the regions beneath it.[38]
We find this governing order described in the Apocalypse of Abraham and other ancient sources. All of this makes sense only from an ancient geocentric perspective (such as that believed in Abraham's day) and makes no sense from a heliocentric perspective (which is what Joseph would have known in his day).

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Atlantic Monthly's 100 Most Influential Americans of All Time

The latest Atlantic Monthly's cover story is "The 100 Most Influential Americans of All Time." I was delighted to see that an amazing 28 of them are LDS, if my assessment is correct. And two of them were LDS before they died: Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. (OK, so my tongue-in-cheek comment does express a hope that many people have accepted the restored Gospel since passing away, a hope based on the LDS teaching of missionary work going on in the spirit world and the rather unusual concept of "baptism for the dead.")

Joseph Smith came in at #52 and Brigham Young at #74. Joseph was just behind Margaret Sanger. Interestingly, both envisioned a world in which there were no poor. In Joseph's world, that goal would be accomplished by building up a Zion society in which all shared freely and lived selflessly. Margaret's vision would be achieved by eliminating the poor and unwanted through abortion and eugenics. I prefer Joseph's world over Sanger's.

Friday, November 24, 2006

About the Flower Photo . . .It's from the Isaac Morley Farm

I forgot to mention that the flower photo I use in my header for this blog is from a photo I took in Kirtland, Ohio on the Isaac Morley farm. The flower was from a large tulip tree. It was something of a random shot: I couldn't see the flower well because it was too high, so I held the camera up above my head and took a couple shots before we dashed off. It was a rainy day, so a few drops of water were on the flower.

Just a little reminder for me about the beauty that can occur in difficult places.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Accept No Substitutes: Faith in Jesus Christ is the Only Way

Some substitutes just don't work. To reach our ultimate destination, nothing can substitute for faith in Jesus Christ. Any thing else will fall flat.

(I took this photo in Vermont recently, near Stowe. Click to enlarge slightly.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is Your Airline Rapture Ready?

Breaking news: After a successful pilot program, a major US airline is preparing to officially launch its new Rapture Ready® campaign in which they will assure passengers that 100% of their airborne planes will continue to fly safely in case of rapture. Getting all the pilots on board has not been easy and required several layoffs of recalcitrant Christians. While emphasis has been on the pilots, a high-level source at the airline reports that there has been a trickle down effect in their flight crews with a steady flux of flight attendants also being certified as Rapture Ready®, often thanks to the after-hours help of the pilots. "In case of rapture, not only can passengers expect a safe flight, but they can also count on getting an enjoyable snack of pretzels and orange juice."

I chuckle when I see the bumper stickers on some cars: "In case of rapture, this vehicle will be unattended." Isn't it socially irresponsible for those people to drive?

On a more serious note, we Latter-day Saints don't subscribe to the popular rapture theories of some groups, believing instead that we are going to be here on earth with everyone else as we struggle with the challenges of the last days before the triumphant return of the Savior. But we do take the Second Coming of the Savior very seriously, recognizing that it may yet be very far off.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Fullness of the Gentiles

The term "fullness of the Gentiles" should be a meaningful one for Latter-day Saints, based on its use in two passages in the Book of Mormon, where it is associated with the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel among the Gentiles in the Latter-days. Paul also uses it in a verse that may have been pointing to future Restoration. Interestingly, the term "fullness of the Gentiles" is a literal translation of a Hebrew phrase, "m'loh ha goyim," used in Genesis 48:19 rendered as "fullness of the nations" in the KJV.

In Genesis 48:19, the patriarch Jacob is giving a blessing to Joseph's sons sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and responds to Joseph's objection about treating the slightly-younger Ephraim as if he were the firstborn instead of Manasseh:
And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
Significantly, it is Ephraim that is associated with "m'loh ha goyim," the fullness of the Gentiles/multitude of nations.

Here is Paul's use of the term in Romans 11:25:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Earlier in this chapter, he discusses the gathering of Israel and uses the analogy of grsfting in olive branches. From my LDS perspective, I read Paul as saying that the redemption of Israel will not be complete until a future time when the fullness of the Gentiles comes, which I take to be the Restoration of the Gospel among the Gentiles.

Now consider the related Book of Mormon passages. Nephi in First Nephi 15:13-14, links "fullness of the Gentiles" to the Restoration and the gathering of Israel:
13 And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed --

14 And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.
The term is used by Jesus Christ in Third Nephi 16:4, again in the context of gathering the scattered remnants of Israel in the last days:
4 And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer.

5 And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfill the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel.
One can easily argue that the usage in First Nephi is "plagiarized" from Romans 11, where grafting an olive branch and "fullness of the Gentiles" are both invoked. Or one can understand that both concepts date to much earlier times, with common ancient origins being at play rather than plagiarism (see The Allegory of the Olive Tree, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1994)).

Regarding the nations/Gentiles ("goyim"), the link to Ephraim in Genesis and in LDS writings can be puzzling because we tend to associate Gentiles with non-Hebraic peoples. But that term may have a couple different usages. Sometimes it clearly refers to the pagan nations, but other times it can refer to nations descended from Israel or including Israelites. For example in "The 'Gentiles' in God's Plan" (a site of the Canadian British-Israel Society), there is further discussion of the scope of meanings of the term "Gentile":
It is a widely popular view today that the word, 'Gentile,' in our English Bible translations can only refer to non-Israelites, yet the facts prove conclusively otherwise. The following information from leading Bible reference works proves that this word refers instead to 'nations,' representing sometimes the dispersed house of Israel, sometimes non-Israelites, and sometimes both, as in 'all nations'. The word, "Gentile," is an English language substitution for the original New Testament Greek words, 'ethne,' (singular) or 'ethnos,' (plural) and the Old Testament Hebrew words, 'goy' (singular) and 'goyim' (plural).

In teaching that Gentiles can only be non-Israelites, it is held by some that Christ in Matthew 10:6 ("Go not into the way of the Gentiles") was commanding against witnessing to non-Israelites! But in so doing, this makes the Bible contradict itself, for in Matthew 24:14, Christ said the exact opposite: "This gospel of the kingdom must be preached in all the world as a witness unto all nations [ethnos/Gentiles]." Which is it? Are the "ethnos," or "Gentiles" to hear the Gospel or are they not?

The answer is provided by Messianic Jewish Bible scholar, David H. Stern, in the "Jewish New Testament Commentary," which points out that the word, Gentile has two meanings. (page 531) It was used in a "neutral" sense of any particular nation or nations (which ones to be determined by context), or a "pejorative overtone" as "pagan, heathen." Therefore, it can sometimes refer to "non-Israelites," but not exclusively. Sometimes the singular form, ethne, meant the Jewish nation, and the plural form, ethnos, was used to refer to non-Jewish nations, but again not exclusively. The Jewish nation of Christ's day included large numbers of Israelites, so if the Greek, ethne, and Hebrew, goy, ever refer to the Israelite tribe of Judah, one cannot say that it means non-Israelites!
John Tvedtnes makes some similar points in his chapter, "Who Are the Gentiles" in The Most Correct Book (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone Publishing, 1999, pp. 29-36). He suggests that the mission of taking the Book of Mormon to "Jew and Gentile," according to the cover page, and of taking it to the remnants of Israel among the tribe of Joseph, may really be a unified mission, for "the Gentile" may refer to the tribe of Joseph. The "Gentiles" may be the Ephraimites - after all, the Gospel was restored through Joseph Smith, a "Gentile" and yet an Ephraimite of the tribe of Joseph.

Tvedtnes suggests that the idea that Gospel will not go forth to the Jews until it has gone to all other nations may be incorrect, since the "Gentiles" to whom the Gospel must go forth already includes those of Israel, especially Ephraim.

In any case, I am intrigued by the "fullness of the Gentiles" concept that stems from Genesis 48 and its implications for the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel in the latter-days.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Christian Fellowship Breakfast in San Francisco

Yesterday I attended a Christian fellowship breakfast held for those attending the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, a large meeting with over 4,000 attendees here in the heart of San Francisco. The breakfast gathering was small, with only about 20 people, but I was glad that a large portion of the group (three that I knew of) were LDS. I'm happy to report that our strong representation at this early morning Christian fellowship breakfast probably showed other Christians that, no matter what some people say, Mormons really do believe in free food.

The fellowship breakfast was a fabulous couple hours of fellowship and discussion. I was pleased to meet a few significant names in academia and some great thinkers. We heard a speech from an outstanding professor of one of the nation's top chemical engineering departments (I'd like to check with him before putting his name in this blog, just in case) who discussed the problem of anti-intellectualism in the Church. He dealt constructively with four problems he sees in some areas of Christianity:

  1. Teaching that evolution is an evil atheistic myth.

  2. Teaching that stem cell research is inherently evil.

  3. Teaching that Christians should support one particular political party.

  4. Thinking that the Church should take a stand on global warming.

As with most Christians I know in science, the Christians at this fellowship generally accept the idea that modern science has a reasonable description of what has happened in the past. At the same time, they view it as part of the process God used to achieve the marvelous Creation that we behold.

I also strongly agree with the critique of Christians putting faith in a single political party. People need to think critically about the issues and not simply assume that one party is going to be "God's party." From my perspective, one can debate about whether there has been a major apostasy in Christianity over the centuries, but when it comes to politics, there should be no room for doubt: both major parties have apostatized at least in some degree from the principles this nation was founded on -- so why trust them unthinkingly?

I was pleased to meet Robert Enick of the University of Pittsburgh, author of the book, Evolving in Eden. (I'm buying the book - it looks outstanding.) He made the salient point that every step of the Creation process does not need to be miraculous for God to be a good Creator. Using a system that includes natural evolutionary processes does not detract from His divinity and brilliance. This may be a key weakness of the philosophical approach in the Intelligent Design movement, implicitly linking God's skill as a Creator to items in nature that appear to be too complex to have originated naturally. When natural explanations can later be derived, it can be disappointing and challenge faith. Isn't it even more skillful and marvelous for God to have created a system where such complexity could arise with no or relatively few acts of subsequent intervention, rather than one that requires extensive intervention along the way? I really appreciate his perspectives.

I tend to think that intervention must have occurred in many matters and at many points, but who knows? Why get hung up in the details that are muddy to both theologians and scientists?

As for my personal belief in free food, it was sorely shaken in this meeting when a collection plate was passed around at the end. Since the breakfast was not sponsored by AIChE and was done with pricey hotel catering, the suggested donation was $20. Yet I gladly ate that cost, and soon found my faith renewed when I was blessed shortly thereafter with an invitation to a free dinner. Sweet!

(San Francisco is an amazing place.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Righteous Pioneer Women and Their Abortions

I awoke this morning pondering the similarities between a couple a marvelous Latter-day Saint women I have known over the years who I consider to be real pioneers in their generation. Strong, righteous, faithful women who are true leaders and who touch the lives of many people. And these women also share the common feature of a painful past involving, among other things, the tragedy of abortion. It was their decision, and based on what I know, I see no easy way to paint it as anything but a sin. The abortion did not make them stronger or better. It was a terrible setback that caused them much loss, grief, and enduring regret. What did make them stronger and truly liberated women was repentance, turning to the infinite mercies of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to repent and move on with their lives. And how majestically they have moved on.

There are many in our midst who have had or will have an unnecessary elective abortion. May they get the help they need early to consider other alternatives. But when they don't, let's recognize that the woman has not sold her soul, but may be on the path to truly finding it (ditto for the men involved). Today's target of malicious gossip about sexual immorality, abortion, or other sins, may be far closer to God than any of the gossipers, and may be tomorrow's righteous pioneer woman that future generations will hold up as a role model, perhaps not knowing the grief she had to encounter on the way.

I love chapter 8 of John, where Christ defends the woman taken in adultery. Others wanted to condemn her and even kill her for her terrible sin (notice that the man was left unaccused). Christ, our God and Ultimate Example, gently turned their pointing fingers toward themselves. With majestic love and gentleness, he rescued her, healed her, lifted the condemnation, and sent her on her way. All of us need to ponder His example more thoughtfully and improve our ability to love those in our midst who face unusually heavy burdens of sin and guilt.

Internet P0rn and Violence

A recent article in Slate makes the statistical argument that Internet porn may be correlated with a decrease in rates for the violent crime of rape. One interesting critique of the study discusses some of the data that the study neglected to interpret, suggesting that the data need not imply a benefit from porn, but may be consistent with a shift toward rape that is less likely to be reported (e.g., with acquaintances as victims rather than strangers).

In any case, to live the best life you can, stay away from porn of any kind and live high moral standards.

One more tip: stay away from creeps obsessed with sex. (Get them out of your community now by sending them to Washington - one of the benefits of our democratic process.)

Hat tips to Walter Reade and Mike Parker.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cutting a Little Slack for Ex-Mormons

In spite of having long spoken in defense of the Church against the criticisms of the "antis," including some outspoken former members, I'd like to confess that there is room for increased respect and tolerance among LDS ranks for those who have left us and even rail against us. And I personally wish to improve and be less hasty in judging intents and criticizing positions of those who have left.

Remember the story in the Book of Mormon about the Nephite group who leaves Zarahemla to go back and live in the original land of Nephi? They spied on a Lamanite group living in the area, and the Nephite leaders prepared to attack. But some of the Nephites saw that those Lamanites were decent people and argued that it was wrong to launch an offensive war against them. Bloodshed erupted among the Nephite group and a handful of survivors returned to Zarahemla, their expedition having been a tragic failure.

I offer a weak parallel to this story in pointing out that many ex-Mormons, even some who show a lot of bitterness toward the Church, may be much more honorable people that we have realized, and may have entirely logical reasons from their perspective for leaving. In fact, it is not hard to find reasons to reject Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any past or modern prophet, or to find doctrines and practices that one can strongly object to.

Many who leave do not do so because the moral standards were too high or because someone snubbed them at Church or because tithing was too painful or they just got sick of home teaching or were victims of gossip or had a serious moral sin that they wouldn't quit. It is understandable, in fact, that people would get upset over polygamy or several other things in LDS history or even in the Bible that would lead them to reject the Church or organized religion in general. There are certainly powerful arguments to be made and often no simple answers.

I am sad that they left. I think there are rich spiritual dimensions to the LDS experience that they will miss, or perhaps were already missing during their time of membership in the Church. I had one person tell me, after twenty years of membership in the Church, that he had never experienced a real answer to prayer. That pains me. I wish their experience could have been more like mine. No, I can't explain polygamy, either in Joseph's day or Old Testament times. It makes no sense to me and aspects of it offend me, even if some of the marriages were "dynastic" marriages that did not involve living together as man and wife. All sorts of things offend me, from the Old Testament right up to 2006. But I cannot deny what I have experienced, and indeed, what I know. There is a power and a reality to core parts of the Gospel. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. The Book of Mormon is real and divine. The Temple is divine. Prayer "works." The gift of the Holy Ghost is real. The blessings and miracles associated with Church service are real.

Something is going on here that cannot be explained by any hypothesis that begins with Joseph as a charlatan who fabricated the Book of Mormon. That doesn't mean we have to agree with everything the Church has done, but there is at least something going on that needs to be considered.

But there are other ways of looking at the external evidences, and plenty of ways to miss the evidences of the divine. Those who leave because of their interpretation of history or evaluation of the evidence may be entirely sincere and rational. In fact, that may apply to the vast majority.

Those who choose to leave may still be our friends and neighbors. They may still be reasonable, kind, loving people with differences that we can accept. I hope we can have some degree of mutual respect and less nastiness.

Given the fallibility of man, it is almost certain that some things that any person accepts as truth will be wrong. In the end, the most important thing has got to be the gift that is the greatest of all, charity. May we have it in abundance, even toward our enemies, even toward those who choose to revile us and accuse us of all manner of stupidity. I need it more, and apologize when I have been too rash or harsh or quick to judge those who have offered criticisms here.

May we feel charity even for those who shout at us and wave garments in our face. But may we also see past our religious differences and realize that some of those who leave our Church do not stand shoulder to shoulder with those who taunt and defame us. Some feel we have been duped and defrauded, but mean us no harm and respect the good that they can see in us. We need not assume the worst in them, and instead should see the best that we can.

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine converted to the Church, and I was very happy for him. Then he ran into anti-Mormon literature and was swayed and began to speak against the Church and had his name removed. Understandably, my bishop encouraged several of us to be careful and to avoid religious discussion with him. I was uncomfortable with him and we grew apart. But now, many years later, we've teamed up again, though we are states apart. He's an amazing person, vastly interesting, and though we differ in many topics, I am pleased to count him as a friend. He is no longer an "anti" but quietly tolerates my religious beliefs (with a few good-natured jokes, of course), though he thinks it's all a lie and believes there is no God. I realize that he is every bit as important to God as I or any member of the Church, and perhaps more so, given what he has endured and overcome.

In appreciating him and his friendship, it is so clear that there is much more to life than simply whether one is or is not a member of any particular religion. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ is divine and is a marvelous tool meant to bless the children of this planet, but there is much outside our tiny Church that we have yet to appreciate. This life is a journey, and there are treasures to be uncovered for all and in all who seek the Good, even when they - or we - have gotten some things wrong along the way.

May we be civil one to another, even as we debate our religious views and contend for the cause of truth as we see it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Cult, Countercult, or Countercult Cult? My Head Is Spinning....

The Christian Apologetics Index reports that CRI's Countercult Leader Hank Hanegraaff Supports a Cult of Christianity. The article leaves my poor head spinning as countercultists accuse fellow countercultists of supporting Christian cults.

Can't we all just agree that we are all cultists and done with it? That's fine if we stick to the basic definition of cult: a religious organization or movement.

Podcasts from the Inimitable Kerry Shirts: The Backyard Professor

Kerry Shirts of LDS apologetics fame has a blog with some excellent podcasts on it: The Backyard Professor. I hope you'll enjoy his discussions of the Book of Abraham and other topics, including thoughts from Margaret Baker.

Thank you, Kerry, for your many contributions!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Got a Missionary? Don't Forget to Write

Letters are becoming rare in our e-society, but there is still something about a physical letter that can't compete with electronic communication. Compare a meaningful physical letter with the 10-second glance at a screen to read a hasty email during the few moments each week that a missionary has access to a computer. OK, the missionary might only spend 10 seconds with the letter, too - but those 10 seconds can be taken at leisure later, and might become 20 or 30 or 100. So I suggest that parents and friends include an occasional physical letter in their communications. Just a thought.

The image, by the way, is my photograph of a portrait by British artist Richard Cosway (1742-1821) of Margaret Cocks, later Margaret Smith, painted in 1787, part of the fabulous collections at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles, one of the highlights of our recent family vacation in California. (I also got to meet Mike Parker there. Another bonus!)

Friday, November 03, 2006

LDS Apologists Daniel Peterson, John Tvedtnes Cleared of Drug Charges from Anti-Mormon Critics: Conclusive Negative Test Results

After submitting themselves to extensive drug testing, prolific LDS Apologists John A. Tvedtnes and Daniel C. Peterson, both of BYU, have been completely cleared of allegations from anti-Mormon critics regarding improper drug use. Test results show no trace of mental steroids have been used. "Their mental performance has not been artificially enhanced with illicit mental steroids," said the physician who conducted the testing. Anti-Mormon critics remain skeptical and continue to insist that some kind of unfair competitive advantage has been obtained.

Encouraged by the results (and publicity) from the testing of Tvedtnes and Peterson, amateur Webmaster and junior apologist Jeff Lindsay also submitted himself for mental steroid testing and received a clean bill of health - with no need to give a blood sample. "There was no need for chemical testing in this case," said the physician. "It's rather easy to discern that he's not on mental steroids of any kind." Mr. Lindsay underscored that point with his response: "Yippee!"