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

Monday, December 31, 2007

"Pumped About the Gospel": A Convert's Story

I have permission from a new convert in the South to share this description of her conversion. Her conversion, as with so many others, involved a combination of intellectual effort and faithful prayer, followed by the joy that the fulness of the Gospel brings.
My husband and I were baptized together June of 2005. . . . Of course we are enjoying it! It is the best thing that has ever happened to us!! So do you want to know how we found the church? Well actually the church found us. We were at a friend's house for their little girls' party and while at the party two missionaries came to their door. No one would open the door, so I did. It was rainy and cold that day and they were shivering, but there was something about them. It was like they had this light in their eyes, there was a kindness and warmth about them, so I invited them to my house that following week. They began to teach me, and a couple weeks later my husband joined in our discussions. Everything they taught me made so much sense, especially families being together forever. It was so hard for me though, because even though everything clicked, I had my parents' words ringing in the back of my head that Mormons were all going to hell. So I tried to logically figure everything out, and I was so torn, so I ended up doing what the missionaries had been asking me to do all along. I got on my knees and prayed and poured out my heart to the Lord. I of course received my answer. The moment I asked my heart became whole, all my sadness and confusion was gone. This past December my husband myself and my two children were sealed together for time and all eternity! I'm so pumped about the gospel!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fellow Mormons - Could You Please Do Some Thinking for Me?

I received a cheery Christmas email from a fellow Christian who noticed I was Mormon. Someone has been doing his thinking for him, and I thought I would reciprocate by giving you a chance to suggest how I might respond. His beef of the day with Mormons is that the Book of Mormon mentions the use of cement in construction in the ancient Americas (though he's also puzzled by the reference to steel mills and copper mills, which also puzzles me since I can't find those references in my edition). Should I abandon my faith now, or is there anything that can be said in light of this assault?

Here is the message, hot off my Inbox:
They built cement houses from the North Sea to the South Sea and from the West Sea to the East Sea. They really got me with the North and South Sea?

And with no trees around you can't make cement without trees didn't you know that?

And cement walls could never stand very long even the wind would knock them down

And when you find a cement house let me know

And all those steel mills and copper mills have you found them yet?

Don't let other people do your thinking for you

God Bless and take care

You friend in Christ Ron
I'm not sure where Ron is from, but probably a place with very strong winds. I'd appreciate your helpful suggestions, even though I do address the issue of cement in the Book of Mormon in my LDSFAQ pages.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cell Phones and Business Model Innovation

"Cell Phones Could Be Gold Mines for Marketers" is a story about the amazing marketing potential of cell phones. With carriers able to determine where you are at any given moment, there is tremendous potential to identify what products might be of interest or what promotions might be effect. Within the next couple of years, we should see many further innovations in shopping, data management, crime solving and even traffic management tapping into the power of the cell phone data. Truly a gold mine of opportunities for innovation.

Helpful Suggestion from a Catholic Christian: Why Not Memorize the Lord's Prayer?

A Catholic reader made an interesting suggestions to me based on her experience with the LDS missionaries. She feels it would be helpful if they knew the Lord's prayer verbatim. While she understands that we are taught to avoid repetitious prayer and try to make our prayers personal and fresh, I think she has a good point about the value of at least knowing the words to the immensely popular Lord's prayer. Since missionaries and Latter-day Saints in general tend to memorize a lot of passages of scripture, seems like that would be a good one to include. Your thoughts?

Here's her recent email, used with permission:
Dear Mr. Lindsay,

I have just read your detailed on-line description of Mormonism. I found much of what you had to say enlightening and beautiful. I dare say, I am NOT in search of another religion, for I was raised Catholic, remain Catholic and bring up my children as Catholics. My interest regarding Mormons, I mean no disrespect with the usage of the word Morman for I am an outsider looking in...I will proceed with the proper terminology Latter Day Saints (LDS). As I was saying my interest in LDS stems from your missionaries that come every year to my front doorstep. Like all the other neighbors, I would dismiss them without any regard to their mission for I looked upon them with the same interest as I did all the door-to-door salespeople that come through the neighborhood. However, about four years ago I took the opportunity to talk with two young gentlemen that called themselves elders. Well, one was an elder and the other the trainee, for lack of knowledge of his real title. By the way, two men coming to a door is not the optimum situation when you are a woman answering the door. Anyway, I talked with the young lads for about 45 minutes on my front porch. First, the trainee spoke and was very pleasant, then the "elder" took over...that was not so pleasant. He advised me that the one true way was thru the Church of Latter Day Saints and the only way to Christ and to heaven was thru his church and the Book of Mormon, that Joseph Smith, the prophet, will lead the way. He told me that he knew this to be so because he prayed about it and later saw a vision, therefore truth had prevailed. I thought, "Ok, he is a fervent believer in Christ and the teachings of his church" He started his profession of faith at the bottom of my front stairs, which was a comfortable distance...his fervour took him and he proceeded up the front stairs until he stood a few inches right in front of me. He started exclaiming that Catholics and other faiths have commited many atrocities in their past and the one true church was established to set things right.

I am not a woman who is easily intimidated or swayed. I am accepting of others people's beliefs and asked the young man if it was possible to reciprocate. He was adament that there is no other way but his. In his point of the view, the Catholic priests are scandalous, etc. I reminded him that leaders of ANY church are human, not divine. If there is a fault with any religion, it lies with humans and their sins, not the religion itself. I also reminded him that polygamy was a part of Joseph Smith's past. I also pointed out that Jesus gave the task to Peter to build his father's church...Peter was the first Pope and created the Catholic church, if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me...with all it's human imperfections. Well, let's just say this did not go over well. My husband came to the door and ended the "discussion". But, first the young man asked me if we could close with a prayer. "Sure", I replied. He asked me to pick a prayer and I agreed. I asked the two young men if "The Lord's Prayer" would work. I stated I'd like to pick one that came straight from Jesus...teaching his apostles and instructing them to teach others how to pray. We all agreed...as I lead the prayer I noticed the two young men were a bit "off". I stopped and asked the young men if they knew the prayer and to my astonishment they said No. The elder said, "I've seen it written in the bible before and it is beautiful, but I have never actually spoken the words." I suggested they learn the Lord's Prayer before they go to even one more house...which of course did not happen.

I have talked with all of the subsequent LDS missionaries and found them to be wonderful, faith-filled people that complete their task with great zeal. I admire the courage and devotion that these youths put forth in doing God's work. I tell them all that trying to convert me will be to no avail...to me being a Christian of any denomination opens the door so God can do his work. Your website gives so much information, I thought you to be a good source to reveal my experience with LDS missionaries. This was not intended to be a hurtful note, and I truly hope that I do not upset anyone who reads this. If you have any influence, please pass on the suggestion that "The Lord's Prayer - Our Father" be part of every LDS missionaries teachings.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

JFK's Comments on the Mormons

In light of the politically motivated insults and innuendo about Mormons these days, now that one is aiming for the White House, it might be helpful to remember the words one former White House dweller had to say about this religion and its people. Not that he was a particularly religious man, but he was a man with a religion that led to doubts and misunderstanding by some fellow Christians. So here's a video featuring John F. Kennedy talking about the Mormons.

A hat tip to Don K.

The Temple Effect

"Mormon Temples Bring Boon: Economic Effects Kick in as Home Prices Go Up, Retirees Relocate" - interesting news story on the economic benefits that communities experience when LDS temples go up. Too bad so many communities get stirred up by our enemies into a frenzy of religious intolerance and fear. Temples make the world a better place - and they do the same for neighborhoods.

A hat tip to Meridian Magazine.

Insane Housing Arrangements at Universities

Update: After check the housing policies of the university this girl attends, I think the situation she describes sounds incompatible with the dorms on her campus. Maybe it's an off-campus situation she describes. Anyway, it's probably not fair to direct my outrage over her alleged living situation to the university itself. I think officials there would recognize and avoid the potential for such a warped arrangement.

While the specific problem described below has not been verified, the crazy concept of "gender-neutral" dorms sponsored by universities is creeping into this nation, and is a sign of either a pathetic lack of common sense or a cynical attempt to further corrupt the youth of this nation.

Original post:
Yesterday my son and I were in line, for a very long time, at the self checkout lane at Wal-Mart, experiencing the wonders of truly inadequate technology. (I think 6 of 8 self checkout lanes were down with technical problems, and our checkout experience revealed some annoying bugs in the faulty system this ailing company is using. The system called for human cashier help six different times during the process, and it wasn't entirely due to my low IQ. If you've got Wal-Mart stock, I'd sell it now.)

While we were waiting for the first person in line to go through her self checkout ordeal, we had plenty of time to chat with an outgoing young lady in front of us. She was a very bright 17-year-old girl who was already a junior in college at one of the state schools in Wisconsin. We were impressed with what she has done academically, but totally astounded when she told us about her living arrangements. There weren't a lot of on-campus apartments available when she registered, so she took what the university offered her: sharing a dorm with a guy. Well, not just any guy - a 32-year-old man.

I've offered my cynical opinions before about the reckless attitudes of some adults at universities who seem to allow or even encourage an "anything goes" attitude that leads to or facilitates revolting levels of substance abuse and promiscuity. I know some leaders feel that they can't do anything else given the pressures from irresponsible Federal legislation, but I don't see how any sane university can excuse this kind of situation. Assigning or even allowing a teenage girl to be a roommate with a thirty-something man? Are they deliberately trying to be accessories to a felony? The girl said it's been kind of creepy, but she's getting used to it.

Creepy indeed. Our nation is increasingly turning its kids over to people who seem to not only have basic morals, but lack even faint tinges of common sense. (The even greater problem is the parents who allow this.) Hats off to the students who resist these influences and stay on the straight and narrow path - a path that may very well lead one far from the dorms!

(By the way, my self-checkout results were fairly positive: only slightly mentally ill. Better than I hoped.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Daniel Peterson's Essay on Book of Mormon Evidences: A Tool in a Local Conversion Story

At the annual Christmas Eve musical devotion held in the Appleton Wisconsin Stake of the Church, I was chatting with an old acquaintance from my previous ward who was baptized this month. The Book of Mormon played a key role in her conversion story, which began by reading the book (in addition to coming to church). She told me that had long been very comfortable with the Church since she had attended occasionally out of courtesy to her elderly mother who joined the Church a few years ago after missionaries knocked on her door. But in spite of all the kind treatment and the caring welcome she received, the big decision to be baptized naturally requires something much deeper. The tipping point in her conversion story was watching a DVD that was pretty devoid of glitz and glamor, but simply discussed some of the evidences in favor of Book of Mormon plausibility. It was a video of BYU professor Daniel C. Peterson discussing Evidences of the Book of Mormon (the link is to the written version). That information helped this intelligent and independent woman get over the final hurdles and move ahead with baptism. Thank you, Brother Peterson!

Dr. Peterson discusses several of my favorite issues in his essay, including the persistent and consistent testimonies of the honorable men who were the witnesses to the golden plates, viewed and handled under a variety of circumstances. One interesting issue that is rarely discussed by Latter-day Saints is the plausibility of the detailed description of the tactics used in guerrilla warfare. Here is the relevant excerpt:
One area that I have worked on is the Gadianton robbers. They are some of my very favorite people in the Book of Mormon, a cheery lot, who did a great deal for Nephite and Lamanite history. One of my disreputable hobbies that I had as a teenager in high school, is that I was very interested in guerrilla warfare. I don't know why. But I began reading a great deal about it. The foremost theorist of guerrilla warfare in the twentieth century, which is the only time anyone has actually written about the theory of guerrilla warfare, have been Marxists: Mao Tse-tung in China, Vao Neuin Giap in North Vietnam, Che Guevara in Cuba, who is associated with Castro. I certainly don't endorse their political views, but on guerrilla warfare they were authorities, because they'd practiced it successfully and they wrote about it. And so, I spent a fair amount of time reading their books about guerrilla warfare theory, for no particular purpose. Years later it clicked for me, though. I was teaching a Gospel Doctrine class in the Jerusalem branch in Israel, and we were reading Helaman and 3 Nephi. Suddenly, I realized that what I was seeing there in the Gadianton robbers was a textbook instance of both success and failure according to the rules that Giap, and Guevara, and Mao Tse-tung had outlined.

And let me just tell you something about those rules. Particularly if you look at the end of Helaman and the beginning of 3 Nephi, you see very clearly, the very kinds of things that the theorists were talking about. When the Gadianton robbers start off, they start off as an urban terrorist group really, involved in assassinations. But they eventually have to flee into the mountains and this is typical of guerrilla groups in our own century. And they'll talk at length about how the best places to work are in cities, where you can hide among the urban masses. Or if that doesn't work—as it didn't work for the Gadianton robbers—they then flee into inaccessible territory, almost always mountains. It was, in all three cases (in China, Vietnam and in Cuba), the mountains into which the guerrillas fled. Then they make lightning raids out of the mountains to attack settled civilizations. But they choose only those times when they can win. They can make a lightning strike, do some damage, then get away. This, of course, irritates the authorities to no end. And the authorities then will send troops into the mountains after the guerrillas, but the mountains are the guerrilla's native territory. The guerrilla then chooses the place to fight from. He ambushes the regular troops that come after him. He causes them immense casualties.

In the Book of Mormon you read that the commanders come back and report overwhelming numbers of Gadianton robbers. Well, this is probably not true; the very reason they were hiding in the mountains is that they didn't have overwhelming numbers. But they wanted it to seem like overwhelming numbers, a little bit the way some of our own LDS ancestors behaved during the Utah war when they were trying to slow down the advance of the federal columns. They hid out in the mountains and masqueraded as having many more people than they had, in order to give the federal troops something to think about. This is a time-honored practice.

Now, fortunately, the Latter-day Saints weren't actually shooting anybody; they were just trying to slow things down for negotiations. The Gadiantons were not quite so nice. They caused great casualties to the Nephite troops. Eventually the point comes when a guerrilla army needs to start to hold territory though, and this is the really sensitive time in any guerrilla war. Mao Tse-tung called it regularization, turning a guerrilla army into a regular army, one that holds territory. Guerrillas don't hold territory—they'll strike and then flee. The object is not to have any casualties or to keep them to a minimum. They want to harass and demoralize, but not to hold territory yet. When they feel themselves strong enough, then they decide to occupy cities, to occupy territory, and hold it. But that, of course, exposes them to direct attack. It means that they can't retreat and withdraw; they can't maneuver quite as freely. Here's a problem now identified as "premature regularization," which is when a commander too soon thinks that he's ready to stand up to a regular army. He makes the transition too soon. This can be disastrous, and it was in the case of the Gadianton robbers.

At a certain point (you read this in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 4), the Gadianton robbers come down out of the mountains; they issue an ultimatum to the leaders of the Nephites and tell them to surrender, but the Nephites don't surrender. What they do, under the leadership of a governor named Lachoneus, is withdraw into their cities. They declare a kind of "scorched earth" policy. They destroy or carry away all of the food down in the agricultural areas and they take it and hole up in their fortified cities.

This actually reverses the situation, which is what guerrillas should not allow themselves to be trapped into. What happens now is that the Nephites are in their strongholds. It's the guerrillas, the Gadianton robbers in this case, who are out exposed on the plain, and they can't find any food, because none has been left and the crops have been destroyed. So they are forced, at times that are not suitable to them, to attack the Nephites to try to get food, or they are forced to disperse themselves to look for game. But every time they disperse or scatter themselves, the Nephites make lightning raids out of the fortress, out of the city, and attack them. The Nephites now choose the time of attack. What they've done is reversed the situation so the Nephites become, in effect, the guerrillas, and the Gadianton robbers are trying to hold territory. It's a disaster for the Gadianton robbers, and they lose.

And this all behaves (I've tried to show this in some detail in a published article) as a text book illustration. You could not pick a better illustration of the virtues, if you will, and the problems of a guerrilla army—the mistakes they can make and the successes they can have.

All this written by a young man, supposedly, as critics would say, who knew nothing about guerrilla warfare and whose idea of military activity was, at least later on in his life, to get on his black horse Charley and parade in a nice uniform, romanticizing the wars of American history: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812. This would have been typical of his period. I think many people had these same attitudes. What's striking about the Book of Mormon is how utterly absent those attitudes are. From the account given of the Gadianton robbers, or indeed of the Nephite wars that take place in the Book of Mormon and are recorded there, there's no dressing up in fancy uniforms, there are no parades, there are no reviews of the troops, or anything like that. It's a very different atmosphere, and guerrilla warfare, particularly, is rather unromantic. This is something that Mao and others had to defend themselves against. Some people fighting in their forces were a little bit disappointed with this idea of hitting and running; it wasn't heroic, it wasn't romantic. But it was extremely effective, and it's effective for the Gadianton robbers too, as long as they obey those rules that were first formulated really in this century—but rules that we now know went back into the ancient world. So it's very striking to me how very foreign the Book of Mormon accounts are from what we would expect if Joseph Smith had written the book. It's a quite different world indeed.
I've also enjoyed reading about various secret combinations in modern days. The fascination began also as a teenager, reading John Robinson's 1798 tome, "Proofs of a Conspiracy." Regardless of how accurate Robinson was, it's hard to ignore the Book of Mormon's warnings against the kind of corruption and evil that is described as "secret combinations" - properly said to be among all nations and societies - and easy to see today just how powerfully prophetic and accurate the warnings are. Ah, but that's far too controversial an issue for this blog.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Church's Christmas Program on PBS - with Kudos to President Hinckley's Progressive Touch

As I write, we're watching the Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Featuring Sissel. Sissel, of course, is the Norwegian sensation whose credits include the haunting soundtrack for Titanic. She's amazing in tonight's beautiful performance. Not only is her singing marvelous, but the readings she does, mainly from the scriptures, are read with such beauty, joy, and conviction that I can't help but believe that she also believes these things and celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ as her Savior and King. If so, that's tremendous.

Family members tonight are commenting on the beautiful dance blended with music, and the diverse cultural elements of many recent Church-sponsored performances such as tonight's masterpiece. So much of what we're seeing seems to show the touch of President Hinckley, a truly progressive leader whose appreciation of media and the arts has done much to invigorate culture in the Church and to add vitality and interest to Church productions. Even the classy outfits of the Tabernacle Choir, compared to the dullsville robes from past days, seem to reflect his touch.

Will these media-savvy and pro-cultural touches remain in place for years to come? I sure hope so. This is a wonderful era for the Church, and a wonderful time to enjoy the many wholesome opportunities that the Church provides for us and the world. And it seems like a great time for Mormons who love the arts.

And yes, right now is the most wonderful time of the year, the time we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (even if we do think it was actually in April, not December). Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nyob Zoo! Greetings from the Fox Cities Hmong Branch in Appleton, Wisconsin

I was invited to drop by a party for the Fox Cities Hmong Branch yesterday, where my family and I attended Church for a couple years in the past. I send you greetings from the Branch and from the two new missionaries I met, Elder Graham of Pleasant Grove, Utah (on the left below), also known as "Tub Txib Kuab Ci," and Elder Boam from Hyrum, Utah (on the right), also known as "Tub Txib Muaj Hmoos." They are wearing some traditional Hmong attire - not what they normally wear.

The whole Branch wishes you a merry Christmas and greets you with "Nyob Zoo!" or "hello" in Hmong (pronounced something like nyaw zhoong, where "zh" is like the French "j", and "nyaw" is pronounced with a higher pitch than "zhoong").

The photo below shows the three-girl group "Nkauj Hmoob" which did a Hmong-style dance during the talent show portion of the party. The last photo shows a game being played, something like "duck, duck, goose."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Haven't You Seriously Studied the Book of Mormon?

I received email a couple days ago from an ex-Mormon wondering why I refuse to face the truth and recognize that the Church is a corrupt, ridiculous hoax. After a typical list of complaints against the Church (standard anti-Mormon fare), he tossed in a couple of telling statements alleging that the Book of Abraham was a hopeless fraud and that the Book of Mormon was the most empty, ridiculous book he had ever read. What, not even good enough for "inspiring fiction"? That was an important clue. I honestly wonder if he ever gave those books a chance and dug into them in any depth. Had he done so, I don't think he would have made that statement, at least not sincerely.

There are many reasons one can select for leaving the Church, but my experience is that people who have seriously studied the Book of Mormon tend to be able to be much stronger in the faith. It is a powerful conversion tool. And while our critics guffaw about it being an insipid fraud, the people it appeals most to, in my experience, are not the gullible uneducated people who can barely read a cable TV bill, but the educated and intellectual. It is the people who have the intellectual tools to read, study, interpret and decode a text and who have experience in reading a wide variety of works that are most likely to see the depth and beauty of the Book of Mormon. It takes some educational background to appreciate the power of the subtle Semitic poetry that infuses the Book of Mormon, or to appreciate the significance of its philosophical discourses on agency, redemption, sin, the Atonement, etc, or to enjoy the insights we get from comparing First Nephi to modern field work in the Arabian Peninsula. The people who join the Church because they took the challenge of Moroni 10:4 and dug into the Book of Mormon prayerfully, after serious pondering, studying and prayer, are not airheads. They can't be. You may argue they are wrong, but those who go on that intellectually satisfying journey are doing something that an increasingly small fraction of Americans can do: read, study, and ponder a complex text. At least give them credit for that.

Yes, there are numerous unanswered questions and annoyances about the Church and our faith, and some genuine flaws we can point to in Joseph Smith (see Rough Stone Rolling - a tremendous treatment of the not-always-pretty aspects of the early days of the Church). But after having encountered the majesty and spiritual power of the Book of Mormon, after having learned through extensive study and through personal revelation that this book is from God, cannot be explained as a nineteenth-century fraud, and has power that has transformed my life for good, how can I dismiss Joseph Smith as just a con-man on the basis of negative testimony from some critics or because of programs or policies in the Church that I don't like or even offend me? I wasn't there for the First Vision or the visitations of the Angel Moroni and did not see the golden plates, but there was something there. For me, there has been a world of discovery, joy, and blessings that have come from my testimony grounded firmly on the Book of Mormon as scripture,m with the Bible, and as an authentic ancient record that testifies of Christ.

I'm not saying that those who don't accept the Book of Mormon or who leave the Church aren't intellectual, educated, or good readers, or that they haven't read the Book of Mormon at all. But when I see glib, smarmy statements from some critics about how idiotic and trivial the Book of Mormon is, their credibility plummets. I'd like to challenge them to step back, reconsider, and seriously study the Book of Mormon - especially if they haven't done this already.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Was the Church's Latest Secret Command to Harry Reid?

"When Mitt [Romney] says he belongs to a church that doesn't tell him what to do, that's false; it's a 24/7, do-what-you're-told-to-do church," according to a vocal critic of the Church, cartoonist Steve Benson, a former Mormon. We hear this a lot, the paranoid idea that Mormon politicians must blindly follow the dictates of Church leaders rather than representing the people and thinking for themselves. It's a common concern for Mitt Romney. So I guess he was secretly taking orders from Salt Lake when he was pro-abortion in the past?

I wonder how frequently Harry Reid receives secret orders from President Hinckley? Since he and Brother Hatch in the Senate are frequently on the opposite side of social issues, I suppose that at least one of them isn't fully obedient - or maybe the appearance of Mormon politicians thinking for themselves is all due to cunning design from Salt Lake, just to lure the populace into thinking that Mitt Romney might have a mind of his own?

I'd like to say more on this issue, but I just got a call from Salt Lake telling me to quit bringing up political issues and talk about chiasmus or something. I guess have no choice but to obey blindly and say yes. That is, yes, ma'am! (The call came from my mother.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Come Unto Christ , the Only Path to Salvation

"We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." - I Timothy 4:10

One commenter recently puzzled why I would invite pagans to come unto Christ, for he had heard that Mormons think everybody will be saved. OK, we believe that everyone will be resurrected, which is a form of salvation - salvation from physical death. But there is another death we need to be saved from: spiritual death, the death which is a consequence of sin, the death of being cut off from the presence of God and the gift of Eternal Life (not just immortal life, but the unimaginably full and abundant life that can be enjoyed in the presence of God, who shares all that He has with His sons and daughters). When we speak of being "saved," we normally refer to those who have been saved from spiritual and physical death, namely, those who have truly accepted Jesus Christ and the grace that He offers us through a covenant relationship, a "special" salvation that goes far beyond the "universal" salvation of Resurrection. All mankind needs to be saved from our sins and the spiritual death that sin brings, but that "special" salvation will only be offered to those who accept Jesus Christ by having faith in Him, repenting of their sins, entering into the covenant through baptism, and then receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:37-38; John 3:3-5; Heb. 6:1).

Here are a few relevant passages from the Book of Mormon. From Helaman 5:9:

O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come, yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.
And from Mosiah 3:
[16] And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

[17] And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

[18] For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

[19] For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

[20] And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of the Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

[21] And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.
Now the really wonderful news, in addition to the salvation of infants, is the opportunity for all mankind to learn of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to accept it, if they wish. That's another topic, one that involves the preaching of the Gospel to the dead (1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6) and baptism for the dead. But let me just summarize by pointing out that God is consistent and remarkably fair in making salvation possible for all of us. We just need to look to Christ and accept His covenant of grace. And I truly hope that all of you will respond to this infinitely generous invitation from God, your Father in Heaven, who loves us and doesn't desire any of us to be cast out of His presence for our rebellion, but, as we read in 1 Timothy 2:4, "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." He has created the way for us to do that, but it is up to us to accept that invitation and "come to the knowledge of the truth" and act upon it (faith, repentance, and baptism).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tis the Season . . . for Pagans

As if Christmas these days weren't already pagan enough in its symbols and materialism, city officials in Green Bay, Wisconsin (just a few minutes north of my town of Appleton) have added a Wiccan display at City Hall.

Christmas has become so pagan already. What a shame. But now does it have to be everything to everybody to avoid offense? I understand Green Bay will also be flying the flags of Venezuela, China, Iran, and Zimbabwe over City Hall just to keep their bases covered. Wouldn't want to leave anybody out!

On another topic, this season is becoming a great time for Satanists, too, given recent political developments. Satanists may have thought they had a good choice or two among the candidates for President, but now a prominent minister in Florida (and ex-con) has informed Americans that they can actually vote for Satan himself in the coming primaries. Satanists must be rejoicing this holiday season now that they know that "A Vote for Romney Is a Vote for Satan Himself." (How wrong I was to trust Ben Bernanke on this issue - I thought Satan was Ron Paul!) Hey, what if Satan wins? I think progressive cities should prepare now and begin putting up displays of the fires of hell around city hall.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"How Can Anyone Be So Stupid?"

I get a lot of emails from strangers that begin with friendly greetings like, "How can anyone be so stupid as to believe in Mormonism?" These cheerful notes then go on to share important information about the errors of modern Church leaders ("the Church is building a mall!"), past Church leaders ("Joseph Smith was a womanizer"), objectionable doctrines ("you believe that Adam is God"), disasters of Church history (the Kirtland bank disaster and Mountain Meadows are favorites here), and other present or past problems in the Church ("you're a bunch of racists!"). And then we wrap up with a gentle reminder about how utterly stupid I must be. After all, how can anyone look at this litany of problems and possibly remain LDS? (Sometimes the writer states that they were once LDS and have now left -- the email from alleged ex-Mormons tends to be the nastiest.) It is beyond reason and a sign of monstrous idiocy that any human being could belong to such a Church. Sometimes these helpful souls are broadminded enough to recognize that there may be alternate explanations for my religious faith. Maybe it's not just stupidity - perhaps I am so ignorant and blind that I've never heard the facts they have shared, or else I'm a vile hypocrite knowingly leading souls astray. But utter stupidity is generally the normal assumption.

At that point, there is often a call to wake up, repent, and follow the only logical path, the only path that sane, non-stupid human beings could possibly accept, which happens to be the path chosen by the kind exhorter who has chosen to wake me from my delusion. That path varies, ranging from atheism, agnosticism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Amwayism, etc. (Notably, I don't think I've ever had this kind of treatment from Jews, who I have found to be among the most non-critical and accepting people on the planet.)

The attitudes of these correspondents represent classical anti-Mormonism. It is one thing to disagree with us, but to insult and revile, assuming that no intelligent person could possibly accept another belief system, displays true bigotry. This kind of bigotry is the fuel behind hate and many associated evils. But the outreach effort to shake me from my stupidity is, of course, always conducted in "love." It's not the gushing, sentimental kind of love that we see expressed between, say, hockey players of opposing teams during an intense match, or by fans of opposing World Cup soccer teams after a few beers and an ugly match, but a tougher love, sort of a bittersweet love but without the sweet, perhaps even a Ramboesque love, a love that requires body armor to appreciate.

A person lacks the refining benefits of basic education, in my opinion, if he or she cannot recognize that good and intelligent people can hold a wide variety of opinions and beliefs that may be sharply discordant with one's own views. Those other beliefs may seem illogical and absurd from our perspective, and we may be convinced that they are wrong, yet there is a need to recognize that those other beliefs may be intellectually or spiritually satisfying to their adherents, and may have value and richness that we do not appreciate. A Muslim believer may find Christianity to be hopelessly polytheistic with its belief in three gods - in spite of the seemingly desperate word-smithing attempts to define the three persons as one one Being or one Godhead, yet many Muslim believers I know kindly accept that Christians find great value, comfort, and even beauty in our beliefs, and recognize that one can be intelligent, educated, and Christian at the same time. (Of course, if we'd learn a little Arabic and dig into the majesty of the Koran, maybe we'd become even more intelligent. . . .)

Our critics seem to think that a serious apparent mistake from a Church leader should convince me to abandon my faith. My appreciation of LDS teachings and practices is not based on the assumption that every act and statement of Church leaders has been infallibly guided by God. If Joseph Smith made huge mistakes, if a Stake President made huge mistakes, if modern General Authorities make poor decisions on some matters, if hundreds of Mormons have had various personal problems, and if some popular LDS doctrines today turn out to be incomplete and in need of future correction, one does not have to be a moron to remain LDS. My faith is not based on the absurd notion that Church leaders are infallible or even that they are nearly always right. It is not based on an error-free Book of Mormon, or on the selection of construction projects that I agree with. I'm not a Mormon because I think we have perfect leaders or even mostly right leaders. My religious faith does not depend on whether I like polygamy or think Joseph Smith implemented it in the right way. It does not depend on what went wrong and who was to blame for the Kirtland Bank failure or the other problems the Church has faced.

My testimony is based on the divinity of Jesus Christ as expressed in the Bible and in the powerful, Christ-centered, divine record we have in the Book of Mormon. Having found for myself that the Book of Mormon is true, and since that first discovery, having repeatedly found it to be majestic scripture beyond anything that a man could have fabricated - especially Joseph Smith in 1830, then I must conclude that there is something divine that happened with Joseph Smith. Indeed, in addition to my experiences with the Book of Mormon, my experiences with the fruits of the Restoration - the priesthood, the Temple, the teachings of the Church and the blessings and joy of the living the Restored Gospel - further convince me there is a divine source of these things, pointing to the reality of the Restoration. And on top of all that, there is a remarkable intellectual and spiritual satisfaction that comes from the theology and doctrines of the Church. Understanding the justice of God (the whole issue of theodicy), especially as expressed through the work of preaching of the Gospel to the dead and making the blessings of the Gospel available to all the world from all generations who are willing to accept it, is remarkably beautiful intellectually. Understanding the nature of God and Jesus Christ as taught in the Restored Gospel resolves centuries of miasma and brings clarity and beauty to our view. Understanding the nature of mankind and the free agency that we have, all intricately tied to knowledge of our premortal existence as spirit children of our Heavenly Father, helps resolve some of the most troubling and confused issues of modern Christianity (see When Souls Had Wings: What the Western Tradition Has to teach Us About Pre-Existence by Terryl Givens). And then there is the intellectual satisfaction of seeing that the LDS doctrines that other Christians use to condemn us as somehow being "non-Christian" actually are much more at home in the earliest days of Christianity than in the modern era, providing intellectual satisfaction about the reality of this remarkable process we are in, the process of Restoration of ancient truth. That process is not over and we still have a lot to learn, including from other religions and from science and other sources, for we do not have all truth and certainly do not have a monopoly on what truth there is on this diverse planet. In fact, we understand that that there was much truth anciently that has been handed down, sometimes distorted and corrupted, sometimes preserved, and knowing this, we can look upon other religious viewpoints not with the attitude of "How can anyone be so stupid?" but perhaps even with the attitude of "How can we be less stupid by learning from you?"

There is so much of value in the beliefs of others. We may disagree with much, but we can recognize that they, too, find value and beauty in what they have, and that if take of our own blinders, we may find gems of wisdom that can help us grow as well.

That's just my opinion, of course. But I can't see how anyone could be so stupid as to disagree with it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Home Again: Grateful for the Simple Things - Like Electricity

Recently while completing my travels to a major foreign nation, I was in a portion of a great and seemingly wealthy city where many people were deprived of one of the most basic resources that I tend to take for granted at home: access to electrical power. In an area where there was about one electrical outlet for every 10,000 people, it was almost surreal to stand in a huge and luxurious public building and to watch hundreds of desperate, weary people mill about in hopes of getting a few minutes of access to one of the almost maliciously rare power outlets in that building in order to recharge a battery or two. The powerful officials and wealthy business magnates profiting from the masses there apparently had little regard for the basic needs of the common man. Though it was depressing to experience that, it reminded me to be grateful for the simple things I enjoy at home. And so, in a way, I'm glad to have had that chilling experience in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on my way home from Russia. And eventually I did manage to get a few minutes of power for my laptop.

Of course, being grateful for simple things doesn't cover the whole spectrum of gratitude that we should have. The rest of my trip helped in that regard, for my few days in the beautiful city of Moscow helped me to be grateful for some of the finer things in life, like Ukrainian borscht, smoked salmon, amazing architecture, and most important of all, kind, wonderful people and good friends.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Looking Past Lenin's Tomb

Greetings from Russia! What a fabulous country with warm, interesting people and so much culture. Here's a quick thought based on contemplation of Lenin's tomb (and tombs everywhere). Does he still exist? Whether you think he was a hero or villain, is there anything to the human being known as Lenin besides the body in that tomb? Is the spirit just the "life force" that vanishes when one dies, only to be recreated later for final judgment?

As a Latter-day Saint, a belief in the persistence of the human soul is an important part of my view of the world. We Latter-day Saints understand that there is a vital part of us that existed before we were born and continues to exist after we die. Indeed, we are spirit beings now clothed with flesh - here just once to obtain a body and prepare for the Resurrection and immortality (we reject reincarnation). Our spirits are children of our Heavenly Father and persist regardless of what happens to this body. Thus, Lenin still exists as a spirit in the "spirit world," and what is in the tomb is relatively immaterial, so to speak. Our thoughts, memories, personality, etc., indeed, the "self," reside with the spirit when we die. On the day of Resurrection, the spirit will be reclothed with the body.

The belief that humans have living, persistent spirits makes a lot of sense to me, and I think that is the most reasonable way to make sense of many passages in the Bible. I'll discuss this in an upcoming post. Some of it will be based on an article about the dead posted on my Website. (Hint: What did Christ mean when He told the thief on the cross that he'd be with Christ that day in paradise - many hours before Christ would actually Resurrect and return to heaven, or what did Christ mean when He told the story of the rich man in Hades and Lazarus? What did Christ mean in Luke 24 when He told his disciples not to be afraid because a spirit doesn't have the tangible flesh and bones that Christ had then? Many more such questions....)

I understand that there are other views from people who also cherish the Bible. Yes, it's always possible to come up with alternate views on every matter of theology. I know some people whose view seems to be that we are pretty much completely gone at death, and that the Lord recreates us an immortal version of us for the day of judgment - a body with our thoughts and memories restored, but with no need for a persistent soul. I struggle with that concept. If I'm a monster in this life and vanish at death, it seems like I would have escaped without justice. Should I be troubled if a copy of me gets recreated and punished later? Ditto for the blessings of accepting the Gospel - forming a clone, so to speak, with my memories and giving him eternal life is nice, but would that really be me?

I guess Star Trek poisoned my theological openness here. As a child and teenager, I used to love the concept of beaming around to places and wanted to invent a transporter beam one day. But then I ran into a Star Trek book and an episode that explained the details of the device. When people entered the transporter beam, the transporter destroyed you one molecule at a time and the made a complete copy somewhere else. In other words, it killed you, but - good news - made a clone somewhere else. Nobody noticed the difference - except, perhaps, humans with a spirit who would suddenly find themselves in the spirit world right after speaking their own death sentence: "Beam me uip (or down), Scotty." Yeah, that bothered me. Making another working model somewhere else just doesn't seem comforting (I've never allowed myself to be beamed anywhere, for the record, so I've still got my original soul, I think.)

Oh boy, I can see what jet lag does. Never mind. Greetings from Russia!

(Lenin's tomb.)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Teachers and Religion

Should religious parents care about the moral and religious values of teachers in public school? Many just assume that there will be no religious influence, but there is vast influence in the area of moral values at many levels. Does it matter?

For those who prefer that teachers have some basic respect for religion and moral values, there is some good news in the latest issue of Education Next. Robert Slater's article, "American Teachers: What Values Do They Hold?" reports on teacher values based on extensive surveys. The report includes a section on the issue of religion showing that elementary and secondary education teachers in the US are more religious than average Americans and have a variety of views reflecting those religious roots. The article doesn't explore religion at the university level, where I think there is a dramatic shift toward the less-religious side.

Here's the section on religion:


God and religion play an important role in the lives of more than half of all Americans. In a study conducted by the European Values Study Group and World Values Survey Association, 58 percent of the U.S. population said that God was very important in their lives, a greater percentage by far than in the populations of other developed countries such as Great Britain (14 percent), France (8), Italy (33), Japan (7), Spain (17), or Germany (9).

Religion and education have always had a close relationship in the United States. The country's first institution of higher education,Harvard College, was established in 1636 to train ministers. Many of the country's first teachers were ministers and parsons. Even when women came to dominate the teaching field, religious values were still a priority. We should not be surprised if elementary and secondary school teachers value religion highly, perhaps even more highly than Americans in general. But do they?

According to the NORC survey data from the current decade, about 37 percent of teachers say they attend church one or more times per week,while 26 percent of other Americans say they do so. Controlling for the education of nonteachers does not affect this difference. Of those nonteachers with 16 or more years of schooling, 28 percent regularly attend church.

Looking at the data across the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s,we find that teachers are about 9 to 11 percentage points more likely than other Americans as a whole to pray one or more times per day. During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans were asked how close they felt to God. Teachers were about 8 percentage points more likely than other Americans to report feeling "extremely close" to God.

Why do teachers, by these measures, seem more religious than other Americans? Perhaps the differences are due to gender. Most teachers are women, and women are more likely than men to be frequent churchgoers and more likely to pray one or more times a day. In fact, we find teachers of both genders to be more religious than nonteachers. Female teachers are about 8 percentage points more likely to attend church frequently than female nonteachers, and male teachers are 16 percentage points more likely to attend church frequently than male nonteachers (see Figure 3 [in original article]). Teachers are apparently more religious than other Americans, regardless of gender or education.

Does teachers' religious orientation translate into support for school prayer? Do they approve or disapprove of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that prohibits prayer in public schools? Given the priority that teachers tend to give to religion, we might reasonably expect to find them more disapproving of the ruling than other Americans.At the same time, however, teachers have a relatively high level of education, and the more education Americans have, the more they tend to approve of the Supreme Court's ban on school prayer. In 2006 about 57 percent of nonteachers were against the Supreme Court's ban on school prayer,while only 36 percent of teachers opposed it. But, again, the difference seems to be largely due to education. Looking at only those with 16 or more years of schooling,we see no significant difference between teachers and nonteachers, with slightly more than one-third of each group opposing it.
Those positive attitudes about religion among teachers arer definitely not reflected in textbooks, where religion is presented as a an irrelevant factor in modern life and an often negative factor in history. I think we should make efforts to balance that with the good news of what religion does and can do for society.

Of course, one has to be careful how one presents such ideas. Can you imagine what would happen if, say, a politician running for President suddenly started talking about God and religion in a positive way, and then went so far as to quote some of our Founding Fathers on the value of religion in society? Talk about a suicidal move!

Anyway, hats off to all you teachers who do your best to be good examples to students and to help them appreciate wholesome values without stepping on their own religious or irreligious background.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Wild World of Innovation: Which LDS Innovations Are Best and Worst?

You can't believe how much I love my new job. I suspect that relatives and friends are getting bored with the regular, "Have I told you how much I love my job?" routine. It's a bit more intense that I imagined, but the excitement level is very high because I get to work with amazing inventors and innovations every day, mapping out strategies for commercialization, intellectual asset development, marketing, etc. From lone inventors to large companies, from California to Florida to Russia and Israel, we get to be involved with innovation at so many levels. And we even have some of our own innovations we are taking to the market, such as a personalized security system to defeat thieves at many levels (check it out: US Pat. Appl. 20070250920 - also on FreePatentsOnline.com - and for those who hate patents of this nature, PLEASE attack it with prior art and intelligent comments at PeerToPatent.org, where I've been accepted for their peer-review pilot!) What excitement!

As much as I love innovation, there are some places where I don't want it. Take my operating system. Every time Microsoft updates things, I'm nervous. What functionality has been lost? Will my drivers still work? Will my computer crash? From XP to Vista - ouch! That's an innovation I've been resisting. Things that were easy in XP seem harder and slower in Vista. And some past upgrades in software products have completely deleted key things that were important to me.

Innovation in religion can also be undesirable. The innovations of the fourth and fifth century in redefining the nature of God, for example, are innovations that leave me a little bewildered. How I miss that good old time religion! Now I know we Latter-day Saints talk about the Restoration of the original Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that's absolutely true for core elements like authority, baptism, knowledge of God, etc., but we should also recognize that there have been many innovations with time as well. Some things we do might be pretty foreign to the early Christians, and visa versa. And some things might seem pretty foreign to Joseph Smith.

So let me ask this: What innovations in modern Mormonism - innovations since, say, 1900, do you find most valuable? And which would you like to eliminate? Because not every upgrade is an improvement, and sometimes innovation can get in the way of real progress, as exciting as it may seem.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"They Explained God to Me"

"The Truth Found Me" by Marianne Rohrbough is the true story of a Dutch girl who, after World War II, yearned to know the truth about God and Christ. I recommend it. Here's an excerpt from the account in the Dec. 2007 Ensign:
When I was 18, my mother wanted me to attend a confirmation class at our church. I was eager to go because I loved to learn about God. But it quickly became the most confusing time in my life. I was taught that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were the same person--that Jesus was God in physical form. That brought up a lot of questions in my mind: Who was in heaven while God was on earth as Christ? Was Christ praying to Himself when He prayed? How could God forsake Himself while He was hanging on the cross? How could God stand at His own right hand as Stephen saw in a vision? Things just didn't seem to add up, and when I said that I couldn't understand such things, I was told in a very decisive way by my teacher, "We can never comprehend God. The moment you understand God, He will cease to be God to you."

I was too timid to say anything more, but my teacher could tell that I didn't believe him. Consequently, I flunked the class.

Even though I decided not to go back, I still felt the need to belong to a church so I could draw closer to God. A friend talked me into seeing a clergyman of another faith, but when he told me that only members of his religion would go to heaven, I asked, "What will happen to all those people all over the world who have grown up and died having never heard of your church?" He just shrugged his shoulders and said that heaven was out of their reach. That shocked me--God could not possibly be that unfair!

I searched among several other denominations, but their teachings didn't sound or feel right. Every church seemed to have its own interpretation of scripture. I felt that just coming to church on Sundays, dropping money into collection pouches, listening to a sermon, and then going home for the rest of the week was not enough. There had to be more to the life of a Christian.

Walking home, I looked up at the sky, which was cloudless and blue (a rarity in the Netherlands), and asked silently, "God, why was I created? What am I supposed to do with my life? And why don't we have Apostles anymore? They would be able to clean up all this confusion we have in the churches."

I received no answer then, but in the middle of the summer that followed, God sent to Rotterdam two missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who had the answers I sought. But first, they had to find me.

It was almost noon one day as Elder Beazer and Elder Van Bibber were tracting in the eastern outskirts of Rotterdam. They were hungry. It had been a long morning, and they hadn't received any invitations from those they spoke with to come back. "Let's go home and have some lunch," Elder Beazer said.

"How about one more door?" suggested Elder Van Bibber.

"All right," Elder Beazer replied. "One more door."

They rang the doorbell, and a slim, dark-haired woman with brown eyes opened the door. After the young men introduced themselves as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the woman invited them in. They taught her the first lesson and made an appointment to return.

When I came home from work that day, my mother greeted me with the words, "You'll never guess who came to the door today."

"Who?" I asked.

"Two young men from America. They wanted to talk about God, and I let them in."

"Oh," I said, uninterested. Had I been home to open the door, I wouldn't have let them in.

"They explained God to me."

I froze in my tracks. "What did you say?"

"They explained God to me," she repeated. "Here, I'll show you."

Curious, I followed my mother into the parlor. From the coffee table she picked up a small piece of paper. On it the missionaries had drawn three stick figures. "One is God the Father, one is the Son, and the third is the Holy Ghost. The Father and the Son have bodies of flesh and bones, but the Holy Ghost doesn't. That is why He's drawn in dotted lines. They are three separate beings."

For a moment I just stared at her. "That's it!" I finally said. "That makes sense." I knew it was true.
It's interesting that the crude and silly drawings that some missionaries use could play a memorable role in her recognition of the truth. But why not?

It's wonderful to me that the precious knowledge of the nature of God has been restored in this day. Christ did not say that God was incomprehensible, but said that "this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Truly we are created in His image (gen. 1:26-27). Truly Jesus Christ was and is "the express image" of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). Christ looks like we do (though glorious beyond description), and the Father looks like Christ. They are one - as Christians should be one (John 17). The innovations in the fourth and fifth century to reconcile the understanding of God with the teachings of "science" (Greek philosophy, with all of its aversion to materiality) were not the result of revelation to apostles and prophets, but the teachings of men that took us further from the truth. How wonderful that we can now know the basics about God, basics that early Christians and Jews understood in the days of the Bible.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Media Reminder: If You Want to Avoid R-Rated Content, Why Do You Trust PG-13?

Many of us Latter-day Saints wish to avoid R-rated movies. We've had Church leaders wisely counsel us to avoid them. That's a simple guideline to follow and I see no harm in eliminating such content from our lives. But many people mistakenly assume that a rating of PG-13 or PG means that the content is much less offensive than typical R-rated content. The truth is that the level of violence and sexuality in some PG-13 movies or even PG movies can be what traditionally would automatically bring an R-rating. Be warned that ratings can sometimes be meaningless. Do your homework first.

One resource to screen content is Kids-In-Mind.com. There you can read details about content in terms of language, violence, and sex. Movies today have become so degenerate that just reading the descriptions of the content can be pretty disturbing, so be warned. But you don't have to read the details: they have an easy-to-see graphical indicator for each of these levels, going from 1 (minimal) to 10 (extreme). Here's their scorecard for Beowulf (full unsavory review here):

A non-LDS movie reviewer in my local paper today points out that the content of Beowulf is clearly what most people would expect to be R-rated. He writes that when R-rated content in movies like Beowulf and Lord of the Rings (gruesome, persistent violence) gets away with only a PG-13 rating, the ratings become relatively meaningless. To me that means yes, I want my family to avoid R-rated movies, but we must also be increasingly cautious about all other movies as well. This is very old news, but worth repeating. I see too many parents who have no qualms about letting their kids see PG-13 movies. Mistake. And it's not just the kids we should worry about. None of us adults can stay close to the Spirit of the Lord while taking in some of the offensive content that our Adversary has inspired. As part of the many standards and commandments the Lord has given for Christians, Christ warned of how serious a sin it is for a man to look on a woman in lust (Matt. 5:28), and we also read in the scriptures that to lust for a woman is to deny the faith (Doctrine & Covenants 42:23). Can you watch the salacious depictions of Hollywood without being affected? Gratuitous depictions of wanton violence doesn't seem to be particularly godly, either.

Having been flamed for such comments in the past, let me jump ahead and save some of you some time: "What's wrong with you? Are you so insecure about the human body that you get all uptight when it is presented on screen? Can't you handle the reality of sex and violence?" OK, yes, I do have this hangup that makes me feel offended when women's bodies are treated like playthings and when the private beauty of human intimacy is publicly degraded to a lurid tool for profit by shameless businessmen. And I am very uncomfortable about the human body - mine or anyone's - when it is being hacked, sliced, burned, tortured, stabbed, and mangled, all for the profit of powerful corporations who prey on the worst within us.

But to their credit, mega-gore movies like Beowulf and the dismal Lord of the Rings series at least spare the viewer from depictions of ritualistic waterboarding and taser abuse. I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

Utah in the News: Utah Officer Uses Utah Product on Utah Man

A lot of Mormon critics suggest that Mormons are a bunch of sheep trained to submit to authority and not ask questions. Yes, there are some who lack the intellectual curiosity and critical thinking that I think is healthy, but having faith and respecting wise leaders is not the same as blind obedience and mindless submission. Plenty of Mormons I know don't mind asking questions and politely, respectfully challenging authority when something doesn't seem right. Of course, in any organization, even gentle challenging of authority can sometimes get you in trouble, depending on who the authority is. So much depends on the tone you use and the sensitivity you show. But when the authority figure has a gun or a Taser (one of Utah's many fine products), blind, unquestioning obedience is probably the safest way to go. That's a lesson that one Utah couple learned the hard way, as reported over at TaserJustice.com. A man and his expectant wife (BYU students, perhaps?), get pulled over for allegedly driving above 40 mph, apparently before the 40 mph limit was in effect. The man doesn't want to sign the ticket without knowing why they are being charged for speeding. In response, the officer wants to arrest him, and when the man steps away to point out the 40 mph sign close to them, not immediately following the officer's instructions, he gets tasered. Ouch. Now there's some uproar on the Net about another apparent case of taser abuse.

I know some Sunday School teachers who could occasionally use a taser, but I'm not sure that would advance Gospel purposes in the best way.

I think the real lesson here is the need to use restraint when you have power. There is a temptation to use power in disciplining others, but in so many cases, more good could be achieved by using persuasion and gentleness and avoiding the full use of the power that one has - even when somebody's behavior seems inappropriate.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Lesson from Appleton: The Dangers of Immorality, Abortion Pills, and Questionable Smoothies

My wonderful little town of Appleton, Wisconsin, one of the safest communities in the nation, is in the national news because of a troubling crime. The story involves a married man who allegedly used RU486 to make his mistress miscarry. He may have been responsible for two miscarriages she had. She caught him trying to get her to drink a smoothies that had a powder on the rim of the cup. She had the powder tested: RU486, the abortion drug. He obtained it from his connections in India.

Chilling, horrifying. The real lesson is not about the dangers of RU486, but the dangers of immorality and especially infidelity. It leads to so many problems, so much deceit, so much harm.

The man is being prosecuted for murder under Wisconsin's fetal homicide law (we're one of 37 states with such a law).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From Moderation to Abstinence: Evolving Applications of the Word of Wisdom

"Up In Smoke: A Response to the Tanners' Criticism of the Word of Wisdom" by Michael R. Ash provides a detailed and well documented review of the evolution of the application of the Word of Wisdom over the years. The essay takes on the anti-Mormon charges that Church leaders have been hypocritical about the Word of Wisdom.

The Fruits of Church Membership: Example from Nigeria

"In Nigeria, the New Face of Global Mormonism" is a Seattle Time story about the Church in Nigeria. It begins by discussing the joy and other changes brought into the life of a man who is now a faithful Latter-day Saint. Very positive.

This has been my experience in so many cases. Those who gain their testimony of the Restored Gospel and become active members tend to make many positive changes in their lives, have stronger families, and find more personal joy. It was so dramatic for me on my mission to see the changes that came to people's lives from the message we brought. And I've seen those kind of changes many times since. The influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on people can be so dramatic and so positive.

I'm very sorry for those who have different experiences and don't find the joy that the Gospel tends to bring. May we all remember that we play a role in the experience that others have. Our kindness, our patience, our tolerance for weakness, our support in times of trial, can help others know and feel that they are part of a community grounded in the joy of Christ. Our bad behavior, on the other hand, can deprive others of those blessings - or make it harder for them to be realized.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

One of the Nicest Things You Can Do for Someone

I recently had lunch at an event at Fox Valley Technical College celebrating their Fab Lab, a collection of prototyping equipment coupled with an international network of fabricating expertise in collaboration with MIT. While I could ramble at length about the technical and entrepreneurial potential of this world-class Appleton facility, one of the really impressive moments came before the tour during lunch. A man at my table shared with me his experiences in helping a family in Bolivia gain access to education. For many years, they have been providing money through a Catholic agency (the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging) to provide education to those in emerging nations, and had become directly involved in helping one particular family. He shared with me the excitement in knowing that the oldest daughter, rather than being condemned to poverty, has advanced far enough to now be in college, with bright prospects. They even went down to Bolivia to meet the family in their poor circumstances, and were blessed and uplifted by the encounter.

Success in so much of the world is directly tied to one's education. I was really delighted to learn of his family's experience and their kindness, and told him that he had done one of the best things anybody could do for someone else.

For Latter-day Saints, the Church's Perpetual Education Fund is a truly inspired way of helping young people in developing nations break the cycle of poverty through education. It's a program we should probably support a little more.

Christmas time is approaching. Rather than scrambling to find the best electronic gadgets that we can give away to people who don't need them (the stories I've heard of "Black Friday" shopping are so pathetic - hundreds of people camping out overnight in the cold just for chance to grab hot items on sale at 5 a.m.), what if we held back part of our intended Christmas budget to give the gift of education? Whether through the Perpetual Education Fund or some other reliable agency, I think it would be a nice improvement for our Christmas gift giving. I know some of you were thinking about getting me Accordion Hero for Xbox, but I'm willing to postpone that gratification if you'll donate what you would have spent and then some to help one of our brothers or sisters have a chance to improve their education.

Drug-Induced or Money-Induced? Our Tolerance for Alcohol on the Roads

Update: When I posted this yesterday, I introduced the topic of alcohol on the road by mentioning recent publicity about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) being down on my state of Wisconsin for alcohol-related fatalities here, while Utah was getting credit for having the best record. But there's another side to this story. Before you Utahans get too complacent, and before you Wisconsinites get too offended, you should look at the actual progress report from MADD and see the shocker: While Wisconsin had a 5% drop in alcohol-related fatalities in 2006, Utah had a 64% increase! If we apply basic principles of media science and extrapolate that rate for two or three years, Utah will soon lead the nation in drunk driving, and after a decade or two, every Utahan will have been killed at least twice by drunk driving. This is far worse than global warming or overpopulation, though it may help solve the latter crisis.

(And let me remind you that while Wisconsin does have more drinkers than Utah, it is one of the safest places in the country to live. Low crime, good health care, a clean environment, lots of decent people, and generally strong family values - I'm glad to be here by choice. I just stay off the roads on New Year's Eve.)

Now back to the original post:
I am disappointed that more vigorous steps have not been taken to reduce drunk driving here and in many other places. There are penalties in every state for drunk driving if you get caught, certainly, but it seems like it would be easy to crack down on drunk driving by simply having police regularly target the parking lots of bars. Pull over a driver as they leave a bar's parking lot at 2 am, check for alcohol, and then whip out the cuffs. I've driven by hundreds of bars at night and can't remember ever seeing a police car staking out the action nearby. Why not? Why not have sobriety checkpoints near bars? And why not make it illegal to serve a person enough alcohol to suffer from impaired driving?

So why do so many states have such implicit tolerance for alcohol on the roads?

Legislative efforts to deal with the problem face powerful resistance. I think it's more than just a cultural tolerance for alcohol - I think it's the concentrated power of those who profit from our abuse of the deadly drug of alcohol. The liquor lobby in Wisconsin is powerful and effective.

A statement in the revealed Word of Wisdom (Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants) seems remarkably prophetic for our society and is much more appropriate today than it was in 1833:
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation-
5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
"Evils and designs . . . in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days" - what an apt and prophetic description of the rise to power of the institutions that promote alcohol and other harmful substances forbidden by the Word of Wisdom (tobacco and implicitly other addictive drugs).

Maybe we wouldn't need such a strict prohibition on alcohol under the Word of Wisdom if it weren't for the prophetic realization that there would be such intense promotion of alcohol abuse in our day. The marketing, the peer pressure, the alcohol-centric cultures that we live in, make it dangerous for many to permit even a little alcohol use in our lives. For some, the intent to drink just a little gets out of control, especially at places like some of our universities (e.g., at some of our universities, where binge drinking is a way of life for a majority of students, according to student surveys).

The power of conspiring men in promoting harmful addictions is perhaps even more powerfully evident when we consider the tobacco industry. In spite of massive public outcry, tobacco growers continue to be subsidized by the US Government - something that has been going on for over 70 years. Government has become dependent on the taxes that our tobacco addictions generate, and cannot seriously contemplate any steps that might dry up that source of especially filthy lucre. The effectiveness of tobacco lawyers, the brilliance of tobacco marketers, and the political savvy of tobacco executives are legendary, and in some cases, these skills may have been used in ways that may illustrate what the Lord meant by "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men." Of course, "conspiring" is such a harsh and emotionally charged word. Perhaps we should something more objective like "leveraging core competencies to maximize shareholder value and achieve strategic growth objectives."

I'll be sharing an interesting story along these lines in one of my next posts, based on something I picked up from one of my favorite books, Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tis Better to Give than to Loan: How to Help Friends and Relatives Stay Out of Debt - and Not Become Your Enemies

We had a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving here in Wisconsin, surrounded with family and friends talking, eating, and enjoying some fine Wisconsin polka music while playing that video game sensation, Accordion Hero. OK, it was actually Guitar Hero, an interesting video game that features a host of bad hair styles and even worse music. But I can see why people would enjoy it and I did try it for a minute or two, trying to be a good sport. But when the night was over, I was ready for polka, an musical genre whose epicenter is in Wisconsin and one that I have never been able to appreciate, until, perhaps, tonight. Accordion Hero: The Mega-Polka Edition - I almost hope that's in my stocking this Christmas!

Speaking of family and friends, here's a little tip that I think has really helped us over the years: It's more blessed to give than to loan. This is a very serious financial principle. We came to that conclusion after observing the disasters spawned by many people around us who kindly loaned money to people they cared about. Big mistake! Loaning to friends and family is often a good way to damage your relationship when people can't repay. Friends in debt to friends soon quit calling and visiting. Family members in debt to each other often quit talking. It's a mess.

Don't loan to people you care about. If you want to help, just GIVE them the money that you can afford to give them, and make it absolutely clear that this is NOT a loan, not to be repaid, and if they do come up with money that could repay the gift, to use it to help someone else or to invest wisely for the future, but not to repay you. It's a GIFT. Gifts that people need rarely break up relationships, but loans often do.

A couple things almost always seem to happen when one makes a loan to family and friends, as we've seen from so many events among our acquaintances. First of all, because you are their friend or relative, you're going to give the loan based on trust and a verbal agreement, rather than via a legal document with teeth. The reality, then, is that you're going to have a hard time getting your money back if "unforeseen trouble" arises, as it usually does. Because you are a friend making a loan based on trust, there is little downside to not paying you back, unlike other obligations they may have. Even with the most honorable of people facing a multitude of debts, the loans that get paid back are the ones that have "teeth" built in - e.g., damage to their credit rating, confiscation of property, eviction, etc.

Second, the reason they are coming to you and not a bank or other official source of funds is because they might not be able to afford the terms of a regular loan or might not be able to qualify for one. They are higher risk, usually, and are very likely to have trouble paying you back, no matter how good their intentions. Don't put them in the unpleasant situation of being in debt to you. Offer your help, if any, in the form of a gift and keep your relationship healthy.

Loans are inherently risky. Even the best people may face difficulties that make it difficult to repay as agreed. When an institution faces bad loans, they can write the loans off and move on. But you, in the other hand, might never be able to let go. Some lenders, "betrayed" by friends or relatives or fellow Church members who took their money and didn't repay, become bitter and wounded over the loss, in addition to suffering the harm of a damaged relationship. Such loans can end up hurting the giver as well as the receiver. Avoid that risk.

One of the worst mistakes you can make is to take out a loan yourself to help a friend. There may be cases where you feel you have to, but it's a double negative. You'll be in debt and you'll face real teeth when you need to repay, and they'll be in debt and will have embarrassment and even anger toward you when they are unable to repay you, but you keep "encouraging" them to pay you back. Just gets ugly. If you feel you have to go into debt to help someone, again try to do so without giving them a loan - make it a gift and preserve that relationship.

Just a little financial tip for the day. (Please note that I'm avoiding the temptation to ramble on about food storage, the sinking dollar, the insidious threat of inflation, the wisdom of investing in commodities like energy and silver - but get it while it's cheap.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (And remember, it's better to give Accordion Hero than to receive.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Noah's Flood? The Event That Some Scientists Think "Kick-Started" European Agriculture

Scientists at the University of Exeter (as reported at Eurakalert.com) propose that an ancient flood like Noah's flood may have caused dramatic changes in Europe:
The collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet released a deluge of water that increased global sea levels by up to 1.4 metres and caused the largest North Atlantic freshwater pulse of the last 100,000 years. Before this time, a ridge across the Bosporus Strait dammed the Mediterranean and kept the Black Sea as a freshwater lake. With the rise in sea level, the Bosporus Strait was breached, flooding the Black Sea. This event is now widely believed to be behind the various folk myths that led to the biblical Noah's Ark story. Archaeological records show that around this time there was a sudden expansion of farming and pottery production across Europe, marking the end of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer era and the start of the Neolithic. The link between rising sea levels and such massive social change has previously been unclear.
I've been partial to the idea that a sudden flooding of the Black Sea and surrounding regions could have been associated with Noah's Flood. Stay tuned!

Chocolate Wine in Mesoamerica

A previous post addressed the issue of references to wine in the Book of Mormon as an alleged anachronism. One interesting development in this area is the recognition that wine made from cacao pulp may have been a widespread component of ancient Mesoamerican society (thanks to Cornell University for the story). The rise of chocolate may have its foundations in very ancient brewing.

If you're LDS and want to better understand Book of Mormon life by brewing some authentic Mesoamerican cacao wine, be sure to use decaffeinated cacao pulp. Just a little "Extra Mile Word of Wisdom Tip" (EMWOWT).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tortured Thoughts: When the End Justifies the Means, the End of Justice is Near

I'm down on torture. Partly because I think it's a moral atrocity, but even more so because I'm a genuine wimp and am honestly afraid of being tortured myself. If a society becomes so degraded that it will justify the brutal torture of a human being in the name of some alleged greater good, when the end is easily assumed to justify the means, then the end is near - the end of justice, the end of compassion, the end of humanity, and the end of human rights. It always begins with a violation of the rights of apparent fiends and hated minorities (call them hated "enemy combatants", guilty by accusation alone, and lock them up without a trial - who could oppose that when it's for our own protection?), but those ranks are easily expanded. When a government relies on torture for state security, everyone should feel insecure, especially those of us who have big mouths, minority opinions, offensive religious and political views, and trouble with authority. Not to mention having a couple blogs and a Website or two. No, I'm not being so egotistical as to think that anyone cares about what I say and do right now. But ten or twenty years from now? What if my occasional defense of and respect for the Muslim faith gets me listed as an enemy sympathizer? What if I attend a political meeting that gets accused of being radical? What if religious enemies accuse selected Mormons of being enemy combatants of some kind? I know all this sounds extreme - but more extreme is the present possibility that innocent men may be locked up and interrogated with extreme measures without due process. If it can happen to people we don't like and who look funny, then I could be next in line someday.

Just writing this post might justify a little waterboarding someday, just to make sure I'm still a real patriot and not some whacked out enemy of Big Government (which I really love, for the record). I know some of you macho guys think you'd be strong and manly through it all, imagining how tough you'd be while someone punched you a few times in detention and maybe knocked out a tooth or two, but that's kid stuff. I know enough of the innovations of monsters in our day to know that the vast, dark, lonely chasm between life and death when in the hands of professionally trained demons can eventually be too much for almost anybody. And I truly don't want to find out where my limits are, and especially don't want any of my family to probe that chasm either.

My father, at the end of the Korean War, returned to the United States on a ship with hundreds of American soldiers that had been prisoners of war who had just been released by North Korea. Over the next few weeks en route, he tried his best to talk to them and be friendly, but they were like zombies (my word), just barely able to go through a daily routine. The abuse and even torture they had been through affected them in many ways. It was chilling to see the damage that could be done at the hands of an enemy, and that impression has been passed on to me in the form of a fearful respect for what unkind captors can inflict on tough and courageous men. And that was with technology and methods that are archaic by today's standards. I'm opening up here, sharing a weakness with the world: I'm genuinely frightened of what can be done by those who enjoy torture.

I think and hope that fellow American agents would be fairly decent in their use of waterboarding or whatever other extreme measures they use. I'm worried about that still, but not nearly as much as torture that is outsourced. We can say we don't use the really brutal methods and technically be correct, but I'm most concerned about those who get shipped to other nations for interrogation, nations where anything goes. This happens. And it terrifies me.

Here's an excerpt from "Outsourcing Torture: The Secret History of America’s 'Extraordinary Rendition' Program" by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:
On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush's statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that "you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother."

Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man's brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of "the Special Removal Unit." The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, "just began beating on me." They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. "Not even animals could withstand it," he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. "You just give up," he said. "You become like an animal."

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause.
I know there are people who refuse to believe this, but there are enough pieces of evidence pointing to the use of this kind of "outsourcing" that it needs to be taken seriously ("renditions" is the term). And it's not just left-wing radicals screaming about torture. Many genuine conservatives - that's where I place myself on many issues - share this concern. A friend of mine, Chris Bentley, has written a chilling view of the future in a highly conservative publication that weaves factual details and documentation from today in the account. And I think it's fair to be concerned. It's a problem of government out of control, which is not an innovation of current leaders and, I fear, is not likely to go away when the next gang of power-seekers takes the throne.

Torture, of course, plays an interesting role in the scriptures. Christ was tortured, but triumphed, though He died and suffered intense agony beyond our comprehension. We read in Alma 27:29 in the Book of Mormon that the converted Lamanites, the pacific Anti-Nephi-Lehies, would "suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take up the sword or cimeter to smite them." Some of them were not just killed instantly but were obviously tortured. And later, as the Nephite civilization erodes into a corrupt and warlike society increasingly like our own, the Nephites themselves took delight in torturing their enemies. Our example of military excellence, Captain Moroni, on the other hand, hated bloodshed, hated brutality, and surely would not consider torture to extract information.

The "end-justifies-the-means" mindset of many of our leaders and their supporters on talk-shows and blogs seems akin to the repulsive "values clarification" programs that have been in our public schools for many years. In these programs, kids are challenged to come to terms with their own values by facing highly contrived, monstrous life-and-death dilemmas that they must resolve pragmatically. A typical version posits that there are ten people on a boat with only enough water and food for eight to survive, or some similar scenario. The traits of the ten people are listed: engineer, prostitute, teacher, athlete, a diabetic, etc. Two must be sacrificed for the greater good. How do you pick which two? It is such an ugly and vile exercise. I applaud the few students who reject the premise of the problem and would rather take an F on the assignment than play executioner and God. They are asked to assume the mindset of a social engineer, preparing them for a state that assumes life and death power over its herd of citizens. Repulsive.

In real life, I believe that good people can usually find other solutions to those rare difficult dilemmas that arise without having to sacrifice basic values. Not always, perhaps, but there is certainly no justification for making kids deal with such grotesque possibilities in the name of education. It is about education, of course, but not the kind that most parents want. We want our kids to learn their values from us, not from pragmatists ungrounded in moral principles from God. But I think this kind of thinking finds its zenith in the attitudes we see flaunted today: "We have to use extreme measures against these beasts. What if a whole city was about to blown up, and we had to find out where the bomb was? Wouldn't any form of torture of any suspect be justified if it would save a million people?" And if it is justified to save a million people, what about a thousand, or a dozen, or perhaps a bald eagle or spotted owl? Or what if it would save a million dollars? I mean, a million dollars could be used to save thousands of lives with vaccinations, right?

I don't care how much good someone might claim would be done by torture. I don't want to go through it, and I don't want anyone in my family to go through it. In fact, I can't think of anyone that really needs it. Some people may need to be executed, after due process of law, but even then, no matter how heinous the crime, I think it should be done humanely.

See what a wimp I've become?