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

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?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ancient Baptism for the Dead: Some Resources

Ready for a deep dive into one of the most fascinating elements of Mormonism? And one of the many powerful indicators that a divine Restoration of truth, knowledge, and sacred ordinances has occurred? It's time for a deep dive into baptism for the dead. Here are some resources that I find helpful (updated slightly, Sept. 2012):
  • "The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Kendel J. Christensen, Roger D. Cook, and David L. Paulsen. A thorough scholarly exploration of an often-forgotten early Christian theme. Quoting from the conclusion of this paper: "God 'sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved' (John 3:17). The doctrine of the harrowing of hell explains how this can be despite the fact that so many have died without hearing the Son's message of salvation. This doctrine was present in apocalyptic Judaism and in apocalyptic Christianity, and Christ taught the doctrine to his disciples. It was also confirmed by the church fathers and in the Apostles' Creed. Subsequently, it was rejected first by Augustine and later by Reformers such as Calvin and Luther, This led, regrettably, to its almost universal disappearance from the teachings of modern-day Christendom."

  • "Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity" by David L. Paulsen, and Brock M. Mason. They provide evidence that the practice of baptism for the dead existed in some early Christian6 communities. They show that early Christians, including New Testament writers, taught that baptism is essential to salvation. Because of this belief, vicarious baptisms were performed to ensure that the unbaptized dead would not be denied access to salvation. They also examine 1 Corinthians 15:29 and support what some modern scholars call the "majority reading,"  which understands 15:29 as a reference to vicarious baptism. They also explore the historical practice of proxy baptisms by early Christian communities which, of course, are now labeled "heretical." Fascinating paper.

  • "Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity" by John A. Tvedtnes, from The Temple in Time and Eternity, pp. 55-78. Excellent survey of related practices and teachings that we know of from several early Christian groups.

  • "Baptism for the Dead: The Coptic Rationale" - a scholarly review by Dr. John A. Tvedtnes of the early Christian practice of baptism for the dead, as understood by Coptic Christians. This paper was presented at a 1981 symposium in Jerusalem, sponsored by the L.A. Mayer Memorial Museum of Islamic Art and the Israel Ministry of Education and Culture and later published in Special Papers of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, No. 2 (September 1989). The Jerusalem symposium marked the opening of an exhibit of Coptic art at the museum, where Dr. Tvedtnes one of two American scholars invited to speak.

  • Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times - an early, groundbreaking article by Dr. Hugh Nibley. More evidence has been found since this scholarly exploration was first published in 1948, but it's still valuable today. Nibley provides many exciting leads and reviews a variety of ancient sources not available to Joseph Smith.

  • "Does the Bible Teach Salvation for the Dead?" - A review of an anti-Mormon publication by the inimitable John Tvedtnes in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1998.

  • The Apostolic Fathers comment on Christ's visit to the Spirit World - a page at the Chapman Research site.

  • "Temple Imagery in the Epistles of Peter" by Daniel B. McKinlay, an excellent and scholarly essay that includes treatment of passages in Peter about the preaching of the Gospel to the dead (including a discussion of alternate interpretations that others have offered). Available at FARMS, reprinted Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 492-514).

  • Views of a Non-LDS Scholar, Krister Stendahl, on the Ancient Practice of Baptism for the Dead - Brief comment written by Bishop Stendahl, a Lutheran, formerly the Dean and Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School.
  • "Redeeming the Dead: Tender Mercies, Turning of Hearts, and Restoration of Authority" by David L. Paulsen, Kendel J. Christensen, and Martin Pulido. This paper (1)reviews historical responses to this doctrine until the Reformation; (2) examine modern treatments of postmortem preaching of the Gospel and vicarious ordinances for the dead; (3) details the sequences of Joseph Smith’s revelations related to redemption for the dead; and (4) explains how the doctrines of the Restoration solve the soteriological problem of evil.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Going to Russia: Tips?

In a couple weeks I'll be in one of the most amazing places in the world, Moscow. This will be my first time there, so I'm hoping for some travel tips for those of you who have been there (recent missionaries, tourists, businessmen, spies, etc.).

I don't know any Russian, apart from a few standard greetings that a Russian friend taught me: "Я шпиона" (Ya shpiona - apparently useful to break the ice with Russian customs officers at the airport) and a "Пожалуйста, мой арест - Я вор" (Pozhalooysta, moy aryest - Ya vor - a more formal greeting best used with authority figures). Other than that, I'm pretty inexperienced when it comes to life in Russia, so I'd appreciate any thoughts you have. I'm going to be meeting a large group of scientists and exploring opportunities to make connections with Western markets to commercialize some of their many inventions looking for peaceful applications and new homes. (Our contract with Russia is now a public story in several places, including Market Place Magazine - go to the bottom of that page.) Would appreciate any guidance you can give me.

Do they have alcohol-free vodka?

And what are good ideas for gifts? I'll want to bring gifts for about 20 people, so they can't be too large.

And how about the Church? I might be able to be there on Sunday - would love to attend a meeting.

Avoiding the Snares of the Adversary: Example of the Efforts Required of a Christian

The decision to believe in Christ and to follow Him is not a one-time decision. We make that decision, or reject it, every day. Just as the Lord is on our side and there to bless us, if we will let Him and daily seek His help, we must realize that we have an enemy also who daily seeks to turn us toward sin and to capture us in his snares. A snare, according to Merriam-Webster, is something by which one is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded, or something that is deceptively attractive. The world is full of such traps and deceptions, and if we are not cautious, we can become entangled and impeded in our progress along the straight and narrow path that leads to life.

Christ referred to a snare in this warning to Christians in Luke 21:
34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day [the Second Coming of Christ] come upon you unawares.
35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
Those who are not alert and cautious, though they may claim to believe in Christ, may find themselves entangled in sin and snared at the last day.

In giving a list of requirements for a bishop (or leadership positions in general) in the Church, Paul warns in 1 Timothy 3 that even such leaders who implicitly start off as faithful Christians must be cautious lest they be snared by the devil: "Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without [not members of the Church]; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:7). Yes, bishops can fall from grace into the snares of Satan, just as any other Christian can (1 Cor. 10:12).

So much of the New Testament is filled with warnings to Christians, urging us to avoid sin, to resist temptation, to endure to the end, to strengthen our faith in God and to draw closer to Him. And part of the urgency in these warnings is the reality of our Adversary, our enemy who seeks to ensnare us and take away the gifts the we are offered through the grace of Jesus Christ. Peter, for example, in 1 Peter 5, writes this:
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Yes, it is God who strengthens us and eventually can make us perfect and exalted in His presence. But effort is required from us. We must cast our care on Him. We must be sober. We must be vigilant and cautious, for the Adversary threatens us as a roaming, roaring lion hungry for the kill. We are called to resist him stedfastly, and to rely on the help of the Lord in this battle. But we must fight and endure. Effort is required.

But if we trust in God and have true faith, can't we relax? In Philippians 2, Paul warns us against such an attitude, instead urging us to fear and tremble as we strive to obey and "work out" our salvation, knowing, though, that we are not alone and that God works with us to help us change our will and our actions:
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
But we do not become robots, but are still free to move forward in faith or to murmur and argue, or even to wander away and reject what God urges us to do. We are still called to obey, and it is our choice - a choice we can and need to make and renew regularly.

Paul understood that our relationship with the Lord is a two-way street. Just as ancient covenants patterns in the Middle East involved a two-way relationship, with terms of obedience stipulated for the subject to the king or Lord, so the new covenant in Jesus Christ involves a two-way relationship. He reaches out to us, but we must also reach out for Him to receive the gift He offers under the conditions stipulated in the covenant. Thus, Paul can speak of reaching out ("apprehending") Christ even as He reaches out to ("apprehends") us:
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12 - 14)
Or as the New International Version has it:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul warns against thinking we've got in made in God's eyes. We cannot be complacent, but must reach out and take hold of Christ, as He takes hold of us - a nice way of describing the covenant relationship required. It's a two way street - and we most certainly can let go and shake ourselves free of Christ. He won't force us to heaven, but begs us to come, follow Him, and offers us all that we need if only we'll accept Him and follow Him. And to follow Him is to "press toward the mark for the prize" that He offers. It's not a one-time decision, but one that requires us to endure in faith to the end (Matt. 24:13, Mark 13:13), that it might be said of us what was said of Abraham: "after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise" (Heb. 6:15).

And that brings us back to the effort and caution we must exercise if we are to escape the deceitful snares of the world that would lead us away from our relationship with Christ. Consider this passage from Paul in Hebrews 3:
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
He is speaking to his brethren, to people who already believe in Christ, but there is a risk that they can depart from the living God through the deceitfulness of sin. Part of the solution is the institution of the Church itself. We need each other to "exhort one another daily" to help us avoid sin and to help us keep the beginning of our faith firm until the end. Home teaching, visiting teaching, Sunday School, the Young Men's and Young Women's programs, Relief Society, Priesthood, seminary - are these the trappings of a brainwashing cult or the inspired components of the restored Church of Jesus Christ to help fulfill Paul's admonition about our need to strengthen each other in our journey on the path that leads to eternal life?

One of the most dangerous snares of the Adversary is sexual immorality. It is so harmful to families, to the relationships with the most precious and divine potential, to our own well-being and even health, and to our spirituality and relationship with God as we put the pleasures of the flesh above God. Peter's warnings on this topic in 2 Peter 2 are aimed at Christians, providing a sobering warning of the fall from grace that is possible if we do not shield ourselves from such sins:
14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:
15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray....
18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
The message is clear: if we turn again to sin and abandon the way of righteousness, we will not be saved. We must turn to the Lord, seek His help in being delivered from temptation, and strive to follow the Spirit and not the lusts of the flesh as we endure in faith to the end. He gives us strength to do these things, if we will "apprehend" the helps by which he "apprehends" us.

The efforts of the Adversary have been stepped up dramatically to ensnare adults and young people in sin of all kinds. How grateful I am for the positive influence, the teachings, the guidance, and the resources that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers to my family to help us move forward on the path that brings joy and freedom. And that's what the Gospel is really all about: the Lord seeking to free us and to help us grow, that we might have joy, both in this life and the eternities to come.

Staying Sober: One of the Many Benefits of the LDS Word of Wisdom

I've never understand why so many people feel that they have to numb larger portions of their brain in order to party. Shaving off a handful of IQ points with ethanol has not made anybody I've ever met become a better friend, a more interesting conversationalist, or a more valuable person. But it has made some smart people stupid, a lot of stupid people even stupider. Yet these people think alcohol is ab absolute necessity for partying. "Dude, it was an awesome party! I woke up on somebody's floor and can't even remember what happened. You should have been there ... uh, were you there?"

As with marijuana, the juiced-up drug-deluded mind feels like it is more creative and interesting. This reminds me of a story from Polish literature told my some Polish immigrants to my son (let me know if you know the author). In this story, a man experiments with liquor and drugs. While stoned, he has a remarkable idea that he knows can change the world. His mission in life becomes clear, and he will pursue this idea and revolutionize society. When he becomes sober, he can't remember what the idea was, but knew it was brilliant. He gets stoned again, and the idea returns, so clear and exciting. After he sobers up, all is forgotten. The third time, he gets a notebook so he can write down his revolutionary vision. He gets stoned again, the idea returns, he writes it down, and when he awakes later, he looks at his notebook to see what he has captured: "If I stand on a chair, I can touch the ceiling."

Of course, at some parties, when people start standing on chairs and tables, it's usually not the ceiling they will be encountering next. When they wake up, they are always somewhere lower than where they began.

In Wisconsin, we have one of the nation's finest schools, UW Madison. Tens of thousands of students from all over the world come to this huge and really wonderful campus, where billions of dollars have been invested to provide some of the most outstanding educational opportunities in the world. Parents are thrilled when their children get accepted and go to this campus for four years. And parents like to think that their children are becoming highly educated. That happens for many, but the tragedy is that the campus, like so many in the nation, is plagued with alcohol abuse. Students I know there explain that alcohol use is disgustingly rampant among those staying in the dorms. Adult guidance of students to protect them from sex, booze, and other drugs is so desperately needed there but seems relatively absent. 59% percent of students in one recent survey admitted to binge drinking (five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting) during the previous two weeks. Ouch.

The University takes federal grants to better deal with the problem and says a lot about helping students live healthy lifestyles, and many officials are working to help kids be more responsible and wise, but the reality seems to be that almost anything goes in the dorms, as with most universities. (Part of that is the influence of Federal regulations and the efforts of the ACLU, but that's another story.) A lot of kids try to be responsible, and some stay out of trouble and focus on education. But the alcohol problem is hard to escape for many, and is more severe in Madison than in typical universities. What a disservice to education, to the students, and to their families when our universities condone the party lifestyle on campus.

At UW Madison, I know of two non-LDS students from Appleton, two courageous and wonderful young women, who have decided to simply stay away from alcohol. In their on-campus dorm, it is extremely difficult to do this. (I can sympathize with those who yield to the pressures, for the pressure is great and relentless, but how much better it is to strengthen rather than weaken your mind and body while pursuing education.) These two girls may be the only ones on their entire floor with that level of self-control, and I salute them for their courage. I have no doubt that they will be among the most intelligent graduates a few years from now.

As a parent, though, I'd rather send my kids to a place like BYU where they won't be pressured by most of their peers to engage in binge drinking or any kind of alcohol use, and where they won't be as likely to be viewed by their peers as refugees from the Dark Ages if they aren't promiscuous. There's more to education than the height of the money pile your school gets from Uncle Sam, or the number of publications faculty members have. I'm glad there are at least a few schools in this nation that encourage mental acuity by actively prohibiting drugs and alcohol.

Wherever you are, why not retain some of the benefits of education by avoiding alcohol from now on? In the LDS view, it's not just a good idea, it's a valuable tip for success revealed by God.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Updating My Views: Insights from My New Expertise in Automotive Design

Back in the young and naive stage of my life, sometime last year, I made this statement on my Mormon Answers page of facetious questions:
"God does very few things the way I would, from the design of trees to the color of the sky, and especially the lifespan of certain individuals (let's leave politics out of this). When He chooses the lifespans (or allows others to choose them) of those in particular armies, cities, or population groups, it's rarely according to my will. But I'm getting used to it. I have to remind myself that I am not the Creator, do not know everything, do not understand His eternal purposes, and can't even change the oil in my own car. With that in mind, I don't think I have any right to second guess and nitpick His decisions."
A lot has changed since then. I now know how to change oil - saw a whole TV show on the topic - and let me tell you, what a ridiculous design flaw there is in the whole oil thing for automobiles. Who in his right mind would put the oil plug at the bottom of a car, forcing you to get underneath a car just to change the oil!? Ridiculous. Any half-way intelligent designer would have put the oil plug thingy and the oil filter in an easily accessible location at the top of the car to make oil changes fast and easy. No wonder most of us, even after learning how to change the oil ourselves, prefer to let specialists at MasterLube do the job.

And now that I've gained automotive expertise in a variety of other areas, including some hands-on field work exploring key aspects of my car, let me tell you that the whole thing is riddled with design flaws. Like the body itself. It's all super thin sheet metal and plastic. The tiniest bump with another object - sorry about your mailbox, Mrs. Wilson - will put unsightly dents or cracks in the body. Each surface should be thick and virtually indestructible, like armor, so the car can hit a mailbox and not have to worry about damage, or hit a large deer at 75 mph without risk of injury - any intelligent designer wold have thought of that. Further, the tires should be solid rubber so they don't go flat. And why have the gas tank all the way in the back of the car when the place that uses the gas is in the front? Hello? It's not that I'm a genius or anything, but I do have a Ph.D. and can state with substantial authority that I could have done a much better job designing the whole thing.

And if you want to see DANGEROUS and truly STUPID design flaws, just dig around in the dashboard area of a car. Good grief, that thing is loaded with dangerous explosives connected to some kind of bag, just waiting to explode! The darn thing nearly blue my head off as I was prying into the strange and unnecessary "vestigial organs" in the dashboard. There was this explosion and suddenly a huge bag inflated, filled with hot and dangerous gases, knocking me backwards and giving me a horrible bruise - lucky I still had my head on to even write about this. Talk about an accident waiting to happen! Turns out there was one for the passenger side and for the driver's side in my Japanese car (a Camry). Who would have imagined there'd be two of these? Nearly lost my head twice.

Explosive air bags locked inside the dashboard or steering wheel - how insane! Who knows what purpose these ghastly relics might have served in past days - perhaps vestiges of the early days of World War II when FDR may have mandated hidden explosive devices in the cars of Japanese Americans for a secret attack during some rush hour? If so, they soon became unnecessary when he switched plans and settled on simply locking them up in concentration camps "for their own protection" instead. And I've heard modern apologists for the automotive industry continue to say these explosive devices are actually for our own protection. Right! That's the kind of "protection" that no intelligent or even partially sane designer would have added! I've driven that car for years and they never "protected" me once, thank goodness. Like the appendix in humans, it serves no useful purpose and would make us a lot safer if it were removed.

Well, I could go on and on, but if you have any doubts, turn on the TV and study up on oil changes and other aspects of automotive maintenance to get some basic expertise on the topic - and then you'll understand. Intelligent design in cars? What a joke. I could have done ten times better with half my brain tied behind my back. And I say that in all humility.

So if I can nitpick Detroit or Tokyo for the flawed ways they do things, maybe I have the right to get a little more vocal about my disagreements with the way other things work in the Universe. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe I'm a whole lot smarter than I've given myself credit for, eh? Wow, I like this feeling!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Head and Shoulders above Plagiarism: Nephi vs. Laban, David vs. Goliath

Val Larsen's essay, "Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order" is available in HTML or PDF formats in the latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Val offers several insights into the difficult scene that we encounter at the beginning of the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 4. Obviously, if the Lord wanted Laban to be dead, He didn't need Nephi's help - so there must have been other objectives here. I had long assumed that the event was needed to prepare peace-loving Nephi for the realities of war in battles that he would have to lead in the New World, and to help his recalcitrant brothers realize that returning to Jerusalem was no longer an option, now that they were probably wanted for murder. But I had missed some important subtleties in the text that make Nephi's inclusion of this story at the beginning of his account so logical and important. The event serves at multiple levels to establish Nephi's authority as the rightful leader and king over an independent branch of Israel, giving legitimacy to the founding of the Nephite nation.

A few critics had noted that the act of slaying Laban with his own sword reminded them of David's slaying of Goliath. Another simple-minded case of plagiarism, apparently. But I think they missed an opportunity to find many rich points of "plagiarism" in this story that most LDS readers have missed as well, until now. But it's not plagiarism - it's a carefully crafted story that deliberately draws on the story of David and Goliath to establish a sense of Davidic authority in the leader of the new Nephite nation. As with many of the apparent acts of "plagiarism" in the Book of Mormon, we find clever parallels that deliberately draw upon events in the Old Testament in ways that point to ancient Hebraic influence rather than random unskilled copying by a modern farmboy.

Here is an excerpt from the part of Val Larsen's article dealing with the Davidic aspects of Nephi's encounter with Laban. It follows a section in which the Mosaic parallels in the story are explored. (Footnotes omitted.)
After Moses, the greatest exemplar of sovereign power in ancient Israel was David. In recounting the death of Laban, Nephi links himself to this second great sovereign and further marks his emergence as the king in his new branch of Israel. In what follows, I will expand on Ben McGuire's analysis of parallels between David and Nephi in the Goliath and Laban stories. In most cases, not only are events similar but the similar events occur in the same sequence in the two narratives.

Each story begins with a statement of the problem. In David's case, the mighty man Goliath has taken possession of the field of battle and defied the army of Israel to send forth a champion to take it from him. In Nephi's case, a mighty man, Laban, has in his possession the brass plates, and the Lord has commanded Lehi to obtain them from him (1 Samuel 17:4–11; 1 Nephi 3:2–4). The two young heroes are now introduced along with their three faithless older brothers. (This is a little unfair to Sam, but the narrative doesn't differentiate between him and the murmuring Laman and Lemuel at this point.) In each case, the father of the hero comes to him and bids him to go up to the scene of the confrontation. In each case, the older brothers are given a chance to solve the problem before the hero gets his turn (1 Samuel 17:12–20; 1 Nephi 3:4–10).

When the hero gets to the place where the mighty man is, he sees one or more older brothers go up against the mighty man and then flee from him (1 Samuel 17:20–24; 1 Nephi 3:11–14). The scattered host of Israel is terrified of the mighty man in each story and does not want to confront him again, but the hero urges them on, noting in each case that they serve "the living God" or "the Lord [that] liveth" (1 Samuel 17:25–27; 1 Nephi 3:14–16). The oldest brother of each hero now becomes angry at him and verbally (and in Nephi's case, physically) abuses him (1 Samuel 17:28; 1 Nephi 3:28).

In each case a powerful figure, Saul or an angel, separates the hero from his domineering older brothers and sends him forth to meet the mighty man. But before he goes, the hero must address skeptics who doubt that he can overcome his powerful antagonist. To convince the skeptics that Israel will triumph over the mighty man, both heroes mention two miracles in which malevolent forces were defeated by God's agent. They suggest the mighty man will suffer the same fate as the forces previously defeated by God. David tells how he miraculously killed a lion and then a bear while guarding his flocks. He adds, "this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as [the lion or bear]" (1 Samuel 17:33–36). Nephi briefly recounts Moses' parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army. Next, he recalls the miraculous appearance of the angel who had moments before terminated Laman and Lemuel's abuse of their righteous brothers. He then adds, "the Lord is able to . . . destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians" (1 Nephi 4:2–3).

Each hero next goes up against the fully armored mighty man essentially or completely unarmed but in the strength of the Lord, saying, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel" or "I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" (1 Samuel 17:45; 1 Nephi 4:6). Each hero confronts the mighty man and cites Exodus 21:13 two times as justification for killing him: David says, "This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand. . . . The battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands." The Spirit causes Nephi to think, "Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. . . . Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands" (1 Samuel 17:46–47; 1 Nephi 4:1–12). Finally, the hero decapitates the mighty man—who has, miraculously, been rendered unconscious--using the villain's own sword (1 Samuel 17:51; 1 Nephi 4:18).

Other parallels exist, but not in the same sequence in the narrative. In each case, the mighty man has threatened the hero and attempted to kill him (1 Samuel 17:44, 48; 1 Nephi 3:13, 25–27). Each mighty man has a servant who accompanies or at least thinks he is accompanying his master (1 Samuel 17:41; 1 Nephi 4:20–23). In each case, the hero takes the armor of the mighty man as his own (1 Samuel 17:54; 1 Nephi 4:19). And finally, the sword of each villain is made of iron or an iron compound, is unique, and becomes a symbol of royal power that is used to lead the nation in battle (1 Samuel 21:9; 1 Nephi 4:9).

Holbrook has noted that although David had previously been anointed king by Samuel, the slaying of Goliath was the tangible sign to the people that he should be king. It captured the popular imagination, and the women sang, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1 Samuel 18:6–7). So though he did not formally assume the throne for some years, David became king in the people's hearts when he chopped off Goliath's head.

I am suggesting that the same was true of Nephi. Deeply acquainted as they would have been with the story of David and Goliath, Nephi's people surely saw the parallel between young David and young Nephi. (Nephi has carefully composed his narrative in such a way that they would see it because of multiple structural and sequential similarities, notwithstanding the very different contexts and mix of characters that clearly differentiate the two stories.) Having recognized the allusion, Nephi's people would have understood that, in constraining Nephi to slay Laban as he did, the Lord marked Nephi as a legitimate successor to David in their new branch of Israel. Once again, Nephi is cast as a sovereign who acts not out of personal malice but to defend his people. And his successors, like those of David, would be legitimate rulers of God's chosen people.
So much of the Book of Mormon has depth and purpose to it that doesn't get noticed on the first reading, or even after many readings, until someone explores the possible significance of Semitic elements, ancient parallels, Mesoamerican politics, etc., and then elucidates what we may have been missing for years. Chiasmus, of course, is a classic example of this. And this latest little finding, the apparently deliberate intent of Nephi to establish the political authority and legitimacy of the Nephi nation, gives added insight into a troubling story that just makes no sense at all if it were composed by a conman trying to dupe others into thinking he had a new, inspiring Christian book of scripture. Of all the stories you could make up, that's about the last that I would want to put at the beginning of a fraudulent book of scripture. I'd much rather put in some feel-good fluff or exotic visions of heaven or maybe a few folk magic spells/prayers for business success. But to have Nephi slay Laban? Ugh. Makes no sense at all - unless it was written by ancient Nephi, a man steeped in the ways of the Jews and the Hebrew scriptures, deeply concerned with establishing the legitimacy of his new nation by drawing upon the parallels to his reign and those of David and Moses.

OK, Nephi, I'm finally willing to give you a break on 1 Nephi 4.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fruits Meet for Repentance

Perhaps the endless repetitive arguments over salvation and the role of works and obedience would be more easily resolved if we focused on repentance rather than obedience and commandment keeping. Some critics think that our teachings on obedience, keeping commandments, and doing good is an expression of pride, of thinking that we can earn our way to heaven without relying on grace, of thinking that Jesus somehow is not enough. Quite the opposite. For the converted Christian, I would suggest that the desire to obey, to serve God, and to keep the commandments that God has given expresses a recognition that we are sinners, that we have fallen, that Jesus is our only hope, and that we wish to and must follow Him. Recognizing our sinful and hopeless state without Christ, we are led by the Spirit of God to repent of our sins and to begin obeying God instead.

Obedience is intimately linked to repentance. Real Christians aren't obeying God because they think they are holier than everyone else and saving themselves through good works. They are obeying because they recognize that they are sinners and are repenting of their sins and seeking to follow God and separate themselves from their old ways. Obedience is an active expression of repentance and of accepting the gift of grace offered by Jesus Christ, "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9).

If there is one thing that is consistent and clear in every volume of scripture, it is the universal call for men to repent of our sins and come unto God. This is only possible because of the Redeemer, but we must repent. I hope there can be consensus on this point. Witnesses include John the Baptist in Mathew 3:
1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
And Jesus Christ in Matthew 4:
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (See also Mark 1:15)
Christ also warned that "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). And in Luke 24, the Resurrected Lord continues this theme:
45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Witnesses also include the Apostles in Mark 6:
7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; . . .
12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent.
And as one of many more examples, consider Peter in Acts 2:
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Repentance involves several steps, but surely one of them is a change in behavior, not only ceasing from sin, but becoming "fruitful" in the Gospel - advancing the cause of the Lord. Thus the scriptures speak of bringing forth "fruit meet for repentance." John the Baptist used this phrase in Matt 3 (just a few verses after the call for repentance cited above):
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. . . .
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (See also Luke 3)
Paul echoes this theme in testifying to King Agrippa in Acts 26:
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judæa, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Similar language is found in the Book of Mormon. In Alma 5:54 and Alma 9:10, Alma refers to bringing forth "works which are meet for repentance," and in Alma 12, he refers to the fruits of repentance in speaking of the day of judgment:
[W]e must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance.
And as Paul explained in Acts 17, the call to repent is universal:
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent. . . .
Repentance is essential for salvation. To be forgiven of our sins, we must repent of them, turning to the Atonement of Jesus Christ to gain forgiveness and becoming a new, cleansed person that does not simply continue sinning as before. We are changed, and there are fruits that reflect our repentance, fruits that are suitable for one who has repented. It is not all automatic contrary to our own will, but involves "obedience" - a yielding of our will to God's.

We do not earn out way to heaven by obedience and good works. We are all burdened by our bad works - our sins, whether it be sins of omission or commission. Our only hope is to repent and follow Christ, and repentance involves fruits to match, changes in behavior, obedience to the will of God, good works instead of bad.

How Quickly Freedom is Lost: Remembering FDR's NRA

Were any of you around in Franklin Roosevelt's day? I am amazed at how he is praised in our modern textbooks, with little critical discussion of what he did to Japanese Americans or to the Constitution of this land. While the precedent he set of massive executive power grabs continues unabated in our day, there are some lessons from his reign that should be remembered by those who seem eager to trust a President with power far beyond the intent of our Founding Fathers. One little glimpse into what can happen comes from the activities of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on the NRA which discusses its "codes of fair competition" aimed at reducing "destructive competition" and helping workers by setting minimum wages and maximum weekly hours:
About 23,000,000 people worked under the NRA fair code. However, violations of codes became common and attempts were made to use the courts to enforce the NRA. The NRA included a multitude of regulations imposing the pricing and production standards for all sorts of goods and services. Individuals were arrested for not complying with these codes. For example, a man named Jack Magid was jailed for violating the "Tailor's Code" by pressing a suit for 35 rather than NRA required 40 cents. John T. Flynn, in The Roosevelt Myth (1944) reported:
The NRA was discovering it could not enforce its rules. Black markets grew up. Only the most violent police methods could procure enforcement. In Sidney Hillman's garment industry the code authority employed enforcement police. They roamed through the garment district like storm troopers. They could enter a man's factory, send him out, line up his employees, subject them to minute interrogation, take over his books on the instant. Night work was forbidden. Flying squadrons of these private coat-and-suit police went through the district at night, battering down doors with axes looking for men who were committing the crime of sewing together a pair of pants at night. But without these harsh methods many code authorities said there could be no compliance because the public was not back of it.
In 1935, in the court case of Schecter Poultry Corp. v. US, the Supreme Court declared the NRA as unconstitutional because it gave the President too much power. The NRA quickly stopped operations, but many of the labor provisions reappeared in the Wagner Act of 1935.
Businesses and individuals face similar threats today. I know someone who once ran a controversial health care clinic that had painstakingly sought FDA approval for their treatments. Everything was cleared by the branch of the FDA they had been working with, or so it seemed, but one day another branch of the FDA showed up to do an "investigation." They seized records and computers needed for the business, essentially shutting down the clinic, without filing any charges. One year later, the impoverished owner of the clinic, who had lost everything she had due to the FDA's actions, received a phone call from the FDA. "We've completed the investigation. Didn't find any problems. No charges will be filed. You have 24 hours to pick up your stuff or we'll discard it. Sorry for any inconvenience."

That's her story. I've looked at both sides and recognize that there are legitimate questions about the value of the service that was provided, though many of the patients claimed they were being helped. Whether the clinic was effective or not, the actions of the FDA just "didn't feel like this was America," as she put it. The sometimes capricious and harsh treatment of people and companies by our massive regulatory agencies in this country, not to mention the spying on citizens by Homeland Security and other organs of a burgeoning police state, represent a genuine loss in personal liberty.

Paraphrasing something I heard from The Onion, "the loss of personal liberty is a small price to pay for freedom." At least that's what we're supposed to think.

The growing loss of liberty and individual responsibility will ultimately mean decreased tolerance for religion and religious values. Whether maintaining religious values results in being diagnosed with a mental illness, criminally charged with a hate crime, or other forms of punitive government intervention, I feel there is a risk in the future of increasing barriers to free religious practice. Religion truly is the enemy in Marxism, and as we move along Marx's socialist trajectory (can you identify which of the 10 platforms of the Communist Manifesto have not yet been implemented in the US?), we will see more lions and fewer Christians.

Don't let go of personal freedom and individual responsibility. A nanny state is one step away from a police state. Keep America free and sovereign.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Among the Principal Ancestors": Unpricipled Objections to a Change in the Book of Mormon's Introduction

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, a change is planned for the introduction to the Book of Mormon. When the current introduction was penned in 1981 under Bruce R. McConkie's direction or by him personally, it reflected the popular view that the Book of Mormon was about the origins of Native Americans across the whole hemisphere, and that the ancient Lamanites were "the primary ancestors" of modern Native Americans. The updated version will add one word that makes the introduction a more accurate statement of what the text itself says, or doesn't say. That word is among: now the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians." Bravo!

This word corrects that 1981 assumption - actually an old assumption dating to the earliest days of the Church - about the scope of the text. It is not a correction of any doctrine or principle taught in the Book of Mormon itself. But as I expected, critics are ranting over the "shifty" nature of the Church, claiming that this is a scandalous cover-up or admission of error in the Book of Mormon. Please!

Yes, the Book of Mormon gives important information about some of the ancestors of Native Americans. It is written for them and for us Gentiles (well, I'm 1/512 Mohawk, and proud of it). But it does not rule out the possibility of other ancient migrations to the Americas. Lehi and his family may have been a tiny drop in the bucket of the ancient gene pool in the Americas when they arrived, and there are hints about others being present in the land in the text itself. If there were millions elsewhere on the continent when Lehi arrived, his DNA could have spread all over the continent now, albeit dilutely, making most Native Americans genetic "remnants" of the ancient Lamanites, with very little chance that his Y chromosome or Sariahs mitochondrial DNA still exists anywhere since they require a pure paternal or maternal line, respectively.

I'm proud of a Church that can recognize the limitations of men, past and present, and take advantage of advances in knowledge. Just as we took advantage of advances in scholarship about the original text of the Book of Mormon to correct a number of printers errors and copying errors that crept into the text over the years, resulting in the magnificent 1981 edition, I'm pleased that improved understanding has allowed old but possibly sloppy assumptions to be revisited and substantially improved through the use of the word "among" to more accurately reflect what the text actually requires. This change in the introduction should be applauded.

Such critics rarely recognize how much their own religious views and scriptural texts and interpretations thereof have been edited and updated - not always for the better - through the influence of scholars and editors over the years. Compare the 1611 King James Bible to current versions, for starters. Most of those changes represent real progress, not scandalous cover-ups by shifty Christians. (Things get more complex if you compare the modern doctrines and creeds pertaining to the Trinity with the views of the earliest Christians about the nature of God, so let's not go there.)

Long before DNA evidence came onto the scene, several significant LDS voices, from general authorities to professors, were pointing out that the text does not support the common view of a hemispheric geography, nor does it purport to describe all ancient migrations to this continent. Such voices have understood that migrations from other sources not described in the text may have occurred. Indeed, it is possible that the Lamanites may have represented a very small part of the peoples of ancient America - one that would not be expected to leave a readily detectable fingerprint of "Jewish DNA" (as if there were such a thing, and as if we had any idea what it would be like in 600 BC). The critics who use modern DNA evidence to attack the Book of Mormon do not rely on a careful reading of the text itself, but direct their attacks to popular but possibly inaccurate inaccurate assumptions about what the text said. The correction in the introduction should help Latter-day Saints be more accurate in understanding and interpreting the text. This is a small step that may help Latter-day Saints become more sophisticated in understanding the Book of Mormon text, and in understanding the assumptions used in the DNA-based attacks on the Book of Mormon.

Contrary to the allegations of our critics, the understanding that the Book of Mormon is about people who were "among" the principal ancestors of the Native Americans is not a revisionist innovation devised as damage control in light of DNA evidence. In fact, it goes back many years, as I show in the following addendum, adapted from a portion of my page on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

Addendum: "Others in the Land": Not a New Position!

While Bruce R. McConkie apparently believed that Hebraic ancestry was highly significant among Native Americans, he also recognized that they shared non-Hebraic ancestry, according to his personal views offered in Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973, p. 33):
The American Indians . . . as Columbus found them also had other blood than that of Israel in their veins. It is possible that isolated remnants of the Jaredites may have lived through the period of destruction in which millions of their fellows perished. It is quite apparent that groups of orientals found their way over the Bering Strait and gradually moved southward to mix with the Indian peoples. We have records of a colony of Scandinavians attempting to set up a settlement in America some 500 years before Columbus. There are archeological indications that an unspecified number of groups of people probably found their way from the old to the new world in pre-Columbian times. Out of all these groups would have come the American Indians as they were discovered in the 15th century.
There may have been other significant groups also "led by the hand of the Lord" into the Americas, before and after Lehi's time. Given what we know from the Book of Mormon and from science, it can be reasonably understood to allow for many others in the hemisphere, which was still sparsely populated such that there was space and security for the righteous in their lands of possessions, if they would serve God.

Critics charge that the "others were here, too" view of the Book of Mormon and the limited geography view of most LDS scholars are desperate reversals of official LDS positions that have been made in an attempt to deal with recent scientific evidence about the Americas. While many LDS people have incorrectly assumed and taught that the Book of Mormon describes events across the entire hemisphere, there was never any official position on these issues, and plenty of room for other views, and for other migrations. And such views were being taught and understood by significant figures in the Church. For example, in 1929 Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency told Latter-day Saints:
We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples, or two peoples and three different colonies of people, who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent.
Two years earlier, LDS scholar Janne Sjodahl wrote that "students should be cautioned against the error of supposing that all the American Indians are the descendants of Lehi, Mulek, and their companions." He said it was "not improbable that America has received other immigrants from Asia and other parts of the globe." Back in 1952, still long before the DNA controversy arose, Hugh Nibley wrote about Joseph Smith's apparent endorsement of migrations to the New World other than those of the Book of Mormon:
Long after the Book of Mormon appeared Joseph Smith quoted with approval from the pulpit reports of certain Toltec legends which would make it appear that those people had come originally from the Near East in the time of Moses [see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 267]; whether such a migration ever took place or not, it is significant that the Prophet was not reluctant to recognize the possibility of other migrations than those mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

The argument of silence bears some weight in considering the possibility of "other sheep." When the Jaredites journey into a land "where there never had man been," [Ether 2:5, referring to a portion of their journey in the Old World] our history finds the fact worthy of note, even though the part was only passing through. Now there is a great deal said in the Book of Mormon about the past and future of the promised land, but never is it described as an empty land. The descendents of Lehi were never the only people on the continent, and the Jaredites never claimed to be."

(Hugh Nibley, The World of the Jaredites, originally published 1952, in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), p. 250.)
The above passage was also printed in an article by Hugh Nibley, "The World of the Jaredites," in the May 1952 issue of the official Church periodical, The Improvement Era. Nibley's work was more than just the random thoughts of an isolated scholar: his views were given extremely high visibility by the Church through publication in the official Church magazine. That does not mean that Nibley's views were endorsed by the First Presidency or given any kind of official status, but it devastates the absurd argument that the Church has always taught that all Native Americans are descended solely from Jews.

Further, in 1967, Nibley stated that "the Book of Mormon . . . presents no obstacles to the arrival of whatever other bands may have occupied the hemisphere without its knowledge" (Nibley, Since Cumorah, 1967, p. 249; pp. 218-219 in the 2nd edition).

In the Dec. 1975 Ensign publication of the Church, Lane Johnson, Assistant Editor, prepared a short article entitled "Who and Where Are the Lamanites?" (p. 15). In this article, he explains that the term "Lamanite" initially referred to the descendants of Laman, but shortly afterwards took on a broader term in which "the name Lamanite referred to a religious/political faction whose distinguishing feature was its opposition to the church. (See Jacob 1:13-14.)" He continues:
Lineage became an increasingly minor factor, and later there are many examples of Lamanites becoming Nephites and Nephites becoming Lamanites.

For nearly 200 years after the coming of Christ to the Americas, there were no Lamanites "nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God." (4 Ne. 1:17.) Soon, however, a part of the people fell away and took upon them the name of Lamanites; "therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land." (4 Ne. 1:20.) Clearly, Lamanite in this case again refers to the state of righteousness of a political/religious group, presumably a composite of the descendants of many of the original colonists in the New World. The Lamanites of this definition survived beyond the close of the Book of Mormon record, and it is these people from whom the Lamanites of today descended. That is to say, they are the descendants of Lehi, Ishmael, and Zoram (see D&C 3:17-18); they are the descendants of Mulek and the others of his colony (see Hel. 6:10; Omni 1:14, 15); and they may also be descended from other groups of whom we have no record. Certainly they have mixed with many other lineages at the far reaches of their dispersal in the Americas and most of the islands of the Pacific since the time when Moroni bade them farewell in A.D. 421.(emphasis mine)
In 1960s, the First Presidency allowed the Church to publish a widely distributed pamphlet, "These Are The Mormons," by Richard L. Evans, reprinted from The Christian Herald (Nov. 1960), which made this statement about Book of Mormon peoples:
As the Bible is to ancient Israel, so the Book of Mormon is to ancient America. It is part of a sacred and secular record of prophets and people who were among the ancestors of the American "Indians," and covers principally the period from about 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. These peoples were of Asiatic origin, of the House of Israel, and brought with them certain Old Testament texts. [emphasis mine]
Book of Mormon peoples were not said to be the sole ancestors, but were among the ancestors of the American Indians, leaving open the possibility of other ancestors as well.

When John Sorenson of BYU published his paper in 1992 about others being on the continent, he argued convincingly that it is:
. . . inescapable that there were substantial populations in the "promised land" throughout the period of the Nephite record, and probably in the Jaredite era also. The status and origin of these peoples is never made clear because the writers never set out to do any such thing; they had other purposes. Yet we cannot understand the demographic or cultural history of Lehi's literal descendants without taking into account those other groups, too. (Sorenson,"When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" J. Book of Mormon Studies, 1(1): 1-34, Spring 1992)
Now, years later, as we clarify McConkie's statement with a term the Church had already used in 1960, "among," some critics would have others believe that the Book of Mormon requires that all Indians descend solely from Jewish founders, that this was an official, inflexible teaching of the Church, and that we are now retreating. Steps toward accuracy and clarification are not a sign of weakness, but of intelligence and wisdom. Sorry if that bothers you - or takes some wind out of your anti-Mormon sails. The Book of Mormon, properly understood, stands firm and is not invalidated by modern science. Our assumptions may need updating, but the text remains an authentic ancient and scriptural record.

For more information on the limited geography of the Book of Mormon being appreciated by LDS scholars and leaders decades ago, see the article "Unanswered Mormon Scholars" by Matthew Roper (1997, pp. 122-132). See also "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon" by Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Matthew Roper has also published an excellent article, "Nephi's Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What Have They Done to Salt Lake? Nicer Than Ever!

I'm amazed at how nice downtown Salt Lake City has become. For the past several days, I've been attending a convention with 4,000 chemical engineers at the Salt Palace Convention Center. What a beautiful and spacious facility, and what a wonderful, clean, and safe environment has been created in this downtown area. People from the East and West Coasts have been impressed with the area and the low prices. The city is just beautiful. Thanks, Salt Lake.

Among the fine restaurants in this area, close to the Temple, I'll gladly recommend Lamb's Cafe Grill, where great food at low prices can be found in Utah's oldest restaurant. Our waiter, Tony, was perhaps the best waiter I've ever met. I asked to have him assigned to a group dinner I'm leading later tonight.

And in spite of my normal aversion to hamburgers, I walked into a burger joint since I only had a few minutes before a meeting, and was wowed. Acme Burger on 2nd West and 3rd South has the best veggie burger I've ever tasted. In addition to a fabulous three-bean patty, the artichoke hearts, goat cheese, and marinated partly sun-dried tomatoes on top inside the whole-grain bun was just spectacular, as was the curried acorn squash bisque. Fun!

OK, this isn't a very religious post, but I'd like to congratulate Salt Lake City for creating such a good experience for so many visitors this week.

Aftermath - Nov. 9: My group dinner at Lamb's Cafe Grill was wonderful. We had 21 fascinating people in my group from several nations, a wonderfully diverse mix, united by their interest in Forest and Plant Bioproducts (the pending name of the current Forest Products Division of AIChE that I chair). Service, food, and ambiance were just right as we ate and talked in the private room we had.

Also tried tapas at Martine's for a Management Division dinner - very nice. And I took a friend back to Acme Burger and tried the amazing salmon burger while he enoyed the ostrich burger. I had a taste of that too - a pleasant surprise.

And I must mention how pleased I was at Buca di Beppo, also at the corner of 3rd South and 2nd West. Very impressive family-style Italian food, the way real Italians from the Midwest eat. (Started in Minneapolis - glad it's reached Utah.) I was surprised to find that it's a publicly traded stock (NASDAQ: BUCA). If you've been invested in it for very long, my condolences, but I love the food and hope it picks up. Time to buy? Naw, I'm sticking with my favorites: precious metals companies like Silver Standard Resources (SSRI), Endeavour Silver (EXK), Kinross Gold (KGC), and Yamana Gold (AUY); General Molybdenum (GMO), Canroys like AAV and PGH, refiners (FTO and MRO), biotech/pharm companies like Celgene (CELG) and Sangamo Biosciences (SGMO - love the zinc finger protein platform for turning DNA on and off!), and uranium (DNN - a company with major Utah operations). And a touch of alternative energy stocks like BLDP and ESLR. Whoa, what a tangent. Sorry about that.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Adam and the Fall: God's Plan Thwarted?

We've had a few comments recently from people who disagree with the LDS view of the plan of salvation, especially our understanding of the purpose of life and the destiny of man. And much of this centers around an understanding of the Fall.

From our perspective, the childlike state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was not intended as the final state of mankind. For us to truly put on the divine nature and fulfill our destiny as glorified sons and daughters of God, it would be necessary for man to move beyond the innocence of the Garden and grapple with the dangerous gifts of knowledge and free agency. Why? That we might become more like Christ, even joint heirs with Him (Romans 8), destined to put on the divine nature (2 Peter 1) and become "like Him" (1 John 3:1). This required that we obtain the kind of knowledge and agency not available in the Garden. Remember, it was only after the Fall that the Lord said, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil . . . ." (Genesis 3:22).

Latter-day Saints differ from much of modern "mainstream" Christianity in their views on the Fall of man. Many other Christians teach that God intended for mankind to remain in the Garden of Eden without knowledge of good and evil, childlike and innocent. Adam is the great villain, who spoiled everything for the rest of us. As Augustine taught, Adam's sin was so terrible that all human beings deserve to suffer eternal punishment because of him and the original sin that comes upon us because of Adam (see Seth Farber, "The Reign of Augustine," The Christian Activist: A Journal of Orthodox Opinion, Vol. 13, Winter/Spring 1999, pp. 40-45,56). Adam's rebellion forced God to come up with an (inferior) alternative to His original plan. One minister explained to me that this whole existence of ours and all that we go through is a big mistake, all because of that villain of villains, Adam.

In the LDS view, God's plan was not thwarted. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God to rescue fallen mankind was not an unfortunate backup plan, but was a key part of God's perfect plan from the beginning. Thus, the New Testament speaks of Christ as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). In fact, it was God's purpose from the beginning for all of us to be introduced into mortality where we would learn to walk in faith, to grow up and become accountable, choose to follow Him, and receive of His grace. Thus, the Fall of Man was intended. As Brigham Young explained, "The Lord knew they would do this and he had designed that they should" (Journal of Discourses, 10:103).

Adam and Eve, as innocents without knowledge of even their own nakedness (Gen. 2:25; 3:7), were unable to have children and were unable to keep the greater commandment that they had been given, to multiply and replenish the earth. This is my understanding based on the teachings of the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 2:22-23:
22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
It was God's intent and sacred plan that they should have children, for as the Lord explains in Isaiah 45:18, He "created [the earth] not in vain, [but] he formed it to be inhabited." God gave Adam and Eve a higher and a lower commandment - multiply on one hand, or avoid the tree of knowledge of good and evil on the other. God knew of Satan's intent to stir up disobedience, but was one step ahead. Yes, Satan deceived Eve, and she partook of the fruit, which meant that she would be cast out of the Garden. Then Adam had to choose between staying in the Garden of Eden without Eve, where he could never hope to multiply, or following Eve into mortality by partaking of the fruit in order to keep the higher law. Adam, in choosing to partake of the fruit, Adam was transgressing a lower commandment to keep the higher law. Eve was deceived, but Adam was not, as the Bible states in 1 Tim. 2:14. What does this passage mean under "mainstream" views of Adam as a villain? Is there a more reasonable explanation than the LDS perspective, which holds, as the Book of Mormon teaches, that "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25)?

Yes, Adam faced a dilemma because of Eve's disobedience, and thus had to disobey one instruction to keep another that was more important (to multiply and replenish the earth). As a result of the transgression, they were cast out of God's presence and became mortal, fallen creatures, yet they were blessed with knowledge of good and evil, free agency, and the ability to have children. But faced with death and the certainty of sin, they were doomed creatures - were it not for the foreordained role of the Messiah, who would redeem them and provide a way to return to the presence of God as glorious sons and daughters of the Father of glory. The end result is that God's children, by passing through this fallen state of mortality, can gain knowledge of the glories of God and become joint heirs with Christ of all that God has (Rom. 8:14-18). We must taste the bitter to fully understand the sweet, and we must enter into the dangerous stage of mortality in order to receive the blessing of eternal life, which is God's kind of life (not just immortality per se). The words of God to Enoch, recorded in the Book of Moses (given to Joseph Smith by revelation), summarize this powerful doctrine well (see Moses 6:55-61).

If Adam were the ultimate villain, it is puzzling that the Bible would speak of him as a symbol of Christ ("the figure of him that was to come" - Rom. 5:14) or say that he was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14) or refer to Christ as the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Yet Adam's fall resulted in temporal death (being cut off from the physical presence of God; see Alma 42:7-9) and sin in the world, which could only be overcome through an infinite price paid by a sinless Redeemer who took our pains (the price of our sins) upon Him and sacrificed His own life that we might be free from the Fall and become new creatures in Him (Rom. 5:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). Christ's Atonement overcomes spiritual death, the state of being cast out of God's presence by sin, by having paid for our sins and offering us forgiveness through his cleansing blood, if only we will follow Him. His Atonement also overcomes physical death, the death of the body, by the power of the Resurrection, offering immortality to all (1 Cor. 15:21,22 - "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"; see also John 5:28,29). Further, "temporal death" in Alma 42 refers to physical separation from God, more so than mere physical death, a catastrophe which the Atonement remedies for those who accept Christ.

Christ's glorious role as Redeemer required that there be a Fall. Without the Fall, there would be no grace. Without temporal death (being physically cut off from the presence of God; see Alma 42:7-9), we could never be tried and there would be no righteousness. Without knowledge of sin, there would be no knowledge of goodness and thus no true appreciation of the glory of God. As the Book of Mormon teaches, there must be opposition in all things to achieve God's purposes (see 2 Nephi 2).

The ultimate implication of the Fall is the possibility of having joy. True joy comes in knowing God and Christ and knowingly choosing to follow them, entering into their presence as sons and daughters who chose the good part and the grace offered by Christ. A babe without knowledge of good and evil cannot know the joy that comes with good, or the growth that comes by choosing the source of all good. It is through overcoming the trials of mortality, "our light affliction," that we have hope of "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17). This mortal experience gives us the opportunity to become the "jewels" of God (Malachi 3:17), being refined and chosen in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10), enabled to sit with Christ in his throne if we overcome (Rev. 3:21). God wants us in heaven with Him and Christ. The Garden of Eden was not heaven. Our intended and long-planned destiny is not ignorant nakedness in the Garden of Eden, but as Paul said in 2 Cor. 5:2-4,
2  ...we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven;

3  If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.

4  For we that are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up in life.
By the way, I'm pleased to note that not all non-LDS denominations feel that the Fall was a big mistake. A good treatise from someone a bit closer to our view is Erwin W. Lutzer in his book, Ten Lies about God (Word Publishing, Nashville, TN, 2000). See particularly Chapter 8, "Lie 8: The Fall Ruined God's Plan," pp. 137-157. Lutzer is a pastor at the Moody Church in Chicago.

A good resource for further reading is "Salvation History and Requirements" - chapter 4 of Barry Bickmore's excellent book, restoring the Ancient Church.