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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

As My Son Leaves to Taiwan . . . Gratitude

This week, my young son gets on a plane to Taiwan, where he'll spend the next 22 months of so sharing the Gospel with the people of that great nation. I'm very pleased with the experience he has had at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. Such wonderful, caring people.

A couple weeks ago he played the piano to accompany a female vocalist (another missionary) for a large devotional at the MTC. How delighted I was to receive a DVD in the mail with a professional-quality recording of the performance, including 3 different camera angles with smooth transitions. Sadly, I threw away the cover envelope before I realized what a personal, thoughtful gift had been sent - I somehow thought it was a standard CD or something that all parents got. No, someone went to the trouble of recording the performance, editing, and sending us a DVD of a performance by Elder Benjamin Lindsay and a sister. That's all that was on the DVD. Very thoughtful. Anyone know who I can thank? Yes, I'll call the MTC myself and ask.

I was also pleased with the whole structure of the program and the care that the Church shows for its missionaries. Thank you! We had one issue where we needed some personal help and were really happy with the caring attitude we encountered. I felt like neither my son nor us were just a number, in spite of the large numbers of missionaries that pass through the Center.

One tip for parents with missionaries in the MTC: DearElder.com is a marvelous way to get physical letters into the hands of missionaries quickly - for free (but please donate). My son told me that they have little time for email and that he really prefers physical letters since he can keep them around to read at leisure versus having to rush through an email during limited computer access times. DearElder.com combines the convenience of sending email with the tangible delight of physical letters: they print your letter in Provo and deliver it to the MTC. Nice! They can also send letters (for a slight fee) to other missions for you. They really made life a little nicer for both us and our son these past few weeks.

Now just 22 months to go! Meanwhile, I'm brushing up on my Mandarin in hopes of keeping up with my son - an optimistic goal.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mourning for India

The hideous terrorist killings in Mumbai should leave us all deeply saddened and concerned. Our hearts go out to the people of India in this time of sorrow and mourning. May each threatened nation find a path to stamp out the terrorists that seek to enter its borders and create mayhem.

This year I have made many more friends from India, and have had the privilege of communicating with some visionary leaders in India's ecosystem of innovation and technology transfer. I have come to greatly admire that nation and the spirit of so many of its aspiring people. They have some of the world's finest scholars, finest humanitarians, and finest artists. There is such a desire for that nation to life itself and its people. This devastation by its enemies -- the enemies of all who love freedom -- pains me terribly. May those fiends be captured and brought to justice, and may we find ways to prevent such atrocities in the future.

Are any of your directly affected by this, or do you have loved ones in Mumbai or the area?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Temple Symbolism: Lundquist's Academic Paper on (Ancient) Temple Typology

In my last post, Mike Parker pointed to MormonMonastery.com for some good temple-related resources for Latter-day Saints. Interestingly, just moments before I had added a link from that site on my LDSFAQ page about LDS Temples. The link was to an interesting article by John Lundquist - more on that later.

The book that may have helped me most appreciate and enjoy the LDS temple was actually written by a Jewish scholar. The book Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985) was written Jon D. Levenson who was at the University of Chicago at the time, but now is at Harvard. I read his book while finishing graduate school at BYU over 20 years ago. On page after page, I encountered what seemed to be possible evidence that ancient Temple practices - covenant making, symbols, meanings, themes - had been restored to some degree in the modern LDS Temple.

Levenson's book is out of print, sadly, but a related summary of information about the ancient Middle Eastern temple concept is available online in John M. Lundquist's scholarly article, "What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology" (PDF link), originally printed in H. B. Huffman, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green, eds., The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983), which was republished in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 83-118). While Lundquist's article is not explicitly about the LDS Temple, those familiar with LDS temples may see fascinating evidence for ancient roots. Really, a tremendously exciting paper - at least for some of amateur LDS apologist geeks ("apologeeks?").

The Mormon Temple Ceremony: What Is the Most Helpful Thing for Members to Know Before they Go?

I've seen several efforts to provide basic information about Mormon temple ceremony for investigators, but I'm not sure what sites are best to recommend for active members preparing to go there for the first time. What do you recommend as the most useful sites and most useful sources of information to help proactive members?

(This post is not meant to be a springboard for all the things people don't like about the LDS temple, or for links to anti-Mormon information. This is a serious request for some input on best resources to help members in preparing. I'll give you opportunities for controversy some other time.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Got Your DNA in a Wad? Here's Why

No offense, but I've noticed a lot of you act like you've got your DNA in a wad. Well, that's perfectly natural - and I'm beginning to understand why.

Histones, for example, are proteins around which DNA coils. So clever how they assemble and interact with DNA. Groups of these coils link up with the help of other histones to form elegant compact structures, which in turn are assisted by other proteins to form compact zig-zag structures, which are again compacted with the help of other proteins, forming the chromatin that makes up chromosomes. The result of that complex repetitive coiling and folding is a structure that is 30,000 times shorter than the original DNA molecule. With this mind-boggling organization, DNA becomes short enough to fit in the nucleus of a cell, yet is still carefully controlled and organized - not just randomly wadded up and inaccessible when needed.

Man, I need some histones for all the information I've got scattered across my desk.

As we approach Thanksgiving, thank your lucky mutations for DNA and its brilliant set of organizing tools. And be sure to thank them for your eyes, your vocal chords, your taste buds, your circulatory system, and your otoliths -- the tiny calcium carbonate particles in your ear that play a profound role in the human experience. The brilliance of these minute little accidents of random mutations in our wadded up DNA just makes my head spin.

"O Earth, Earth, Earth" - Jeremiah's Plea to a Nation Headed toward Captivity

Shortly before the people of Jerusalem would be carried captive into Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah pleaded with them to repent. Proud, self-righteous, confident in their holiness, and materialistic, they rejected his message. But it was directly on target. In randomly reading Jeremiah 22 this morning, I found passages that seemed to resonate with our Zeitgeist. Here are a few of these verses.
8 And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbour, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this great city?

9 Then they shall answer, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them. . . .

13 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; . . .

21 I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.

22 The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness. . . .

29. O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.
The Lord spake to us in our prosperity, but so many of us trusted in uncertain riches where thieves (especially those in Washington) can break through and steal, leaving retirement accounts depleted, housing values underwater, jobs cut, and economic outlooks bleak. Many homes and even great empires of wealth have been built by unrighteousness, with loans that could not ever be paid back, or with money that was taken by force from others - trillions of dollars worth, without right and even without accountability. We are witnessing theft at the most grandiose levels ever conceived as the national debt - an ogre that took decades of corruption and greed to accumulate - suddenly doubled in a few weeks, leaving you and your posterity with impossible burdens of debt.

What has been sowed must be reaped. Chaos and captivity loom when a nation has its finances utterly out of control. Much will be swept away by the wind and the floods that will follow. May we heed the word of the Lord and listen to the inspired guidance of his living prophets and apostles to know how to live and prepare in such times. Now, more than ever, the world needs the counsel found in the word of the Lord. More than ever, we each need to repent of our sins, increase the level of charity in our lives (both in Christlike love and specifically in care for the needy around us), live frugally, and draw close to the Lord.

One more verse, speaking of the deceased King Josiah:
16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Orson Scott Card Weighs in on Prop. 8

Orson Scott Card weighs in on the Prop. 8 backlash in "Heroes and victims in Prop. 8 struggle." Here's an excerpt where he calls special attention to single LDS members in California's single wards and the challenges they are facing now:
Outside the Church, most of their peers were against Proposition 8; inexperienced in marriage and child-rearing, they saw no harm in gay marriage.

So when our Latter-day Saint singles heeded the call of the church's leaders to take part in the defense of marriage, they, more than any other group of Saints, were swimming upstream.

They worked hard. They took risks. And many of them paid a price that is heavy indeed.

Many of them lost dear friends -- sometimes with bitter, angry recriminations from people they had once been close to.

It seems ironic that these young Mormons were open-minded enough to be friends with people whose lives were so different from their own; but their friends, in the name of tolerance, could not remain friends with Mormons who merely stood up for their faith.

If the situation had been reversed, if Prop. 8 had failed, these LDS young people would not have rejected their friends who voted to repudiate the meaning of marriage. And if they had, would they not have been condemned as bigots, for being unable to tolerate someone else voting his conscience?

I have been more fortunate. All my gay friends who might have repudiated me for supporting Prop. 8 had already condemned me long ago for standing by a Christ-centered, prophet-led church. The gay friends who remained at the time of the vote already knew my views, and our relationship continues.

(Not that I lack for hate mail and death threats from the "tolerant," mind you. It just didn't come from my friends.)
While I can understand some of the frustration of the gay community over society's desire to protect traditional marriage and not change the definition of the term, I hope the frustration will not translate into intolerance for those who hold more traditional views and have concerns about the impact of changing the nature of marriage. I can also understand the frustration felt over the role of Latter-day Saints and other groups in actively standing for their beliefs in supporting Proposition 8. What saddens me is the assumption from some of the anti-8 activists that anyone supporting Prop. 8 must inherently be a hateful bigot. There are legitmate arguments that can be made on both sides of the debate, and legitimate reasons for differences. To transmute those differences into bigotry toward the alleged bigots is a sad abandonment of civic responsibility.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thomas Sowell on Tolerance and the "Right to Win"

I've already come out and let people know I'm a Mormon. Now I'm really putting my neck on the line by coming out as a fan of Thomas Sowell, the black intellectual who refuses to fit stereotypical expectations. His recent column, "The Right to Win," raises some interesting questions about the Proposition 8 backlash against blacks and Mormons.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A New 3-Column Chinese Book of Mormon

Just got an exciting email from my son learning Mandarin the MTC. He's part of the first batch of missionaries to have the Church's new 3-column Book of Mormon with Chinese characters, pinyin (a phonetic representation of Mandarin characters), and English. This is a tremendous boon for missionaries and others comfortable with one of the two languages wishing to understand the other. It will also allow Chinese learners to read the Chinese out loud. Very nice tool!

Chemical Engineers in Philly: Christian Fellowship Breakfast

Over 5,000 chemical engineers are gathered in Philadelphia this week for the big annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Some early risers will be joining a Christian fellowship breakfast tomorrow Wednesday morning, Nov. 18 (6:30 a.m., room 301 of the downtown Marriott) where we'll hear a message from Professor Harry Ploehn of the University of South Carolina (he's Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, College of Engineering and Computing). I've been to these events in the past and have found them to be inspiring and thought-provoking. In spite of some fundamental differences in some theological areas, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and other Christians who take Christ seriously have some remarkably similar experiences to share and often benefit in seeing just how broad the common ground is. I hope to share some interesting insights as I did last year.

If, as I fear, society gradually becomes increasingly intolerant of devout Christians, I think the common ground may become even broader and perhaps more firm. Nothing builds fellowship between Christians like a sold-out Coliseum and fresh pack of hungry lions.

Speaking of meals, there will be some great food at this breakfast - though a freewill donation of some kind (the $20 kind) is hoped for.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Gospel: Easy or Difficult?

Stepping aside from the controversies with our critics in California for a moment (may there be reduced anger and increased understanding on both sides), I'd like to address the "difficult" nature of living the Gospel. The world and some Christians looks at the sacrifices required by the Gospel and sees a boatload of difficulty. Fidelity, tithing and other financial sacrifices, kindness toward enemies, hours of service, going to Church instead of partying, and other expectations counter to the desires of the "natural man" may seem difficult and unreasonable to some. In the Mormon flavor of Christianity, some of the additional "opportunities" like giving up alcohol and tobacco and holding Church callings can make things seem even harder.

On top of that, the growing gap between Christian faith - particularly the LDS Christian faith -- and the rest of the world can give us a sense of isolation and risk, especially when ancestral memories of angry mobs are triggered by scenes of hostility today.

When one considers the call of Jesus Christ to follow Him completely - as in Matthew 5:48 where He asks Christians to "be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect," well, it seems to be an impossibly difficult and overwhelming standard.

But is living the Gospel really difficult? There are painful moments, yes, as there are in every human life, including the ultimate loss of death. Difficult - compared to what? Compared to not knowing our purpose in life and who we are, to know knowing and feeling the love of God, to not having the companionship of the Holy Spirit, to not knowing that we and our loved ones will be resurrected and reunited? The difficulties of this journey seem well worth the great joy and blessings we receive in the Gospel. These are great blessings, but still, is living the Gospel difficult?

Difficult for whom? That is the real question. Here is a great answer I found this morning from the last General Conference in the talk of Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge called "The Way."
"My Yoke Is Easy, and My Burden Is Light"
One of the most popular and attractive philosophies of men is to live life your own way, do your own thing, be yourself, don't let others tell you what to do. But the Lord said, "I am the way" (John 14:6). He said, "Follow me" (Mark 8:34). He said, "What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am" (3 Nephi 27:27).

Don't think you can't. We might think we can't really follow Him because the standard of His life is so astonishingly high as to seem unreachable. We might think it is too hard, too high, too much, beyond our capacity, at least for now. Don't ever believe that. While the standard of the Lord is the highest, don't ever think it is only reachable by a select few who are most able.

In this singular instance life's experience misleads us. In life we learn that the highest achievements in any human endeavor are always the most difficult and, therefore, achievable only by a select few who are most able. The higher the standard, the fewer can reach it.

But that is not the case here because, unlike every other experience in this life, this is not a human endeavor. It is, rather, the work of God. It is God's work and it is His "glory ... to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). There is nothing else like it. Not anywhere. Not ever.

No institution, plan, program, or system ever conceived by men has access to the redeeming and transforming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, while the Lord's invitation to follow Him is the highest of all, it is also achievable by everyone, not because we are able, but because He is, and because He can make us able too. "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind [everyone, living and dead] may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" (Articles of Faith 1:3).

The Lord's way is not hard. Life is hard, not the gospel. "There is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11), everywhere, for everyone. Life is hard for all of us, but life is also simple. We have only two choices. We can either follow the Lord and be endowed with His power and have peace, light, strength, knowledge, confidence, love, and joy, or we can go some other way, any other way, whatever other way, and go it alone -- without His support, without His power, without guidance, in darkness, turmoil, doubt, grief, and despair. And I ask, which way is easier?

He said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; ... and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don't quit, and you will make it.

There is only one way to happiness and fulfillment. Jesus Christ is the Way. Every other way, any other way, whatever other way is foolishness.

I bear record of Him, even Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of the living God, He is the Bread of Life, He is the Truth, He is the Resurrection and the Life, He is the Savior and the Light of the World. He is the Way, the only Way.

May we have the good sense to follow Him. In His holy name, even Jesus Christ, amen.

Responding to Those Who Are "Not Quite Friends" (NQF)?

There is an ingrained Mormon reflex to angry mobs that poses a serious problem that I hadn't recognized until tonight. The thoughtless, easy, almost automatic response of "love your enemies" -- typified by my latest post -- reveals my old-school, politically incorrect upbringing. This response, I should say, is most easily coughed up while sitting in a soft arm chair at a safe distance from the action, like the 2,000 miles between me and California. That quirky response reveals clunky cultural blinders on top of obsidian lenses three inches thick on top of a Kevlar blindfold with a layer of duct tape over the eyes for good measure -- that's how blind I was. Because by regurgitating the old saying, "love your enemies," I was implicitly labeling people as enemies. Some of you are bothered by this - and I actually see some point to what you've said.

This term was not meant to apply to anyone who opposed Prop. 8. It is not meant to apply to gays or any other group, except those who I think would be comfortable with that label because they really don't mind saying they hate us - which they have a right to feel and say, but civilly, please. A tiny group of people were meant.

I think some of you felt I was being judgmental, divisive, and insulting in using the term "enemy" to describe others, as if I was applying that to gays in general, or as if I were missing the fact that the "enemies" were actually brothers and sisters we need to love.

I'm all for loving people who come after us with what I interpret as visible hostility and hate. That's kind of the intent of my previous post, and this one. They are our brothers and sisters and we should love them, even if they lose control and do things that seem wrong to us. But can't we love people, recognizing them as brothers and sisters, while also recognizing them as "enemies" that meet the dictionary requirements for that word, i.e., having hostility or hate toward us, opposing our interests, and in a few rare cases, even intending harm? The intentions may be honorable, as they are in most "anti-Mormons" who want to save people from hell by telling others that we don't believe in Christ and abuse children or whatever else they say. There are some great people, like Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, who take the stance of "enemies" to Christianity or the Mormon flavor thereof. "Enemy" is not necessarily an insult. In fact, if we're half as bad and deluded as some folks say we are, some of our most dangerous "enemies" may be heroes and saints in God's eyes. So recognize that "enemy" is not necessarily a put down.

When someone in an angry mob curses you while holding a sign saying "Mormon scum" and says it's time for retribution, calling Mormons the enemy, it seems like "enemy" status might even be one of the few things we could mutually agree upon. But to avoid adding any fuel to a potential fire, I am looking for softer, more politically correct language. So how about this: "Not Quite Friends." NQF. "Love Thy NQFs." Hmm, it's just not working. Suggestions? I'm at least somewhat serious. Is there better language to describe our NQFs?

(Note: Originally I used "Not Quite Friends Anymore" - NQFA.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Faith in Christ on the Line: How Do We Respond to Our Enemies in California or Anywhere?

Paul Bishop, a police office in Los Angeles, shares his experiences and perspectives around the Proposition 8 backlash in a Meridian Magazine story, "In the Face of Hatred." (That's Part 1. Don't miss Part 2.) This article is essential reading. In addition to thoughtful discussion of the controversy and some great photos, it reports some aspects not known to many, including the beating of some apparently non-LDS girls who tried to remove hateful signs from the Temple walls (quickly stopped by police, fortunately - God bless those courageous women). To the angry folks who refuse to understand the difference, removing unwanted offensive messages from private property, messages that deface sacred religious grounds, is hardly the same as stripping away legally carried signs from the hands of law-abiding protesters. I am shocked that one commenter dares to equate the mob's hateful actions against a Christian woman with the brave service rendered by those girls trying to remove offensive litter defacing the Temple walls.

Paul is LDS and speaks to LDS members wondering how to respond. He begins by quoting one of our Apostles, Elder Robert D. Hales, and then offers simple, inspired advice:
"To respond in a Christlike way cannot be scripted or based on a formula. The Savior responded differently in every situation. When He was confronted by wicked King Herod, He remained silent. When He stood before Pilate, He bore a simple and powerful testimony of His divinity and purpose. Facing the moneychangers who were defiling the temple, He exercised His divine responsibility to preserve and protect that which was sacred. Lifted up upon a cross, He uttered the incomparable Christian response: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34)."

We have often been instructed to love our enemies, and despite the current horror of our trials, this is no time to do differently.
The temptation to push back and get aggressive may be strong, but we must remember Whom we follow. I would suggest that we not try to argue with inflamed mobs, that we do not provoke or invite hostility, that we avoid getting in the face of those who are angry, but always seek to have charity informing our actions.

Our example must be one of peaceful endurance, of courage but kindness in the face of hate, of seeking to bless rather than to curse. Remember, many of the outraged souls mocking your beliefs or even harming property believe they are victims of outrageous crimes against their most basic rights. They may be misguided, but they are our brothers and sisters who may yet be touched by the Spirit and see things differently. There are also many on the fence, not sure what to think, who may be touched by a Christlike response in this time of contention and hate. Pray for our enemies, pray for their welfare, and pray for guidance in how to deal with them when conflict becomes unavoidable. (Hint: I'm not sure Mormon ninjas are the answer.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Democracy at Work in Palm Springs: A Hate Crime in Action

The rage against diversity of thought is reaching warlike proportions in some parts of California. Witness the frightening way "democracy" (as in mob rule) worked when a Christian woman dared to show up at a Prop. 8 protest in Palm Springs. Be sure to watch the very end where they show how the incident began. Tolerance? Love? Freedom of speech and thought? This is one of the more frightening things I've seen. Hat tip to Connor Boyack.

This video should become part of the standard training to help people recognize genuine hate crimes.

The commentator said something about seeing "a lot of hate on both sides." Where was the hate of the Christian woman? Was it in her smile as she was assailed and threatened? Was it in trying to pick up the cross that protesters tore from her hands and stomped on? Was it in refusing to shout and curse the angry mob around her? Or was it in having a differing view and daring to express it with a visible symbol (the cross)? Help me spot the hate here.

Update, Nov. 12: Some people have had a hard time imagining that any kind of crime was being committed here. I suggest you imagine what it must have been like for the elderly old woman who showed up at City Hall to stand up for her beliefs, however misguided you think they are. Can you imagine being a short, elderly woman showing up to "stand up for Jesus" by carrying a large cross that you had made? (If that's beyond your abilities, think of an elderly lesbian carrying a rainbow flag at a protest led by angry Mormon missionaries.) As you walk across an open area with your cross raised, you are suddenly surrounded by much bigger people, including large and burly men who begin shouting at you. Some grab the cross away from you and hurl this sacred symbol of your faith toward the ground. A possession of yours has just been stolen by force. The crowd presses in more tightly and begins stomping violently on the cross. They are doing more than simply destroying your possession, which most people ought to be able to recognize as a crime. They are angrily, deliberately, and, yes, hatefully, destroying what they know to be a symbol of your religious belief. Then they continue yelling at you, cursing you, and demanding that you leave, with arms flailing inches from your face. Do you think this might have appeared to be physical and emotional intimidation? Do you think emotions of hate were deliberately and persuasively conveyed? Or is this what you call civil discourse?

This is public property we are talking about, City Hall, not a private club where the woman slipped past the bouncers. She has as much right as they did to be there. Might it be possible that some of her rights were threatened by that group? Will they apologize for the theft, the destruction of property, the intimidation, the verbal and emotional abuse? Of course not.

I am surprised that some of you cannot imagine this being an example of a crime. How much further would it have had to go to qualify? Does the victim have to be maimed, her home burned to the ground, and her Starbucks gift card mangled, before the words "crime" and perhaps even "hate" might begin to apply?

Look, I don't like the whole concept of "hate crimes" since very few crimes qualify as loving in the first place. I prefer criminalizing actions rather than thought. But if "hate crime" is to be a legal concept, why not include this as an example. It's a mild example since the courageous woman wasn't bloodied or killed, and I will certainly admit that some gays have suffered bigotry far more devastating than this. By discussing this case, in no way do I wish to ignore the reality of assaults and other crimes against gays. Crime and hate must stop. But advocating the traditional legal definition of marriage is not an act of hate, however angry it makes some people.

The video is chilling - but you're probably not going to see this played endlessly on every major TV network for the next six months. You're probably not going to hear about this incident at all except on a few fringe blocks. But if the reverse situation had occurred - imagine angry Christians shouting down a peaceful lesbian protester calmly and courageously waving a rainbow banner, then grabbing her banner and stomping it into the earth, then swarming around her with curses and hate, demanding that she leave, and blocking cameras to keep the world from seeing her - can you imagine anything but massive national attention, even international attention, with all sorts of efforts from angry politicians to deal with the "Christian menace"? Can you imagine how such things would play out if the roles were reversed?

So what is a hate crime? Maybe the FBI can give us some guidance. From an FBI page on "hate crime":
A hate crime, also known as a bias crime, is a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.

In response to mounting national concern over crimes motivated by bias, Congress enacted the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990. The law directed the Attorney General to collect data "about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity." . . .

As a result, the law enforcement agencies that participate in the national hate crime program collect details about an offender's bias motivation associated with the following offense types: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and destruction/damage/vandalism of property.
So if people charge at a woman because she's carrying a cross, yell at her, curse at her, grab her cross and destroy it, surround her and shout at her, could that possibly count as intimidation or destruction of property with some twist of bias based on the religion of the victim? Could it possibly be a hate crime? I'm just wondering out loud here. I'm not a lawyer and not even a very good judge of things like love and hate. I had the hardest time spotting the hate of that woman, and I had an even tougher time seeing the love in the actions of the mob with who had "love" all over their protest signs. I guess I'm emotionally dyslexic.

The Mormon Work Ethic: The Economist Notices Utah

"The Mormon Work Ethic: Why Utah's economy is soaring above its neighbours" is a story in the Oct. 23 edition of The Economist. Interesting thoughts. I think they miss how severe the real estate market has been hit in some sectors, but it's a nice read anyway. (Hat tip to Richard Miller.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The 2008 Mormon War in California?

History recalls 1838 as the year of the Mormon War in Missouri. Will 2008 be the year of the Mormon War in California?

To gain some added insight into the mess in California right now, I called a person I really respect and admire who also happens to be gay and a former Mormon. I trust and value his opinion on many matters, though we differ strongly on matters of faith. He's an independent thinker who doesn't simply accept what any community or group says, but nevertheless is fairly conservative politically and is remarkably tolerant and sometimes even supportive of Latter-day Saints, in spite of having left the Church.

His thoughts surprised me. "I'm very upset with the Mormons. The Church is waging war in California." War? That caught me off guard. He felt that the Church - I guess that's "we" - have stepped over the line in pushing for the Proposition. He felt we have put our tax-exempt status at risk.

He explained that he does not believe in marriage - but feels that if people want to be married, let them. He doesn't care too much about the issues of Prop. 8 per se, but is upset at the Church playing such a significant role. And the word he choose to describe the situation was "war." While I disagree with his interpretation of the actions and aims of the Church, I respect the pain and agitation he feels. It gave me pause.

In the 1838 War, there was blame on both sides, and both sides could say the other side started it (though religious bigotry and hate against the Mormons clearly played a critical role). As the minority in the State, of course, the Mormons lost and were driven out of Missouri, with an insane extermination order nipping at their heels. War in California? Some speak of a culture war being waged across the United States. Will this be the first of additional battles where the Mormons take incredible heat for their stand on moral issues? Will there be dramatic consequences, far more dramatic than a few buildings vandalized? Stay tuned. Even when the judges in California contrive a way to strike down Proposition 8, it may not bring "peace in our time."

Of course, the Prop. 8 case is hardly analogous to the 1838 War. For one thing, I don't expect Mormons to be forcibly driven out of California or anyplace else in the US. Conflict with the Federal government could one day be much more worrisome. Our stance on moral issues today may end up being more like a repeat of the 1870s, where the Church's former pro-polygamy position (so shocking to the serial adulterers in Congress of that era) was used as justification to disenfranchise it and seize its assets. Our position and efforts to preserve the sanctity of marriage in this day puts us at odds with some important social currents (same-sex marriage, abortion, pre-marital sex and cohabitation, gender roles, etc.). Though many share our views on these matters, our proactive and well-organized efforts, coupled with our "oddball" minority status, make us an ideal target for blame. Marching against Hispanics, blacks, Catholics, Baptists, and even the American Plumbers Union won't play well, but there's little risk in going after the Mormons.

While this whole thing may blow over, at least this time, it is possible that we will face increasing trouble in the future - not so much from angry mobs as from Federal agents from the IRS or maybe even the Justice Department using RICO statutes or other tools. If so, the consequences could be serious if good people of other faiths don't stand up for us. Will there be pressure for a Third Manifesto that addresses same-sex marriage? Will the only safe route be to exercise our First Amendment right to simply shut up on social and moral issues? May our religious freedom be preserved here and in other lands where, sadly, it is increasingly at risk.

Personally, I believe that the Church and its members have every right to take stands on moral issues and when they are the subject of legal action or proposed legal changes, to exert influence. Our opponents have the same right. If they had won in California, Latter-day Saints would not be holding angry protect marches gay rights organizations or holding angry protect marches in front of churches on the other side. Those who demand tolerance should also afford it to those who disagree. That said, I think we need to understand how painful this issue is for some of our brothers and sisters, and how personally this affects them. These are very difficult times.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Proposition 8 Backlash

LA Photographer T.J. Sullivan documents the Nov. 6 protest march against the Latter-day Saints at the LA Temple for the Church's support of Proposition 8. The protesters descended on the LDS Temple to remind folks how democracy works and how important it is to avoid hate even when people you disagree with win. Or maybe I'm thinking of a different episode - sorry if I'm confused again. Hat tip to Connor Boyack, whose blog offers several videos about the protest.

By the way, those Temple gates don't look strong enough to keep out a mob if they wanted to get it. Reinforcements needed for future controversies? Update: For a report on vandalism against the Church by the forces of love, see BeetleBabee.

To those who are confused by the signs littering the Temple fence and wondering if spending money to support Proposition 8 really is the same as "buying hate," here's a useful video explaining what Proposition 8 was about. Hat tip to the Findelmeyer Proposition.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Real Religious Fairness Doctrine: All Evidence for Religious Belief Must Be Balanced such that Faith Is Still Required

I ranted earlier about the Fairness Doctrine while speculating tongue-in-cheek about a Religious Fairness Doctrine. On further reflection, it appears that a Religious Fairness Doctrine is already in place. Its goal is to generally leave with the freedom to believe and with the need to exercise faith.

The tomb is empty and witnesses claim Christ is resurrected? No trouble - we've got paid witnesses who say the tomb was robbed. That's only fair.

We should expect every evidence for the Divine to have seemingly plausible natural explanations. Call that a cop-out, if you're one who demands absolute proof - that's totally fair of you.

For Latter-day saints, we should expect every tidbit of Book of Mormon evidence to still leave people with plenty of unanswered questions and seemingly plausible objections or counter-explanations. We should not expect "slam dunk" evidence to be uncovered that would leave people with no wiggle room for doubt. Don't expect the gold plates to be returned anytime soon and sent to the Smithsonian for authentication (actually, they would be melted down and sold as part of some emergency bailout for needy tycoons). Don't expect a fully authenticated Mesoamerican engraving saying "Welcome to Zarahemla, Chief Nephite Capital" to be dug up in southern Mexico or Guatemala. Don't expect scholars to find an ancient altar in the Arabian Peninsula verifying the use of the ancient name Nahom/NHM in 600 B.C. in the place that the Book of Mormon calls Nahom. (Oops - my bad on that last one. Well, I mean don't expect non-LDS critics to find all that Arabian Peninsula evidence to be the least bit interesting. As long as they don't feel a need to make any concessions, the need for faith is still there. Thanks, guys!)

Oops - got to run. Time to get in line again. Here in Wisconsin, we're not leaving this election to chance.

Update on an Important Limitation: A seemingly unfair aspect of the Real Religious Fairness Doctrine is that it is only required when dealing with actual religious truth and evidence relating to the True and Living God. It does not necessarily apply to completely man-made religions and insane cultic delusions. When dealing with a false Messiah, for example, the evidence can be entirely lop-sided in favor of his divinity - at least as reported by the major media.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Lessons from Ancient Relics: Alma's Counsel in Alma 37

In the majestic words of Alma the younger to his righteous son Helaman in Alma 36 and 37, he begins with a carefully composed, elaborate, even majestic example of chiasmus, a type of parallelism now known to be characteristic of ancient Semitic poetry. His words in the following chapter are highly literary as well, structured around three references to specific, miraculous "small means" that the Lord uses to bring us to Him: (1) the metal plates of the Nephites (including the ancient plates of brass) with scriptural writings (verses 1-20), (2) the Jaredite relics of the 24 gold plates and the "interpreters," the ancient revelatory tools that we might call the Urim and Thummim or seerstones (verses 21-37), and (3) the Liahona, the divine compass of sorts that guided Lehi's group on their journey to the New World, a device that can point the way when faith is exercised (verses 38-47).

In treating these relics (in the chiastic order of Nephite, Jaredite, Nephite again), there is a steady theme of gaining eternal life through revealed guidance and grace from the Lord. There is a course we must navigate in this life, and these small revelatory means can help. We must constantly seek revelation and exercise faith in Christ to stay on course. Here is some beautiful counsel from Alma 37:
[33] Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

[34] Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.

[35] O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.

[36] Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

[37] Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
Alma 37 is a chapter well worth reading and pondering in detail, as is my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Choose Your Kingmen Carefully!

The Book of Mormon is becoming so relevant in this era. How marvelously the prophetic historian Mormon has edited the 1000+ years of Nephite history to emphasize a few short years that offer uncanny parallels to our time. Even the whirlwind tour of much lengthier Jaredite history in the Book of Ether emphasizes episodes and trends that are relevant for our time - including the desire of the Jaredites to have kings (like the ancient Israelites). Mosiah learned much from the Jaredite experiment and wisely ended the rule of kings with a form of government offering more freedom, if the people could keep it.

Over the next 90 years, the Nephite nation faced constant threats from forces who wanted all-powerful chief executives and their cronies to be in charge. Amlici and Amalickiah sought to be kings and collaborated with the enemy in their quest for power. Kingmen rose up in the thousands to support further efforts to overthrow freedom and bring back kings. Murder, bribery, corruption of basic laws, and even secret tribunals rose up, coupled with secret combinations inside and outside Nephite society, all seeking to overthrow freedom and make the people servants (perhaps with the threat of the "grievous" 20% tax exacted by King Noah - about half what this nation takes from its people already). Politicians seeking power offered others money to gain support, both in Nephite and Jaredite society -- one of the most dreaded signs of a decaying government, when leaders gain support by offering the lucre of government-aided plunder.

America seems to want kings to lead it. The rise of solitary executive power, blind to the intended constraints of the Constitution, has been going on for many years. The current Executive has kingly powers on many fronts, and those vying for our votes tomorrow differ mainly in what ways they will further expand the throne. This is the day of Kingmen.

Liberty, if it is going to be preserved, will not depend on which of the two money parties gains power in the White House. Rather, it depends on America shunning the temptations and terrors of a kingdom and returning to personal values of integrity, honesty, and morality. Without that personal strength in its citizens, they will never have the wisdom to govern themselves or to find representatives who can protect their freedoms. Moral and spiritual weakness is the prelude to liberty lost. That's one of the great messages of the Book of Mormon, more vital than ever for our time.

Oh, and don't forget food storage.

Vote wisely tomorrow. The lines will probably be long, so you may only have time to vote once.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Found Poetry from a Korean Patent

In my earlier years, I used to get a kick from "found poetry" - prose from mundane sources like instruction manuals not meant to be particularly literary which sometimes accidentally conveys poetic content. Here is one candidate I just ran into. It comes from the abstract of Korean patent (KR20050079263A) that I found today using a professional patent search tool for my day job. This is the abstract they provided, which was translated with the help of a machine. I've reformatted it slightly, added italics in two places and left out a few parts, including four words that could not be translated.

Read this out loud, softly, in candle light. It's hard to find poetry more moving than this - and it was created by accident.
"Chinese medicine herb medicine remanufactures (the ginseng, the sugar ear and the calamus, the territory, the ramie)"

The invention which it sees
as regarding the hair cosmetics composition
to the place where it recovers the hair
which is damaged the plow and tree,
the distant, the various branch
compounding effect of Fiji control,
the clause germ and the clause sal back the hair
cosmetics of necessary one existing most like this . . .

it cannot be satisfied
it could not on a large scale
the place where it improves two blood.

The invention which it sees
the extract to the back which is a pin,
a propylene writing call and a vegetability pro reel
and the reel Oh the mountain
cetane will come. . . .

The interface activator and the floating green onion
Chinese medicine herb medicine remanufacture
(the ginseng, the sugar ear and the calamus, the territory, the ramie)
it contains it manufactures
with in two blood and the hair line promotion,
dandruff removal, the plow and tree
to bring the distant effective back,
when specially applying in two blood
which feel a hair cosmetics use hour stimulus,
the maximum it relaxes the magnetic pole. . . .

The dry hair which splits well, and shampoo hour
the keratin happens easily
and only Chinese medicine herb medicine remanufacture
being unique in the hair where the dandruff gets,
the nutrition which is abundant about under giving
in order it is moist healthy and to give
with one head wave splashing over splashing over,
it is one thing.
A reminder that poetry can happen by accident, as can, for example, chiasmus (a topic of interest to Book of Mormon fans). But the link between meaning and poetical devices in random poetry often leaves much to be desired, in contrast to what has been crafted deliberately, by the hand of an artist. Given that, I still really like this Korean machine-assisted poem, especially the closing lines and the part about the floating green onion. What dreams I will have tonight!

With one head wave splashing over splashing over,
it is one thing.