Sunday, August 13, 2017

Some thoughts for those who question

Before getting into my post proper, I would like to draw my reader's attention to the title of the blog. Up until now it was titled: From the Office of Tarik LaCour. But, I came to think of the name as boring and decided to search for another name. I settled on Realism with a Human Face, which is the name of a book by one of my favorite philosophers, Hilary Putnam. He passed away a year ago, and I think of this as a way to honor him. That book in particular has had profound influence on me, and I encourage all to read it. In addition, several thinkers that I respect have also named their blogs after famous books or essays (Kelli Potter-Protocol Sentences, Daniel C. Peterson- Sic et Non), so I am following their lead in a sense.

Hilary Putnam, one of my philosophical idols

Now on to my post. As you know, I have been doing a series of rebuttals to the claims made in Letter to a CES Director by Jeremy Runnells. The series I started is not yet complete; the next instillation will be a guest post by my friend, Neal Rappleye, on the Kinderhook Plates, an issue on which he is something of an expert. I look forward to hearing his response, and I am sure that you will like it as well. His recent presentation at the FairMormon Conference was fantastic.

However, this post is not a response to the letter. Rather, this post is for those people who have read the letter and left the Church, those who have read it and have questions, and those who have not read it but nonetheless have questions.

First, questioning is a good thing. It is a sign that you are thinking about issues and that they are important to you. Without questions, we would never get answers. Likewise, doubt and skepticism are also good things. They are a sign of curiosity and independent thinking. Having said that, it is not good to have questions, doubts, or have a skeptical attitude without also a willingness to search for answers. This is one of my main criticisms of the CES Letter because the author brings up questions but does not address anyone who answers them. For example, when he talks about the Book of Mormon archaeology and anthropology, he never addresses the work of Brant Gardner or John Sorenson. He treats it as though it does not exist, which is sign of not taking the subject matter seriously. While his asking questions are fine and welcome, his acting as though there are no plausible answers is very troubling. Do not follow that example. Study arguments on both sides, weigh the evidence, make a decision, and go from there.

Second, your questions deserve to be answered. It does not matter if the question is a small one or a large one; if the question is sincere, an answer should be given. Keep in mind that a perfectly acceptable answer is "I don't know." In science, that is an answer we often give because when we make a new discovery, new questions immediately emerge and it takes time to get answers. Having said that, just because one person does know an answer to a certain question does not falsify an idea or a theory. There are many puzzles to be solved in evolutionary biology for instance; that does not show the theory of evolution to to be false. Keep asking until you get an answer, and be skeptical of anyone who thinks your question is not valid. I repeat, if the question is sincere, it deserves to be answered.

Last of all, do not think of those who are orthodox believers as your enemies. In truth, we are in the same boat as you are. I myself have many questions, but I am confident that they will eventually be answered because my other questions have been. I also have many acquaintances and friends who have left the Church, and I realize that the reasons they left were sincere rather than cop-outs. However, questions or lack of belief are not reasons to end a friendship. If you were my friend as a believer, you will be one as a non-believer.

In closing, if you have questions, ask. If you find the answers unsatisfactory, continue to question and search. I am confident that there are answers to all or most questions. If you feel you have to leave, do not lose the good things that the Church has taught you. And know that you have my full support regardless of your choice. Keep the faith!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Traditio: A.J. Ayer

Logic is one of the five main branches of philosophy (aesthetics,epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics being the others). Like all branches of philosophy,  it has evolved over time.
The term "logic" is often used in our vernacular, but most people do not know that logic in the philosophical sense is very much like mathematics. Why is this important to the layman? Because in the United States we rank low in mathematics, and mathematics is the foundation of logic. If you are not very good mathematics, you are unlikely to be a very logical thinker, which will have profound impact on your life and on the lives of others.

This weeks traditio features A.J. Ayer, author of Language, Truth & Logic and other books discussing the development of modern logic in respects to two men: Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lesson from Moses

This morning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released and excommunicated Elder James J. Hamula of the First Quorum of the Seventy (the press release can be read here). The article does not specify why the action was taken, but it does note that Bro. Hamula was not excommunicated for apostasy or disillusionment, so we can be hopeful that he will repent and come back into full fellowship with the Church in the coming years.

At this time, many will be curious as to why this action was taken. May I remind all interested that these matters are private and are none of our business. As the article pointed out, general authorities are not held to a higher standard than other members in matters of discipline, so we can guess that if Bro. Hamula had been the average member of the Church, he would have been excommunicated for the same actions.

Moses sees the promised land, but does not enter

There is a lesson in all of this, however. Recall with me the closing chapters of the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet Moses has just finished retelling the children of Israel all that had happened in their journey through the wilderness, and all the Lord had done for them; in particular he reminded them that the Lord had been merciful with them when he had wanted to destroy them in the past (Exodus 32:9). What happens next is very telling. Moses turns the people over to Joshua, and then hikes a mountain. He sees all of the promised land, but he is not permitted to enter. Why not? Because he was not obedient to the Lord when he told to speak to a rock so that it would provide water for the people; he struck the rock instead (Numbers 20:12-13).

Why is this relevant to what happened today? Because it shows that no one, not even a man as great as Moses, can avoid punishment for crimes against the Lord. The lesson we should take from the stories of Moses and Bro. Hamula is that we are all vulnerable and can make mistakes that can cost us dearly. However, as President Thomas S. Monson has said in a recent conference "There is a way back. That process is called repentance." (Dare to Stand Alone, October 2011 Conference Report)

I would like to extend to Bro. Hamula my full support and prayers, and I hope that he will find himself among us in the near future. God bless you brother. Know that you are loved.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Traditio: Richard Swinburne

In today's world, where we see an increase of moral relativism everywhere, it is perhaps not so shocking that the same sort of thinking seeps into the Church. Take the issue of same-sex marriage for example. Because many of us, especially the youth, know someone who is homosexual (I know several myself, including a family member), many come to think that perhaps the practice is fine and that prophets, both ancient and modern, exaggerated its significance. I am not sure why this particular issue is now gaining so much acceptance among Mormons and Christians, but many I know (though not all, to be clear) see almost no problem with it and are infuriated when leaders of churches hold firm in their condemnation of the practice. Recently, an instructor at BYU-Idaho was terminated for posting on Facebook that she thought that homosexuality was normal and therefore not a sin. On the first part she was absolutely correct. Homosexuality is natural and is not a choice. This does not mean that homosexual sexual activity is therefore not a sin. Lying, fornication, and stealing are also natural; we have evidence of all of them in most civilizations. But that does not make them moral.
Richard Swinburne, Emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford

Speaking on this issue and other ethical issues from a Christian point of view is Richard Swinburne, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford. After giving this speech at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Swinburne was attacked by University of Notre Dame professor, Michael Rea, via Facebook in the following statement:

I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As President of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.
I find it pretty radical that a Christian professor at a Christian university would attack a fellow Christian philosopher for teaching Christian ideas. Professor Swinburne deserves a formal apology from Professor Rea for his nonsense.

At any rate, Professor Swinburne clearly articulates Christian sexual behavior in this video, and I invite all to listen to and heed his message.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review of "What We Wish We'd Known When We Were Newlyweds"

While I have been married for six months, I recently realized that my wife and I had never read a book on marriage together. I thought this was significant considering that on my side of the family, many marriages and relationships had failed and I did not want our eternal relationship to suffer the same fate. Therefore, I suggested that we read a book about being newlyweds together. Since we are both fans of John Bytheway, we were intrigued by the book that he co-authored with his wife Kimberly: What We Wished We'd Known When We Were Newlyweds. Luckily, thanks to there insight, we learned things that will greatly benefit us as we go through our first year of marriage on to eternity.

The book is short, less than 150 pages and divided into eight chapters. It talks about some of the most awkward parts of marriage (the honeymoon) as well as many of the practical areas of marriage (finances, courtship, forgiveness). The Bytheways have a way of teaching a principle not only in a clear, understandable manner, but also in a light-hearted and funny way. A good example of this is when they talk about marital intimacy and make the remark that "men are like microwaves, women are like crockpots." As a person who never had the birds and the bees conversation with my parents (I did not hear the term until I was 18), that taught me alot.

The most significant aspect of the book (and one that can be found in every chapter) is that marriage is work and takes time to perfect. We all want our marriage to be like our wedding day; beautiful and photo-worthy. Well, a wedding is a one day event and marriage is for eternity. There will be bumps, bruises, tears and heartache along the way; that is simply part of the human condition. But, if we put as much work into our marriage as we do into planning our wedding, both can be beautiful and worth it in the end. Like all good things in life, a strong marriage cannot be had without great effort and patience.

Whether you are a newlywed, preparing for a scheduled marriage, or are preparing to prepare to schedule a marriage, this book is for you and your perspective partner. This short book can get your marriage off to a strong start, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Traditio: Richard Lyman Bushman

In September of this year, I will celebrate eight years of church membership. I had the opportunity last night to share my conversion story (albeit very briefly) with my stake president. As I look back on it, one of the main reasons for my conversion was the Prophet Joseph Smith. His story and teachings touched my heart and soul in a way that no one had at that time and no one else has since. I was shown by many non-Mormons all (or at least many) of his flaws. Through it all, I retained my testimony (and still do) that God and Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him in the Sacred Grove, that he organized the modern Church of Jesus Christ under their direction, and that the doctrines he taught (especially in his latter life) are true. This was not just a supernatural thing. As I think about his teachings as a philosopher, they still show themselves to be logically coherent and answer many of the traditional questions in the philosophy of religion (existence of God, problem of evil, fate of the -un-evangelized etc) in a way that not even someone like Thomas Aquinas could (a philosopher for whom I have the deepest respect). If no one else will say it (and there are millions who will) I will say it: For all the flaws that he had, and they were numerous, Joseph Smith was not only a prophet, but one of the greatest men who ever lived.

Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration

Having said that, I am painfully aware that many members of the Church are not aware of some of the activities that the Prophet was involved in (treasure seeking, multiple accounts of the First Vision, plural marriage, etc). When they hear about these things, they wonder how such a flawed man could be called of God, and sadly many members leave the Church after becoming aware of these things. John Dehlin recently wrote on his Facebook that some people had mentioned to him that they had a testimony of who Joseph Smith truly was (which is laughable, because if they did they would not have left the Church).

One of the best resources that the modern Church has is Richard Lyman Bushman, author of the landmark book Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling and a current patriarch. I am convinced that no one (or if any, very few) knows more about Joseph Smith than does Bro. Bushman, and yet he is one of the Prophet's staunchest advocates. I ask my friends who have left the Church over what they have learned of the Prophet the following questions: Is it possible that Bro. Bushman knows more than you do about Joseph Smith's activities, character, and life? If so, is it possible that there is something that you missed and that you are looking beyond the mark(to borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon)?

In this weeks traditio, I invite my readers to watch as Bro. Bushman talks about his landmark book and some of the concerns people have about what he wrote. Member or non-member, you will enjoy this.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Understanding Apologetics

A week ago today I posted the ninth installment in the CES Letter series. After sharing it on Facebook, the author of the CES Letter, Jeremy Runnells, commented that LDS Apologists were making his point in the CES Letter and that we should keep it up since we were leading more people out of the Church than we were keeping in (he gave no statistical data to give evidence for the point he was making, so take that with a grain of salt).

The terms "apologetics" and "apologist" are often thrown around by anti-Mormons as a sort of pejorative term, one that deems those who write about LDS issues as apologizing or explaining away objections that are seen as substansial.

This is a misunderstanding of the term. The term "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "to give a defense." So, an apologist is anyone who defends a particular point of view; since all people have beliefs and opinions they will defend occasionally we are by definition all apologists. Thus, characters like Runnells and John Dehlin are apologists just like their alleged enemies Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen Smoot.

Further, it is worth pointing out that many LDS apologists point out both sides of the story and are trained in the area that they write about  (John Gee is a trained Egyptologist and John Sorenson is a trained anthropologist for example). Runnells simply dismisses these people rather than engaging with them, and so he shows himself to be a bad apologist for anti-Mormonism.
In short, the next time someone calls you an apologist,  flash them a smile and say "So are you."