Saturday, December 20, 2014

Remember, Remember

Throughout the text that is known to the world as the Book of Mormon, the word "remember" is often used. It can, if we think about it, be the link between all the prophets in the text. They will ofter tell the people that they need to remember what promises that that they have made with the Lord and the promises that the Lord has made with them. They are also told told to remember the words of the former prophets. Sadly, they hardly ever remembered, and it often led to their destruction.

At this time of the year, I would like to remind all followers of Jesus of Nazareth to remember him and to think on his birth, life, mission, and sacrifice. The gifts, decorations, and other  things are things that we may enjoy for the moment, but because of what he did man has the opportunity of eternal life. So I say again "Remember, Remember."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

This post is going to very quick, but I do believe that it will help everyone who reads it. So just keep reading...

Every year at this time of year, people begin making resolutions that they hope to do in the upcoming year. Everyone is excited and determined, and then the new year comes around and then nothing happens. People get off to good starts, but then they have a slip up and then they throw in the towel. Needless to say, because of this many resolutions are repeated year after year, but they never become true realities

The problem is that what people know is not reflected in what they do. They know that change takes time, but yet they fully expect that on January 1st of whatever year they will spring forth like Athena from Zeus' head; full grown in the person they want to be. Yet, like all good change, New Year's resolutions require time and patience.

So, here is a suggestion. Make between 2 and 5 resolutions, but give yourself the whole year to achieve. Look back on December 31st to see if you have achieved your goals. With time, patience, and focus, you will get there. I guarantee it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sad Day

Today is conference championship weekend, which unfortunately means that the regular season is over and that the season is coming to a close. What do I have to live for for the next nine months? Oh wait there is the recruiting season. That ought to help.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Arguing with Bertrand Russell

One of the most famous anti-Christian works from the British world is "Why I am not a Christian" by my fellow philosopher, the late Bertrand Russell. It is not my purpose in this brief blog post to debate all the points that Mr. Russell makes in his work, perhaps I will do so in an essay at another time. However, I do want to debate one point that he made in this brief work.

As a believer in Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior of mankind and as the only perfect man who has ever walked the face of the Earth, I find no blemishes in Christ's moral character; rather I believe that as Jesus of Nazareth is in fact divine, it only follows that morality precedes from him. Without him there can truly be no morality.

Mr. Russell begs to differ. In his essay he says "There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation"

I find at least two problems with his argument. First, his argument that no who is profoundly humane can believe in hell. He is here attacking more than just Jesus; he is attacking all who labels themselves as Christian. He seems to not understand that hell is not something that God desires for people, but as he is perfectly just there must be a place for those who are at enmity with him may go. He further seems to believe as many Christians do that hell is a place of fire, while it is clear from the text that this imagery, not an actual account of what happens in such a place. At the end of the day, hell is separation from God from those who ultimately chose that path. Hell can be empty if we choose to make it so.

The second part of this argument that I have an issue with is his comparing Jesus to Socrates. He says that Socrates does not seem hostile to those who do not listen to him, while Jesus of Nazareth seems to show contempt and disdain for those who do not listen to him.

This is a silly comparison for several reasons. First, we do not have a very detailed account of Socrates life, so we do not know how he would have reacted if were put on trial to be crucified for his teachings. We see in the gospels that Jesus willing goes with captors, is respectful to Pilate, and dies with dignity, which shows his deep love and compassion.

Also, keep in mind who these men believed they were. Socrates was a philosopher, and knew that if people ignored him there would be no long term consequences besides laking knowledge in some form. This is not the case with Jesus of Nazareth. Ignoring his teachings meant that one could not inherit eternal life. So, in showing his ultimate and unique humanity, Jesus does show frustration was not heeded. He knew what the eternal consequences would be.

It is Mr. Russell's right to disbelieve as it is my right to believe. However, his arguments on this matter do not hold nearly the water that he erroneously believes they do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who is a Christian?

This week the book I read was "The Antichrist" by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a great hero of mine and a man I consider the precursor to my philosophy in many aspects. This book could be titled "The Anti-Christian", since Nietzsche goes after the so called followers of Christ, rather than the man known to the world as Jesus of Nazareth.

In this work, Nietzsche states a true principle which many in the world disagree with: That Jesus of Nazareth was the only true Christian, and that those who claim to be Christians are just fooling themselves. He said "The very word "Christian" is a misunderstanding, truth to tell, there never was more than one Christian, and he died on the cross."

This begs the question "Who is a Christian?" And even more importantly, "Who can determine what a Christian is?" According to the Oxford Dictionary a Christian is "Of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings." However, this was written by men who do not stand up to the teachings of Christ, who said in his Sermon on the Mount "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." The only person to have done this would be Jesus of Nazareth, making him the only Christian. A Christian is one who is as Christ is, and no man has or can accomplish that; therefore as Nietzsche said, there are no Christians.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Polygamy

It seems that some stories in life are always fun to bring up rather than focusing on whats important. This happened this week as the New York Times let out that Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, was in fact a polygamist. Oh no! My testimony is gone! How could a seemingly innocent man be capable of such vulgar atrocities? Oh wait, I am not an un-educated Mormon so I knew about all of this years ago.

I want to make just two points in this brief article. First, that being a polygamist does not disqualify Joseph Smith from being a prophet. Second, that polygamy is not really as bad as it is made out to be. Lets take a look...

It seems in their effort to discredit the Prophet that the issue of polygamy comes up. Yet, these Bible worshipers seem to forget that Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon were all polygamists. In fact David was given some of his wives by the Lord himself according to the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7-8). If a prophet must be single or monogamous then these men are disqualified to. That would put the Jews and the Christians in a tight spot, don't you think?

As a philosopher, I am aware that people will object to this argument with this "David was given his wives because of culture, not because he was ok with polygamy." Hmm... So God is bound to a culture even if it is at odds with his will? I seem to recall him telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in order to disprove that he approved of child sacrifice, a common occurrence in Abraham's day. If polygamy was sinful, certainly God would have said something.

But he commanded kings of Israel to not take multiple wives in Deuteronomy 17! Lets quote that scripture :"Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

 16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.

 17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold."

Hmm... it seems the problem is not polygamy itself, but who is married. The problem was that if a man married foreign women, there was the possibility that he could turn away from Jehovah and worship the idols of Canaan, as happened with Solomon. But polygamy is not forbidden.

Ok, but a prophet would not marry another man's wife while he was still living! Hmmm.... You have me stumped there. Not. Keep in mind that while Joseph was sealed to many women, there is a difference between marriage and sealing. Sealing is a priesthood ordinance, marriage is an agreement for a man and woman to live together. Joseph for the most part did not live with any of his other wives, and often when he was sealed to another man's wife the husband stood as a witness. Rather strange for a man to do if he knew the man was after his wife's skirt.

Also, Joseph only had children with one women, his first wife Emma Hale. If the Prophet were the horny toad his enemies make him out to be, he surely would slept with all these women. He had many children by Emma, but none of these other women bore him children. Perhaps the Prophet was an true husband after all.

Ok....... But he married teenagers! Hmm, I take it the Bible worshippers don't like the Pocahontas- John Smith story. No matter. The problem here is we are putting 21st century standards on a 19th century man. In the Prophet's time, the legal marriage age was 10, and it was not uncommon for a man to marry a women that age. Contrast that with today, when the legal age in most states is 16. Puts a little perspective on it eh?

It seems I have vindicated that the Prophet could practice polygamy and be a prophet after all. Oh dear, I have to to church on Sunday now? Tears....

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reflection On Election Night

No one expected the Democratic Party to have a good night on Election Night. But they probably hoped they would at least be able to maintain the control of the United States Senate and win a few governorships. Luckily, that was not the case as the Republican Party took control of the Senate and picked up a few Governor's Mansion's, including in some very liberal states such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland. A few days before the election, President Barack Obama stated that while he was on not on the ballot, his policies were. America did on Tuesday what it should have done in 2008 and 2012: Rejected Barack Obama.

While they did have great wins on Tuesday, I hope that the Republican Party realizes that this election was more of a rejection of Obama than it was an endorsement of them. This is their time to prove that they have the correct path for America, and also that they will stand by their principles. In his 2008 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, the presidential candidate John McCain stated "We were sent to change Washington, but we let Washington change us." Hopefully the party recognizes this and also recognizes that this may be their last chance to make changes. If they mess this up, there may not be another chance. It may be the death of the Republican Party.

Republicans must realize that now is the time to make the change. It cannot wait until 2016 when they have a chance to take the White House. During these last two years, they need to show what their plan for America and pass as much legislation as they can. Sure, President Obama may veto it. There is nothing they can do about that. However, they can show America where they want the country to go and build upon in 2016.

In particular, legislation should be passed to reform the tax code, secure our borders, and pass a bill for the keystone pipeline. While Obama may veto all of these, if they come together they can get a 2/3 majority and pass them over his veto.

The key point is this: Don't celebrate yet. There is much to be done, and now is the opportunity to do it. Mitch McConell and John Boehner have the opportunity for greatness, will they capitalize? We will see. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Message To President Obama

As he contemplates losing the United States Senate next week as well having more Republican gains in the United States House of Representatives, I hope that President Barack Obama looks back at the last six years and asks himself "Where did it go wrong?"

I am by no stretch of the imagination a supporter of the President, but I can point out where his administration took a downward. It was his handling of health care. Had he been an experienced politician, he would have started with the idea of a single payer plan, which would not have passed. But, the compromise would have been a public option, so he would have scored a major victory and been able to perhaps run on a single payer system for his second term.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is still very much a rookie in the political field, so he started with a public option. Ironically, this did not have enough Democratic support, so neither a public option or a single-payer plan are part of the massive failure known to the world as ObamaCare. Rather, we have a mix of RomneyCare and DoleCare, along with nearly 400 pages of regulations. While 10 million people gained health insurance, nearly 30 million either lost their insurance or they had their premium rates nearly double. Thanks Barack!

We need real leadership in this country starting in 2016. Lets look for people who have a proven record of getting things done rather than just a good orator that could make buying an ownership in the New York Mets seem like a plausible and great idea. Chris Christie anyone?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Separation of Church and State

On his show "Real Time with Bill Maher", the aforementioned Bill Maher mentioned that in order to be considered a liberal, one had to stand up for liberal principles. Among the principles he mentioned was the separation of church and state, a principle that is often very misunderstood in this country. If believing in this principle makes one a liberal, than I am extremely liberal because this idea is part of what makes America the greatest nation on Earth.

When hearing this principle, some extreme religionists say this does not mean that religion cannot play a role in government, while the non-religious want no mention of God or religion in the public square and want it left in the churches. Both of these ideas are right, and both are wrong. Allow me to explain

First, the term "Separation of Church and State" does not appear in the document we call the Constitution, but the principle behind it is. The first amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"

So, what does that mean? Simple: It means that United States cannot have an official state religion, but also guarantees that those who reside here can practice (or not practice) any religion that they desire. It is not at all implied that those who hold office or run for office must leave their faith at the public squares edge, but it does mean they cannot force it upon others when they are elected.

The man who coined the term "Separation of Church and State" was a hero of mine, the great Thomas Jefferson. He wrote the term while writing a letter to the Danbury Baptist's, who at the time were being attacked by Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut.  He said "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

So, what is Mr. Jefferson saying? If I understand words correctly, then he is agreeing with my position. He said that the government can only interfere with the actions of religion, not beliefs., and that there can be no official religion in this country. That is all that the separation of church and state means: Government cannot take over the churches, and churches cannot take over the government. As long as that happens, neither the religionist or the non-religionist has room to complain.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Few Thoughts on General Conference

We are now a few weeks removed from our latest General Conference. It was pleasing to hear that soon the number of temples will increase to 170 by the end of next year, and many more will be constructed later as the millennial era will center on these holy edifices. No big announcements were made, to the sadness of the Ordain Women movement who had their thumbs crossed hoping that President Thomas S. Monson would announce the time had finally come for women to receive the priesthood. Dream on ladies, dream on.

The underlying theme (if there was one) was the old Mormon dogma "Follow the Prophet." As I have written in other posts and as the Prophet Joseph Smith said at the formation of the Relief Society, this is an idea that darkens our minds and is ultimately very dangerous. A prophet is to lead people to Christ and his doctrine, but ultimately he is unimportant. The dogma to be scripturally correct should be "Follow Christ, listen to the prophets."

However, there were many good talks in the conference. The two I would highlight would be the talks of Jeffrey R. Holland and Neil L. Andersen. Holland answered the question asked by Cain many millennia ago "Am I my brother's keeper?" No, Elder Holland answered "But you are your brother's brother." I believe that Elder Holland was building upon Jesus of Nazareth's sermon in John to "Love one another, as I have loved you." Elder Holland has given many classic sermons over the last few years, but this was on par with his sermon "Safety for the Soul."

Elder Andersen finally did what someone should have been doing for years, namely bearing witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the 5 years I have been in the church, the Prophet has hardly been talked about in detail; just passingly mentioned for the most part. The only talk just about him was by then Elder Tad R. Callister in the October 2009 Conference "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration." I was impressed by Elder Andersen's staunch defense of the Prophet's moral character, as well as bearing witness of his divine mission. Well done Brother Andersen.

I hope in coming years that we will emphasize our unique doctrines more and our similar doctrines  to mainstream Christianity less. Dan Jones did not go to Wales and convert thousands by emphasizing the similar doctrines of Mormonism and  Christianity; he converted thousands with the unique and peculiar doctrines of Mormonism. To put it even more starkly, the Prophet and the Patriarch did not die in Carthage to witness that the Bible was true and the complete word of God. They died to witness that the doctrines of the Restoration were and are true. Let's do the same.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Joseph Fielding McConkie: Preacher, Teacher, and Counselor

One year ago today, Joseph Fielding McConkie left his mortal probation to his next sphere of life in the spirit world. He had battled colon cancer for over 10 years, and while the Lord saw fit to spare his life for a time, eventually he was called to a different sphere. He was 72, and is survived by his wife Brenda and his 9 children.
            This article is not about the accomplishments he had in this life; Deseret Book and others will talk about that. It is about how this man influenced my life during our brief friendship. It will mention some of his writings and teachings however.
            I came into contact with Joseph on my mission to Alabama from 2010 to 2012. My mission president, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, was a colleague and friend of Joseph’s from BYU where the two taught together in the religion department. After finding out that I was a fan of the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie (who was Joseph’s father), President Holzapfel brought Joseph up, saying that he was like unto his father. This intrigued me, but I didn’t plan on ever talking to or meeting Joseph personally.
            However, anyone who has served a full-time mission knows that most things do not goes as planned in the mission field. As I was in Tupelo, Mississippi I had my second interview with President Holzapfel. I asked him how old Joseph was and was shocked when he answered, “I am not sure. Let’s call him and find out”.  2 minutes later, I heard Joseph’s voice for the first time, and asked him how he was doing. After saying that he was fine, he said,  “ I am going to tell you how to be a great Elder. You bear testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. I am tired of missionaries and members not doing it. I may not be able to convert everyone, but I can convert you”.
            I then realized how important both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were to missionary work. They are the bookends of what we do. Bearing witness of Christ does not make us different from other Christian churches, which also believe in him. Our message is not that “God Spake”, rather it is “ God speaks, and has spoken through the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
            Some months later, I received the first of many letters from Joseph, where he again counseled me to bring up the Prophet Joseph Smith, and to always close with my testimony of him. I did this throughout my mission, and was blessed for it. My testimony grew much because of this on my mission, and if my children decide to serve missions I will encourage them to do the same.
            Something Joseph taught me that I had struggled with throughout my mission was that titles don’t matter. What matters is that you serve in such a way as to have the spirit as your companion. While I am not fully converted to that principle, I hope to be one day.
            In other letters, Joseph and I discussed various gospel subjects, political issues, and other things that occurred in my mission. In his last letter he counseled me to never stop learning more about the gospel, to always keep my covenants, and to realize that I was never released as a missionary, just a missionary assignment. If it had not been for some of the things Joseph said, I doubt I would have stayed in Alabama the full two years.
            After being released, I called Joseph to let him know I was home. He told me to call him occasionally, and to visit him when I arrived in Utah. After settling in, I visited him in his home in Orem, Utah. Due to his cancer treatment, he had lost his hair and was much thinner than what I had seen in pictures. Nevertheless, he was smiling and very optimistic when I arrived. We discussed a few subjects, including evolution. His wife Brenda jokingly said “Oh no, you have gotten him started”.
            At the end of the visit, Joseph and I shook hands and asked me to keep in touch with him, which I did. About 1 month and a half ago, President Holzapfel called me and told me that Joseph did not have long to live. I called him and we had the following conversation: Tarik: “Joseph, how are you?” Joseph: “Not well” Tarik: “How long do you think?” Joseph: “A few weeks, if I am lucky” Tarik: (voicing choking) “Thanks for all you have done for me. I didn’t deserve it” Joseph: “I am glad to have been of help. Stick with the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I promise all will be well” Tarik: “I will see you….” Joseph: “Under much better circumstances” Tarik: “Farewell friend.” Joseph “ Carry On”.
            Joseph Fielding McConkie was a preacher, teacher and counselor. He was a preacher of righteousness, a teacher of the doctrines of the Restoration, and a counselor to people whom he knew were bound for great things. He was the last of a dying breed in a sense, as he taught many of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel that we seem to neglect or overlook now. Each of his books is an intellectual and spiritual feast.
            He is now shoulder to shoulder with his father, his grandfathers Joseph Fielding Smith and Oscar Walter McConkie, his brother Bruce, and other loved ones. I know that together they are doing a great work on the other side of the veil. I also have no doubt that he has given an accounting to the Lord Jesus Christ and like Thomas of old has said “My Lord and my God”, and that the Savior has given him the blessing he foretold for the faithful “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord”.
            Joseph, know that I love you and your teachings. You were a mentor and hero to me. I will never forget what you taught me, and I promise I will never cease to testify of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the doctrines of the Restoration. Well done Joseph. I miss you brother.

           


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mormonism: Christians or Pagans?

In modern culture, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sought to bring itself more into the mainstream of present Christianity. In his October 2007 address in general conference, Jeffrey R. Holland said "There is one thing we would not like anyone to wonder about—that is whether or not we are “Christians.”

It is understandable why Mormons would seek to reconcile with Christianity. No one wants to be an outsider, and modern culture wants to be more inclusive than exclusive. So, the logic goes, lets focus on what we have in common rather than on the small items that we disagree on.

And therein lies the problem. It is beyond wishful thinking to believe that Mormonism and Christianity can be reconciled, because in truth they are different religions. To reconcile Mormonism with Christianity would be like trying to reconcile Christianity with Islam. One can be true and the other false, both can be false, but both cannot be true.

"What do you mean?" the masses of Mormons and liberal Christians will cry. Both of us believe in God. Both of us believe in Christ. Both of accept the Bible as the revealed word of God. Can't we all just lump ourselves together and call ourselves the same thing?

No, my philosophical lightweight friends. You have essentially made my point with your statement. Let's analyze the three premises you have raised, namely , who and what is God, who is Christ, and what is the nature of scripture.

First, who is God? According to the Nicene Creed (generally accepted by most non-LDS Christians) "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible." So based on this brief statement, Christianity is monotheistic, meaning they believe in one God and that no other God's exist. It is true that the doctrine trinity (accepted by most Christians) means that he manifests himself in three different ways, he is still one God.

Mormons are on the other side of this issue. The Prophet Joseph Smith said  "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods." So, Mormons are polytheists, meaning they believe in many gods. The Prophet also said "If Abraham reasoned thus -- If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. " This proves another point that needs to be made. Christians believe God to be a non-contingent being, meaning God is uncreated, exists on his own, and is un-embodied. In Mormonism, God is a Contingent being because the God worshiped has a God who is his father as well.

Moving to the idea of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus is God in the flesh, co-equal and co-eternal with him. In Mormonism, Jesus is the divine, but he is a separate being from the Father. He is literally the Son of God, as are all of humanity. The chief difference between him and the others of God's children was his birth happened without a mortal man being the father, making him divine and human at the same time.

Finally, the idea of scripture. Christianity believes in a closed-canon, meaning that scripture is done being written and concludes with what is written in the Bible. Mormonism believes in an open canon, as it accepts books outside of the Bible to be inspired, as well as believing in modern prophets. So, there canon will always be expanding

So, I think it is clear from our brief discussion of these topics that Christianity and Mormonism are in two separate camps. The only thing they truly share in common is there vocabulary, but it means different things when it is being used. So someone (or both of us) must be wrong.

I have a proposal. Since Christianity does not include us being Christian, lets start believing our own doctrine and stating what I believe to be the obvious: We alone are Christians, and the other groups are pagans. This was the philosophy of the early church, why not the modern Church? The church already underhandedly states this in their temple drama, why not voice the idea a little louder?

We simply cannot get into bed with Christianity, which Nephi describes as "The Great whore of all the Earth." We must reject it or become infected ourselves with its ideas which Christ himself said "an abomination" in his eyes.

So I will allow the reader to decide what he or she will believe, but I hope that I have demonstrated the idea of all being Christian is not a justifiable one.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Science and Faith

As a philosopher, I often think about what many people around the world see as two paths that are ultimately irreconcilable: Science and Faith. Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher said recently on his talk show "Real Time with Bill Maher" "You cannot reconcile science and faith. In science, everything has to make sense, in religion plainly not." He also said in an interview with Ralph Reed that faith was "The suspension of critical thinking."

While many people of non-faith may not be as vitriolic as Mr. Maher, many do seem to believe that faith is simple credulity, utter myth, and man-made fiction. And to be fair, the religious deserve some of the blame for this by not being properly educated on these matters. This is especially true in my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Lets begin by defining our terms on what we mean by science and faith. According to the Oxford Dictionary, science is "The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." Faith is "Complete trust or confidence in someone or something."

These definitions themselves prove that science and faith are not incompatible. Why? Because scientists (whether religious or not) are all men of faith by this definition. They have complete faith in the scientific method, believing that it will bring them results and answers to their questions. I know that Richard Dawkins may not want to hear this, but he is very much a man of faith.

Ok, the anti-religious will say, but science cannot prove that a God exists. This is true, however it misses the point in a way for the anti-religious. If science cannot prove something, it remains neutral on it. So at best science could lead a person to agnosticism, but not atheism because it is not scientifically provable whether there is a God or not. So when people say their is no God, they are not making a scientific claim at all, they are making a philosophical claim.

Faith is not, as Maher has said, simple credulity. Rather it is a belief that is indeed based on evidence. It is based on experiences and witness of God. For instance, thousands of people put the promise of Moroni to the test each year by praying to find out if the Book of Mormon is true. If the Book of Mormon is true, then there most certainly is a God. But one can only know that through the power of the Holy Ghost, which is not irrational but supra-rational; meaning it cannot be explained by reason alone because it is beyond reason.

That being said, the religious must realize that science and faith are not incompatible either. That means that when reading religious texts, we cannot be fundamentalists. We must have reason in our revelation and revelation in our reason. In other words, use modern science in the reading of the scriptures, as well as philosophy. As people of faith lets look to people like Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and Blake Ostler, men who proved that faith is not irrational and compatible with all forms of science.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Word of Caution

Every time I watch any sort of news dealing with the 2016 Presidential election, two names seem to re-occur regularly: perennial candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dr. Ben Carson.

It is understandable why both of these people are frequently mentioned. Both are exciting, energetic orators. Both are minorities. Both are educated, articulate, and driven. Both seem to have ideas to move this country in on e direction or in the complete opposite direction.

As a philosopher, may I offer a brief word of caution on both these candidates? First, allow me to offer a brief critique on Mr. Carson. A look at recent history would show why we should be very cautious in regard to this man. Remember that in 2004 a young man named Barack Obama delivered a amazing speech at the Democratic Convention. Stunning the entire country, this unknown man went from a lowly Illinois State to Democratic Nominee all the way to the White house. How has that worked out? I will leave that to the reader to decide.

Yes, some will say, but Dr. Carson is not Obama. He may not be, but he will have to deal with very similar circumstances to him if he were to take office in 2016. Also, Carson has no political experience; this would be a complete learning on the job for him and the Presidency of the United States is not a job to learn on the run (again, look at Mr. Obama).

The only reason that Carson is even mentioned in this race is based on pure potential. None of his merit is based on actually accomplishing anything, except telling off the president while he happened to be sitting there. Our next Commander in Chief needs to be someone who has proven to be a leader in crisis, someone who has been successful in an executive position, and someone who understands the Constitution of the United States. Dr. Carson has only proven to do one of those things, and there are others who can do the job much better than he can who are prepared.

Now in regard to Mrs. Clinton, she is the exact same as Obama, having served in his cabinet. She has not criticized the President at all and has not indicated that if elected she would drastically change what is currently happening. In essence her election would be a third term for President Obama. Lets follow the words of Mrs. Clinton's husband at the 2008 Democratic National Convention : "Thanks, but no thanks. In this election the third time is not the charm." Well said Bill.

I urge both liberals and conservatives to look seriously analyze all potential candidates and look for the candidate who would be the strongest leader and clearest thinker, not just the person who is most popular.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why I am a Mormon

5 years ago today Bishop Richard Tjaden, acting for and in behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, laid his hands upon my head and confirmed me a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and offered the priesthood injunction for me to receive the Holy Ghost. I felt as though fire were burning in my bones, and I had no desire or even a thought of ever doing wrong again. While that obviously did not happen, the experience itself was engraved in my soul and will always be one of the spiritual highlights of my mortal probation.

But that aside, the purpose of this post is for me to convey, in the spirit of testimony how I feel about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my current feelings and beliefs about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Simply put, this blog is for people to know why I am and continue to be an active Mormon.

 I am a Mormon because I believe that their is a God. Even as a person who loves and accepts modern science, I see science as an evidence of God's existence and as a way to bring mankind closer to divinity. It amazes me to look at nature and see how balanced it is and how the laws of nature allow life itself to exist. As a man of reason, I do not accept the premise that this all happened by chance. It is clear to me that a Creator was involved.

I am a Mormon because I have a testimony of and faith in the Jesus of Nazareth. I believe he was, and is, the Son of God. The nonsense of the secular world that says that the babe of Bethlehem was a great man, a moral teacher, but not the Son of God is ludicrous. One cannot accept a man to be a great moral teacher if the foundation of his teaching was built on a lie. One must accept him as the Son of God or dimiss him as a charlatan and a fraud. I accept the former.

I am a Mormon because I believe in the divine authenticity of the Holy Bible. Within its pages are contained the words of many prophets, and most importantly the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth himself. If the world would study the Bible more and adhere to the principles taught within it, we would be in a much different place than we are in now.

I am a Mormon because I believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. was and is a prophet of God. I believe that he was visited by God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. He was instructed that he would be an instrument in their hands to bring forth sacred scripture and restore the true church of Jesus Christ to the Earth. Not only that, I believe that one cannot truly know Christ unless he knows and accepts the teachings of his chosen vessel, the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I am a Mormon because I believe that the Book of Mormon is true. The Prophet Joseph Smith testified that a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. I know that to be true. While the Bible is a testament of Christ and will bring men to God, it does not have the testimony of Christ and of his Atonement with the clarity and power of the Book of Mormon.

I am a Mormon because of temple worship and salvation for the dead, a work not carried out in any other Church. As I have participated in this work both as a patron and as an ordinance worker, I have felt the love of God for me as well as the spirits of those who have passed on. At times this has driven me to tears, and I am not a very emotional person. I know that the work done in temples is real.

In regards to the leaders of the church who came after Joseph Smith, I regard them as good men who God has used to lead his church, and they have done a good job in many respects. I do not however, believe these men are Joseph Smith's equal. They do not have the authority to change what he taught or apply honors given to him to themselves. I also believe that many things that early leaders did plague the church today, and to some extent erase much of the good that could have been accomplished had they followed the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I will leave you to interpret what I am talking about.

5 years have passed since the day I became a member of the Church. I bear witness of the truth of the doctrines that are taught within this church. Only by believing true doctrine can a man be saved, and the only church that has a fulness of truth is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of this I bear witness.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

College Football

Let's take a step back and look at something a little less serious for once as most of my posts tend to deal with deep subject. Before I start, I would like to give a note of congratulations to my brother Austin McKell for tying the knot with his bride Chandra at the Salt Lake Temple. I hope your day was beautiful and your eternity is as well

There really are few things in life that I love more than college football, and this love got me in trouble a few times on my mission. Yes, I watched football while I was on my mission and like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden "I was not ashamed." So what if the mission rules state that missionaries are not supposed to watch television? In my opinion, it does not hurt to have a rest from what is a very stressful job. As the late Christopher Hitchens said "My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass." I will leave it at that.

Last season was a very tumultuous one for my team, the USC Trojans. We had 4 head coaches in the space of less than 4 months, but still managed to win ten games with a very reduced roster. What can I say, the boys have swagger.

This year begins the Steve Sarkisian era at USC, and I can think of few people I would rather have lead the men of Troy in the playoff era of college football. I fully expect him to have the team in the playoffs regularly and I predict he will win at least 1 in his first 5 years.

As for this year, I predict that Florida St. will repeat as the champions, Marcus Mariota will win the Heisman, and that Alabama will be out of the playoff. As for SC, 10 win season with victories of Notre Dame and UCLA. Fight On.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Not Believe the Atonement?

My favorite person in the Book of Mormon is known as Alma son of Alma, often called by Latter-day Saints "Alma the Younger." In my opinion he is the perfect model of how repentance and the atonement work and how we as a people have lost sight of that.

I am sure most people know his story, but lets review it to make the point clear. He is first mentioned in Mosiah 27 along with the sons of Mosiah, where he is described in verse 8 "he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities." Considering that this man was the son of a prophet, these are not at flattering words and show that his temperament left much to be desired.

However, one day all of that changed. While going with his friends the sons of Mosiah to "overthrow the church of God", Alma and his associates were visited by an unnamed angel. The instruction given to Alma was brief as he recounted to his son Helaman years later "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God." This was all Alma was able to hear, as he then fainted as was in a coma for three days. After awakening Alma testified "I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit."

Even greater than this is the last words spoken about Alma after he disappeared in Alma 45 ".Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man." Quite a contrast from the idolater of his youth. Because of the transforming power of the atonement (and this was before Jesus of Nazareth even went into the Garden of Gethsemane) Alma was transformed and reborn, becoming one of the greatest missionaries in scripture, as well as a loving father, an area often not addressed.

This shows the Atonement at its finest. All people are sinners, but few people in the world would live up to the title of "Wicked and Idolatrous Man" or "Vilest of Sinners" as the sons of Mosiah are called. Yet in a mere three days, its power forever changed the course of these young men.

Here is the problem I have. I often hear in church as well as in General Conference that we need to "use the Atonement" in our lives. I have a much better idea : Lets actually believe the Atonement, which we do not currently do.

Wait Mr. LaCour, are you saying that members and priesthood leaders do not believe in the Atonement, when that is basically all they talk about? Oh, they may believe in the Atonement, meaning they believe it was an actually even that took place or that it is a process that works. But they do not believe the Atonement, meaning that they misrepresent it and apply it in a way that is man-made rather than Heaven made.

Don't believe me? Let me prove it you. In Section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them." This is very identical to many of the repentance stories in the Book of Mormon : People acknowledge that they have sinned, they confess their sins to the Lord, and he promptly forgives. Thats it, that is what repentance is. It is turning from one course of action to another and when that is done the Lord forgives.

However, this seems to not be enough for man-made religion. One of the effects of the Fall of Adam is that it made men "carnal and devilish". And what is the Devil like? He is vengeful, unforgiving, sadistic, narcissistic, nihilistic, and wanting to do things his own way which led to his fall.

Our current mode of repentance is in that same vain because it denies that the Lord completely forgives. For certain sins, such as fornication or adultery, we are told a person cannot be instantly forgiven and must wait at least one year before the person is forgiven, which a very different view than the one presented in the Book of Mormon.

It is true that in the ancient church and in the early modern church that punishment was given out for sins, but it was nothing like this. It is mentioned in the Book of Mormon that Alma is to hear the confession of sinners, but if there confession was sincere he was to forgive as the Lord did, immediately. After that he was to move on. (Mosiah 26: 29-31) It is mentioned that Alma must judge "according to their sins" but given that Alma and the sons of Mosiah were the equivalent of full-time missionaries days after repenting, I think we can safely assume that the repentance process was much simpler and less torturous than we have today.

In the early days of the modern church people were excommunicated as they are today, but they were also brought back into fellowship much quicker than they are today. And since the early church believed the Atonement, once people were brought back they were brought back exactly where they were before. An good example is Orson Pratt, who was excommunicated after differing with the Prophet Joseph on plural marriage. He later repented, and was put back in full fellowship and reinstated in the Council of the Twelve.

Sadly, this no longer happens. If a young man makes an egregious error, he is told he cannot serve a mission at least one year. Apparently, God has become more vengeful over the years. Oh wait, God doesn't change. So it is not him, it is his supposed representatives who want to inflict pain. How they came up with this weird system where they can exactly measure when a person has fully repented I have no idea. But there could be no Alma or Sons of Mosiah in the modern church.

The thing these people seem to misunderstand is that their is no reason for men to punish for sin, because the sin punished the person. I will give a personal example. I struggled with pornography for years, but I never told anyone until I went to the mission field and told my mission president. I was forgiven in the eyes of the church and I felt the Lord forgave me also, but I still had the images in my head and it took me a long time to see women as more than objects. That was the punishment itself, I was impaired from being truly human. No need for man to punish me, my brain did that (and still does from time to time).

I hope that this article has shown what the Atonement and forgiveness is and what it is not. I hope that we can believe the Atonement moving forward rather than just believing in it. I hope that leaders will come to remember that they are merely representatives and cannot in any form forgive sins, and will be like the Son of Man when dealing with these issues.

I believe the Atonement. I know that it is beyond my mortal comprehension to fully understand, but I have felt its power. I hope all can at some point in there lives. As I said at the beginning "Why Not Believe the Atonement?"


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Suicide

As we all know, on Monday of this week beloved actor Robin Williams committed suicide this week. The world mourns the actor, although it should be noted that while Mr Williams was a schizophrenic, a fool and nearly a clown, he was never remotely a comedian. Don't believe me, tell me your favorite Robin Williams line.... I am waiting.... I bet you by this time tomorrow you still will be holding an empty sack pertaining to this question, while if I asked you about Woody Allen, Milton Berle, Bill Maher, or Jack Nicholson you would find one instantly.

Regardless of my feelings about Mr. Williams career, I am saddened by his death. Even more so knowing that he caused his own tragic end. As we mourn for him, let us talk about the even bigger elephant in the room: Suicide.

All people either know someone who has committed suicide, tried to commit suicide, contemplated committing suicide, or thought of committing suicide ourselves. However, we are not open about this topic nearly enough. Myself, I have thought about suicide several times, although I have never attempted it. I am also aware that most people fall in the last category, so I want to speak about that specifically.

The reasons that people think about suicide are varied, but most revolve around the idea that life is meaningless or that our own life is not valuable. I understand why people can feel that way, and undoubtedly many or most people will feel that way at some point in their mortal existence.

In one sense, they are right. If we were not alive, many of the things we accomplish would have simply been accomplished by others. Perhaps David Hume said it best in his essay about suicide saying "The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster." Moses said in another way after seeing a vision of the cosmos "Man is nothing."

However, there is another aspect that is often overlooked. Suicide is in reality a symptom of selfishness and comes from the delusion that life is simply about us and our happiness. In no case is that the purpose of life. Man is made so that he may find happiness in this world, and how does he do it? By serving a cause that is greater than himself and forgetting himself in the cause of others. In no case has this been found to not lead to true happiness.

As we mourn for Mr. Williams, let us analyze our own lives and see where we are headed. If we are constantly wrapped up in ourselves, suicide will seen rational and reasonable. If we are lost in the cause of others, suicide will never cross our minds.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

For the First Time: Preparing for Temple Worship

Perhaps there are 5 days that all Latter-day Saints look forward to with anxiousness and joy. They are as follows: 1) The day they are baptized and confirmed 2) For men the day they receive the Aaronic priesthood 3) The day they receive the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God 4) The day they enter the holy temple and receive their temple endowment 5) Finally, the day that they are sealed by one having authority to the person they have chosen to spend time and all eternity with in the marriage covenant.
            These blessings are something that we should look forward too, but they are also things we should prepare intensely for. Before converts are baptized, they are taught the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, extended invitations to live principles line upon line, and then eventually enter into the covenant of baptism. It is clear that the Lord’s way is the prepared way. He does not want us to do even the right thing if we do not understand why we are doing the right thing.
            While I feel that for the most part we prepare our children well generally for most of the above mentioned special events, I am somewhat distressed and appalled that most (if not all) people are so ill prepared to enter the holy temple. I have observed new patrons after they have received their endowments completely baffled and had no idea what just happened. This is not good. Why is it that we prepare them well for the priesthood but not to receive the fullness of it?
            Answer: Most people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that since the temple is a holy and a sacred place (and it is) that they should not really speak of what goes on in the holy edifices. While it is true that there are certain parts of the ceremony which one cannot discuss outside the temple, those who like Mormon are quick to observe (Mormon 1:2) will realize that there is more about the temple they can talk about than what they cannot. What cannot be talked about outside the temple is clearly said within the ceremony (I know, I have said it before as an officiator); all the rest can be talked about as the Spirit guides.
            When talking about the temple perhaps at times we need to be general, but as the time gets closer for someone to actually go and receive their blessings, we should be somewhat specific. As stated above, I am fully aware that some things are to be kept within the walls of the temple, and these will not be discussed here. However there are a few things that I would like to discuss. They are as follows: 1) The creation drama 2) the covenants entered into in the temple 3) The importance of clothing 4) The new name.
            Before going into depth on these things, perhaps a quote from one of the great theologians of our modern dispensation, the late Elder James E. Talmage, would be helpful to our discussion : “The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern temples, comprises instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations, and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human history. This course of instruction includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life, and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements.” I think Elder Talmage does a beautiful job in describing so much in so few words.
            Let us begin with the creation. From scriptures both ancient and modern we know that before this life we lived in the presence of our Father in Heaven. We know that a plan was presented, and that we chose to follow his plan. Sadly we know that Lucifer, now known as Satan, rebelled against our Father and he and a third of our Father’s precious offspring were banished from his presence.
            What is not as generally known or talked about is the creation of the Earth. When someone is asked how the world got here often they will say “God created it”. While this is correct, it would imply that our Father alone created it. That is false. Forming a grand presidency, our Father in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ (then known as Jehovah, as he was also known to the ancient patriarchs and Israel) and Michael (who would later be known as Adam, the father of the human race) formed the Earth. I say formed because they used existing materials to organize the Earth ; ex nihilo creation is false and devilish. As the scriptures say, it took six days to create it all, with the seventh day being hallowed as one of rest. This creation is the how the endowment narrative begins.
            Following this we know that our father Adam and our mother Eve were placed in a Garden in Eden to tend and take care of it. They were given two commandments while there: 1) Multiply and replenish the Earth 2) Abstain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. While in the Garden, Adam and Eve had continual communion with the Father and the Son, something that did not happen again until the modern era when these two beings appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The scriptures do not tell us how long our first parents where in the Garden. Suffice it to say they were there long enough to be tempted by that same Lucifer who was cast out of the Eternal God’s presence, and they succumbed to that temptation. However, thanks to the Book of Mormon, we know this was part of the plan (2 Nephi 2:24).
            After making covenant with the Lord to obey his commandments, our first parents were driven out of our Father’s presence into the world to prove whether or not they would keep their first estate (Abraham 3:25-26). After quite some time, Adam was visited by heavenly messengers and taught anew what he must do in order to return to the Father’s presence, and he taught his children as he was taught. These are represented in the temple ceremony according to ways that our minds and culture can understand.
            Moving on to the covenants that one takes upon himself in the House of the Lord, keep in mind that these covenants were made at other times (baptism and priesthood ordination times for instance). However, when made in the temple they take on even greater meaning and greater force, and one who breaks covenants with the Lord made in his holy house will pay an even greater price than those made in prior instances.
            The covenants entered into in the temple are these: the Law of Obedience, The Law of Sacrifice, The Law of the Gospel, The Law of Chastity, and the great and final law is the Law of Consecration.
            These for the most part are self-explanatory, so I will not go into great detail to explain them here. But a few notes and descriptions of each may help one prepare. The Law of Obedience is that you will obey the commandments that the Lord or his servants may give you. The Law of Sacrifice is that you will sacrifice your sins and your own life o that you may have a greater abundance of the Holy Ghost and defend God’s kingdom. It also means that if called upon, you may as other great men and women have done, lay down your life for the cause of truth. That is not to say that you will literally be killed for the gospel, but that if the Gospel requires you to lay down something (especially in callings you receive) you will sacrifice it to answer the call.
            The Law of the Gospel is that you will live the gospel inasmuch as you understand it, and that you live a reverent life. The Law of Chastity is that you will have no sexual relations (which by the way is much more than intercourse) until you are married, and complete fidelity within marriage. The Law of Consecration, like the Law of Sacrifice and the Gospel, is one that is done line upon line and precept upon precept. It implies that all your material possessions and yourself are given to the Lord to further his work.
            Onto the subject of clothing both in coming to the temple and worn inside the temple. When coming to the temple, we should wear our very best, even if it doesn’t seem great in the eyes of the world. In the temple we are not part of the world; we are partaking of the atonement and becoming one with God.
            As recorded in the Book of Alma and many other places in the scriptures “All are alike unto God” (Alma 19:36). In the temple this is very well dramatized. Whether you are the prophet or just a normal patron, all are dressed in white. White is symbolic of purity, and we must be pure to partake of the blessings of the House of the Lord. Also, since all are dressed alike, we know that we have an equal standing before God and that the way back to him is the same for all. How glorious to know that there is one place we can go on this Earth, and we can truly be equal!
            Finally, in the temple we are given a new name. This is discussed in the scriptures and I would refer the reader to Section 130 to read more on this principle. It makes sense to me that when parents have a child born to them, they give him a name. Does it not seem logical that when we go into our Father’s presence in his house that he also gives us a name as we are spiritually begotten to him?
            The principles talked about in this lecture are simply the basics, there is much more to learn. To do this one must learn as Joseph Smith did when Moroni came to him: Repetition. One must return often to the temple in the proper Spirit so that he can be taught more and have his knowledge deepened.
            By way of testimony let me conclude. I have had the sacred privilege of serving as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple for going on two years. During this time I have never felt closer to the Lord and felt of his presence more. I know that the work done in the temple is real, that Christ manifests himself there. Do whatever you can to get there and obtain your blessings. It is worth any sacrifice you can make, especially the sacrifice of sin. I repeat the words of President Boyd K. Packer “Come to the temple. Come and claim your blessings. It is a sacred work. Of this I bear witness”.