Saturday, October 10, 2015

Lesson From Joseph

As I am sure most of my readers know, I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from November 2010 to November 2012 in the Alabama Birmingham Mission. It was not something that I had planned on doing, having converted to the church just barely a year prior and under lots of pressure from my ward (local congregation) to serve in light of the fact that many of the young men in my ward who were scheduled to go that year did not choose to do so. It was in many ways the roughest two years of my life; I had some nearly faith-shattering moments during that time and gained a very strong skepticism of priesthood leadership (which I still maintain), but thanks to a few people what could have been my worst two years turned into a moderately ok two years.

One such person who radically helped me survive my mission was Joseph Fielding McConkie, son of the late Bruce R. McConkie and an emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. I had been a big fan of his father before joining the church, and due to the fact that my mission president was also a BYU professor, he introduced me to Joseph over the phone and the great man afterward wrote me letters throughout the rest of my mission. This was a great comfort in and of itself since my biological parents did not write me my entire mission. Even more invaluable was the advice given through the letters, which helped me to develop into a successful missionary.

Joseph passed away two years ago today, after a long struggle with colon cancer.  I miss him and think of him often. I will always remember that in spite of the great pain he was in in the last weeks of his life, he still had a large smile on his face and had a vibrant faith in the Restoration that I have never before in my life and doubt I will see anything like it now.

On one letter early on in my mission, he told me of the importance of testifying and having a personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith, saying that a testimony of Christ would only me a Baptist in temple garments. The argument was that if I did so, that those I testified to would feel the Holy Ghost testify of that and want to know more about the restored gospel. I applied that, and many more people than I ever imagined gained testimonies and entered the baptismal covenant, remaining faithful to this day. Suffice it say that Joseph was right.

But that is not the real lesson I want to bring up, because I don't think that that was the lesson that Joseph wanted to teach me. The real lesson that Joseph was teaching me was that gaining a testimony of the Prophet would keep me converted, even when times got rough. I sincerely believe that the most important convert a convert has on his/her mission is themselves. If they are not converted themselves, what will the rest matter in the end?

I did not fully understand that on my mission, but afterwards I learned why this was important. I was very conflicted with the church for a time, and sincerely considered leaving it. I had even made up my mind to join the Roman Catholic Church, and had begun the process of making that desire a reality. I had told my close friends about it, and felt pretty good about it except for one thing: Throughout all my time investigating the Catholic Church, I never got past the knowledge that I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was true. Since those beliefs and the beliefs of the Catholic Church are incompatible, I stopped my lessons there and remain an active, believing Mormon with a stronger and renewed faith.

If it had not been for the knowledge of the Prophet Joseph that I had gained through prayer and close study of his life and teachings, I could well be on my way to being a priest in the Catholic Church. Because I did have that knowledge, I remain and have some optimism about the future. I am very grateful to Joseph for his wise counsel, and wish him the best as he serves on the other side of the veil. Thank Joseph, I miss you brother.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tis

Yesterday I posted an outline of my conversion from traditional Christianity to Mormonism. While many who read applauded what I had written, my friend Scott Stover commented that some of my views could cause me to lose my position as an ordinance worker as well as my temple recommend. Since it is my wish that these things do not occur, I would like to take a few moments here to clear the air and make sure that I have not been misunderstood. Most problems in life have there foundation in the slippery sod of misunderstanding.

I said in the 8th paragraph of the aforementioned post "I do take a different look than most orthodox Mormons on a few things however. The two main points would be that while I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, I do not believe Brigham Young or any of the other presidents later were or are prophets. Why? Because they do not do any of the same kind of works of Joseph. I sustain them as the men who hold all priesthood keys and as the oracles God will speak through if he needs to communicate to all of his children, but they do not have the right to re-write history or to ignore things that Joseph Smith taught. Thankfully, this is changing to a certain extent. The other is that I do not believe that leaders are above criticism. There are no sacred cows in the church. If something is wrong, it needs to be called out and addressed regardless of who is doing it, whether that be the President of the Church, an apostle, a seventy, a stake president, a bishop, or anyone else in the church, myself included. I never raised my voice when my leaders railed against me, why should they not accept the same conditions?"

Some will have read what I wrote and think to themselves "Does this man sustain the Lord's anointed?" Or, perhaps a more pragmatic person may say "How can a person believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, but not his successors?"

These are fair questions, and I will attempt to answer them honestly. In connection with the first question, I will say that I sustain whom the Lord sustains. If a person is asked to receive my sustaining vote, I will raise my hand to the square and give them my full support. Support does not mean that I will accept everything the person does or says as something that the Lord himself would have said if he himself were present. Criticism is a sign of concern in most instances, at least it is in my case. Using your position as a shield for wrongdoing or as cover from criticism is not bravery, rather it is cowardice.

The statement "the Lord's Anointed" is a very ambiguous one, and one that I know of no concrete definition. I myself take it to mean Joseph Smith, since I know of no one else in our modern dispensation that we know of a surety was anointed by the Lord. I have never spoken ill of Joseph Smith, and quite frankly disagreeing with a priesthood leaders ideas is not speaking ill either if a person does what the leader asks, even in his/her disagreement.

As to the question of the Prophet Joseph's successors, suffice it say that I do not hold them in the same regard as I do Joseph Smith, similar to the way that one did not hold Paul in the same regard as Peter. One was the head the church, the other was a great theologian and philosopher. Both were needed, but no one would say that Paul was equal to Peter.

The same is true of the Prophet and his successors. Most people share my view implicitly if not explicitly. Notice that Joseph Smith is called "the Prophet" while his successors are called "President". Why is this the case? Because Joseph Smith is the Patriarch of our age, similar to Moses and Abraham. He deserves a higher standing in our eyes than his successors because while we could take away everything his successors did and still have pretty much the same church, you cannot take away the revelations Joseph gave us without becoming lost in a swamp of philosophical ideas that will not gain a person exaltation.

Before I was baptized, the then Elder Zach Ngawaka interviewed me for baptism and asked the following question: "Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?" I answered that the person was Joseph's successor, held the keys of the priesthood, and was the oracle with whom God could speak to the entire world if he chose to do so. He smiled and went on to the next question. My position has not changed since August 23, 2009, the day this interview occurred.

To sustain is to support. My priesthood leaders at the local and general level have my full support, even if I am skeptical at times of their decisions. I try to remain objective enough so that I can remember that I do not have all of the information, and perhaps if I were in the situation myself I would make the same conclusion that they did.  I hope this clears the air on what I believe for those who are interested.

Monday, September 7, 2015

My Conversion Story

I am often asked the question of how I, a young American of distant African descent, came to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church to some that seems to hate and despise people of my particular ethnicity. That is an issue for another post.

Usually, I give people the short version, as I frankly do not care to talk about this issue in detail very often. While my conversion certainly had and does have some very beautiful moments, it also has many moments that are dark, gloomy, and heart-wrenching.

A conversion is not a singular event; rather it is a process that occurs over a lifetime and in truth is not done when a person dies and is buried. It continues on after this life, until the time comes that a person has come to bear the express image of Jesus Christ upon their countenance. I can say with soberness that I am far away from that day, but hopefully I will get there at some point.

My conversion story really goes back to when I was very young. I was a raised as a Protestant Christian, and attended church all of my life. However, I am by nature skeptical and questioning, and the area of religion was no different. I remember one particular event that had more impact upon my life that I probably realized at the time. When I was 5 years old, I was being taught the Adam and Eve story for the first time. I remember thinking "If the Fall was a sin, then was a chance that Jesus was ultimately a reaction, rather than a pre-planned Savior." I do not know why that disturbed me, but it did.

Over time during my youth, I lost my faith in many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity (The Trinity, the Fall, the idea that all churches are equally valid, sacraments not necessarily vital), but I did not ever lose my faith in Jesus of Nazareth. So while I would self-identify as a Christian, I was in truth a very skeptical one.

Another point of contention I had with Christianity was its supernatural ideas, which I found (and still find) very superstitious. I found the Bible to be a book that had things that could not be scientifically true (a worldwide flood, Adam and Eve being the alone in the garden, Jonah living in the belly of a fish), but I was being asked to accept them as literal truth. From a  young age, I have been a naturalist and believed if there was a God, that he would follow natural law. I was also an avid Darwinist as a youth, but my grandmother told me that I could not be an evolutionist and a Christian at the same time. This caused me even more concern, and I wondered as a adolescent whether I could be a Christian as an adult.

The final issue I had was with the problem of evil, or as we call it in philosophy, theodicy. If God was perfect, why was evil in the world. However this part did not worry me as much as the idea of the afterlife. I was taught if you did not accept Jesus as your personal savior (even if you had never heard of him before) then you would burn in hell for all eternity. While that also seemed scientifically impossible (how does something burn forever?), it also seemed unnecessarily cruel. What about the good people in the world who are not Christians, or those who are in the middle between virtuous and viceful? It would seem that was where most of humanity was in my mind, but I was met with only two options : Heaven or Hell. I really pity the people who believe in such a dark creature who would torture billions forever; an immortal Joseph Stalin.

When I was around 16, I read about Mormonism in my encyclopedia. I thought that it seemed to have the most logical theology, and the most fair one. I took all the discussions from the missionaries, read many LDS theological books, and received baptism on August 30, 2009, confirmation on September 6, 2009. 6 years later, I am still a believer in the fundamentals of Mormonism: I believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, Joseph Smith Jr. as the Prophet of the Restoration, The Book of Mormon being the word of God (although not a history of the all the Pre-Columbian Americans), the concept of God, etc. I do take a different look than most orthodox Mormons on a few things however. The two main points would be that while I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, I do not believe Brigham Young or any of the other presidents later were or are prophets. Why? Because they do not do any of the same kind of works of Joseph. I sustain them as the men who hold all priesthood keys and as the oracles God will speak through if he needs to communicate to all of his children, but they do not have the right to re-write history or to ignore things that Joseph Smith taught. Thankfully, this is changing to a certain extent. The other is that I do not believe that leaders are above criticism. There are no sacred cows in the church. If something is wrong, it needs to be called out and addressed regardless of who is doing it, whether that be the President of the Church, an apostle, a seventy, a stake president, a bishop, or anyone else in the church, myself included. I never raised my voice when my leaders railed against me, why should they not accept the same conditions?

Like I said in the beginning, conversion is a process. Like the Prophet Joseph, I am a rough stone rolling and need to be polished and refined. I freely admit that I am a sinner and am in need of God's mercy and grace, which he has given far more than I have deserved. In time, as I continue to refine myself and allow others to help along the way, perhaps one day I will be the son of God that he expects and requires me to be. Not nearly there yet, but I will keep trying.

I want to end my story with sharing my testimony: I believe that there is a being in the universe who is divine, and who we in laymen's terms we call God. I believe that he is not my father only, but the father of the entire human race. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth, through a natural process, is his only begotten Son, and the Savior of mankind. I believe that Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet of God if there ever was one, and that besides Jesus himself, was the greatest man who ever lived. I believe that despite its many flaws and imperfections (which should not be glossed over), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is and remains the bride of Christ, and the only Church on the face of this Earth that has the truth about the nature of God, the nature of salvation, and the nature and potential of mankind in its most pure form. I am grateful everyday the Lord allowed me, a brash and occasionally arrogant young man, to find his gospel, and to have the opportunity to share it with others on a mission in the south and with others after that. Thank God for his amazing and sustaining grace.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Book of Mormon: What It Is And What It Is Not

Recently, I have begun to read The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ fro the beginning again. As always, I continue to be impressed with the work, as well as continuing to gain new insights into the work itself. One thing is for sure: Joseph Smith, Jr. could not have produced such a work. It is my testimony that this book is a book preserved by God himself for our day.

However, in this post I do not want to give my testimony as much as I want to point out two logical fallacies, one committed by non-members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the other by active believing members.

The first fallacy, committed by non-members, is this "Because the Book of Mormon does not contain all the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it cannot be stated to contain the fulness of the gospel." Here non-members commit the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy; meaning that they reduce the Book of Mormon down to two choices when there may be more options available. 

The problem here is that the non-believer is reading into the Book of Mormon what the book does not say about itself. The purpose of the book, according to its cover page, is "Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Book of Mormon Title Page).

Notice here that the Book of Mormon has 3 purposes: 1. To show the remnant of the House of Israel that the Lord blessed their ancestors 2. For the remnant (as well as others) to remember the covenants the Lord has made with his people 3. Convincing all people that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the God of this world. Among the reasons listed is not to tell all people what all the correct ordinances or teachings of the gospel are. To say that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because it does not contain all doctrines, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ is similar to saying that Darwinian evolution cannot be true because it does not teach us the origin of the universe. Darwinian evolution does not claim to teach the origin of the universe, and the Book of Mormon does not claim to teach all the doctrines of the gospel.

The second fallacy I wish to address is committed my members and missionaries every day. The argument goes like this: If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet. Here members are committing the fallacy known as "begging the question", a fallacy committed by assuming that because the premise is true that the conclusion must also be true. This argument also commits the false dichotomy fallacy by giving us two options.

Nowhere in the text of the Book of Mormon does it say that the person who brings the book forward would be a prophet. It merely says that the person who brings it forward would be blessed (Mormon 8:16). So, the Book of Mormon could be true and Joseph Smith could be a false prophet. In order for a person to know whether Joseph Smith is a prophet, they will need to read his teachings and ask God about them (Moroni 4-5). Praying about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon would give a person a confirmation only that the words contained within the text are true.

I hope that as members and non-members read the Book of Mormon they will root their understanding of it in the text itself and not write their own metatext into the text. Doing so may cause us to lose sight of what the book and God want to teach us.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review of "By the Hand of Mormon"

To all of my faithful readers, I apologize for being away from the blog for several weeks. Many things have been going on in my life, among them registering for school which unfortunately also included establishing my residency in the state of Utah, an appellation that I am not proud of. But, you have to do what you have to do. Now that that is completed, I am happy to state that I will be blogging more frequently, at least twice a week. Also, I may be switching to a wordpress format soon, so just giving you a heads up.

After finishing up "The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration" by Tad R. Callister, i struggled to pick a new book from my library to read, but I eventually chose "By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion" by Terryl Givens. A little background on the author, Terryl Givens is a professor of English and Religion at the University of Richmond, and the author of 11 books, with the 12th in process of being printed. A theologian, historian, and man of letters, Givens is known to be very meticulous with his scholarship, and shows himself to be very unbiased and lets the evidence speak for itself, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions (if I did not know that Givens was a Mormon from reading his book, I would not have known after reading it.) In my estimation, Givens is the St. Augustine of Mormonism; Blake Ostler is the St. Thomas Aquinas of Mormonism. Hopefully both can write together at some point.

In this book, Givens focuses on three important things: 1. How the Book of Mormon came into existence 2. What was its meaning to the early members of the Latter-day Saint movement 3. What is its importance today.

On the first point, Givens points out the traditional story of the obtaining of the plates from the Angel Moroni by the Prophet Joseph Smith, but adds in that Joseph was often lectured by the angel for his weakness, and at one point even struck by the angel for attempting to take the plates before the time was right. He points out that the seer stone was used during translation (the LDS Church recently talked about that here), and that the Prophet dictated hour after hour with no need of being reminded where he left off. Suffice it to say in terms of translation of the book, there are really only two options: Joseph Smith translated it by the gift and power of God, or he is the best fraud of all time. Impressive either way.

The second point was very interesting, because it brought to the forefront something I had known about for some time, but had not really thought about. In the Church, and in life most of the time, we think that things have always been done a certain way because we have only known of them being done a certain way. Take the missionary lessons for instance. Today, we start with lesson 1, which encompasses who God is, the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Apostasy, and finally the Restoration. However, the first missionaries did not teach that way. Instead, they showed the Restoration had happened through a return of the age of miracles, which the Book of Mormon itself was an evidence. My colleague and friend Dr. Daymon Smith has written 5 volumes on this, and his views are quite antithetical to Givens and mine, but worth the read anyway.

The third and final point was about how the Book of Mormon is used today. Here Givens talks about dialogic revelation, which is a fundamental idea in the Latter-day Saint movement. He talks about the fact the ultimately the Book of Mormon conveys a message that is often overlooked. That i that God has spoken to people throughout human history, and he continues to do so today. But this speaking is not contained to prophets and apostles alone; the heavens are opened to you. This something that Givens also talks about in his other works, but he lays it out well in this brief ending chapter.

Givens also touches on how the Book of Mormon has been shown to be historical by evidence in archaeology, as well as the text itself with its linguistic complexity. Again, Givens shows evidence, but does not claim to prove anything by these things. But, the evidence is sufficient enough that one can legitimately claim the Book of Mormon is an ancient text rather than a 19th century myth.

I highly recommend this and all of Dr. Givens other works. 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review of " The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration"

As you can see on the right hand side of my blog under "blogs I recommend", there is one that is written in Latin. Its author is my friend Scott Dodge, a Roman Catholic Deacon who is a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His blog is similar to mine, in that he talks about various theological topics as well as political and other topics. If you enjoy my blog, you will certainly enjoy his. Although he and I disagree theologically, I admire his his writing as well as his uncompromising religiosity in a world that is becoming more relativistic by the day.

In his post titled "The acknowledged differences of Mormonism" he talks about what could be defined as the most critical idea in Mormonism: The idea that the church that Jesus of Nazareth established in the 1st century fell away from the things he originally taught and that the church was not on the earth until the early nineteenth century when it was restored through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He writes "Of course the Mormon belief in The Great Apostasy presumes almost utter ignorance of the early Church Fathers, especially the so-called Apostolic Fathers, men such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Papias of Hieropolis, not to mention documents like the Didaché and the Shepherd of Hermas, as well as Ireneaus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, etc. It also requires a fairly superficial reading of several of St Paul's letters."

Given the accusation, it seems that he has not read a book that I  just recently finished entitled "The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration" by Tad R. Callister. Just by way of background, Bro. Callister is an attorney by profession and wrote the classic work known as "The Infinite Atonement". He has served as a Bishop, Stake President, Mission President, 2nd Quorum of the Seventy, Presidency of the Seventy, and is the current Sunday School General President. Along with Terryl Givens and Blake Ostler, Bro. Callister is one of the best theologians in the LDS Church and I personally hope that he is called to the Quorum of the Twelve in the upcoming General Conference .

As stated earlier, it seems that many Christians believe that the LDS faith is ignorant of Christianity in the centuries following the ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. Bro. Callister puts that to wrest in this volume. For the most part, Bro. Callister uses the 10 volume work known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (the fathers who were before the first nicene council) to build his argument that the church fell away and was restored in modern times. Ironically, he uses all the men who are before mentioned by Scott, as well as Tertullian, who was one of the great church fathers.

In the book, you can tell that Bro. Callister is a lawyer rather than a philosopher. He cites the evidence, makes a few brief comments, and then moves on to his next point. Unfortunately, this leaves some of his arguments underdeveloped the reader wanting more. The book is about 400 pages, but if the arguments were developed more it could be double that size.

Bro. Callister makes a list of thirteen points of evidences that show that there was an apostasy and a restoration. The evidences I found most compelling were the idea of the pre-mortal existence as taught by the early fathers (especially Origen), the idea that in the early church there was no idea of original sin, and also that that many Catholic scholars today admit that they do not have a direct descent in priesthood authority from the ancient apostles.

I would like to expound on just one point if I may. It has to do with the idea of a pre-mortal existence. In philosophy the term theodicy as termed by Leibniz asks the question of why would a perfect, just, and holy being allow evil to happen in the world to good and honest people. The answer to the question has been debated by philosophers throughout the ages, but it has a rather simple answer. before we came to Earth, we knew that such would be the case and we accepted the terms. Truth be told, we have no right to complain about the evil in the world because we knew that such would be the case. Our objective should be to lessen the amount of evil present in the world, knowing that our Lord will come again and destroy all evil when the time is right. However, without the idea of a pre-mortal existence present in out lives, we are left to ourselves to ask the question of why evil exists in the world. Origen, an early church father, boldly taught this doctrine. And what was his fate? The church will not recognize him as a Saint, because he taught this and other doctrines that the Catholic Church now condemns. 

On the idea of original sin and infant baptism, Bro. Callister makes it clear that this idea was invented later after the ascension of Christ and was not present in the early church. He makes his point by quoting Tertullian who said "The delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children." Quite a statement, and probably for that reason (along with a few others I admit), Tertullian is also not canonized as a Saint. Oh well. You are a saint in my book Tertullian.

The book is well written, insightful, and gives the reader a desire to want to know more about the ancient church as compared to the modern church. For this reason I will be purchasing the ten volume set of the Ante-Nicene Fathers in late August. Since the Apostasy is a doctrine that is not addresssed enough in our sacrament meetings, Sunday School lessons, and priesthood/relief society meetings, I would highly recommend Bro. Callister's book. If you loved the Infinite Atonement, then you you will love The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration. 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Is New Atheism a Religion?

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who is non-religious but holds no contempt for those who do happen to believe in God and religion. My friend remarked to me that he was not an atheist, because atheism is itself a religion and he holds to no religion.

There seems to be this common misunderstanding of the word atheism, such that many people in the United States and abroad believe that atheism is itself a religion, or even more common with the rise of the so called "New Atheists" that atheism is itself not a belief, rather it is a lack of belief. As the late Christopher Hitchens (one of the "Four Horsemen" of New Atheism ) said in his book "god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything":"Our belief is not a belief is not a belief. Out principles are not a faith. (god is not Great pg. 5 )"

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation often says in debates that he is an atheist because there is no coherent definition of a God. He fails however to offer a coherent definition of atheism, and when pressed for one often says that he lacks a belief in a deity.

So we have two problems: 1. What is the definition of Atheism? 2. What is the definition of religion? If we understand those two ideas, we can reconcile the question as to whether or not atheism is a religion.

First, what is the definition of the word atheism? According to Oxford Dictionary, atheism is defined as "Belief that God does not exist." Notice what is different in the coherent dictionary definition than in the definitions offered by Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Barker. Atheism is, in the coherent sense, a belief. It is not a lack of belief, it is a belief.  In order for a person to call himself or herself an atheist, they must be able to state the following "I believe there is no such thing or being as God."So, truth be told, if this definition of atheism is true, then Mr. Hitchens, Mr. Barker, and a host of other people that accept their definitions are not atheists.

What Mr. Barker has described is more akin to what is known as agnosticism, which is defined in Oxford Dictionary as "Belief that the existence or nature of God cannot be proven." The problem with this definition is that it basically describes everyone. As a philosopher I am very careful with the work "know", because the truth is that humans know very little. In this case, I can be classified as an agnostic-theist; I do not know that God exists in the same way that I know that the Sun is Orange, but I do believe that there is good evidence to believe in God and accept inferences about his nature and attributes. However, I do hold that some people do know that God exists, but I am not among that group.

Next, what is the definition of religion? If we can trust Oxford Dictionary again it is "1.Belief in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship 2. Expression of this in worship 3. Particular system of faith and worship. 4. Thing that one is devoted to

From these definitions, it seems that defining atheism as a religion within the structure of a yes and no question simply will not do. Why? Because there is more than one definition of religion, and while there is some that atheism would not fit (at least on an individual level), there are some where it could be constructed that atheism is (at least in some forms) religious in nature.

On the first definition, atheism cannot possibly be a religion because it denies what the first definition affirms; atheism believes that there is no God and the first definition implies that on belief in at least one God. The second definition implies belief in the first, so that is also a defeater.

The third and fourth definition is where things become nuanced. Lets here repeat the third definition " Particular system of faith and worship" What do the words "faith" and "worship" mean? Faith is defined by Oxford Dictionary as "1. Complete trust and confidence 2. Firm belief, especially without logical proof 3. A system of religious belief; belief in religious doctrines 4. Duty or commitment to fulfill a trust, promise, etc; allegiance. Worship is defined by Oxford Dictionary as " 1. Homage reverence paid to a deity; acts, rites, or ceremonies of worship 2. Adoration or devotion."

If one combines the 3rd definition of religion (particular system of faith and worship) with the first definition of faith (complete trust and confidence) and the second definition of worship (adoration or devotion), then one could successfully argue that atheism is in fact religious in nature, at least in certain instances. For an example, lets examine the new atheists. They hold that the scientific method and empirical evidence are the only way to know truth. So there objects of faith would be the scientific method and empiricism, and there way of worship would be applying it to there own lives and encouraging others to do so, which would be like missionary work in the religious sense. So, in spite of its hatred and objection to religious faith and practice, the New Atheists are in fact a new religion. Yes, you read that correctly.

Keep in mind here that I am not suggesting that this is true of all atheists, or that atheism itself is a religion; it is not. However, the New Atheists and other forms of organized atheism could be shown to be quite religious as I have shown. If anything, it could be said that the the New Atheists would want to reconstruct religion rather than replace it entirely.

I write this to remind people that some questions are not simply a yes or no, and that beliefs have more implications than they may seem to hold on the surface. I encourage all people, whether religious or not, to look deeply into their own beliefs and to see where logic of the belief takes them.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Understanding Revelation

Today marks 37 years since the announcement on priesthood; which extended the privilege of ordination to the priesthood for men and african descent and temple blessings to all people of african descent. As an African-American convert (I really wish the term African-American were abolished), this is a day I hold particularly sacred. Without this revelation, I could not have received my temple endowment, served as a full-time missionary, or currently serve as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple; the temple where this revelation was received. If no one else can appreciate this revelation, I can.

This revelation can teach all (whether black or white) a lesson about the nature of revelation. A little background will be helpful. Before this revelation came to him, President Spencer W. Kimball went to the holy of holies in prayer to the Lord for months before he got an answer. Think of that; President Kimball had the burdens of the entire church on his shoulders, yet sought the Lord diligently on this one question. He did not tire, he was diligent until an answer was obtained. He said  "Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch.... I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems." (Lengthen Your Stride, pg. 216)

This is the point I wanted to make: Revelations do not come if there is only mild interest. They come to those who diligently seek them. And also, the person must be willing to take whatever answer in given. If both of these requirements are not met, a revelation will not come. Perhaps another example would be helpful. Take the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. His question was a common one "Which church is true?" Millions had asked before, millions are still asking that question. It was not enough to merely search the scriptures, which he admits in his biography was not worthwhile when all churches believed in the Bible. It was not enough to ask preachers and ministers; they would only tell you that there denomination is correct. There was only one course the young Joseph could take: Ask God himself and wait for an answer. Because he was willing to do what was necessary and open to any answer, revelation and enlightenment came.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that this revelation came in 1978 and not before. Brigham Young installed the practice of withholding the priesthood and temple blessings from blacks without a revelation, so of course he could not receive a revelation to change it. I am sure the Lord has chastised him even more sharply than he did the Brother of Jared for this gross immorality that he caused to come upon his fellow human beings. The other presidents of the Church up until the time of President David O. McKay had other pressing matters to attend to; this issue understandably had to wait. The revelation could have come in the administration of David O. McKay, but in order for that to happen all of the First Presidency and all of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would have to be in total agreement with it. This was not possible as Harold B. Lee and Mark E. Petersen would have none of it. Harold B. Lee daughter once said to a friend "My daddy said that as long as he's alive, they'll never have the priesthood." (David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, pg.64) Mark E. Petersen was not present in the temple when the revelation came 37 years ago although he was a member of the twelve at the time, and I believe it was for good reason. He once said that blacks desired to destroy the white race through interracial marriage, so I am quite confident he would not be particularly anxious to give the priesthood to blacks. He did sign off on it once President Kimball told him of the decision, but as a decision had already been made it was 13 to 1 (Elder Delbert L. Stapley was also not there, he was in the hospital). A revelation could not come during the tenure of President Joseph Fielding Smith could not enact a change for the same reason, and the Lord had to take the life of President Lee for a change to come. As the angel said to Nephi "It is better that one man should perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." (1 Nephi 4:13) Perhaps the same could be said of the black mans spiritual welfare in comparison to Bro. Lee's life.

I hope that we can learn from the blueprint that the prophets have left for us in receiving revelation. First, be willing to diligently seek an answer. Second, be willing to accept any answer, especially if the one you do not want is the correct answer. Third, pray and don't faint. If such is the way of the prophets, should it not be the way for you also?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Doctrine Matters

In his magnum opus Reasonable Faith Christian Philosopher and Theologian William Lane Craig makes a statement that is worthy of discussion. On page 19 of the book he writes "If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children's questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It's no longer enough to teach our children bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics." Perhaps Dr. Craig should add the title of prophet to his job description, as this statement is now proving to be prophetic.

This week the Salt Lake Tribune published an article titled Christianity shrinking in U.S.; Mormon numbers essentially flat. In the article it showed that number of adults who considered themselves Christian feel from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 in 2014. Among my faith (Mormonism) it went nearly unchanged, going from 1.7 percent to 1.6 percent. But even this is quite stunning, since the number of missionaries in this country nearly doubled after the announcement of changes in missionary age in 2012. As political scientist David Campbell said in the article While many Mormons are coming in the front door......many others are leaving out the back door."

There is some good news however. Among the people who now identify as "None" 6.9 said that religion is still important to them. So, while these statistics are alarming, it does not mean that people are just leaving religion for atheism, agnosticism, and humanism; it is a bit more nuanced than that. The reason sighted is that people are feeling that the Church has nothing much to offer, so they stay at home.

May I offer a solution to this problem? Let's follow the counsel of Dr. Craig and emphasize doctrine in our meetings and not just playful banter. Let me give you an example of what I mean. At the last General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not much if any of the unique doctrine of the Restoration was mentioned. Most of what was mentioned was about same-sex marriage; and the argument was not engaged at all. None of the people who talked about this issue mentioned any scientific data or thought of the issue in that way, they just kept repeating that same-sex marriage was wrong. While this is true, this is not a unique doctrine of Mormonism. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians are also strong on this issue, as are many protestant churches. So there really is no reason to over emphasize the issue; anyone who knows anything about Mormons knows that they are not on board with gay marriage. Let's stop acting as if this is the Church's only doctrine.

No one joins the Church because of its culture; they join because if its doctrine. As a convert I can say this is the only reason I joined; there are many aspects of Mormon culture I find silly. But the doctrine is true and life changing. Where else can a man go to find the true nature and character of God? Where else can he go to find the true nature of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the true path of repentance? Where else can he go to find his divine destiny; to find that one day he will become as God is? Where else can he go to find that the ones he loves can be his now and in the eternities? Where else can he go to find that his loved ones who have passed on can be saved through vicarious ordinances? Is there another church that teaches any of these things? No, these are issues that puzzle other religions. The message of the Restoration has the power to heal the world; but it won't happen if it is not the focus of our meetings and our time at home during personal study.

May I invite those people who have not done so to not only read the scriptures, but also the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Lectures on Faith. These are two crown jewels that are hidden from our view because they do not have the reverence that they should among the general Mormon population. Both teach clearly the doctrines of the Restoration, which the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Patriarch Hyrum Smith died for in Carthage Jail. If we do not study these doctrines, teach them, and apply them, then they both died in vain. Let's not let that be the case.

The bottom line is this. The religious community is dying in this country and in others because we to often think of religion as a social club rather than as a system through which mankind can reconcile itself to God and put on the divine nature. This will not change if we continue as we are currently. We will drift from year to year with people leaving the Church, and the ones who stay think of doing the same. Lets teach doctrine and not let that happen.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sustaining: An Unnoticed Covenant

To my readers, I owe you a small apology for not posting these last several weeks. I have been on vacation in California; as well as adjusting to a new job. At any rate, now that the school semester is over I will be publishing more frequently during the week, so keep your eyes open for more posts.

During Sacrament Meetings, the one thing I do find somewhat interesting is the sustaining of church callings. Do not misunderstand; I love the ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper very much, and it is the true focus of the meeting itself. However, the talks in sacrament meeting are very sophomoric and the lack of reverence in the meeting is beyond disturbing.

I would like in this brief post to talk about two things: 1) What does it mean to sustain a person in a calling and 2) What is the obligation of the person who is being sustained

First, what does it mean to sustain a person? Let me suggest that is far more than merely raising the right arm to the square when asked to do so by the person presenting the sustaining vote. According to Oxford Dictionary, the word "sustain" means "Strengthen or support physically or mentally." So, this means that we are making a covenant with this person, that we will be there for them as they perform the task that priesthood leaders have assigned them. This service cannot be in name only; a person does sustain a person if they do not help then in anyway possible when they are able. We show support by doing things, not just vain words.

I would also like to address a matter involved with the word sustain as applied to priesthood leaders. Too often I have a heard people say that if a person has a disagreement with a priesthood leader, or if they are vocal about the disagreement then they are not sustaining their leaders. However, this is very shallow thinking. Just because a person is sustained to a position of leadership, this does not mean that a person will be right about every issue of significance. As Amelia McConkie said to her husband Bruce R. McConkie when he became a General Authority "Just because you are a General Authority now does not mean that you know everything!"

However, I would also caution against being overly critical of a person. Remember that you have made a covenant with the person to strengthen and support them. Many callings are very taxing on a persons strength and mental well being, and we do not need to add another burden to the ones that are already yoked upon them. We are to help make their burdens as light as possible; which cannot be done by adding more to what already needs to be accomplished.

Now that I have addressed some of things that are required of the people who are sustaining a brother or sister in a position, let us turn to the person being sustained and what is required of them. First, they are to do all that is outlined in their calling, and to do so to the best of there ability. If a person does not do that, then they are not sustaining the trust that has been placed within them. No calling deserves less than a persons best effort at all times. When mistakes are made, they are to be acknowledged and resolved, then the person is to move forward.

At its base level sustaining is a covenant, and covenants are promises between two parties to do certain things in exchange for something else. For instance, when we partake of the Sacrament we covenant to always remember the Son of God and to keep his commandments. In response to our obedience to the covenant, the Lord promises to forgive our sins and to have his spirit to be with us. When a person is sustained, we covenant to help and serve them in anyway we can in order for them to be successful in there calling, while they covenant with us to execute the calling to the best of their ability. Let us remember this when we give our sustaining vote or when we are being sustained.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

My Testimony of Jesus of Nazareth

"But who do ye say that I am?", the man known of Jesus of Nazareth said to the men who were his closest friends in mortality; the men we call the Twelve Apostles. Moments earlier, he had asked these men who his contemporaries believed that he was. He had gotten the answer that many believed he was a prophet come back to life, but not the reply that he was the Son of God.

That reply sadly has not changed much today. Many in the world believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not the Son of God. The great philosopher and mentor of mine Friedrich Nietzsche said of him "The word 'Christianity' is already a misunderstanding - in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross." In short he affirms what many in Jesus's own day and today believe: Jesus was a great man, but not the Son of God.

However, the question every person who consider themselves a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth need to answer is the second question "But who do ye say that I am?" In this short post I plan to answer that short.

First and foremost, I believe that the idea of the Christ Myth Theory is complete and utter nonsense. As agnostic historian Bart Ehrman wrote in his book "Did Jesus Exist?, "Whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist."

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was borne of Mary, by means that did not alter or deny the natural order. I believe that he went about doing good, healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching the doctrine of the kingdom. I believe that he showed multiple times that it was possible to fulfill the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself.

However, this still leaves the question unanswered that all disciples of Jesus must consider and answer "But who do ye say that I am?" To that I answer with the man known to the world as St. Peter "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

I believe that this same Son of God, in a way incomprehensible to me, suffered for my sins and the sins of all mankind in Gethsemane and on Calvary. He was was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, and 3 days later he broke the bands of death and was resurrected. By doing these things, he answered the question of Job "If a man die, shall he live again?" The man known to us as Jesus of Nazareth answered unequivocally "Yes. And because of me, you also shall live"

It is not enough to believe Jesus a great moral teacher; He taught that he was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. One must accept him as such or brand him a lunatic and a madman, there is no middle ground with Jesus.

As many have said on this Easter Sunday, I echo "I know he lives."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Ted Cruz is not the answer

Last week Senator Ted Cruz of the state of Texas announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 2016. He is the first of either party to announce, thus meaning he will have the first opportunity to court donors; as we all know it impossible to win an election without lots of funding

Senator Cruz is seen by some as a Savior of conservatism by some, as he has stood against Obamacare, opposed increasing the debt ceiling, opposed same-sex marriage, and various other conservative principles. At any rate, in the two years that he has been in the United States Senate, Senator Cruz has become an interesting an polarizing figure and will certainly be someone to watch in the coming months.

However, as a member of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party, I must say that Senator Cruz is not the person to be the next nominee. He may be an exciting Senator, but he is not ready to be commander in chief for the following reasons:

1. Senator Cruz is too young. No, that is not a lazy argument. In fact, in the 2008 election, it was the Republican Party who said that then Senator Barack Obama was too young to be commander in chief, he then having been in the Senate a little under over 3 years. Senator Cruz has been in the same amount of time. There is a reason why the party made this argument back in 2008: The presidency of the United States is not a young mans job. It requires vast experience, the ability to negotiate, and the willingness to stand alone. While Senator Cruz has the last characteristic (which is the only one that makes him an interesting candidate), he does not have either of the former two and all 3 are necessary to be a great president.

Some will argue that the early presidents of the country did not have vast experience either. Oh, very much to the contrary. Before assuming office, George Washington was president of the Constitutional Convention and a general (a job where you are always in crisis); John Adams was the first vice president of the United States for 8 years and a leader in getting the Declaration of Independence ratified and signed; Thomas Jefferson was author of the Declaration of Independence, governor of Virginia, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (which later became the 1st amendment), secretary of state and vice-president. These men had time to master the principles of leadership before they had to lead the entire nation. Senator Cruz claims to revere the founders, perhaps he follow there example.

2. Senator Cruz has no executive experience. This is a big problem since if elected Senator Cruz would be the chief executive of the country. As a Senator, you have no real responsibility if things are not done; you can just blame the other 99 senators. This is not true of an executive. He holds responsibility to direct the work and get the job done. Only Governors and CEO's have true executive experience, and not surprisingly most great presidents have been governors (Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to name a few).

This is not to say that a Senator cannot be a successful president, John F. Kennedy was for example. But, he had also been in the military and had been a war hero, as well as having been in the United States House of Representatives, as well as having been in the United States Senate for consecutive terms. Senator Cruz does not have these characteristics on his resume.

3. Senator Cruz will not build the party. Due to his rigid conservative ideology, Senator Cruz is a favorite of the Tea Party. However, there are factions of the party that this philosophy will alienate, people that Senator Cruz will need in order to win the nomination as well as the general election. This includes moderates, libertarians (like myself), establishment, minorities, and the youth vote. In all categories, Senator Cruz trails other candidates by over 20 percent. If he trails them for the nomination, how will he get them in a general election?

It is true that polls change, perhaps Senator Cruz can get these people behind him. But history shows that generally does not happen. Mitt Romney is a great example.

4. Senator Cruz is not the best candidate available. There are candidates who have been governors who are vibrant and engaging, as well as experienced who will challenge Senator Cruz when the debates and primaries come about. Some of them are from blue states, and they have had to work across the aisle in order to get their agendas across; a trait that is extremely useful for a president. Even among his fellow senators, there are other candidates who are more original, disciplined, and exciting. Among theses candidates include Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. These are the men to look to in the coming election. Senator Cruz, we love you, but stay in the Senate.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Faith and Miracles

It has always impressed me that when Jesus of Nazareth healed someone, he often told them to not go and tell others about what had happened. The only thing he ever told someone to after wards was to go and show himself (or themselves) to the priest so that they can be accepted back into the community. It seems evident that the Master did not want the limelight, or at least his manifestations of power to be the limelight. Rather, he wanted the doctrines that he preached to be the measure of who and what he was.

I have a theory as to why he preferred those he healed to keep silent.  Perhaps it was because he kew that such things would not produce faith, only interest and gossip. This appears very evident in the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who saw many of Christ's miracles, but this did not produce faith. Only outrage, jealousy, and contempt.

In our world today, we must be grateful for miracles, but we must not allow them to become the foundation of our faith. Why? Because miracles are like many other things in life; they are impressive when they happen, but over time the effect wears off and we will need another miracle to revive our faith. It is clear from the scripture that God will not produce miracles just because we want them, so our faith may not have the chance to revive and recover if it is solely based on miracles.

For our faith to be true it must rest in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of Humankind. Jesus himself is the greatest of all miracles, and unlike the miracles in the Bible and other holy writ, coming to know him deepens our faith and belief in him. If we truly have faith in him and show it by keeping his commandments and becoming like him, the day will come when we will see him and know that he is.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Quick Thought on Grace and Works

The other day I was reading Jesus of Nazareth's most well known sermon: The Sermon on the Mount. It is always a touching sermon that makes me want to never again do any wrong, which is always sadly short lived. But this time I got an insight that I had never gotten before.

In verse 20 of Matthew chapter 5, Jesus states "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."

This is fascinating. The Master himself worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling, now he calls on us to do the same. And he will have none of the lips only service. No, rather he calls on men to be holy and perfected, which shows how his teaching transcends the Mosaic Law.

It is often thought in the Christian world that we are saved sole fide (Latin for "Faith Alone). I was taught this growing up, even though I saw no evidence of this idea in the Masters teachings. It is true that St. Paul does mention the idea to some extent, but the fact that Jesus says nothing of the sort holds much more warrant in my mind.

No one will get into the kingdom of Heaven just by believing that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world; as St. James tells us even the devils do that ( James 2:19). One will dwell with him forever when he is able to obtain all of his attributes and desires good alone.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Science and Scientism

I am often told by the non-religious that science gives them there world view and that religion is outdated. This again shows that they understand neither religion nor science. First, what is religion? Religion is, according to Oxford Dictionary,"The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods." Science is defined as "The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

The problem with this is that science is not something that can give you a worldview or a philosophy. Science can tell you how old the Earth is, how it got here, and to an extent the origin of life. However, it cannot explain morality and the purpose of existence. In truth, science is not opposed to religion; rather it is the partner of religion. As the late J. Rueben Clark, Jr. once said "Religion teaches us why things are, science is teaching us how."

The point I really want to make is that this view that people often mean when they say "I believe in science" is not science at all, rather it is scientism. Scientism is defined as "Belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints." This is not really a new idea, it was the philosophy of the now gone logical positivists, men like Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer. They postulated what was called verification, and on this worldview unless you could prove something empirically (through the five senses), then the statement was meaningless. And these men were merely borrowing the ideas of the empiricists (David Hume, John Locke, Bishop Berkley), who taught that the best way to obtain knowledge was through the five senses, although Hume also believed to a degree that reason played a role in learning.

Simply put, scientism is not a science, so it is missing the very point in its mission. Rather than being science, it is a philosophy. And philosophy is far more nuanced than science. For instance, can I empirically prove that there are objective moral values? Can I empirically prove that I love my spouse? Can I empirically prove that that there is no God? You can say, as the verificationists  did that such statements are meaningless. But what can be more meaningful than being a moral person, in a world where morality is slowly disappearing? What can be more meaningful than being a loving spouse, when marriage is the true bedrock of society? What can be more meaningful than knowing that there is a God, who is the author of objective morality and the designer of human destiny? These are not meaningless questions Mr. Russell and Mr. Richard Dawkins

Simply put, scientism is neither science nor good philosophy. True science stays within its domain of observance to remain true; when it ventures into morality, the existence of God, and various other things such as logic and reason, then it is no longer science. Use science and reason, but never make science your reason or your religion. You mock true science when you do.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Way of the Master

Many of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth were in fact not new when he introduced them to the inhabitants of Israel between 29-33 AD. The Buddha had taught some of them, Confucius had taught the golden rule, and many other teachings of Jesus perhaps had been taught before his 3 year ministry. However, there is one teaching of Jesus that has always held me in awe of him. In the Sermon on the Mount he said:

"You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;

So that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike." (Matthew 5: 43-45)

Here the Son of Man is making his break with the Law of Moses. Moses had taught the children "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth), in other words justice was all the law of Moses was truly concerned with. Jesus, who had come down from Heaven to give mankind celestial law and glory, required more. He was teaching that God himself is not only just, but merciful. His example of the rain and the son could not be more profound. No matter whether people are good or bad, the sun rises and the rain comes. In like manner, God loves all of his children (although not their actions per se) and there is nothing that man can do to earn that love or to lose it.

The idea of loving your enemy is as difficult today as it was in the time that the Master himself walked the Earth. But because he was our example in all things, he showed us the way to do it. At his unjust arrest, what did he do? He healed a man and went quietly, speaking no evil of his captors (Luke 22:51-53) What did he say on the cross? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34) Can we do the same?

For all those who call themselves Christians (which as Friedrich Nietzsche said is a mistake in itself; Jesus is the only Christian) ask yourself: Do I truly love my enemies? Am I able to forgive and forget? Am I willing to help those who harm and wish harm upon me? If the answer is yes, then you are on the path to true discipleship.  If the answer is no, repent, change your ways, and pick up your cross and follow the in the way of the Master.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lesson from St. Thomas

One of the ancient apostles who has always intrigued me was St. Thomas, affectionally referred to by Christians as "Doubting Thomas"; an appellation he received because he vocally expressed his doubt as to whether or not Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead.

I do not believe that this appellation should rightfully be bestowed upon Thomas. If he were the only one among the 11 remaining apostles who expressed doubt, then perhaps this would be the case. But it is not. According to the gospel account of St. Matthew, the others doubted even when they saw Jesus (Matt 28:17). However, when Thomas himself he Jesus he exclaims "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28), the only apostle in the Gospels to testify of Jesus' divinity and station as God himself. Perhaps instead of calling him "Doubting Thomas" we should call him "St. Thomas, the apostle of honesty" since all that he really did was demand the same evidence for believing that the others did (John 20:25).

There is a great lesson in this short chapter. It that one should not believe without evidence. That is not what faith is. Faith is not infra-rational; rather it is supra-rational. Notice that Jesus does not call Thomas "faithless" when he appears to him. Rather, he tells to receive the evidence he has asked for and be what he has been called to be (John 20:27).

As people attempt to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others, they should not be enraged or frustrated when the unbeliever, skeptic, or questioner is honest with them to ask for some sort of evidence before they will believe. If Jesus himself was willing to provide it to St. Thomas, certainly we mortals can work to have evidence to support our beliefs. This is why philosophy, science, reason, and argument are a part of true religion.

However, let us also remember that faith does not mean to know things perfectly, so there will be times when we do not have an answer to every question. However, we should spend time looking for an answer rather than simply accepting the fact that one is not currently available to us.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Of ISIS and Crusades

During his address at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama made some very interesting comments. He talked about crimes that have been committed in the name of religion, and for the most part I agreed with his remarks. Too many times in the history of the world, religion has been the cover for violence and atrocity. As a religious person myself, I am often very troubled by these matters and am saddened when the non-religious use them as a way to show that religion cannot be correct. I view these arguments usually as non-sequiturs however.

The main problem with President Obama's speech came when he compared the Crusades to the modern conflict we face with ISIS. On my Facebook page, I commented that the president was not only not a very good president, but a terrible historian as well. I will give two brief points as to why.

First, the crusades were attacks made by the Catholic Church for different reasons. Some were for defense, some were on the point of aggression, others were to bring down heresy. These attacks were organized and were sanctioned officially by the Roman Catholic Church, as many times it was the Bishop of Rome (the pope) who organized them. This is not true of ISIS, a group of nomadic gangsters with no clear agenda and are not full representations of the Islamic World. 

Second, these comments are taken far out of context when we realize that this was something in the far past that has been dealt with, while ISIS is the real threat to our safety now. Also, no one has said that the religious were on there "high horse" or that only Islam has caused harm in the world. We are not at war with religion; we are at war with radical religion. Sadly, the president failed to make this distinction in his address, and until he recognizes ISIS for what it is we will never be able to stop them.

I do not have room in this brief blog to talk completely about the comparison of the crusades and ISIS. I would like to make one last point about them forever. Had the crusades not occurred, Islam would have easily taken over the Western World, and we would all now be living under Sharia law. Sound attractive? I did not think so.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Word of Caution

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have often struggled with the before called "Negro Doctrine"; the idea that until 1978 when church president Spencer W. Kimball had a "revelation", God himself barred lacks from being ordained to the priesthood. It begs the question: "If God created everyone a certain way for a certain purpose, and if all men are equal, then why did it take so long for the church to overcome the racism?"

For the most part in my 5 years as a church member, I have come to live with the idea. I leave it in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. However, I am absolutely convinced that this idea was man-made; there is not one ounce of truth in the idea that this practice was approved by the Lord. Any who believe this sadistic nonsense need to repent.

We find no inference of this idea in the Prophet Joseph Smith. Some of the prophets closest friends were black, and he approved of their ordination himself.  In the case of Elijah Abel, he ordained him an elder himself. How can any argue that blacks were not be ordained when the Prophet himself ordained? I do not understand it.

I can get that the church was restored in an era of slavery and racism, which the church opposed to its credit. What I cannot understand is how members today still act as though the ban itself was not racist. It clearly was. If the church seeks for truth, why not condemn this action and condemn the man who put in place, Mr. Brigham Young? Because the church worships it leaders, and sees them as demigods. Until this ceases, we will have to come to grips with the fact that the church will be of no help in certain matters.

Why do I bring this up? In an institute class this past week, the instructor said that this was similar to St. Peter not going to the Gentiles originally until he had a vision. It is indeed similar, but not for the reason that the instructor said. It is similar because St. Peter (along with many other Jews) believed that only the Jews would be saved, and he therefore hated the Gentiles This is similar to the fact that in Brigham Young's day, the negro was considered less than a human being and not of the same worth on Earth or in Heaven as a Caucasian. Jesus was a revolutionary, and his vision was to end racism and bring all into the family of God. Further, the vision would have been unnecessary if St. Peter had obeyed the Master's original instruction to take the gospel to the world with no restriction (Matthew 28: 19-20). Any who use this story to prove that the restriction o blacks had warrant from heaven should be treated with disgust, contempt, and ridicule.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

More Cardinal Pell

Watched another debate of Cardinal Pell's; he this time debates an atheist who used to be a Christian Pastor. The man to me is obviously a charlatan; but he is formidable debater. I think that Pell is triumphant again, but decide for yourself here

Enjoy.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Arguing With Richard Dawkins

As many of you probably know, there are few things I enjoy more than debate. If you ever have a serious conversation with me, it usually will turn into a debate of some sort, or morph into a very serious topic as one the things I truly hate in life is what is known as "small talk". In my spare time, I often watch debates, and this week I watched a certain debate 3 times. I usually always watch a debate more than once so I can truly analyze what both participants or sides are saying, but this debate was different. I actually really just liked listening to both men, similarly to the way I suppose that Herod loved to listen to John the Baptist. The debate was between evolutionary biologist and atheist activist Ricard Dawkins and his eminence Cardinal George Pell. The topic of the debate was is religion a force for good in the world, and 76 percent of people voted against the idea that it was. If you are interested in watching the debate, it can be viewed here.

I would like to contend with a certain point that was mentioned by Richard Dawkins. He was asked the question of where did he get his values as an atheist. He responded that there were no objective moral values, and that one must make up his own values. This idea is prominent in the works of one of my favorite philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as in the works of Bertrand Russell and J.L. Mackie. Simply put, it is nihilism; the philosophy that there is no such thing as values and that each person can make up his own, but each value is subjective rather than objective.

In answering what Professor Dawkins said, his eminence Cardinal Pell responded that if that were true, then there was nothing wrong with either of the atrocities of the Gulag or the Holocaust, because ultimately there are no objective moral values, so there is no such thing as right and wrong. His eminence pushed the issue even further, by showing that these things are the consequences of believing in Social Darwinism, which Dawkins protested. Dawkins said that he thought these things were not related to atheism; however they are where the atheistic argument truly leads. If there is no God, life is absurd, without value, and subjective. This was the view of the existentialists Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Satre.

Here is the point I want to make as I oppose Richard Dawkins idea. The point is that the atheistic worldview is lacking in values, where the Christian world is not. Because God is uncreated, uncaused, all-powerful, and maker of all things, he is the only objective being that can give us our values. If there is no God, there are no objective moral values, which means that our values come from either ourselves or our culture. This is a problem for the Richard Dawkins of the world, because they cannot state truthfully that the Holocaust or the Gulag were objectively wrong. They can only choose to believe that they were wrong. And, some atheists like Satre said that neither the Gulag or Holocaust were wrong and defended his country of France for not opposing the Nazis. All of this is fine if we want to live in a world without morals. But, as Richard Dawkins does seem to want to live in a world with morals, then he must turn to God. There is no other way.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sit Down, John!

One of my favorite musicals is 1776. Perhaps it is because of my love for this country and seeing it reenacted on stage, perhaps it is the humor, perhaps it is the fact that this is the one time I seem to be rooting for John Adams, I do not  know for sure. But I will always remember the fact that John Adams stands alone at the beginning championing independence for the United States, and the Continental Congress joins together in a song and sings "Sit Down, John!" Luckily, John did not stand down but carried through the courage of his convictions.

This week another John is being told that he must either sit down or be cast out. John Dehlin, Mormon Stories founder, has been summoned to a disciplinary council that will determine whether he will be disfellowshipped (not allowed to participate fully, but retain his membership) or excommunicated (have his membership stripped). The hearing is scheduled to occur one week hence. I assume that John will be excommunicated, I would be shocked if he did not.

The reason that John has been called into council are numerous, but they ultimately come down to three things: 1) John is not a believer and he and is network are hostile to the believing LDS world 2) John openly supports same-sex marriage, which is openly against church doctrine 3) He also supports Ordain Women, which advocates for the ordination of women within the LDS Church.

I am just going to focus on the first point, I have commented on the others in previous other blogs. John calls himself an "Unorthodox, unorthoprax Mormon" on his blog, which basically means that he does not believe at all in the central claims of Mormonism. So, the real question is not why the Church is going after John; the question is why he himself has not just resigned from the Church.

There is no reason to call yourself a Mormon or anything else if you do not believe in the central tenets of the organization. John himself has said that he does not believe and is critical of belief: there is no room for such people in this church or any church. John wants to play victim, but he is not one. Anyone who has done the same things he has done would be excommunicated; he just seems to have gotten leaders who have been patient with him up to this point. But, patience can only last so long.

Let me make this clear: John is not on trial for having doubts or not believing. Most, if not all, members of the Church, have doubts or questions. That is the Lord's way: faith seeks knowledge and knowledge never comes without questions. That is not what John is doing. John has made his conclusions, and is kicking against the pricks and fighting against the church. It will be a great day for the church when he is no longer a part of it. In fact, John isn't really in the church anyway as he no longer even attends as well as not being a believer. Farewell John. Have a nice life.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

First off, I would like to wish all of my readers a very happy and prosperous new year. As I said in a earlier post, if you made New Years Resolutions (which most people do), keep in mind you have the entire year to implement them, not just a few days. Do not be discouraged if change does not come immediately; it rarely does in life.

This post will focus on the scriptural implications of the story of Moses portrayed in Exodus:Gods and Kings. While there was some good elements in the film, many things in it were very unscriptural and detracted from the story. I will address just 5 here, but more could be made.

1. The first has to do with Moses and his relationship with God, who is portrayed as a small boy in the film. The main issue in the film is that Moses has great contempt and disdain for God, while in the Bible Moses has great respect for God and never raises his voice at him. Also, since God is portrayed as a small boy, he is always looking down to God rather than up to him.

2. Moses throughout the film is portrayed as a skeptic and atheist until he meets God personally. This is highly problematic since there is no mention of this in the Bible, and Moses being reared in Egypt would certainly have not been an atheist. Seems to be an almost anti-religious message that is very subtle, but recognizable to the alert.

3. Moses in the film is exiled after discovering that he is a Hebrew. This is highly inaccurate, as Moses was raised Egyptian but always knew he was a Hebrew. He fled Egypt because he killed and Egyptian who was beating a slave, who he knew were his brethren. In the film, Moses has great contempt for the slaves before he leaves Egypt, but in the Bible he seems to want to help them (Exodus 2).

4. In a very strange twist, Moses leaves his family to go to free his people. Oddly enough, Moses only has one son in the film, but in the Bible he has two. And when he leaves to return to Egypt he takes Zipporah and his sons with him. Perhaps this is a negative attack on the Master himself, who said that a man must leave his family to be worthy of him, but this was not the Saviors intent. Read Exodus 3-4 to discover the account of Moses' encounter with God, and Matthew 5-7 for the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus of Nazareth talks about families.

5. The plagues in the film seem to be very natural causes, and Moses is not at all involved in them and neither is Aaron his brother. Also, there are not ten plagues in the film, as the flies and lice were separate in the Biblical narrative, but combined in the film. However, in the Bible, Moses is commanded to use each plague and his people were not affected by them, but they are in the film. Also, Moses hardly ever talks to Pharaoh, where in the Biblical narrative he talks to him before and after each plague. Read Exodus 7-14 for the account of the 10 plagues.