Monday, January 28, 2008

We mourn

Our beloved prophet and president of the Church, Gordon Bitner Hinckley, has passed away.

We mourn because we will miss him. For him, it is surely a joyous event, passing into the arms of the Lord whom he served all of his life, and to the presence of his dear wife, who preceded him in death.

He has gone the way of all the earth and has "left a fame and name" that will long be remembered.

Pres. Hinckley took up the prophetic mantle the year that my wife and I were married.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Lady is a recommend

In Commentary, Part 2, (pp185-186) of the late LDS apologist Hugh Nibley's "Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri," we are introduced, albeit briefly, to Maat.

This chapter, and the book itself, is a subtle and appropriate comparison of the revealed LDS temple doctrines with the ancient, rather garbled Egyptian equivalent.

Maat is an Egyptian goddess but not really. Like so many of the earliest deities in myth, she is more concept than a specific being. She is truth, justice and order.

I remember encountering this phenomenon in Hesiod's "Theogony" and in the "Enuma Elish."

Justice, Victory, Wisdom, Discord, even Vengeance all had quasi-divine or anthropomorphic status among peoples of the ancient world -- perhaps this was the missing link between the original religion revealed to Adam and the degenerate, pagan theologies which ruled the world by Abraham's day.

Wisdom is even personified within the pages of the Bible.

Writes Nibley: Maat's presence [with the initiate in the temple] signifies that all is correct and in order -- the equivalent of a temple recommend. Maat herself is not a regular deity: she has no temple, cult [reader, please understand this term in the classical sense, not the modern notion of a"spurious religion"] or mythology of her own.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Should Mormons learn philosophy?

I am in my mid-30s. I have been an LDS missionary, a graduate of LDS seminary and later of Brigham Young University. I am active and participatory in Church, including Sunday School. I seek learning out of the best books, as the Lord advised in revelation.

So what to make of the fact that, until 20 minutes ago, I did not know the definition of "ontological?" I had to lean on my dictionary.

It's probably a basic word for a "traditional" Christian. Refers to being. As in the Trinitarian "ontological" unity of God. God is one in being.

I still don't understand how this concept is understood. What is the traditional Christian concept of "being"?

We are told as Latter-day Saints that the early Christian Church stumbled when it stepped off the rock of revelation and attempted to engage its intellectual tormentors in their own philosophical language. Thus words like "homeostasis," "essence," and the aforementioned "ontological" came into play, to try to make primitive Christianity agree with the Hellenic notions of a passionless, bodiless Prime Mover.

The Church does not want to make that mistake again. So the learning bloc on Sunday is kept as simple as possible, bereft of such terms. Every official Church gathering that I know of, keeps to those same rules.

But shouldn't the average Latter-day Saint at least be able to understand the terminology of his or her modern colleagues in Christianity? At least be able to say, "Here's the LDS response to the doctrine of one divine essence"?

We need to learn the words and how to respond to them. That is my opinion. We may find that we agree with other Christians more than we thought in some areas, and they might be able to realize that as well. We will find other areas in which we still sharply disagree. But at least we will be able to understand each other.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

False Prophet?

Some critics of the Church like to claim that the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied the Second Coming of the Lord in 1890.

This is the text, from History of the Church, on which they base their statements:

" I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:

"'Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.'

"I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face. I believe the coming of the son of Man will not be any sooner than that time."

Joseph Smith made this statement at a conference held at Ramus, IL, on April 2, 1843.

Only the most bitter or blighted of minds could possibly label this a false prophecy of the Second Coming. Joseph Smith himself declares that it wasn't a prophecy of such an event. And, in fact, he stated elsewhere:

"The Lord has not shown me any such sign ... The Lord will not come to reign over the righteous, in this world, in 1843, nor until everything for the Bridegroom is ready." -- HOC 5:291.

More information:

The emotions of God

Jesus wept.

So the scriptures say. But He was both man and God.

Does the Father weep?

The scriptures speak often of the anger of God.

And the Prologue to the Quran of Islam also speaks of the poor souls who have "earned the anger" of God.

Is this anger of the same type that we feel when confronted with injustices? If so, it almost seems that God Himself would be the most miserable of beings, cognizant of billions of daily injustices against His children all over the world.

Or is this anger simply a human way of attempting to describe the actions of God when confronted by sin? Man sins, God punishes according to divine law, impartially, like a courtroom judge, without emotional involvement.

Is God without passions, as the creeds of historic Christianity declare? Could such a God, though, truly love His children? Could I run to such a God when I reach heaven, and throw my arms around Him, as He throws His arms around me, and love Him and be loved by Him?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Plural marriage, change in the church and Joseph Smith

Dear world:

Yes, the Prophet Joseph Smith was sealed to more than one wife. No, this does not shake my faith. I believe I have known it since I was a teenager, in spite of the fact that many critics of the church are shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Joseph actually engaged in the very practice that was revealed to him as recorded in the Doctrine & Covenants. Apparently, in the minds of some, polygamy sprang fully formed, like Athena from Zeus, from the wild mind of Brother Brigham.

Shocked they also are that the Church doesn't rent billboards trumpeting this knowledge to the world. After all, a knowledge of the names of the wives of the Prophet will be required of every member hoping to achieve celestial glory. (I'm being a little sarcastic there.)

Yeah. Boggles the mind.

I know all about the Helen Kimball thing, too, the 14 year old to whom the Prophet was sealed in some capacity. It is quite a stretch, a very slanderous stretch, to call a man a pedophile -- our critics' new favorite word for the Prophet -- for being sealed and that not to a child but to a teenager. In many states of the US, it is still perfectly legal to marry a teenager. Furthermore, there is no clear evidence anywhere that the Prophet ever had any intimate relations with Helen Kimball. Sealing is a doctrine, like many doctrines, that took time to be fully and properly understood and fully unveiled.

The bigger picture: Aside from one line in the New Testament about certain qualifications of being a bishop, the Lord issues not one word of condemnation in the entire Bible about plural marriage and, in fact, even called the polygynous Abraham His friend.

Latter-day Saints do not practice this principle today, because the Lord can command and the Lord can revoke and He has currently revoked. Thus He had no problem with judicious use of wine in Biblical days but has told us to refrain in this modern era -- so please do not trot out that tired line about Timothy and his stomach or Jesus drinking wine so why don't we? Thus He forbade pork in Biblical days but does not forbid it now.

Silence is golden?


Nothing but silence.

When I created this blog, I expected silence at first. And perhaps it is still too early to be fretting about it.

It is a mixed blessing, I suppose. On the one hand, there is no point in a blog which no one reads and where no one posts comments. On the other hand, my subject is controversial and I am no master of rhetoric, no doctor of theology, no kind of brilliant intellectual. I am very comfortable within the pages of scripture but not so much in philosophical arguments -- homoestasis and transcendence and all that sort of thing.

I have visited a few blogs in hopes of drawing some interest here, so far without success. I could be a glutton for punishment, I suppose, and pass the news of this blog to Recovering From Mormonism or the anti-Mormon Saints Alive website, but I'm really not interested in that.

No, I want to talk with ordinary people, Mormons and others, keeping the discussion as simple as possible. I don't want to shy away from controversy but neither do I want to spend what little time I have here dealing with people who hate my faith.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Whence the unknowable God ...

I am currently reading "Lives," the magnum opus of the 1st century Roman writer Plutarch.

In his account of Numa Pompilius, the legendary successor to Romulus, Rome's first ruler, Plutarch speaks of the Greek Pythagoras thusly:

"[He] ... conceived of the first principle of being as transcending sense and passion, invisible and incorrupt and only to be apprehended by abstract intelligence ... all access to God [was] impossible except by the pure act of the intellect."

This doctrine of the Greeks found its way into the apostate Christian church through Greek converts steeped in the tradition, as it had earlier found its way into the Jewish church through the likes of such as Philo, and it reigns supreme today.

How refreshing and daring the declaration of Joseph Smith, supported by John 17, that we can know God, we MUST know God and that we, as Paul declared in Acts, are veritably His offspring. Though we are mortal and flawed and He is immortal and sinless, yet He declares throughout scripture that we are His children.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Book of Mormon names

I'm kind of jumping ahead of my schedule here, but someone -- I wish I could remember on what website -- recently poked fun at the name of one of the early characters in the Book of Mormon, Sam, the brother of Nephi.

"That's a Yankee name, not a Hebrew one," she wrote.

Well, tell the current leader of North Korea or many other Koreans that Kim is an American girl's name and see what they have to say about that.

Sam, according to the late apologist Hugh Nibley, who spoke Arabic, Egyptian and Hebrew, is a perfectly good Egyptian name, the normal Arabic form of Shem and possibly even a Hebrew dialectic version of that same name.

God, continued

I visited a blog today whose author subscribes to the Athanasian Creed, as do most -- but not all -- Christians. Latter-Day Saints are among those who do not feel bound by this post-Biblical exposition.

It reads thusly:

"Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith.
Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.
Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.
For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.
But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.
What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.
Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.
The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.
Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit:
And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal;
as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.
Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit:
And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.
Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God:
And yet there are not three gods, but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord:
And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.
As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten;
the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father;
the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.
And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other;
but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.
Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.
It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh.
For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and man.
He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother --
existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body;
equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.
Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.
He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.
He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.
For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.
He suffered death for our salvation.
He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.
Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith.
One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully."

What, I wonder, is the definition of "being" as described here, and how is it different from a person?

Brief review of Hilton's "My Burning Bush"

My Sweetie bought me a book for Christmas, by Nancy Goldberg Hilton.

It's titled: "My Burning Bush: My Spiritual Journey from Judaism to the Lord Jesus Christ."

It is essentially the story of a Jew who became a Mormon.

I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were Jewish and reading this book. Is it the Mormon version of one of the de-conversion stories of former Mormons found on so many websites -- the sort of story that makes a believer in the spurned religion grit their teeth and shake their head?

Hilton actually treats Judaism with the greatest respect and still speaks of herself as Jewish. She asserts difficulties with only three of its major doctrines: no resurrection; no modern miracles or prophecy; and, of course, that the Messiah is yet to come. (These are beliefs proclaimed openly by Jews with whom I have relationships today.)

She felt a desire to leave behind these doctrines and embrace their opposites, and the book explains her journey to find a spiritual home where she could do so.

This differs from all those people who "come out" of Mormonism and then accuse the Church of believing or not believing Doctrine X, Y and Z, when Mormons would strongly disagree with such an assertion.

Her book would be more like the story of a Mormon who always felt in his or deepest soul that Mary was a life-long virgin and that the beautified saints truly offer intercession -- and so became Catholic.

I am currently reading another book that speaks of Judaism and Christianity, James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword." It strikes a certain sore spot, as it condemns the supercessionism that has poisoned Jewish-Christian relations since the faiths diverged nearly 2,000 years ago.

Hilton found solace in the LDS Church as the first Christian church she visited that did not proclaim hatred of the Jews. In my 30 years as a member, I concur with her report, although individual members may have their own prejudices.

However, to be fair, the very foundations of the LDS Church are rooted in supercessionism and it is a common doctrine in the Book of Mormon. If I were Jewish, investigating the Church, that would bother me.

She talks about the joy that she has as a Latter-day Saint, of being able to research Jewish ancestral lines and share the information with Jewish researchers, but Jews have also been frustrated by LDS temple baptisms for the victims of the Holocaust, a controversy which perhaps she ought to have mentioned

The LDS Church also proclaims that a sort of reverse supercessionism will someday take place -- that sons of Levi will someday lead the Priesthood, that the Jews will recover their birthright, that they are not doomed, condemned.

But these would be Jews who have become Christian, Jews would counter, so we are back to the ancient goal of Christians -- a juden-rein world, Jews embraced but only after they cease to be Jews.

It is a complex and often painful subject, Jewish-Christian relations.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Who is God?

"We believe in God the Eternal Father and in his son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."

-- First Article of Faith, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One God in purpose, but three Beings. The Godhead -- a valid, New Testament term.

Or one could imagine drawing a circle around God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost and labeling God that which is within the circle. Both Latter-day Saints and other Christians can do this without violating their respective beliefs about deity.

Thanks for dropping in!

My name is Cliff and I am glad you dropped in. I hope that we can have some respectful, useful conversations here.

I have created this blog as a way to discuss that which is most important to me, my faith in Jesus Christ and my belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called Mormons) is His restored church today.

My opinions expressed here are my own. I cannot presume to speak for the Church.

Please do not post long lists of cut-and-paste charges against the Church. Please remain respectful -- of any church or faith group that is discussed here.

I'm a busy guy. I may not visit here everyday. I may not answer posts for several days either.

I try to be a well-read person. I have read the Bible cover-to-cover almost three times now, as well as the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price -- the latter three being books that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to be scripture along with the Bible. Scripture ... words written by the inspiration of God, not the inspiration of man, so don't insult my intelligence by quoting Revelations 22:18. God can add to His words anytime that He pleases.

I've also read pretty much every anti-Mormon book and pamphlet out there, so there's not much that will surprise me.

My other interests include wild food foraging, gardening, classic literature, science, geology and geography. We can talk about that too!