Monday, June 30, 2008

Power of the Word, Friendship

I just stumbled across the blog of a person in Indiana who is passionate about giving free copies of the Book of Mormon to anyone he can, most particularly those whose native language is not English. I believe his practice is to give an English Book of Mormon in addition to the specific foreign language copy, thus enabling that person to use the Book of Mormon as a means to improve his or her English language skills in addition to learning more about God and Jesus Christ.

While on my mission to Samoa, I used a side-by-side, verse-by-verse comparison of English and Samoan copies of the Book of Mormon to help me learn Samoan. This practice helped immensely. If you are familiar with the movie the Other Side of Heaven, which was first a book, you will remember that Elder John Groberg had a particularly remarkable experience as he used his Tongan and English Bibles to help him learn Tongan. There is power in the word of God.

Bookslinger, the blogger in Indiana, has personally given out copies of the Book of Mormon in 56 different languages! Here's the list as it appears on Bookslinger's blog:

Afrikaans (South Africa), Albanian (Nov 2007), Amharic (Ethiopia), Arabic, Bengali (Bangladesh, India), Cambodian, Cebuano (Philippines), Croatian, Dutch, Chinese, English, Fante (Ghana), French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hiligaynon (aka Ilonggo) (Philippines), Hindi (India), Hungarian, Igbo (Nigeria), Ilokano (Philippines), Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kisii (Kenya), Korean, Laotian, Latvian, Lingala (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Lithuanian, Mongolian, Navajo, Persian (aka Farsi) (Iran), Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Shona (Zimbabwe), Sinhala (India), Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya), Tagalog (Philippines), Tamil (Sri Lanka, India), Telugu (India), Thai, Tongan, Tswana (Botswana), Turkish, Twi (Ghana), Ukrainian, Urdu (Pakistan), Vietnamese, Xhosa (South Africa), Yoruba (Nigeria), Zulu (South Africa).

I can't help but be impressed by his efforts. I'm sure that he's made a number of friends simply by showing that he cares, that he's interested in people, and that he wants them to have reading material in their native languages. I know the importance of that from personal experience.

When I was in Samoa, I met an elderly man named Allen. He had been in the islands for decades but still didn't know much, if any, Samoan. He told Elder L. and me that he was a Southern Baptist and knew his Bible (which he did) and that he wasn't going to change religions. We visited him anyway because he liked to talk to us and we liked to hear him talk. He'd tell us about his life in Alaska and in Samoa. He once said that he'd read anything he could get in English, so we started taking him copies of the Church News. I explained to him that we weren't trying to push religion on him as much as we wanted to give him something to read. Many of the articles in the Church News are about men and women of Allen's generation. He did enjoy reading them. I never taught Allen a single lesson about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints per his suggestion that he wasn't going to change religions. But we became friends anyway.

Sometime after I was transferred out of the Pesega area in which Allen lived, I received the news that Allen had been baptized, he became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a 70 to 80 year old man Allen found a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He did so, in part, because he felt genuine concern for his well-being from a number of young men who represented Jesus Christ and who visited him regularly as friends.

I share this experience, and those of Bookslinger, to show that there really are no ulterior motives in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ when we are motivated by a spirit of love and friendship.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Strawberry Daze

Deb and I went this past Saturday with some friends to Pleasant Grove's Strawberry Days. Our express purpose in going was to engorge ourselves on all things strawberry: pies, tarts, shakes, jams, jellies, whatever.

According to the official website, "Because of the abundant strawberry crop every summer, 'Strawberry Days' was created." Apparently no other "community celebration" in Utah has been around as long as Strawberry Days.

Alas, my vision of pie-eating contests and general binging on strawberry products was gravely myopic. As pointed out by Katie, one of our friends who accompanied us to the festival, "The only strawberries we found were from California and sold in small over priced cups with cream." By "over priced" Katie meant a buck-twenty-five for an 8 fluid-ounce cup filled with strawberries and cream of an unknown composition.

A look at the official website reveals the reason for the "severe lack of strawberries," as Katie mildly put it: "The strawberry fields are now gone, taken over by development." At this point I think it would be more fitting to rename the festival "Memories of Strawberries Days;" difficult to say due to the snakish consonance, but more reflective of the destructive consequences of overdevelopment.

Once we got past the misnomer, however, Strawberry Days proved quite fun. We spent time with good friends: Katie, as mentioned, and Joe and Whitney. I had my first funnel cake: What a delectable morsel! And later on, we bought a flat of strawberries at Costco, a watermelon from a fruit stand, and spent the rest of the afternoon at a swimming pool.

Deb, Me in a "strawberryless daze", and the funnel cake

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Samoa Part 17: Samoa Lite

In Samoa, it's safest not to take oneself, or others, too seriously. The following are some mini-adventures that helped me look at the lighter side of life.

The House, Band

One day Elder L. and I went home briefly before heading back out to make some visits, and right as we closed the door we realized that the keys were locked inside the house.

After dinner we went to the mission home to find the assistants to the mission president to have them open our house. They weren’t there so we visited with an American couple who worked in the mission office. They helped us locate the assistants.

The assistants took us back to our place and we soon found out that none of their keys worked. So in the end, after losing an hour or so looking for the assistants, we had to break into our house anyway.

That same night the most popular local band, the Evaeva band, played in the bar located over the fence from us. The music was very loud and kept us up until around 1:00 am—normal lights out time for missionaries is 10:30 pm. Though I now like to hear the occasional Evaeva band song, nostalgia I think, at the time I didn’t quite appreciate their sound. It consisted of keyboards, a bass guitar, a drum synthesizing machine, and the singer’s falsetto.

The Coconut

Another time while we visited with a family, one of the family members named Ioane brought us a drinking coconut. For those who don’t know, there are some significant differences between a drinking coconut and the ripe coconuts that we get stateside in the grocery stores. First, the drinking coconut has a green husk. It’s just as big as the fully ripened coconut in its dry, brown husk but it weighs a lot more because of the moisture in the green husk. Second, though both a green and a brown coconut have liquid inside of them, and both are drinkable, the green coconut has more and tastes better. Third, the meat in the green coconut is still soft; it is very delicious. Fourth, the milk of a coconut comes from a brown, ripe coconut; it has to be pressed out of the ground meat—it is not the clear fluid in the center of the nut as some think. A green coconut has little if any coconut milk.

Anyway, Elder L. decided he wanted to personally husk the coconut. He poked it onto the nearby husk removing stick but he accidentally popped it and lost some of the juice. Jokingly, I said to Elder L., “Is your climbing good?” He answered in the affirmative. So I said, “Ok, that’s good; let’s go and get some other coconuts.”

We walked to the coconut tree down the hill, being followed all the way by an incredulous Ioane. We could hear laughter from behind us because the people watching thought we were crazy. Sure enough, Elder L. climbed the tree and got about seven or so coconuts, all while dressed in slacks, a white shirt, and a tie.

The Breadfruit Bomb Attack

On another occasion, Elder L. and I were walking along the roadside and a little girl with an umbrella (to protect her from the sun) was walking maybe eight feet in front of us. As we all passed underneath a gigantic breadfruit tree, a huge breadfruit dropped just behind the little girl, barely missing her, and splattered in front of Elder L. and me. If the girl were a bit slower, or if we were a little faster, then the day would have swiftly ended in gooey disaster. The breadfruit was nasty and rotten and reeked as only rotten breadfruit can. Ever after we were a bit wary of walking underneath breadfruit trees.

The Delicious, "Malicious" Recipe

For my birthday I got a package in the mail from my mom, and for some strange reason she included the following recipe for whipped strawberry pie:

1 pkg strawberry gelatin dessert (4-serving size)
2/3 cup boiling water
2 cups ice cubes
4 cups thawed whipped topping
1/3 cup each mashed strawberries, whole raspberries, and whole blueberries
1 graham crust

Directions: Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add ice cubes and stir until gelatin starts to thicken. Remove unmelted ice. Blend whipped topping and gelatin. Fold in fruit. Spoon into crust. Chill for 3-4 hours.

--The Magic of Jello, pg. 100

I’m not sure why my mom sent the recipe, in fact I never found out, but Elder L. and I decided it wasn’t very nice: it taunted us with how good it would have been to eat one—or four—of them.

The Pit of Despair

Elder L. and I were walking through a part of our area and passed behind the back of a house to take a shortcut to our destination. Elder L. took the lead through what appeared to be simply a slightly sunken trash pit. Much to his surprise and consternation, however, it was quite deep—almost knee deep in some places—and was not only a trash pit but it also served as a drain for the shower building right next to it!

Elder L. took a few floundering steps to get across only to find out on the other side that one of his shoes was pulled off by the suction caused by the mud. So he had to do a little searching with his bare hands to find his shoe, which he did, and he used the shower room right next to the pit to clean off his pants and socks and shoes.

I was laughing so hard the whole time that a neighbor lady and some of the neighborhood kids came over and had a good laugh as well. No physical harm came to Elder L. He’s just fortunate that the toilet didn’t drain into that pit, or things might have been a little different.

A Drink from the Firehose

Once we had planned to have a baptism on a Saturday evening for three of our investigators. That day Elder L. and I went out as usual and made visits to teach the gospel but returned to the chapel at about 3:30 pm to fill the baptismal font. We were used to it filling within an hour and a half, which would put us at 5:00 pm, just in time to start the meeting.

After an hour’s time, however, only a foot of water had accumulated in the font. We immediately sensed that we were in a bit of trouble: baptism is by immersion and one of our investigators was a man of at least 6 feet in height.

People began arriving at about 4:45 pm and still we didn’t have enough water to baptize an infant (which we don’t practice) let alone a 9 year old girl or a grown man. Bishop Adams suggested that we call the fire department to have a truck come down and fill the font. He said it’d probably cost around ST$150.*

We didn’t want to spend that kind of money if we didn’t have to so we opted to run around the corner to a friend’s house and borrow their hose. Even with the hose running we could see that we wouldn’t get enough water fast enough, so we relented to Bishop Adams and he called the fire department. They came out and filled the font with a large tanker truck and said it was free of charge. Bishop Adams did give them a ST$50 tip though.

After the baptisms, Elder L. leaned in to pull out a four foot tall pipe plugging the drain. It was stuck in good so Elder L. really tugged on it. When it popped out, the liberated pipe in his hand caused Elder L.’s weight to shift forward and he fell into the water. So although he hadn’t actually performed the baptisms, he got wetter than he would have had he performed the ordinance.

Thunderstruck

One night I knelt down to pray and ended up falling asleep. All of a sudden, with great fear in my heart I woke up to a terrible noise and the house being shaken. The thought occurred to me that maybe I had incurred the Lord’s wrath for falling asleep while praying.

As could be expected, my knees really hurt from being asleep on them for at least an hour. So I painfully rolled into bed and tried to fall asleep but the house was shaking again and a great rumble was in the heavens above.

It was the loudest, strongest thunder that I’ve ever experienced. It was so loud and so strong that it seemed to me that lightning had struck maybe no more than 100 yards away. But strangely, there was no flash preceding the thunder, neither was there a super loud crack, only an extremely powerful rumbling. The mysterious thunder happened two nights in a row and it scared me to death each time. On a subsequent day I asked someone if she heard the thunder too. She said that it was just as strong where they lived some distance away from our place.

*ST = Samoan Tālā, the local currency, at the time roughly a third of the value of the American dollar.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Favorite Jokes

Every now and then it's good to break up the monotony of life--and thesis--with some good ol' fashioned humor. Here are some of my favorite jokes.

What's brown and sticky? A stick.

One my younger brother made up when he was about 4 years old:

Why did the plum tree fall down? Because there were too many ducks in it.

And one my dad made up:

A cowboy and one of his cows walk into a bar. The bar tender looks at the cowboy and says, "Hey, we don't serve your kine here."

I admit, I love dry, corny jokes. I'm also a sucker for puns--so much so that as a kid I wanted to write a theatrical production entitled "Pun: A Play on Words."

I'd love to know your favorite jokes, but here are the rules: they have to be clean, non-racist, or derogatory in any way. True humor is fun and healthy and builds people up.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Moderation in All Things?

If the analysis which follows seems a tad pedantic, then, I confess, I’m guilty as charged. Before I knew the meaning of the word, I hadn’t realized how aptly it describes my tendency to overemphasize minutiae. The power of language is remarkable.

If I may, however, indulge my inner pedant and bring to the forefront of our collective consciousness an issue which needs addressing.

Do we really mean it when we say, “Moderation in all things?” Or has this trite aphorism become so cliché, so knee-jerk, that it pops out before we realize the full import of what we’re really saying?

Perhaps all things doesn’t really mean all things. If I were a non-native English speaker, or didn’t speak English at all, how would you explain this concept to me so I might understand its nuances?

In the spirit of moderation in all things, am I justified in attending my Sabbath meetings only twice a month? All of a sudden, four times seems a bit overzealous, don’t you think? Though I’ve covenanted to consecrate all that I am and have to the Lord, should I consecrate in moderation?

As a strict abstainer should I begin a moderate consumption of alcohol? Tobacco? Illicit drugs? Pornography? How would the recovering addict manage the concept of moderation? Should an addict continue in the moderate use of the substance whose grips he or she is seeking to escape?

In the frigid wintertime, should I wear a moderate amount of clothing? In the blistering heat of summer, should I consume fluids only moderately?

Should I exercise strict moderation in my marriage? Should I give my wife only a moderate quantity of my time or a moderate amount of my attention? Should I only be moderately faithful to her? Should I expect only moderation in return?

When we have teenagers, should my wife and I teach them moderation in premarital sex? Should we encourage moderation in grades—encourage a C-average?

The list could go on and on, but just because I’m pedantic doesn’t mean you have to be. Moderation in all things, right?

Or maybe life requires abstinence in some things, moderation in others, and zeal in yet others.

Monday, June 9, 2008

One of My Favorite Books

One of my all-time favorite books is the Book of Mormon. I’d like to dedicate some posts to explaining why this book is so important to me. Today, let me explain a bit about the book itself, what it is and what it is not.

The Book of Mormon, subtitled as Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is a translation of an abridgement of records from three ancient civilizations called the Nephites, Lamanites, and Jaredites. The abridgement was largely made by an ancient prophet named Mormon (hence, Book of Mormon), and finished by his son, Moroni, who buried the record in a hill in upstate New York. Nearly fourteen hundred years later, the then resurrected Moroni led Joseph Smith to the record.

Joseph Smith, an unlearned, backwoods man, translated the record by the “gift and power of God.” Wrote Elder Jeffery R. Holland,

No other origin for the Book of Mormon has ever come to light because no other account than the one Joseph Smith and these witnesses gave can truthfully be given. There is no other clandestine "author," no elusive ghostwriter still waiting in the wings after a century and a half for the chance to stride forward and startle the religious world. Indeed, that any writer—Joseph Smith or anyone else—could create the Book of Mormon out of whole cloth would be an infinitely greater miracle than that young Joseph translated it from an ancient record by "the gift and power of God."

On occasion this young prophet dictated his translation at white-hot speed, turning out as many as ten present-day pages in a sitting and ultimately producing the whole manuscript in something less than ninety working days. Those who have ever translated any text will understand what this means, especially when remembering it took fifty English scholars seven years (using generally superb and readily available translations for a starting point) to produce the King James Bible at the rate of one page per day. (1)


I have tried my hand at translation and can personally attest to its difficulty. To further illustrate the task that Joseph Smith accomplished, Hugh Nibley frequently gave a mock assignment to his “mostly Moslem” students enrolled in a Book of Mormon class at Brigham Young University:

Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names—hundreds of them—pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 B.C.; be lavish with cultural and technical details—manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials. Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up—we have our little joke—but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim—they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck! (2)


Nibley reported that nobody ever completed the assignment.

But what of its purpose? The book’s title page, which Joseph Smith said he translated from the golden plates, indicates that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is threefold: 1) “…to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers,” 2) “that they [the remnant of the House of Israel] may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever,” and 3) to convince “the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations….”

In other words, the Book of Mormon is a book of scripture, written not only to God’s ancient covenant people, but to any who aspire to join them in the covenant.

The Book of Mormon is not given to supplant the Bible. In fact, the case made by the Bible, that Jesus is the Christ, is strengthened by the message in the Book of Mormon. Together, the Bible and the Book of Mormon are formidable opponents to the enemies of religion in general, and especially Christianity.

So let me tell you what the Book of Mormon isn’t. It’s not a book of great English grammar. Joseph Smith had a very rudimentary education. One could expect that his manner of expression would be very humble—and it was—and that it would show through in his translation—and it does. But anyone who seriously studies the Book of Mormon cannot help but marvel at its plainness and simplicity, yet remarkable profundity.

Also, the Book of Mormon is not a book to take lightly. It’s a book with a very specific message to the world. It teaches of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It teaches faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer of humankind. It teaches repentance of sins, baptism by immersion for the remission of those sins, and of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. In short, it raises the voice of warning to all the world to prepare the way for Jesus' Second Coming.

I highly recommend the Book of Mormon to anyone even remotely interested in religious matters. That your life can, and mostly likely will, be enriched as you study the Book of Mormon and live its teachings I have little doubt. But you don’t have to take my word for it, you can access it here for free and start your reading today.

1. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997, 349.

2. Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989, 221.

Friday, June 6, 2008

To Jesse

Thanks, Jesse, for your response. I think that you made many good points which ought to be addressed. I hope that this indicates that I am both willing and eager to address these issues with open ears, eyes, mind, and heart.

It is critical that a conversation revolves around a mutually agreeable criterion or criteria. I’ve learned that it’s important to “operationally define the terms,” as one of my professors always says, to ensure that we’re all on the same page, not talking about completely different issues using the same terminology.

One reason I started this blog was to improve my writing. I believe that in writing frequently, and in addressing important and even divisive issues, I will improve my ability to put forward a logically sound argument for my personal beliefs. I gratefully welcome any and all illustrations of weaknesses in my logic.

You mentioned a concern that “what's particularly dangerous about persuasive and illogical rhetoric like this is that most folks who agree with you and read this won't catch that slip(ery slope).” From the very outset, I have been concerned that readers would categorically accept everything that I say without analyzing all the implications of the lines of logic that I use. Thus, I appreciate useful feedback such as yours. And, I consider your response to epitomize civility and mutual respect despite the differences in opinion we may have had or currently have.

As you pointed out, the examples used in my slippery-slope logic were a little weak. Both real-life examples were drawn from instances which were non-consensual. What I failed to pose was the possibility that some people may approach similar scenarios consensually.

We live in an age when medical technology can provide the means whereby any two consenting individuals could have sexual relations without any risk of offspring, thus preventing any possible birth defects. Some would possibly argue that traditional systems of societal morals concerning incest are now obsolete because of these advances in medical technology. Should we strike incest laws from the books as they relate to consensual relationships?

Or how about the particularly precocious child or adolescent, what if he or she views his or her participation in a marital relationship to be completely consensual? What if the pedophile (as we now classify him or her) happens to find a child or adolescent who consents to marriage? Is that person still a pedophile? My question is why does the law maintain certain regulations for marriage at all? Why stop at gay marriage: Wouldn’t that be discriminatory towards all these other potential special-interest groups?

As to my series of rhetorical questions, I consider these some of the most important questions of life. My personal criterion which provides the foundation upon which I try to answer these questions comes down to a single point: my belief in God. And here is my line of logic which flows from my belief in God.

I believe that God is the creator and ruler of the universe. As such, I believe that God is the source of all law and morality. I believe that we are literally God’s children and that we are accountable to Him, that God loves us, and that He communicates His laws and morals to His children via revelation. One avenue of revelation is through prophets. The concept of prophets of God implies an authority to speak in God’s name. We’ve discussed the issue of authority before. The issue isn’t whether the prophet is a man or woman, the issue is whether an individual claiming to be a prophet has God’s authorization or not. If you knew that there was a God, and that someone was truly His authorized prophet, wouldn’t you listen?

People I consider authorized prophets, both ancient and modern, have taught God’s morality, which is abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity after; chastity in thought, word, and deed both before and after marriage; marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God; abuse of any type is an abomination and an affront to God; and repentance is possible for anyone, but is made possible only because God’s Son, Jesus Christ, satisfied the immutable, eternal, and infinite law of justice, which states that any soul in violation of God’s will is unclean, and that no unclean thing can enter into God’s presence because He is clean.

The grounds on which I base my arguments submit that God has a plan for His children that is designed for their happiness. If we pursue the path that leads to that happiness, then we will find it. And what is that path? Keeping the commandments of God. But how do I know which are His commandments? By finding the authorized prophets and listening to their messages from God.

Answers to the individual rhetorical questions will have to wait for future posts. But I have addressed some of them in previous posts: On the Existence of God; A Day to Celebrate God-Given Rights; The Consequences of Atheism; A Few Thoughts, Some Not Enjoyable; and the text that I borrowed from my wife, Determinism, Individualism, and Relativism.

To better understand some of my religious views which guide my thoughts on morality, consider the implications of other previous posts: How to Receive and Recognize Answers from God; The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles; Jesus Christ and Atonement; and God the Father.

Now, I should address the concern that my post incites hatred. That was not the intent at all. I do not believe that anyone is deserving of hatred, and anyone who would misconstrue my words to justify hatred toward any group is wrong. I so emphatically stated at the end of my post that I do not hate homosexuals because it seems, and I could be wrong on this, that too often in our society if someone states his or her strong views about this issue, he or she is branded as a hate-filled bigot. When did ideological disagreement equate hatred? We can agree to disagree if necessary. We can even work against each other but be agreeable in the process. We don’t actually have to harbor hate in order for there to be a legitimate disagreement or open discussion of the same. Thus, the individual who states, as you did, "Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is merely reflecting what he or she sees in God as I presented Him earlier: that He is clean, that no unclean thing can dwell with Him, that He wants us to dwell with Him because He is our Father and we are His children, therefore He gives commandments and institutes laws designed to ensure our happiness with Him in His presence if we follow them and are made clean by virtue of Jesus Christ’s atoning grace.

Just briefly, the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have addressed the issue of abuse. One masterfully presented talk on this serious issue was made by Elder Richard G. Scott, an Apostle, in April 2008. You can find the full text of his talk here.

I don’t think that I’ve even scratched the surface, but I’ll stop here for now. I hope that we (all) can continue to civilly consider these issues. They are that important.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Determinism, Individualism, and Relativism

Deb, my wife, wrote this for one of her classes this past semester. Because it’s so clear and concise—two qualities that my writing often lacks—and because I liked so much what she wrote, I asked her if I could post it on my blog. I fully share the ideas expressed herein.

Psychological Theories and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Modern theories of psychology can represent a problem to Christian psychologists who wish to help people achieve a greater quality of life through therapeutic counseling. Often, these theories, if examined closely, do not provide any hope for change in clients and, from a Christian perspective, contradict many important principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Three of these problematic characteristics include determinism, individualism, and relativism. If a theory contains or leads to any of these interrelated characteristics, it is irreconcilable with the gospel.

The first problematic characteristic of many theories of psychology is determinism. Determinism expresses the idea that all of the attributes of human beings can ultimately be traced back to a biological cause. According to determinism, there is something in our chemical makeup, be it hormones, nerve firings, or interactions of basic elements, which causes our actions. The first problem with determinism is that it eliminates agency, for if our actions are controlled by our biology, there is nothing we can do to change our behavior. Agency, or the ability to act according to our desires, is an essential principle in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Additionally, determinism removes any meaning associated with our actions. If we can’t not do something, then it does not mean anything if we do it, because we had to. There was no alternative. For example, saying “I love you” would be meaningless if we did not choose to do so. We could program a computer to say “I love you,” but it would not be meaningful because it would not be able to do anything other than say “I love you.”

Along with a loss of meaning comes a loss of morality. For, if we are biologically determined to act a certain way, there can be no consequences or punishments for our actions. We cannot be held responsible for actions we had no control over. Thus, if there can be no consequences, there can be no foundation for right or wrong. This leads us into the second problematic characteristic found in many theories, that of relativism. Relativism is the notion that all actions are of equal value. There is no right or wrong, but everyone should do what they feel is best for them. Relativism shares many of the same outcomes as determinism. These include a loss of morality because if all actions are equal then murder is as justified as saving someone’s life. If every decision is considered good, there can be no morality or immorality.

With relativism, meaning is also lost. If all things are equally good, then we have no standard by which to compare. Beauty cannot be appreciated if all things are beautiful. There must be contrast to have meaning. If everything is beautiful, then it makes no difference if I think something is beautiful, because there is nothing ugly or plain. Beauty is the only option, and thus it is meaningless.

Relativism in a theory is a fatal flaw in an attempt to reconcile that theory with the gospel, because the gospel relies on a law that distinguishes good from evil. Morality is key to the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is by a standard of righteousness that our works will be judged after we die. If there is no good and no evil, that is all things are considered equal, then there can be no need for a Savior, no heaven, and no God.

The third problematic characteristic of many theories is individualism. Individualism often stands as a precursor to relativism. Individualism identifies the self as the most important being. It states that each person should do what he feels is best for him without consideration for the impact it will have on other people, his environment, etc. A person who is focused on himself sees other people as either a tool to increase their own pleasure and success or as a threat to it. Thus, hedonism is intimately connected to individualism. It is through this hedonism that relativism stems from individualism. As each person seeks for his own pleasure above all else, acceptable means to accomplish this shift until anything is tolerable as long as it brings pleasure or success to the doer of it.

Relationships are essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The family is central to our salvation and is the fundamental unit of societies. We are born into families and are thus already in relation with one another. These families are under obligation to teach and love one another. Parents often make sacrifices for the benefit of their spouse and children. There is nothing individualistic about these beliefs. There are many things that Christian theology requires of us that are opposed to the idea of individualism, such as serving without payment or compensation. We serve with no thought toward personal reward for such actions.

Each of these problematic characteristics, determinism, relativism, and individualism, are interconnected. They all play a part in the loss of meaning, morality, and agency. Determinism declares that ultimately, we cannot control our actions. If our actions cannot be controlled then we cannot be held responsible for them. Relativism states that all actions are neither good nor bad. Therefore, all actions must be considered of equal value because they are done to benefit the individual doing them. Individualism claims that the individual is more important than any relationship that he might be in, and so all actions should increase his own pleasure and success.

Each of these three characteristics represents a flaw that if present in a theory should indicate that that theory is not compatible with a belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A final trait that each of these characteristics have in common is that they lead to despair. If a person cannot control his actions, he cannot make changes for the better and is thus stuck in his misery. If all actions are relative, there can be neither beauty nor joy—for all things are equal, no thing is better than any other thing. If only the individual matters, then putting effort into a relationship and expecting love in return is futile. The gospel provides an avenue of hope, a solution for despair.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Interpret This!

I had a dream the other night night; not an important one, but an interesting one.

Deb and I were shopping. She picked up a premeasured bulk-bag of popcorn seeds and another of powdered cheesy topping for the popcorn. The display had a large sign labeled, BINKO, and I noticed that on the bags of popcorn was a sticker advertising a BINGO night at the store for a Samoan fundraiser (specifically for the EFKS—Samoan Christian congregational church).

We went to the BINKO night and were seated at the end of the cereal aisle, though it also had conveniently located milk (or milk substitute) in a box (UHT-ultra heat treated for long shelf life) as well.

We started playing BINKO, using wooden Scrabble-like tiles (sans engraved letters) to cover our called squares which proved more a hassle than anything (In Samoa, they use markers—liquid filled with a sponge-like application tip—to mark the squares on the BINGO cards).

In time, I had all but one tile filled in a row—the score cards were much larger with more spaces than in traditional BINGO. The outer three spaces all around the board were, for some reason, called the “safety zone.” A lady one down from us was in the same situation as I—all but one space in a row filled, the empty space in the safety zone.

At that point, we’d been using our BINKO cards for a time with no winners. The judge decided that the cards were defective and that any with a nearly complete row (or column or diagonal) with the missing space in the safety zone was a winning card.

The lady and I each called out “BINKO, BINKO, BINKO!” and got to go to the prize booth to choose a prize. Because of the defunct-card situation, we were not given the option to choose the actual prize, rather we could choose from a grab bag of goodies.

I chose a Ziploc back with four Chips Ahoy cookies in it and took them back to our table to share with Deb.

Significantly, in real life, Deb and I have been in a sugar fast of sorts. But in my dream I decided that I was sick of the fast, I was going to eat my cookie prize (two of the four). I looked up and to my left down the aisle and retrieved a boxed milk (or substitute) called “Protest.” It was situated next to the Cocoa Puffs Charged—caffeinated Cocoa Puffs.

I joked that the milk was called Protest in reference to its taste. But it tasted fine with the cookies.

Deb and I were not stealing the Protest milk, or the boxed orange juice that we were also working on. We intended to take the empty containers to the register and pay for them after BINKO.

I looked up again at the shelf to see the price of the Protest: $9.95 or something outrageous like that.

In a much earlier segment of the dream, we were driving, amazed at the number of highschoolers with 80s-style Corvettes parked on the sides of the road. I commented that they were parked like that because they couldn’t afford the price of gasoline—upwards to $5.

Thus was my dream. Each prize level had a BINKO card requiring a separate buy-in. As the quality of prizes increased, so did the price of the BINKO cards. Apparently, we were at the beginning, hence less expensive, part of the night for my prize to have been four Chips Ahoy cookies.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

God the Father

As I mentioned previously, one of the Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” I would like to direct my comments today toward God the Eternal Father.

On the Nature of God

I do not believe in an incorporeal, unapproachable, unknowable God. The Bible does not paint such a picture of God, neither do other texts which I consider sacred scripture. Rather, “[God the] Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's” (D&C 130:22). Joseph Smith, one of God’s prophets, taught,

God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible,—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another….


That God is unapproachable is likewise unscriptural. Jesus, Himself the Son of God, taught us how to pray to God, and that not by rote, but from the heart, as one speaks to one’s father. In fact, the imperative to pray always appears 14 times in scripture (Luke 21:36; 2 Nephi 32:9; 3 Nephi 18:15, 18; D&C 10:5; 19:38; 20:33; 31:12; 32:4; 61:39; 88:126; 90:24; 93:49, 50). Reasonably we might ask the question, “If we are commanded to pray to God, should we not expect direct communication with Him as the ancients had as recorded in scripture?”

That God is unknowable in any form is both contradictory to the idea of an approachable God and with the scriptural account. To the Athenians on Mar’s hill Paul declared, “I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God…made the world and all things therein… and hath determined…that [his offspring] should seek…and find him…” (Acts 17:23, 24, 26, 27).

Truly, finite “man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9)—including the infinite scope of God’s nature—but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t want us to understand Him to some degree. Else, why reveal in the scriptures that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, or just, or merciful, or truthful, etc.? To understand those characteristics of God is the beginning of knowing God.

Did not Jesus say, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent?” (John 17:3, emphasis added). Would Jesus have said that if He hadn’t meant it? We can only conclude that God is knowable. And how do we come to know God?

First, we must hear His word. Second, we must exercise faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Third, we must obey His commandments, one of which is to approach Him in prayer—a subject I have written about on a previous occasion. Finally, as God sees fit, He reveals Himself to His children by the power of the Holy Ghost. But note this: we can only know God by revelation. We can know of Him by other means, but we cannot know Him by any other principle. Thus, God remains largely unknown because many of His children do not seek to know Him.

God the Father

I believe in God the Eternal Father, and I believe that His relationship to humanity is that of a Father. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). Indeed, “have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10). “And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth….For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26, 28).

Of Job God inquired, “Where wast thou when…the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7). Job could have answered, “Man was also in the beginning with God” (D&C 93:29). In other words, when God asked Job, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4) Job could have replied, “I was with thee; I was one of thy spirit children.”

Creation

One ancient prophet reasoned, “…If there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things” (2 Nephi 2:13), but here we are and that ought to get us thinking about things. Another stated, “…All things denote there is a God; …even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it…and its motion…and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44). Thus, despite what some may say to the contrary, Paley’s observation that the complexity of the watch testifies of a watchmaker, and that the complexity of nature testifies of a Creator is, in my mind, still valid.

However, I do not believe in a creation ex nihilo. I believe that “the elements are eternal” (D&C 93:33); that matter is neither created nor destroyed; that God doesn’t make something out of nothing. Rather, I believe in the scriptural account which states, “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these [God’s spirit children] may dwell” (Abraham 3:24; emphasis added).

Clearly much more has been and could be written about God the Eternal Father. I have written previously on the existence of God and some musings on the consequences of atheism. Additionally, another blogger, Mikha’el, whom I don’t personally know, has an interesting series of posts about God. I encourage you to enter into the dialogue.