Archive for ‘English’

July 28, 2020

Nobly

How you proceed must be as noble as the cause you seek.

The turn of phrase is fantastic. It lends itself to meditation, or to ponderous and solemn thoughts. It occurs in the middle of a discussion of people taking upon themselves the role of Satan, accusing others and thereby “causing jarring, contention and strife.” Moreover, the discussion suggests that this role is played even by people “who desire a good thing” and have well-intentioned hearts.

So what does the phrase mean? What is the cause being sought? Is it related to learning to live in peace with each other? What does “proceed” mean here? Is it our actions, particularly those we might think are productive in favor of “the cause [we] seek?” And what is “noble?” Is it intended to contrast with accusing and causing jarring, contention and strife? Is it related to “lov[ing] one another, not begrudgingly, but as brothers and sisters indeed?” Or to “align[ing our] words with [our] hearts?

“Noble” and its derivations appear in a few places in T&C. 138:18: “How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God than the vain imagination of the human heart?” 139:7: “[T]he pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under your hand.” 146:20: “[T]he truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent.” What does the word mean in those places? Is it related to its use in the phrase quoted at the beginning of this post?

May 26, 2020

Reforestation

I was looking into an idea that was put into my head by an acquaintance a couple of years ago: that trees attract rain. I wondered if this was true, and, if true, how it works. Certainly this may be a mechanism by which the desert could be made to blossom as a rose. What I have read includes an article in the journal Bioscience explaining for the educated layman a hypothesis about how forests may be acting like “pumps” that bring about rainfall, and an article from CIFOR (a forestry research organization) on the potential of forests to mitigate drought. I expressed the following thoughts on the matter on Facebook:

Trees’ complex interactions with the atmosphere can help prevent both drought and flooding. But you need a lot of them. One gentleman, who died well into his 90s in the early 2000s, recalled his parents or grandparents describing vast forests that covered most of the United States only a couple hundred years ago; they had been instrumental in cutting those forests down. (The term used was “rainforests,” but I am not sure whether we would use the word the same way today.) In hindsight, clearing large amounts of forest to make room for farms, ever so popular in the 1800s, was a poor decision. It may be that we would have been better served by clearing small amounts of trees as necessary, and developing methods of agriculture that coexist well with the forest.

It would be interesting if we could cover the country in forests once again. Doing so could alleviate part of the stress we have put on the climate, at least partially alleviate problems in water supply in parts of the country, and improve agricultural fertility in arid or semi-arid regions, which would allow for greater local self-sufficiency throughout much of the country.

The political right ought to see an opportunity for greater liberty and national strength by improving self reliance throughout the country, while the political left ought to see the environmental advantages of having to transport less food over large distances. The left should see forestation as a way to combat climate change, while climate-change skeptics among the right should still be able to enjoy the beauty and clean air provided by the ubiquitous forests. Moreover, greater local self-sufficiently would make it possible to reduce or pause travel between regions during a pandemic (such as at the present), slowing the spread of the disease while avoiding restriction of movement within communities. If an individual region is able to provide for its own needs, a temporary restriction on travel to and from the region, but allowance of travel within the region (to visit friends, local parks, etc.) may be more palatable to the general public than the restrictions against which they are chafing at present.

Indeed, fads like “permaculture” and “urban farming” attract adherents from both the left and the right, indicating that both take an interest in the environment and food security, though perhaps for different reasons. That should give reason for hope that there’s at least a small chance that we could persuade the nation (and the world) to undertake a large reforestation project. Perhaps such a project, by reconnecting us to the Earth and her natural cycles, would also improve our collective mental and social well-being.

The chance, however, is small: Good sustainable agricultural practices, the type that would coexist well with universal forests, are not nearly as profitable as the soil-depleting computerized factory farms of big agriculture. Either extensive community participation in local agriculture, or an acceptance of higher food prices, would be needed.

May 15, 2020

Liberty and life; captivity and death

The Book of Mormon uses the word “liberty” more than any other volume of scripture. “Liberty” is associated with “eternal life” while “captivity” is associated with “death” (2 Nephi 1:10). Curiously, famine and poverty resulting from a deprivation of liberty are poised to kill far more people than the deprivation of liberty was intended to save.

Although the Book of Mormon has examples of preserving liberty through a limited amount of bloodshed (see, e.g., Alma 20:12), it also includes examples of escaping captivity without bloodshed (Mosiah 11:10-11). It seems that the Lord would prefer the latter for us in our day (T&C 50:7). Either way, if we are not capable of living in liberty, forceful overthrow of the government would be futile, as it would merely lead us from one captivity to another; nor would it make sense for the Lord to give us the liberty that our lifestyle shows that we don’t want. At the very least, if we desire freedom, we should be capable of living and interacting with each other in a way that government is superfluous.

There are plenty of people laughing at those complaining about the loss of “mah freedumb.” Ironically, among those mockers of freedom appear to be many who previously complained about the current president being a dictator. Let them laugh, and seek to peacefully persuade those who can be persuaded to pray, vote, and live in a way that will bring liberty. That, it appears to me, is the best way to both stand up to and show love for those who use dishonesty and manipulation to try to keep the rest of us in captivity. To the humble, an honest voice will stand out against the ubiquitous deception.

A show of force is not necessary; brandishing weapons in front of government buildings will at best bring temporary results, and may backfire. There are other ways to boldly support liberty and life in the face of captivity and death. Abinadi, held in bondage, loved Noah enough to die for him, and as a result brought Noah’s people out of captivity and into a new life in Christ.

May 7, 2020

Social virus

The current pandemic has revealed much about ourselves and our relationship to the government and to each other. An already-existing wound has been deepened, and at this point it is unlikely that it will heal.

Conservatives’ eyes have been opened to see a government engaging in tyrannical overreach approaching the degree that conspiracy theorists have warned about: not just by liberals, but supported by conservative governors, and even an institution—the police—that they have trusted, praised, and upheld as heroes. They see liberals as foolishly supporting that tyranny, insufficiently self-aware to realize their bondage in the universal house arrest or the upcoming economic catastrophe.

Liberals’ eyes have been opened to see a conservative movement intent on activity that will kill people, and that the government must suppress the movement by force in order to save lives.

To conservatives, liberals are a threat to freedom and cannot be reconciled to reason. To liberals, conservatives are a threat to people’s lives and cannot be reconciled to reason. The logical conclusion for either side is that force must be used to bring the other side into submission.

The hatred may fester for a while, perhaps years, in mutual toleration, but without a fundamental change in people’s character, the inevitable result is going to be violence. Unless a group of people decline the invitation to hate those who don’t think like them, sooner or later violence will be unavoidable.

If you choose not to hate, sooner or later you will be hated for your choice. Choose it anyway. Love your neighbor, even when he hates you.

April 28, 2020

Laying a snare

The Book of Mormon describes in detail the ruses that the wicked use to entrap the righteous. When Alma and Amulek spoke at Ammonihah, “there were some among them who thought to question them, that by their cunning devices they might catch them in their words, that they might find witness against them, that they might deliver them to the judges, that they might be judged according to the law, and that they might be slain or cast into prison, according to the crime which they could make appear or witness against them.” Alma 8:4. The same tactic was used against Abinadi (Mosiah 7:16) and Nephi (Helaman 3:16). It is interesting that the wicked use questions in order to dispute. It leaves a sort of “plausible deniability” because they can claim that they only want clarification or are merely seeking more information, despite the true intent “that thereby they might make him cross his words or contradict the words which he should speak.” Alma 8:5.

These ruses are “the foundations of the Devil” and the result is always “the utter destruction of this people.” Alma 8:5. Both the fact that this devil-inspired tactic seems to be the normal method of argument in our day, and the promised results of it should trouble us. “Yea, and I say unto you that if it were not for the prayers of the righteous who are now in the land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction. Yet it would not be by flood, as were the people in the days of Noah, but it would be by famine, and by pestilence, and the sword. But it is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared. Now therefore, if ye will cast out the righteous from among you, then will not the Lord stay his hand, but in his fierce anger he will come out against you; then ye shall be smitten by famine, and by pestilence, and by the sword. And the time is soon at hand except ye repent.” Alma 8:5.

Christ taught that “there shall be no disputations among you.” 3 Nephi 5:8. I think it would be wise advice to simply speak the truth plainly. When you disagree with someone about a matter, and your inclination is to respond with a question rather than directly stating that you disagree, it would be wise to consider whether you are following this tactic, which the Book of Mormon identifies as “the subtlety of the Devil,“ whose purpose is “that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction according to the power of his captivity.” Alma 9:1. I certainly would not want to be part of the “utter destruction of [my] people” (Alma 8:5), particularly when “it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished, for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.” Mormon 2:1.

It is particularly interesting that just as the Devil inspires the wicked to ask questions in some contexts, in other contexts the hard-hearted fail to ask questions when they should. “And I said unto them, Have ye inquired of the Lord? And they said unto me, We have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us. Behold, I said unto them, How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the thing which the Lord hath said, If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you?” 1 Nephi 4:2. I think I will make an effort to try to avoid disputing with questions, but at the same time I will try to bring more questions to the Lord. The choices seem to be that you can either help cause the utter destruction of your people, or you can be the reason that they are spared, at least until they get rid of you. Alma 8:5. If possible, I would rather choose the latter.

March 23, 2020

Preaching

I would rather hear preaching from a plumber down the street who has talked with God face-to-face, than from someone with a degree in theology or biblical studies or “divinity.”

I am completely uninterested in preaching from someone who is paid or wants to be paid for their preaching.

Consider letting the collection plate pass by and giving your money directly to the poor instead.

June 24, 2019

Emma Smith

If Emma Smith had the right to interpret Joseph’s teachings in the same way Eve interpreted Adam’s prophecy, then perhaps we ought to take seriously Emma’s comments about the Church after the death of Joseph Smith, and perhaps any other statements from her about Mormonism that we can dig up.

The Lord said that the “scriptures are acceptable to me for this time” but also that they “yet lack many of my words, have errors throughout, and contain things that are not of me” and “you need not think they contain all my words….” It may be that one of the failures of the project to recover the scriptures was the failure to canonize Emma Smith’s words.

If, as has been taught, the role of the man is knowledge and the role of the woman is wisdom, the lack of Emma Smith’s words in the new scriptures may indicate an additional meaning to the statement in the Answer to the Prayer for Covenant that “mankind refuses to take counsel from Wisdom.”

If the failure to include Emma’s words is among the imperfections that the Lord mentioned exist in the recovered scriptures, then I assume we can begin to repent by taking Emma’s words seriously, much like I hope we have begun to do with Joseph’s words.

June 19, 2019

Kurds and Mormons

This morning, I stumbled upon a Wikipedia article on Yazidism, a religion practiced by the Kurds. According to Yazidism, Melek Taus is the chief of seven angels in charge of this world. He is said to have fallen from God’s favor and was later reconciled to God. Apparently, Muslims and Christians, pointing to the myths of Melek Taus’s fall from grace, sometimes claim that Yazidis are devil worshipers.

I am inclined to think that Melek Taus corresponds better with Mormonism’s beliefs about the archangel Michael than with the devil. Mormonism teaches that Michael – much like Yazidism’s Melek Taus – is the chief of all the angels and holds the keys of all the dispensations of the Earth. Moreover, Mormons believe that Michael came to Earth as Adam, the first man, and fell from God’s grace, but was reconciled with God upon repentance through the promise of a Messiah who would be a savior to mankind.

There appear to be some important similarities between Mormonism and Yazidism that merit further consideration. Perhaps if Mormons took an interest, Yazidis would be able to help them understand their own religion better. I hope to be able to look into the matter further at some point, if time permits.

June 17, 2019

The way, the virtue, the book

I spent some time contemplating the Tao Te Ching over the weekend, especially the first chapter. The book is short; it can be read in a couple of hours (or less), yet it can also be pondered over a lifetime. “Tao” (or “Dao”) means “the way.” Jesus’s statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” may merit reconsideration after reading the Tao Te Ching. It may be more profound than initially understood from the western viewpoint.

The control of one’s passions is one central theme of the Tao Te Ching: “He who does not have desires sees [the Tao’s] mystery. He who always possesses desires only sees it superficially.” Similar themes are found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions, including the Mormon temple rites. A Mormon interpretation of the previous lines could be:

He who has bound his passions can fully contemplate the mysteries of godliness.

He who is bound by his passions cannot receive more than the lesser portion.

Another concept from the Tao Te Ching that ought to fit nicely into Mormonism: “The reason that Heaven and Earth can be eternal and enduring is because they do not live for themselves; therefore they can live forever.” Consider the saying of Jesus: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Laozi had previously written in the Tao Te Ching: “The sage puts himself behind others, yet finds himself in front.”

We have something familiar here, yet with the potential to change the way we look at what we already have.

May 28, 2019

An Islamic Dispensation?

I share the following with the caveat that I have but superficial knowledge of what I write, and therefore write it against my better judgment. On the other hand, I find the subjects fascinating, and if perhaps I can capture the interest of someone more prepared than I, it may be that we all benefit from that person’s wisdom on the matter.

In particular, I wonder if there is, or was at one point, a legitimate dispensation of the gospel at the heart of Islam. The movement, in both its doctrine and its history, should strike Mormons as something strangely familiar. Muhammed gathered those who believed in his revelations into the “Ummah,” or community, which was meant to be a civilization of peace while the rest of the world destroyed itself in war. Not only does it correspond extremely well to the Mormon concept of “Zion,” but it appears to have been about as successful as the Latter-day Saints have been at establishing Zion. Islam teaches that the Jews and the Christians had been given the word of God, but that wicked men had corrupted the scriptures, necessitating the provision of a new revelation – the Koran – to restore the truth that had been lost. Here then, is the Joseph Smith story over a millennium before the birth of Joseph Smith.

The events immediately following the death of Muhammed should look strangely familiar to careful students of Latter-day Saint history. The Ummah was led by Caliphs; much like Brigham Young called himself a “yankee guesser” rather than a “prophet,” and stated that the Latter-day Saints should only trust him insofar as he is right, the Caliphs affirmed that they were only to preserve and interpret the revelations received by Muhammed, and the community should only accept their decisions to the degree that they were correct, which, coincidentally, was always. God would not allow a Caliph to lead his people astray.

Muhammed taught that Islam was not compulsory; persuasion was the only acceptable tool to bring people into the religion. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, faced with the practical necessity of keeping together a community going in a hundred different directions after the death of the prophet, made apostasy punishable by death. Muhammad’s teaching about non-compulsion was interpreted in light of practical necessity to apply only to initial conversion to Islam.

Abu Bakr and Omar, the first two Caliphs, set about to collect Muhammed’s revelations into an official compilation – the Koran. In doing so, they often discarded copies of the revelations that had been written down at the time the revelation was received, in favor of what their trusted companions remembered the revelations as containing. It was taught that the memorized versions were more reliable than the written versions. There were some concerns that the official version of the Koran was arranged and edited to suit the Caliphs’ interests rather than to preserve the revelations exactly as received by Muhammed. However, modern orthodox Islamic doctrine is that, by the grace of God, the Koran has been perfectly preserved to this day. On the other hand, anyone who picks up a copy of the reproduced manuscripts in the Joseph Smith Papers can immediately see that LDS scripture has been modified to suit the interests of the early LDS leaders.

I provide only a brief overview of similarities. Even in minor points of doctrine some striking comparisons can be made. For example, the Koran teaches that God perfected the seven heavens (2:30); Joseph Smith stated that he visited the seventh heaven. I suspect that Mormons would benefit from a thorough study of Islam.

This doesn’t apply only to Islam, however. Zoroastrianism reveres Ahura Mazda as the supreme God. The name includes a masculine and a feminine word. The masculine word “Ahura” means “Lord,” and according to Zoroaster it referred to God as the creator. The feminine word “Mazda” means wise, and thus according to Zoroaster God is also the “wise one.” The different genders show that God’s nature is all-encompassing. Mormons believe that God is a Divine father and mother, and at least one branch of Mormonism includes the teaching that the father represents the creative power, and the mother represents wisdom.

Joseph Smith taught that Mormonism is intended to include all truth. He spoke of digging up the ancient records and bringing them all together in one place. My own brief glance at a couple of religions suggests that other religions may indeed have something to bring to Mormonism, if we will only take them seriously. I am surprised that I didn’t have to dig far at all before treasures started appearing. What rich treasures of knowledge await us if we make some small effort to uncover them? Here I am, a nobody in the extreme southwest corner of the United States, mostly disconnected from the covenant community and more concerned about stumbling over the practical needs of day-to-day life than the things of God; how much more could we obtain if someone smarter, more diligent, or more inspired than me – that is, anyone in the covenant community – were to look into one of these religions and dig up and share with the community the hidden knowledge that it contains? Shoot, if all of us did it, I imagine that the remainder of the Book of Mormon might as well be unsealed by the next conference, such would be the knowledge poured out upon the covenant people.

But I may be getting carried away. Finding a little knowledge, after all, is an exciting thing.