Monday, April 25, 2005

Working With Doubts

Doc-Kwadwo had a great comment in a thread at T&S about finding appropriate forums to discuss questions or doubts about the gospel. The bit I enjoyed most was this:
I often have to remind myself how few things there are in this life about which I know every answer. I mean, non-spiritual, non-church things. I can never know everything there is to know about medicine, or why some patients respond one way and others will do the opposite, and yet I forge on with becoming a physician. For my own sanity, I feel obliged to view my spiritual and church growth similarly, since the chances of answering every spiritual question are essentially nil, during this life…

There is nothing wrong with questions per se, but only with the spirit in which they are sometimes asked. I appreciate people who are willing to ask honest questions without guile.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Intellectual Way Out of the Church

I wrote a little while ago about why I see that intellectuals leave the church. I have reconsidered my wording a bit since then. I ought to have framed it over how people can leave the church over intellectual concerns. The difference is putting a label on a person and putting a label on a behavior or motivation.

There is a post at Mormanity that has some interesting things to say about the term "congnitive dissonance." Both Jeff's post there and some of the comments have led me to a bit more thought on this subject.

My previous argument was that a person leaving the church over intellectual concerns was making a mistake because they had gained enough knowledge to have questions, but not yet enough knowledge to have answers. It seems an odd time to abandon a proposition if you still have evidence in favor of it!

One commenter at Mormanity noted that there can be a conflict in the notion that light can be both a wave and a particle. There is evidence for both propositions and yet they seem contradictory. The evidence on either side is strong, but we don't abandon the study of light or choose to discount one personality of light or the other. I suspect that science provides many such puzzles where evidence lies in two contradictory camps. Yet all theories are held simultaneously, even when we don't yet understand how to reconcile them because we have evidence for them all.

That is my confusion about people who leave the church. They latch on the evidence against parts of the church, but they seem to miss the evidence in favor!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Historical Talk and Prayer Endings

This post at Splendid Sun gives a somewhat informal, but fascinating history of the usage of "In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen." at the end of talks and prayers in LDS usage. I didn't realize it was such a recent formulation, growing in the 1950's. I would be interested to see the results of a more exhaustive search on the topic.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

General Conference Scripture Index

I do computer training at BYU. I occasionally pull up interesting web sites during breaks in instruction. A favorite to pull up has been http://scriptures.byu.edu. This site lists every scripture cited in a General Conference talk since 1942. It is a fascinating way to search for additional insights to augment personal scripture study. Of course General Authorities are usually more interested in “applying” the scriptures rather than “interpreting” them. These are very different activities.

You can browse the site by speaker or by scripture. If you wonder what scriptures Jeffrey Holland likes to cite, they have the answer. If you wonder what scriptures are cited most often, you can find that too.

When I pull up the site, the students immediately notice that the volume of scripture that gets the most citations since 1942 is the New Testament. I then like to ask them why it isn’t the Book of Mormon given President Benson’s emphasis on using it. We then filter the listings to only show numbers after 1986. Guess which volume of scripture wins then?

Hopefully you'll check out and enjoy the site.

Are we all retarded?

I heard a story today from a doctor about a 27 year old patient who, because of a physical problem early in life, has the mental capacity and skills of a first grader. I wondered how it was that this patient couldn't progress beyond that level of understanding and action. How many years can you act like a first grader before you finally grasp the concepts and skills that make you a second grader? Somehow, this patient couldn't. The body can apparently be such a barrier that it can prevent progress beyond a certain point.

The theological implications of this are interesting. If I, from my vantage point, see the limits on this 27 year old patient compared to the potential of other humans, what does God perceive with respect to his mortal children and their eternal potential? Given the seemingly unbreakable boundaries of comprehension and action imposed on a mortal body, what does that tell us about the resurrection? Are all mortals just limited at different points in progression? If bodies are going to be of different types in the resurrection, what does that have to say about our eternal progression? [If you followed the link in that previous sentence, how does the word glory play into this argument?]

I have been wondering about the possibility of someone being assigned to the Telestial Kingdom. Would they be happy there? Would they ever be able to progress out of that place as they learned more? Elder McConkie emphatically stated that they would not. The logic of this post seems to support that argument.

I love you like a dog

I posted the following in a comment at Times and Seasons. I wanted to preserve it to make it easier to find. To get the context, refer to the original post.

The first time I heard the thought that God didn’t love us unconditionally, I was repulsed. I recognized the truth that his arm is stretched out still and if he didn’t love us, that wouldn’t be true. A provocative gospel doctrine teacher along with Elder Nelson’s article still weren’t quite enough to convince me, but I stewed on it.

Finally, I reached an understanding as I walked to church and met up with my ward mission leader. He started telling me about how his grown daughter had a dog that she didn’t care for particularly well. She kept it in a small kennel most of the time and rarely took it for walks or gave it any attention. He asked her why she kept the dog and she said, “Because I love it!” “That’s not love,” he replied. That, for me, was it. It clicked. That daughter may have had some passive emotion toward that dog, but it wasn’t love in any meaningful sense. I don’t know what God feels for Paris Hilton, but I now believe that if a person is unrighteous, they do not enjoy the full measure of His love. The door is open for their return, but that doesn’t change the present condition.

Kaimi’s reminder here on pride is also useful–no, vital! It recalls what I’ve been reading in Hugh Nibley’s biography where I found this quote from Hugh: “God knows perfectly well where we stand…and admonishes us not to despair: what matters is the direction we are facing–the person at the bottom of the stairs facing up is more pleasing to the Father than the one at the top of the stairs facing down.” Pride seems to be an awfully easy way to find yourself at the top of the stairs facing down. Thanks for the reminder.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Why Truman Madsen is not an Apostle

Sometimes the smallest things strike the oddest chord. I was driving on a Saturday evening and turned on the radio. Out popped the voice of Thomas S. Monson, speaking at the General Young Women's Meeting. He said, as nearly as I can recall, "That is what we call repentance." If you read that quote aloud you may have no other choice but to mutter it sarcastically—maybe making little “air quotes.” It would be difficult for me to utter it any other way. Repentance is a principle that is so utterly trivial to comprehend at a basic level that I start with the assumption that everyone I speak to understands it. I would think that making such a basic statement would insult the intelligence of my audience. And yet from President Monson it was not insulting. He was totally serious and sincere.

It was at that moment that I realized that it takes something very special to be a General Authority in the church. It takes something that I certainly don't have. It requires that rare ability to explain the basic principles of the gospel a million times, week after week, to huge and impersonal audiences and feel totally sincere.

As a missionary it was different. You were in a very personal setting and every wink of discovery on the part of the hearer was exhilarating and invigorating, motivating you to continue in your instruction. But to stand in front of an audience, largely without personal feedback, and say the same lessons and stories week after week to different audiences must become tiresome. And yet this is precisely the public calling of a General Authority. In most of their public speaking, they are constrained to address the beginner. Sure, there are smaller settings where they may take more liberties, but when their reach is the greatest, their messages are usually the simplest.

All of this realization struck me, as it so often does, in quite a sudden flash. So many thoughts in such a brief instant. Almost immediately after making this realization about President Monson and the very special gift that he has, my mind moved to Truman Madsen. This man, through his lecture series on Joseph Smith, has surely touched the hearts of many more missionaries and members than perhaps he ever could have done in a dozen General Conference talks. My wife and I are currently reading the book form of another lecture series he did on the lives of the Presidents of the Church. It has been a faith building experience for us.

Truman Madsen is one who, no doubt, possesses a witness sure of the gospel and of the Lord Jesus Christ that could easily qualify him to fill the witnessing role of an apostle. And yet he remains, as far as I know, a patriarch in his home stake in Provo. Why such relative obscurity for one so blessed with so many wonderful and powerful insights into the gospel and one who has such a rare gift in sharing gospel stories? But of course the answer is simple. He is not obscure. Most likely you recognize his name. If you don't, you will likely now recognize it the next time you see his name in print. Truman is a man who has been unbound from the shackles of apostleship. Is it really a bondage? In some sense it must be. Truman has been granted the gift of time--time to think and to write and to speak. And not only to speak, but to speak to the faithful and devout. To speak to people beyond the level of the novice. To touch hearts without being constrained to address every comment to the recent convert. I am grateful for the apostles. And I am also grateful for the men and women who are not apostles.

Faith Undefined

Like many in the Church (and out of it no doubt) I have struggled to find a definition for faith that was both accurate and useful. I have been unable to do so in my few years on earth. In Boyd Petersen's biography of Hugh Nibley we read the following:
Faith is as difficult to define as it is to exercise. But for Hugh, that very difficulty makes it all the more real. "I have tried long and vainly to define faith to myself--for me that proves its reality, for we can rationalize and verbalize anything we please into existence, like lawyers, but faith can't be touched by the sophist and his tricks."

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