Friday, 14 December 2007

A single scripture

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, and with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance to every people!

Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance, and the plan of redemption, that that should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.

But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.

~Alma 29:1-3

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Blacks, Slavery, and the Church

This article from the Deseret Morning News website raises an interesting question (although it's not stated as such):

[Lawrence] O'Donnell [...] specifically criticized LDS founder Smith as "a racist who was pro-slavery," referring to him as "the inventor of this ridiculous religion."

Joseph Smith a racist? And pro-slavery? This is a new one by me.

The most prominent race-related fact concerning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("this ridiculous religion", apparently - yay tolerance!) is that, prior to 1978, males of Black African descent were not permitted to hold the Priesthood of God. The way this was determined varied (originally it was unless they could prove they weren't, but near the end the Priesthood was permitted unless it could be proved that they were of such descent), but the principle remained until the leadership of the Church prayed with enough faith and desire to see it changed that the Lord allowed the change. According to the Official Declaration:

He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the Holy Priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that follows there from, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. (OD2)

So much for the facts. What are the other charges commonly levelled against the Church? There are two, both concerning the reasons the restriction ever existed. One is a fairly common idea from the time of the early Church -- that black skin is identical with the Curse and Mark of Cain. This idea was believed by Brigham Young - "Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]... in him cannot hold the Priesthood and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it" is a remark attributed to him, and I see no reason to doubt it -- but there is something importantly lacking from this statement, something that is always lacking in such statements. He claims that 'I know it is true', and that 'others know it'. This is not, emphatically not, a statement of prophetic revelation. Yes, others knew it -- it was widely used as a justification for keeping blacks as slaves. But it was not a revelation. To my knowledge, it has never been stated as such. And please note, these remarks are from President Young. He even says, "if no other Prophet ever spoke it before I will say it now." This is not the attitude of a man repeating the teachings of his predecessor. The idea that this opinion originated from Joseph Smith is entirely unsupported.

The other accusation frequently levelled at the Church is that we have (or had) a theological justification for denying the Priesthood to black men. The idea is that, in the War in Heaven, a third of the host fought against God (becoming Satan and his followers), a third fought valiantly for him ('whites'), and the last third were not so valiant, thus becoming the 'blacks'. Leaving aside the fact that this is a very long way from matching up with the actual ratio between blacks and everyone else, I cannot find anywhere where it has been stated as a doctrine. It certainly isn't in the various scriptural accounts of the war. Apparently, the idea started with the opinions of President Joseph Fielding Smith, and spread to (who else?) Bruce R. McConkie, whose writings make up much of the Bible Dictionary, and whose Mormon Doctrine is the most comprehensive encyclopedia of doctrines, which would explain the common knowledge of the idea. But was it a doctrine?

From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the church have taught that negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.

So said President David O. McKay. As Prophet in his day, he would know whether there were any actual doctrines concerning the matter. To have stated that 'this is the reason', without ascribing it to revelation, would leave the issue in doubt. To state that 'we don't know the reason' cannot mean anything other than what it says. Various justifications have been offered, but in the end, we do not know.

These are the usual accusations levelled against the Church. Now, at last, I can come back to Lawrence O'Donnell and his new, unusual ideas.

1/ Joseph Smith, junior, was a racist.

By the standards of today, it would be no surprise if he was. He had after all been born and raised in a world which unanimously derided blacks as intrinsically inferior, and even a Prophet of God is subject to his upbringing. But specifically and religiously racist? I don't believe it.

Elder Hyde inquired the situation of the negro. [Joseph Smith] replied, they came into the world slaves mentally and physically. Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation.

Is this a racist statement? Far from it! The beginning is a lament as to the condition of blacks at that time, while the end explicitely states that they are not naturally inferior. Can we reconcile this with O'Donnell's ideas about the Prophet? No. We cannot.

2/ Joseph Smith, jr., was pro-slavery.

I... have no idea where this came from. When the Church moved to Missouri, one of the complaints the residents had was that the Saints were harbouring former slaves who had illegally fled their masters -- and that the Saints would be inviting freed slaves to come to their towns. The Missourians didn't think the Church was pro-slavery! The Book of Doctrine and Covenants states (D&C 101:79) that 'it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another' -- and this was revealed in 1833! Later, during his aborted run for President of the USA, Joseph Smith's plans included -- you guessed it -- the freeing of the slaves through a slow method which, if it had been enacted, would likely have prevented the US Civil War entirely.

How Mr. O'Donnell can state that this man was pro-slavery is entirely beyond me.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A Common Misconception

A few weeks ago I met a born-again Christian who (of course) tried to convert me to his viewpoint. One point which came up was the Trinity, and I raised the evidence of Mark 10:18 (and Matt. 19:17, and Luke 18:19...): Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. In order to reconcile this simple, obvious statement by the Saviour with his own doctrines, he insisted that this is a trick question - that our Lord was trying to make the man he was speaking to think about his answer. All very well for that particular statement (which I had misquoted to end with 'my Father which is in heaven'), but how can that be extended to John 5:19, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do? This statement is given by the Saviour as a specific refutation of the Jews' claims that he was 'making himself equal with God'. I can't imagine how he would have answered this one, but it would certainly have been a tortured interpretation.

This, I think, exposes a common misconception among Christians in ever day and age - that the Gospel (I use the term to mean the entirety of the revealed truth concerning the will of Heaven - our born-again friend was under the impression that it referred only to the Gospels) is somehow difficult to comprehend. Another example - I asked him why he believed we were created in the first place. He claimed it was purely an act of God showing his love (to people who wouldn't even exists if he hadn't?), and when queried on how that explained the therefore malicious "free well" and the associated ability to sin -- how it explained allowing Satan to torment us, if we are only here for God to love -- he was unable to reply with anything other than a vague statement that God knows what he's doing. True -- but he has revealed it to his people. 'Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.' (Amos 3:7).

The Gospel is simple and it is clear. That it what it was written to be, and it was written for us. When Peter says 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matt. 16:16), when the Lord claims 'Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee' (Jeremiah 1:5), when the mortal Christ instructs us to pray to 'Our Father which art in heaven' (Luke 11:2) -- they mean what they say. They are not trying to deceive us. Those who believe they are have themselves been deceived... and we know who the Great Deceiver is.

Another example, as if one were needed. Back in the very first reference, Mark 10, the Saviour was asked Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17). He immediately refers the man to the commandments. He was not trying to confuse us -- keeping the commandments of God is necessary to attain a higher glory.

The Prophet Nephi claimed that the works of Isaiah are 'plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy' (2 Ne. 25:4). Joseph Smith called the Book of Revelation 'one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written'. These two are usually seen as the most confusing books in the Bible. If these Prophets -- these inspired men -- called even them simple, how can Christendom declare the rest of the Gospel difficult or unknowable?

Our Father in Heaven wants us to return to him. Through his Prophets and his Son he has given us - continues to give us - the plainest, purest help he can in our time of probation. The Gospel is not incomprehensible; it is simple, it is complete, it is true. It is the Word of Life and it is given to help us, if we will only accept it. I hope and pray that all followers of Christ will someday be able to put aside their misconceptions and see the Word of God as it truly is, a pure and abiding testimony of our beloved Saviour Jesus Christ, in whose name I write. Amen.

Friday, 14 September 2007

The World Today

No, this isn't an article on The Last Days, although I should probably do one of those someday. Instead, it's a commentary on three news articles I've just read. All three are from the BBC.

What future for Anglicanism?

When the American branch of the Anglican church appointed an openly gay bishop in 2003, conservatives said it could lead to a split in the worldwide denomination. Now African churches are taking the matter into their own hands.

As the story goes, an Anglican parish church in the state of Virginia has declared its opposition to 'the American church's liberal approach to homosexuality' in a most unusual way: it has left the Episcopal Church (the US branch of Anglicanism) and instead joined the Church of Uganda. The vicar of the congregation in question has been appointed a bishop (Anglican). This, according to the article, means 'abandoning centuries of Anglican tradition, where national churches act only within their own boundaries, and bishops are responsible for defined geographical areas.'

I have two things to say about this. First, I find it absolutely hilarious that a US congregation is now part of the Church of Uganda. It just amuses me immensely.

Second, and more importantly, I have to wonder about the definition of the word 'denomination' as applied to the Anglicans. When they were originally formed, by King Henry VIII, they were a united denomination -- the Church of England, with one leader. Now, though, they... aren't. To define two national churches as the same denomination when they have distinctly different beliefs -- 'The problem for Anglicans is that they cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible, and therefore they arrive at very different views on a number of moral issues' -- should be impossible. If having different views on moral issues doesn't make you separate denominations, what does? Should we class Catholics as separate from Anglicans just because they believe in a different mode of church governance? Muslims as different from Christians because they have different beliefs about the nature of God? How different do two groups have to be before they become separate denominations? It's not that they have different names -- 'Episcopal' and 'Church of Uganda' are fairly different. It seems to me that many so-called 'denominations' are nothing of the kind -- they are diverse churches which band together in order to appear larger than they actually are.

How different, then, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each and everyone one of our Wards and Branches believes the same things, follows the same moral code, and looks to the same leaders. We paid heed to the words of Paul, who praised the Corinthians 'that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you'. And again, in the opening of the same letter, he said, 'I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement.' Can the Anglicans claim as much? Clearly not, if they're 'arriv[ing] at very different views on a number of moral issues'.

(For those of you who thought I was going to bring up homosexuality in this post, don't be silly -- I already did that one)

Onto the next piece of news, which originally prompted this post:

The trials of Ramadan fasting

Let me say, straight away, that I have no problem with Ramadan or Islam in particular. In fact, I'm not even commenting on either. I'm commenting on what the writer of the article revealed about their own preconceptions.

Imagine going without food or water for the entire working day, and several hours more. With Ramadan about to start, that's the challenge facing Britain's 1.6 million Muslims. How do they cope?

Oh, the horror, having to go without food for the entire working day! How do those poor Muslims survive such a thing?

Allow me to clarify: on the first Sunday of every months, year-in, year-out, a faithful Latter-day Saint will fast -- completely, no food or drink at all, just like the Muslims -- but not only from sunrise to sunset. No, we fast for twenty-four hours, straight through. Twenty-four hours. That's 'a full day' to the rest of you. Generally it starts at lunchtime on Saturday, and then finishes around the time we get back from Church on Sunday -- also lunchtime. And yet, unlike what the writer of this article seems to think, we don't spend all our time wishing we were allowed to eat. It's a fast for religious reasons -- to bring us closer to God -- and though we do, naturally, slip up occasionally, most of the time the lack of food doesn't really register. I would imagine many Muslims feel the same way.

Meh. Onto the last article.

Report on Hindu god Ram withdrawn

The Indian government has withdrawn a controversial report submitted in court earlier this week which questioned the existence of the Hindu god Ram.

I have to admit, I'm not really including this for any religious reasons. I just love the article.

In their report submitted to the court, the government and the Archaeological Survey of India questioned the belief, saying it was solely based on the Hindu mythological epic Ramayana.

They said there was no scientific evidence to prove that the events described in Ramayana ever took place or that the characters depicted in the epic were real.

Hindu activists say the bridge was built by Lord Ram's monkey army to travel to Sri Lanka and has religious significance.

I simply adore the fact that a religious belief concerning a piece of landscape is causing this much trouble. Further, there's this beautiful quote:

In the last two days, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched a scathing attack on the government for questioning the "faith of the million".

Do you suppose the mass of Hindus particularly care what a group of scientists think about their beliefs? Okay, so there's no archaeological evidence that Ram's monkeys had anything to do with it -- so what? They still believe it happened that way, and if their faith is going to be shaken by a group of scientists saying there's no evidence that it did, what sort of faith is that?

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

John 11:35...

... or, in other words:

"Jesus Wept"

Now, I have to say, this article was not inspired by the above verse, and isn't even going to refer to it. Instead, it's the result of a couple of lines from a song (His Love, Jake Rau, as found on the CD Stand in the Light):

Eyes that saw so far ahead
Never turned away from a crown of thorns before his head

This is a fact which we frequently forget. The Lord knew what was coming. Every moment he lived was conscious preparation for that one event, the infinite Atonement.

It's not something that has much attention drawn to it. It's not that Jesus doesn't mention it -- he makes reference to the fact that he's going to be betrayed in John 6 ('Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?'), and again in John 12 ('This he said, signifying what death he should die'), and it was even a prophecy of Isaiah ('when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin'), but it's not something that's ever emphasised. I'm surprised by this; doesn't it make the Saviour far more impressive if we think that he knew he would have to suffer, to be humiliated, to die... but still had the strength to say, after years of thinking this way, 'nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done' (Luke 22:42)?

That's what I wanted to say today. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go into an explanatory article about the Atonement itself.

Much of Christendom assumes that the Atonement is synonymous with the crucifixion -- that Christ suffered for the sins of the world while hanging on the cross. Some even go so far as to say that crucifixion in and of itself causes that pain -- a ridiculous idea; thousands of people were crucified, and we know that the Atonement was something special. But in truth the whole equation of the two moments is flawed: we see nothing in the accounts of the crucifixion to indicate that it included suffering for all of mankind's sins -- by the accounts, it's simply the way a crucifixion of a horribly abused man (and no, that abuse doesn't qualify as infinite suffering, either) should go. The events following it are different, true, but not during.

So where do we go to find a time when Jesus suffered in a visibly unique way? How about Luke 22?

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, stengthening him.

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

In this short sequence (four verses) we see at least three indications that something special was happening:

1. The Savior actually asked his Father to allow him not to do something. As far as I'm aware, this is the only instance in which Christ demonstrated any reluctance to go through with the Plan. Even here, however, he immediately adds that he will go ahead -- it is his Father's will.

2. An angel appears to strengthen him. To my knowledge, there is only one other instance of angels ministering to the mortal Christ, and that comes after he has suffered temptation and starvation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11 -- 'Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him'). If Heavenly Father thinks that this incident is one in which Christ needs help from an angel, something special must be up.

3. He sweats drops of blood. Completely out of nowhere, with no (physical) torture or anything, he sweats drops of blood. This is what he needed an angel to strengthen him through -- this is suffering, infinite suffering: the sins of all the world falling upon the shoulders of one mortal, perfect man. This is it, my friends -- the one moment that all the world before was leading up to, and which everything following has depended on. This is what the prophet Abinadi was talking about when he said, 'were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish'.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Is religion old-fashioned?

This is a question and/or implication that I've seen a lot: are religions prone to becoming out-of-date? Do they 'live in the past', with their rules and such serving no purpose in today's world?

Well... no. No to all three. The problem here is twofold. One problem is general, while the other allows me to bring an LDS perspective to things (as ever).

The first problem, then, is that the world keeps moving on. That's indisputable. The thing is, people think this means religious laws should move on, too, in accordance with the current fashions and ideas of morality. If people in general say that it's acceptible to wear skirts that only go down to mid-thigh, then it must be okay (so the thought process goes), the religions that forbid it are out of date, and they should change.

The flaw in this argument is that it assumes society's ideas of morality are the same as God's ideas. Okay, sometimes it assumes that there is no God, or that he doesn't care; those have the same practical outcome -- the assumption that no higher power will mind if people wear mid-thigh skirts. In short, it assumes that morality is subjective, and decided by consensus.

That's simply not true. God does care, and has given us scriptures and prophets in order to let us know that he cares. It's not a matter of religions becoming out of date, decrepit -- it's the world that is in decline, falling away from divinely decreed standards. The churches should stand firm against this, not accept and condone it.

Incidentally, this is why I've never been able to get worked up about the 'horror' that is the Islamic idea of female modesty. Sure, they may be wrong, but they think they're following rules given to them by the creator of all things. If they're not breaking any (just) laws thereby, can we really complain about it? (Matter of fact, the only problem I have with mainstream Muslims is their attitude towards those who convert away from their religion; but this is not a post about Islam).

The second problem with the idea that religious laws are out-of-date concerns the reasons the various laws were instituted. If -- to take a historical example -- the Lord commands his people to practice polygamy/plural marriage, then we don't necessarily know why he did so. It could have been to increase the population rapidly, to ensure that the women get taken care of, to bring the community closer together, to prevent immorality (a common reason for divine laws), or because it is a requirement to attain eternal life. We simply don't know. If we assume it's for the first reason -- to increase the population -- then it's a law that could be discarded after a generation or two. If it's to take care of the women, then it's irrelevant once they're out of danger. However, if it's essential to salvation, then discarding the practice would be disasterous. Mortal man simply cannot know the mind of God unless he chooses to make it known.

This particular story had a happy ending, though. The institution of plural marriage came about through direct revelation, and it was through direct revelation that the Lord later revoked it -- because its reasons for existence had been fulfilled, one assumes. If it were merely that it were too dangerous, he would either leave it in place, or ask that it continue in secret. No practice essential to salvation would be made an excommunicable offence.

To regeneralise: the problem is that we cannot know why certain laws were created, and therefore, we cannot know whether they can be discarded. The solution, assuming that a completely explanatory book of scripture cannot be located, is active, current leadership through revelation. A doctrine of 'sola scriptura' is insufficient (nor is the Catholic position of 'sola verbum Dei' appropriate), because without revelation from God in the ever-moving present, we cannot know which former laws can be ignored, or the appropriate response to new threats. The Bible comes down against fornication and adultery, but do those terms include cybersex? Phone sex? They didn't when they were written, because there was no concept of such things. No scripture (or tradition, to add the second thing accepted in the Catholic church) can make mention of such things; the only way to know the Lord's mind on such subjects is for him to tell us.

I am supremely grateful that God has seen fit to restore leadership through revelation to the Earth in these latter days, and here testify that the Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the First Presidency of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve -- are that leadership. Trust in their words; they will not lead you astray, for the Lord is on their side. I promise you this is so in the holy name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, Redeemer of all the world. Amen.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination"

Yes, I'm using Leviticus 18:22 as my title. I'm fully aware that this will be a controversial post, and that if anyone ever reads it, it's going to invite criticism. So I'm going to handle it delicately. That means no more Leviticus.

As you've probably surmised, our topic today is homosexuality. As I write, it's still a subject which can incite a great deal of emotion on both sides of the debate. I'm simply going to endeavour to formulate a coherent argument as to why, religiously, it is wrong.

Disclaimer here: There is much debate about what causes homosexuality, conscious choice, genetics, environment or whatnot. I don't claim to have an answer to that. I don't claim that everyone can cheerfully say 'Oh, it's wrong? Then I won't be gay any more!'. That would be ridiculous. But it is always possible to ignore a part of your personality that is wrong, for whatever reason. Many heterosexual people deny their sexual feelings until they are married, or in some cases for life. It can be done. I don't know that anyone disagrees with that simple fact. What I'm going to try and prove (again, solely from a religious perspective -- if you're going to argue 'You're wrong because your religion is wrong', then this isn't really the place for it) is that it is part of God's plan for people affected to deny and overcome their homosexual yearnings.

This is going to cause trouble, isn't it?

The Bible Dictionary, found in LDS editions of the scriptures, contains this passage in the entry on 'Marriage':

Latter-day revelation tells us that marriage under the law of the gospel and the holy priesthood is for eternity, and that men and women thus sealed in marriage continue to have children throughout eternity. Although this concept of marriage is not fully presented in our present Bible, traces of it are found in Matt. 16:16-19; 19:3-8; 22:23-30; and Moses 4:18. However, the fullest explanation is found in D&C 132.

The first of those sections from Matthew include the words 'whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shal be loosed in heaven'. This is interpreted differently by all denominations of Christianity, but it is in actuality a reference to the priesthood (as mentioned above: 'marriage... under the holy priesthood is for eternity'). At this point in time, Peter had the keys sealed upon him that would allow him to bind and loose people in the bonds of eternal marriage. These keys were lost in the Great Apostasy, and later restored through Joseph Smith Jr.

... lest this turn into an implausibly long post, I think I'll need to postpone an explanation of the Apostasy and Restoration to a later post. My next one, perhaps.

Moving on, we have a few verses from Matt. 19. In this section, the Pharisees test Christ by asking him whether it is lawful to put away (that is, divorce) one's wife. When they state that it must be, because Moses gave instructions whereby divorce could be committed, he informs them that 'Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so'. (He then continues on to say that the only justification for divorce is fornication, a position which is for the most part maintained by the present Church). The obvious point here is that marriage is something which God wants to continue; why anyone could think that he would ordain something that would last purely for our mortal lives but take it away after we achieve glory is entirely beyond me (leaving aside the Lord's earlier words to Peter -- ''whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven', remember?).

The final Matthew reference is one of those traditionally given as an argument against eternal marriage, and as such deserves special attention. The verse in question is Matthew 22:30 -- "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven."

Were this verse in fact problematic, one would expect the Church to quietly ignore it; instead, it is referenced as evidence for eternal marriage. Something is obviously going on here. This is what:

The marriages which the Sadducees were speaking of were purely temporal marriages. The Jews at this time were living the Law of Moses, which is inherently a temporal thing. I'm going to have to devote another post to that subject, although I have touched upon it in I Desired Mercy, And Not Sacrifice, a previous post. Suffice to say that, due to their iniquities, the Israelites proved themselves unworthy of the higher, Celestial Law, and were instead only given the Telestial, the Law of Moses. This law does not include the higher Priesthood, and thus does not contain the sealing powers given to Peter back in Matt. 16. The marriages the Sadducees spoke of were not eternal, and so there is no conflict in their question.

How, then, can people be bound in eternal marriage? Through the higher, Melchizedek Priesthood (as opposed to the temporal Aaronic Priesthood of the Jews). This can only be done while they have mortal life on the earth, or through proxies after their deaths. Before the final resurrection of the dead, everyone who wishes it and is worthy of sealing will have been sealed in eternal marriage to the partner of their choice (this is neither the time or place for a discussion of polygamy). Thus, in the resurrection (that is to say, in the time when people have been resurrected), they are neither married nor given in marriage -- that's all been done already. It is significant that Christ did not say 'nor are bound in marriage' or 'nor live in marriage', but rather that they 'are as the angels of God in heaven'.

It's time to turn this back to the subject in hand. I hope that the preceeding work has shown that the concept of eternal marriage is not, in fact, utterly alien to the Bible. The rest of this post will be focussed on latter-day revelation, as it conveys the relevant information clearly and in far more detail. Thus, Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-17:
15 Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.

16 Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.
This is pretty much restating my arguments concerning Matt. 22, with the addition that the angels are servants, ministering to those worthy of 'a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory'. It should be noted that these angels have still obtained the celestial glory - but there are three divisions therein, just as there are three degrees of glory overall (yep, that's another one for a later post). These angels are still glorified beyond description -- but, as verse 17 states, they are not gods.

Verse 19 is hideously long - in my scriptures it takes up almost a full column - but I'll summarise the beginning and merely quote the end, along with verse 20. The 'they' in the verses refers to those who have been married for time and all eternity according to the law of God, and by the correct authority, and who have kept their covenants, and finally died:

19 [...] and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

I'll restate that. The glory of godhood -- which is the ultimate end of eternal marriage, and gives those who hold it power over all things -- is the continuation of their seed. In other words: the goal of eternal marriage is children. Forever.

(If you wonder how these two points relate, you can look at the post I made just before this one -- Before I Formed Thee In The Belly I Knew Thee. It deals specifically with the creation of our Earth, but it can be extrapolated with minimal changes to all others -- and all other gods)

So, the goal of all human life is to obtain the highest glory, which is eternal marriage and children. This cannot be achieved through homosexual relationships, even could two people persuade a priesthood holder to (attempt to) seal them -- it's impossible for them to have children here on Earth, and our bodies after the resurrection will be much the same as these. So homosexual activity is already a bad idea, because it distracts one from one's ultimate aim. That, I would thing, is enough of an argument. But just in case, there's more.

Sexual relationships are sacred, and belong solely within the boundaries of marriage -- even back in Matt. 19, we saw that the only justification for divorce was one partner being unfaithful. So 'casual' sex -- homo- or heterosexual -- is wrong anyway, on principle. Homosexual marriages, however, are becoming legal in various places, so is that all right?

Well, no. This goes back to the first argument, only more so. If someone is in a homosexual marriage, and assuming they are faithful within that marriage, then they can never attain the highest degree of glory. It's completely impossible -- they are married, but it isn't one that is recognised by God, and thus will be worthless after they die. They can never be sealed, and they can never achieve godhood. Even allowing for an incredible lifespan, eighty years isn't even a scratch on eternity. So allowing people to enter into homosexual marriages (when they could be either marrying someone of the opposite gender or -- and this is equally acceptable, and actually preferable (I think) to entering an unhappy marriage -- staying chaste until after death, with the promise that they will be resurrected at the first resurrection, and thus can find a suitable spouse during the Millennium, cleansed of all their imperfections and weaknesses) is actually worse than than allowing homosexual 'casual' relationships among those who haven't covenanted to keep the law of chastity. Where the former will kill off every chance they might ever have of the highest degree of glory, the latter will merely ('merely'!) give them more to repent of when they do find the gospel and take such covenants.

Lastly, and the only argument you'll see in most Christian circles, the Lord has commanded that we not enter into homosexual relations. See my title as an example. But really, the other arguments were a lot more convincing, I think.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee"

It's been pointed out to me that my previous post doesn't tell you very much if you don't know what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually teaches concerning the pre-mortal existence. So I'll offer up a pretty basic summary -- obviously you could spend your whole life studying this one topic and still not finish.

Our information on the pre-mortal existence of man (sometimes referred to as the pre-existence, despite the technical inaccuracy of that -- it's shorter, I guess) is based mostly in latter-day scripture and revelation. The most detailed descriptions can be found in the books of Abraham and Moses, located in the Pearl of Great Price (available on the Internet -- here). However, there are hints at it throughout the Old and New Testaments (and, it must be noted, the Book of Moses is a restored version of the original opening to Genesis as dictated by the Lord to Moses. So there).

In the beginning was God, singular. It is not terribly relevant that he has a wife, but as the hymn states:

In the heav'ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.
(Hymn #292, O My Father)

It's mentioned nowhere in the Standard Works (=the Old and New Testaments, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price), but I'm informed that it is doctrine, having been stated by prophets of the Restored Church. But it's not terribly relevant, so. Onward!

Abraham 3:22-23:

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organised before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

These intelligences -- or at least, those who were spirits -- are the spirit children of our Heavenly Father, aka God. With him they lived in glory for countless ages, but it gets boring after a while, being a spirit when your Father has a body; and so was the great Plan concieved.

Abraham 3:24-25:

And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

Interestingly (oh no, here comes the tangent) the footnotes to that scripture say that the 'one among them that was like unto God' is Jesus Christ; I'm not so sure. He seems to be someone distinctly separate from the spirit children, judging by his 'we will prove them herewith'; also, in verse 27, we hear that 'the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here I am, send me.' That is Jesus, and as the other person has just finished speaking, they seem unlikely to be the same being.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Job 38:4-7:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

The sons of God -- that is to say, each and every one of us -- shouted for joy when the plan was revealed. At last we would have a chance to obtain bodies of flesh and bone, and rise to be equal to our Heavenly Father. But there was still a problem. Oh yes, there was a problem. Someone would need to guide humanity through its mortal existence: our Father in Heaven needed a Son on Earth. Moses 4:1-2:

And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying - Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honour.
But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me - Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

Imagine you are watching this scene (as, indeed, you were). Your two brothers - one, admittedly, the Firstborn, who has probably had a good deal of respect from you over the aeons - have both offered ideas. Lucifer says that he can get you all bodies and bring you all home again. The Firstborn, on the other hand, won't promise that everyone will return - he says we should be able to choose for ourselves. Security or agency -- which would you choose?

Actually, you don't need to answer that. Abraham 3:28:

And the second [ie, Satan in this version -- the ordering is slightly different. This is the spirit who said he would bring everyone back] was angry, and kept not his first estate; and at that day, many followed after him.

Many, indeed. And what happened? Something that is referred to across the whole of Christendom: the War in Heaven. Revelations 12:7-9:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Just in case you were wondering who these angels were, D&C 29:36-37:

And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil - for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honour, whish is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;
And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels;

They were our brothers and sisters -- Satan managed to persuade a full third of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father away from the path that had been chosen. Perhaps he -- and they -- thought that they might convince Heavenly Father to change his mind, and allow Satan to bring us all safely home at the cost of our agency; who knows? What we do know is that he failed (as he must have done; how could he win?) and dragged a third of our family out of heaven with him. The good news, though, is that you, reading this, did not side with him -- whoever you are, even if you're the staunchest anti-Christian on the planet, you still supported your God and Father in that great battle. Be proud.

And then what? There's not much left to say. Abraham 4:1,3:

And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organised and formed the heavens and the earth.
And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light.

After that, the rest is history.

Monday, 28 May 2007

'I take as my text for today...'

Nahum 1:11-13

11 There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor.
12 Thus saith the Lord; Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.
13 For now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder.

This is in the midst of various prophecies of the Lord's coming -- ie, the Second Coming. What can we get from these three verses? Scarily much.

1:11 -- One of the children of God ('one come out of thee') is a wicked counsellor against the Lord. There's only one person this can be, and that's Satan, the devil, Lucifer, whatever name you give him. It specifies one, so this isn't a class of people (yet); it's a single, specific individual. No individual save Satan can be classed as a universal counsellor against the Lord. There's a lot to learn here. First, Satan is a counsellor only -- not a being of power. He can't act except by whispering (and not shouting -- that's in the next verse, with 'though they be quiet'). Secondly, we learn the insanely important fact that he is one of us -- a child of our Heavenly Father. That means that, since he was in place at the start of the world, we must all have existed before the world -- in short, that one verse (in fact, those five words, 'one come out of thee') are a direct, Old Testament confirmation of the entirety of the pre-mortal existence as we understand it.

1:12-13 -- 'Though they be quiet, and likewise many'. I've already covered the fact that this tells us that Satan can only whisper. It also expands the scope -- one leader, but many such counsellors, of a like type. More Council in Heaven stuff. Then the rest of the verse -- the Lord will cut them (the wicked counsellors) down when he comes. Though he has afflicted us (or caused us to be afflicted, or permitted us to be afflicted -- it's one of those distinctions the Old Testament rarely makes), he will do so no longer. The next verse is more of the same -- the Lord will cast Satan's yoke from our necks and break our bonds asunder.

We know all of this, it's a combination of material from the Book of Moses/Abraham (Council in Heaven) and Revelations (Satan bound). But it's nice to see a traditional Jewish prophet confirming it all.

Friday, 25 May 2007

The Martyrdom

THE ASSASSINATION OF GEN'LS JOSEPH SMITH AND HYRUM SMITH, FIRST PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS; WHO WERE MASSACRED BY A MOB, IN CARTHAGE, HANCOCK COUNTY, ILL, ON THE 27TH JUNE, 1844; BY MISS ELIZA R. SNOW.

"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."- Rev. 6:-9,10,11.


Ye heavens attend! Let all the earth give ear!
Let Gods and seraphs, men and angels hear-
The worlds on high - the universe shall know
What awful scenes are acted here below!
Had nature's self a heart, her heart would bleed;
For never, since the Son of God was slain
Has blood so noble, flow'd from human vein
From "freedom's ground" - from Carthage prison walls!

Oh! Illinois! thy soil has drank the blood
Of prophets martyr'd for the truth of God.
Once lov'd America! what can atone
For the pure blood of innocence, thou'st sown?
Were all thy streams in teary torrents shed
To mourn the fate of those illustrious dead;
How vain the tribute, for the noblest worth
That grac'd thy surface, O degraded Earth!
Oh wretched murderers! fierce for human blood!
You've slain the prophets of the living God,
Who've born oppression from their early youth.
To plant on earth, the principles of truth.

Shades of our patriotic fathers! Can it be,
Beneath your blood-stained flag of liberty:
The firm supporters of our country's cause,
Are butchered while submissive to her laws?
Yes, blameless men, defam'd by hellish lies
Have thus been offer'd as a sacrifice
T'appease the ragings of a brutish clan,
That has defied the laws of God and man!
'Twas not for crime or guilt of theirs, they fell-
Against the laws they never did rebel.
True to their country, yet her plighted faith
Has proved an instrument of cruel death!
Where are thy far-famed laws - Columbia! where
Thy boasted freedom - thy protecting care?
Is this a land of rights? Stern FACTS shall say
If legal justice here maintains its sway,
The official pow'rs of State are sheer pretence
When they're exerted in the Saints defence.

Great men have fall'n and mighty men have died-
Nations have mourn'd their favourites and their pride;
But TWO so wise, so virtuous, great and good,
Before on earth, at once, have never stood
Since the creation - men whom God ordained
To publish truth where error long had reigned;
Of whom the world, itself unworthy prov'd:
It KNEW THEM NOT; but men with hatred mov'd
And with infernal spirits have combined
Against the best, the noblest of mankind!

Oh persecution! shall thy purple hand
Spread utter destruction through the land?
Shall freedom's banner be no more unfurled?
Has peace indeed, been taken from the world?
Thou God of Jacob, in this trying hour
Help us to trust in thy almighty pow'r;
Support thy Saints beneath this awful stroke-
Make bare thine arm to break oppression's yoke.
We mourn thy Prophet, from whose lips have flow'd
The words of life, thy spirit has bestow'd-
A depth of thought, no human art could reach
From time to time, roll'd in sublimest speech,
From the celestial fountain, through his mind,
To purify and elevate mankind:
The rich intelligence by him brought forth,
Is like the sun-beam, spreading o'er the earth.

Now Zion mourns-she mourns an earthly head:
The Prophet and the Patriarch are dead!
The blackest deed that men or devils know
Since Calv'ry's scene, has laid the brothers low!
One in their life, and one in death-they prov'd
How strong their friendship-how they truly lov'd:
True to their mission, until death, they stood,
Then seal'd their testimony with their blood.
All hearts with sorrow bleed, and every eye
Is bathed in tears-each bosom heaves a sigh-
Heartbroken widows' agonizing groans
Are mingled with the helpless orphans' moans!

Ye Saints! be still, and know that God is just-
With steadfast purpose in his promised trust.
Girded with sackcloth, own his mighty hand,
And wait his judgments on this guilty land!
The noble martyrs now have gone to move
The cause of Zion in the courts above.

(Originally published in The Times And Seasons, July 1844)

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Prophet of the Where?

If you've got a decent knowledge of Old Testament history, you'll know that the Hebrews eventually split into two Kingdoms, Judah (the South Kingdom) and Israel (the North Kingdom, also referred to frequently in scripture as Ephraim). Both of these states had periods of righteousness, and both of them had Prophets at various times. The question is, how many of each do we have details of?

I'm not going to list all the prophets mentioned for the period of the divided kingdoms; I'll stick to the ones who have their own books, or who are prominently mentioned elsewhere.

Judah

Obadiah?
Micah
Isaiah
Joel?

Israel

Hosea
Amos
Elijah
Elisha

A fairly even distribution, it seems, but consider this:

-Obadiah and Joel possibly, or in the former case likely, prophecied after the fall of the North Kingdom (as, of course, did so many others - Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, all the other named books)
-Amos was actually native to the South, despite spending his time in the North
-Elijah and his follower Elisha have left no writings that reached us in our day

There's several implications here. First, of course, is the fact that very few writings of Prophets from either Kingdom - or indeed any Prophets before the split - have come down to us. Four books here are known for certain; most of the Old Testament before the split is records, rather than writings. There must have been many living and speaking prophecies, and presumably some were written down, but we don't have them.

Secondly, only one North-bred Prophet has left his words for us, compared to at least three from the South. Amos' record may have been relayed through relatives or friends in Judah, hence its appearence. We know of at least one - Elijah - who was as renowned as Isaiah of the South, but left no record.

The upshot of this? One springs immediately to mind - the case of the brass plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon. We still have several things they contained - the Books of Moses, the writings of Isaiah - and we know that they were owned by a part of the Tribe of Manasseh. The time we're introduced to them is some hundred years after the Fall of the North, and there's no reason they can't be far older than that - they were metal, after all. So the idea that they might have contained the writings of Northern Prophets, which didn't manage to make the transition to Judah in any other lasting way, is hardly outrageous.

Why do I bring this up?

Zenock and Zenos are mentioned, and quoted, in the Book of Mormon. Their lives are not given in any detail whatsoever, but the prophecies must have been on the Brass Plates. While Isaiah's writings were added after the Fall of the North, these two were from before - that rarest of things, the records of Prophets of the North.

(As an addition - one possible reason for them not being recorded elsewhere might be that these two were actually ancestors of Lehi, rather than renowned Prophets in their own day. The extracts we have of their works do not seem to be prophecies of 'current events' at their time of writing - they were focused exclusively on the Messiah. As such, they would be unproven, having said nothing that could be tested, and perhaps only recorded in one place, on the plates, so that Lehi's family could say they had Prophets in their line. Lehi's descendents, with their well-known obsession with all things Messianic, would of course not even begin to think this way; those who were writing primarily for a future generation, such as Mormon, would assume that the writings of these Prophets would be well known in the latter days, and think nothing of including mentions of them)

I desired mercy, and not sacrifice

(I'm cheating for this first post and pulling out something I wrote back on -- so my note says -- the 11th of March. But I've not shown it to anyone before, so that's all right)

Matthew 12:7-8:

"For I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
But if he had known what this meaneth, 'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,' ye would not have condemned the guiltless."


This is cross-referenced in my LDS-published Bible to Hosea 6:6, but verses 4-7 are noteworthy:

"O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a moving cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Therefore I have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgements are as the light that goeth forth. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me."

The covenant in question is the Abrahamic covenant, and Israel (Judah and Ephraim being symbolic of the two halves of the nation throughout much of the Old Testament) transgressed it at the foot of Sinai, by their act of idolatry and disobedience. By this transgression they signified their ignorance that there is one greater than the temple and the temporal things of the law - that the Lord, if he will, can save them without the need for objects and rites, such as they thought they needed - and thereby proved that they were not ready for the Celesital law of the Christ and forgiveness, but only the Telestial Mosaic law of sacrifice and condemnation.

Debunking a Few Myths

Welcome to With Eyes Wide Open: Thoughts of a Mormon Scientist. As my welcome post, I thought I'd start by seeing exactly how many myths about Mormons I can debunk by my very existence. So let's get started.

Myth: There is a church called the Mormon Church.

Response: Hello. My name is David, and I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of our volumes of scripture is the Book of Mormon, from which the nickname "Mormons" is derived. It's like if we called all Christians "Bibles", which would be rather strange, to say the least. The correct term for members of the Church is "Latter-day Saints", with the adjective "LDS". But we use "Mormon" just as much as anyone else, so don't worry about it.

Myth: Mormons aren't Christian.

Response: I have two volumes of scripture known as "quads". These contain the four Standard Works of scripture of the LDS Church -- the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon is subtitled "Another Testament of Jesus Christ", and documents the workings of the Lord among His people, including the appearence of the resurrected Saviour in their midst. Through the Book of Mormon, I have come to know of the power of the Saviour's Atonement, and of the love Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has for me and for all mankind. Because of the Book of Mormon, I can truthfully say that I know that only through Jesus Christ can I ever be forgiven my sins and return to live with God. Tell me that's not Christian.

Myth: Mormons all live in Utah, in America.

Response: I was born in London, England. I grew up in London, England. I now live two hours away from London, England. I've visited the USA a total of three times, never for more than a week, and only one of those visits was to Utah. No, I don't have any ancestors from Utah, either.

Myth: Mormons only believe the things they do because they were indoctrinated with them.

Response: My mother was brought up a Methodist, while my father was raised a Roman Catholic. By the time I was born, they'd both lapsed completely from church attendance. For the first twenty years of my life, I went to church only for things like harvest festivals and the occasional Christmas mass. Oh, and my grandparents' funerals. I wasn't christened as a child because my parents wanted me to be able to choose for myself. Well, I did choose. At age 20 I chose, of my own free will, to be baptised and confirmed into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Myth: People only join the Mormon Church because they're ignorant.

Response: See the subtitle of this blog? I'm no Henry Eyring (the archetypal Mormon Scientist, and author of the Eyring equation), but I do have a Master of Chemistry degree. That's from a British university, for the record -- which means four years of intense study entirely focussed on science, as opposed to an American degree which is a lot broader in scope. I joined the Church during the second year of my degree.

Myth: The Mormon Church doesn't want people to think for themselves.

The title of this blog is With Eyes Wide Open. It's taken from a song:

With eyes wide open I'll walk in His light
And bask in his bounty of proof

Our Heavenly Father has given us brains for a reason: He wants us to think. He wants us to explore the world around us. He wants us to study the truths He has revealed and find out for ourselves if they're true. Whatever people may tell you, Mormons aren't afraid to think.