Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Fairy Tale about How a Woman's Faith Transformed the World

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, there lived a beautiful young peasant girl named Yifang. She and her brothers, while poor, had a kind of faith in the divine nature of people, that if we lived in harmony with one another and with nature, we could be happy and live well.  This "harmony with nature" was called "The Way", and Yifang was one of the "Followers of the Way". She cherished her sacred text, entitled, the Book of the Way and its Potency.

Her place and time, however, were characterized by warfare and strict rules.  She lived in the most contentious part of her land, and the soldiers eventually took her and her brothers into slavery. Because she was smart, literate, beautiful and kind, she was assigned to be a court attendant, but her brothers were not so favored.

At one point, she was assigned to go to the principal court of the empire, but because her escort was negligent, she was transferred to Dai, a remote part of the realm.  While she was there, she attracted the favor of Heng, the very young prince of Dai.  Although Heng had been brought up to believe people were basically evil and needed strict rules and social hierarchy, Yifang had an influence on him, teaching him that people were inherently good by nature, that they had a part of heaven within them, and if we seek to find our true nature, we can be better people.

Under Yifang's influence, Heng became converted, becoming a "Follower of the Way" as well.  The Book of the Way and its Potency became his guidebook for life.

Prince Heng's evil stepmother Lu staged a coup d'etat and took over the empire.  She continued to promote strict rules and social hierarchy. A person of wealth, lacking both intelligence and integrity, she caused great dissension in the land for the eight years of her reign.  Many people suffered, while she continued to try to build a great wall in the north of her land to keep invading immigrants out.  She bankrupted her land, and eventually was deposed and killed.

The princes of the land gathered together after Lu died, and appointed the young Heng to be the emperor.  Yifang became the empress, and because of her strong faith in the divine nature of mankind, she exerted immeasurable influence on her husband.  In fact, it can be said that they worked together, uniting the Emperor and Empress, as divine masculine and feminine, as yang and yin combine into the One.

Following the principles found in the Book of the Way and its Potency, emperor Heng and Empress Dou relaxed the strict laws, eliminating capital punishments, and lowering taxes.  Following the Way, they sought to raise a standard of liberty -- freedom of faith, of conscience, and of opportunity -- for all.  They instituted universal, free education for all, comprehensive healthcare, and paid pensions for the elderly.  Taxes were lowered again to 3% of annual production.  They eliminated government-job entitlements to those who were in the social elite, instituting merit-based employment examinations for public service.  They made peace with enemies, choosing negotiation over warfare.

The Book of the Way became the ruling philosophy of the empire.

When Heng died, Yifang's son Chee became the emperor, and with the ongoing influence of his mother, they continued and expanded Heng's policies.  Peace and prosperity persisted for the thirty nine years that Yifang led the government through her husband and son.  So great was the prosperity, that the storehouses were full of grain and everyone had enough.

Nearly the entire realm had embraced the Way, and while not everyone became "Followers of the Way" -- as there was utterly no requirement to do so -- the Way was practiced to the maximum extent possible.  People listened to each other, had regard for each other, cared for each other, in a Way that allowed everyone to prosper.

Eventually, Chee got sick and died, and his very young son Wu became the emperor.  One of Chee's cousins, Liu An, the Prince of Huainan was a Follower of the Way.  He compiled a book expanding the principles found in the Book of the Way, expanding its principles as a kind of encyclopedia of the Way and presented it to Wu in a great ceremony.  This new text, the "Master of Huainan" as it was called, contained the principles of successful leadership and living -- all in one place, so that any leader could Follow the Way to the maximum extent.

Unfortunately, however, Wu was too young to really understand the importance of following the Way and the divine nature of mankind.  In a couple of years, his grandmother Yifang died, giving an opportunity for ambitious "King-men" to exert influence on the young emperor.  Under their influence, Wu adopted the old ways of strict rules, social hierarchy, and warfare.  He dismissed the Followers of the Way from his reign, and the Book of the Way, along with the Master of Huainan text, all were pushed back into the recesses of the imperial archives.  Wu instituted the old ruling philosophy, one of ritual and privilege, of social hierarchy and structure, of hegemony and structure, of obedience and punishments.

Even history, under Wu and his followers, was distorted to favor the official philosophy.  People lost their sense of belonging and true nature.  Although Wu lived and ruled a very long time, he never was able to achieve peace or prosperity.

Yet for forty-five years, the faith of a simple peasant woman transformed the world.

This is a true story.

It recounts the Chinese "Rule of Wen and Jing" from 180-135 BCE, when Liu Heng (Emperor Wen) and Lui Qi (Emperor Jing) reigned under the influence of Empress Dou Yifang.  The Book of the Way and its Potency is the "Tao Te Ching"/"daodejing", and Lui An's "Master of Huainan" (the Huainanzi) was recently translated into English for the first time. Liu An was forced to commit suicide by Emperor Wu.  Although it ultimately is a sad story, the forty-five years in which Lao Tzu's influence governed the empire were indeed the most peaceful, prosperous, and equitable time in the history of the world.

Faith made the difference.  Not obedience to strict rules.  Not belief in a made-up history.  Not pretended knowledge of good and evil we find in the dogmas of religion.  But real faith -- faith in the inherent goodness of mankind.  Faith that in our quiet moments and in cherished, calm dialog, we can realize the divine.  Faith that each of us, in our calm essential nature, is a child of god.

Yet there is more.  At the core of it was a principle embodied in a sacred text: that if we Follow the Way, we can find peace and happiness.  The Way is not man-made.  While ineffable, it is both very concrete and deeply mystical.  It is the Way of nature -- how things work together in harmony to create life.  We look all around us and embrace the Way -- it infuses everything we are and do.  Yet we can fight it, we can try make our own way, and in so doing, disrupt the harmony.

We see in our LDS church and culture so much that goes against the Way.  We have evolved to a set of rules and punishments where our divine nature is said to be inherently sinful and depraved, adopting from our Christian friends their creeds and abominations.  Worse, instead of realizing grace, we have created a performance-based structure where guilt and shame infuse our lives, destroying our harmony, and forcing us to be less than our divine natures.

All of these tendencies were written up on the Book of the Way and its Potency, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching -- a text which stands to this day as scripture for many.  Yet I'm not saying that it is superior to our own scriptures, only that the scriptures of our culture should be taken seriously in the way they reflect this divine, universal Way.

We who live outside are China are typically are not Taoists -- some of the words and practices are unfamiliar to us. Yet the principles of the Way are universal and are found within our Judeo-Christian traditions, and ultimately for some, our Mormon faith. We celebrate these concepts while using different language and scripture. Jesus' first disciples called themselves, "Followers of the Way", and only later were called "Christians" as a kind of derogatory slur. We say "Gospel" when we express the idea of the Way.  We speak of the ideal world in which we are One as being Zion. We have within our faith a deep understanding of Divine Nature. We speak of Christ, he who truly understood what it meant to be both God and Man at a fundamental level, yet when we speak of following Christ, are we following Him or rather, the artificial rules and rituals made up by man in his place?

I am saying that within our FAITH we have the potential to be and do more than just be individually content that we are on the Way.  Yifang's FAITH transformed her entire empire, and helped establish the most significantly peaceful, equitable, and prosperous period in Chinese history.

Here we are today, amidst a church and world that don't seem to know what this faith in our divine nature is all about.  We have lost our sense of belonging, and our souls are hurt.  Yet I have faith and hope that we can do better.  that we can transform ourselves and world into something better -- not that we can change the world, but rather, that in all we do, we can let the beautiful, natural world be what it truly is.

This is my faith today.  A fool's faith, perhaps, but I live in hope that we can be better.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Way to be Sustainably One - Lao Tzu chapter 23

Laozi said,

A few words about the nature of things:

A violent wind does not sustain itself throughout the night,
A sudden rain does not sustain itself throughout the day.
What makes this so?
It's in the very nature of heaven and earth.
So, if heaven and earth does not sustain wind and rain forever,
then how can people possibly sustain their affairs?


Those who follow the Way in their affairs,
With respect to the Way, become one with the Way,
With respect to Virtue, become one with Virtue,
With respect to Loss, become one with Loss.

Those who are one with the Way are joyously fulfilled by the Way,
Those who are one with Virtue, are joyously fulfilled by Virtue,
Those who are one with Loss, are joyously fulfilled by Loss.

When Oneness is not enough,
then you are not One.

I think there is a tendency in our human nature to ever desire more, to keep progressively getting richer, smarter, more friends, more of everything.  It's kind of like a race, to continually progress, to get better.

It's admirable, I suppose, to seek for continual improvement.  In religious terms, we speak of becoming god-like in our journey toward "eternal life".  Mormons speak of "eternal progression" as this principle.

Yet there is something about this that can be unsustainable.

My wife's grandfather was a deeply spiritual man, a Patriarch, and successful in almost every way.  I admired him, and felt that his advice was a precious thing.  Yet toward the end of his life, he became bitter about losing his independence.  Deep within him, he identified with his accomplishments, spiritual power, and independence, and when these waned, he was deeply depressed.

I have seen ebbs and flows in my life -- times where I think I've done well, and other times when nothing goes well.  The Daoist writer Wenzi wrote a similar concept to Ecclesiastes, that there is a time for things, and when the time is about to come, there is no rushing to meet it, and when it leaves, there is no use in trying to hang on to it.

Becoming One with the moment, is realizing this time in the moment, amidst change. Try as we might, we often seek to manipulate things in such a way that the outcomes are always favorable to us. We want to continually progress and have success -- but such desires are often unsustainable.

In contrast, when we are faced with a situation, whether it be completely in harmony with the Way, or with Virtue, or with even a situation of grave Loss, the key is not to rue the loss of the Way, as it were, but rather, realize that the Way is simply in every situation -- even that of loss.  And if we embrace the loss, we become one with it.  This leads us to find fulfillment - healing -- becoming "whole" within the Loss.

So we speak of Oneness all the time, without realizing it.  We seek healing amidst loss, yet the terms "heal" and "health" are etymologically connected to "wholeness" -- or being One.  We speak of integrity in terms of faith and trust, yet the term "integrity" literally means, "that which makes us One" -- leading us to realize that faith and trust are the connection necessary to being One.  We realize our individuality, often thinking ourselves to be distinct from others, yet the term "individual" means "that which is not divided, not dual" -- our "individuality" is both our uniqueness, as well as our interconnectedness with all that makes us One.

We speak in religious terms about becoming "perfect", and yet, Jesus' words to this extent were intended to convey that we are to be "whole" in our dealings with others -- indeed, unconditional in love to others whether or not they are our friends or enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).  We hear Jesus praying in John 17 that his disciples might be One, in exactly the same way that Jesus is One with the Father.  He spoke to prophets more recently saying, "I say unto you, Be One, and if you are not One, you are not mine."

This desire to be One need not be something vague and impossible.  It certainly does not mean that we need to conform to a specific model of being.  Noting that the weather of wind and rain vary within nature, we too need to realize that we are all unique "individuals" with distinct identities (Identity is another word for Oneness).  Yet the key to unity is not to be divorced individuals -- a contradiction in terms -- but rather, connected, interdependent individuals -- lovingly One with all there is.

All this said, it's tough to "be one" at all times.  I feel loss, especially as I come to milestones of feeling old and useless.  I cannot sustain the relentless energy of the race track of life we call "career". Instead, I seek refuge in Oneness, and find peace even amidst loss.

Such a fool am I.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

LDS Conference and Faith Transformation

Something happened to my faith.

I don't believe the same things I once did.

I see things in a different light.

My perspective has changed: things like conference, once filled with magical expectation that God will reveal some new new doctrine or a significant milestone toward the second coming, no longer thrill me.

And in radically changing my perspective, lowering my expectations from a magical worldview, I longer get disappointed when the magic doesn't happen.

Conference has become a bit of a "meh" for me, probably for some time now.  I hear some good points, and some very narrow perspectives.  What impresses me is how incredibly human and mundane conference is: well-intentioned men and women trying to express the inspiration they feel from the spirit within them.

Their words point to something, but the object of their pointing is often vague.

It's an art form.

And like art, my experience with it is far more important than the intention of the artist or the form of the art itself.

My believing friends and family believe they heard a masterpiece inspired from on high.  I heard failing human words, mostly.  What I perceived as divine was not those words, nor do I think the artists were particularly inspired, but rather, I perceived something deeply human--people trying to find their Way.

As are we all.

Indeed, something happened to my faith.  But it hasn't weakened or been destroyed.

It also hasn't "transitioned" -- a word that connotes going from one "thing" to another "thing".

No.  Not transitioned.

My beliefs have died.  The God of magical intervention has gone away for me.  And with it, my magical expectations for Mormonism have died as well.

Yet, something was reborn this weekend, and not because of conference, but rather, conflict.  Watching negativity arise around me over some word or phrase, some trigger here or there, I realized that while validating the hurt we feel in losing our beliefs is real, the need for human connection is far more important.

Faith is that connection.  It's a kind of hope born in adversity and not-knowing.  It's found in the love we need, and in love we give.

Faith is about transformation, not transition.  Transition disconnects from one thing and moves to the next.  It may be necessary for many to do so, but if we do, it's not about faith, but something else.

Faith transforms.  Faith is about rising above our human frailties to embrace something more -- not an independent embrace, one where it's between me and that more and to hell with you.  No, faith is really found in the literal embrace of struggling humans discovering love beyond the words.  My faith is nothing if I am not connected.

Faith saves.  I know we say that "Jesus saves", but who is Jesus without our faith?  In saying this, faith in Christ does not seem to be believing certain things about Christ, but rather, knowing in being connected to the source of being, the I AM.

And being connected to Christ, means authentically connecting with all around me, including my very human LDS believing friends, family, and...leaders. a different kind of faith, one that doesn't transition, but rather, abides in love.

It's not easy.

Faith is a leap into the unknown.

Yet I will try.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Alma's Epistemic

In Greek, the word for faith and belief is the same: πίστις / pistis.  In English, however, belief includes knowledge as the extreme of justified true belief, and our LDS testimonies confess that "We KNOW", not that we believe or we "have faith".  Greek never equates pistis as knowledge ("gnosis").  Pistis implies more of a trust or hope that something is true.

The study of how we believe things is called "epistemology", coming directly from pistis.  Although we often impute epistemology as the study of "knowledge", it is most appropriately focused on how we come to have faith in something.

Remarkably, our LDS scriptures give us a study in how we move from unbelief, doubt, and uncertainty, to a specific faith and belief in things.  Eugene England proposed that Alma 32 constituted and "epistemic" -- method of sorting out faith/belief -- although in all my readings of England, I don't think he spelled it out explicitly.

I would like to suggest that the need for an epistemic is absolute in our quest for answers throughout our trial of faith, or what many call a "faith crisis".  Joseph Smith suggested that Faith was the very first principle of the gospel, and most philosophy would suggest that epistemology constitutes the very first principle of any rigorous philosophy.  Descartes also laid out a first principle of sorting out his beliefs, by methodically doubting everything he believed, but Descartes was a little lax on providing a clear reconstructive methodology.

Alma provides that reconstructive methodology in his epistemic, which in my impression is quite simply this:

Alma 32:21: "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."

As I see it, faith lives within the continuum between certain belief and disbelief -- it is not the assertion that "I KNOW", but rather something less than certainty, yet still "hopeful" that the thing in which we have faith is "true" in some material way.

Alma goes further, to suggest that faith does not require belief, and suggests that faith doesn't start with belief at all, if we can but "exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can do no more than desire to believe..." (v27).  He then suggests having a willingness to try something out to see if it is true, and not to "cast it out by your unbelief" (v28).

The outcome of the test is not always that the seed grows.  He flatly states that if something doesn't grow -- doesn't edify, then "behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away".  Belief in something that doesn't grow or isn't true isn't faith at all, but rather something else.  Faith needs to be in something that edifies, that grows, and brings forth good things.

Once our faith has proven to bring forth fruit on the specific test of *a seed*, some may think that the work is done.  If I get a good feeling about the Book of Mormon, then, inductively, the Book is absolutely true in all of its dimensions, literally historical, and the person that brought it forth must be a prophet of god.

Alma rejects this inductive reasoning.  He says, "Your knowledge is perfect *in that thing, and your faith is dormant...and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good."

He finally suggests that the epistemic construction of faith and belief is a continual process, to be embarked throughout life, to nourish both our faith and our knowledge.

Alma's epistemic is a basic outline of coming to a type of truth-value of specific things: planting a seed in one's heart (emotions) and seeing if it "grows" creates a knowledge not that the thing itself is objectively true, but rather normatively and valuatively true for me.  I can "know" that something, like the Book of Mormon uplifts me, inspires me, and causes me to do good, because I can experience such things.  But to imply that a given thing is "objectively true" -- as in a literal and true history -- would be an inductive fallacy.  I don't think, however, most LDS realize this inductive fallacy, and from my reading of Alma's requirement that "you're not done" is a rejection of induction.
Visually, I have tried to represent the spectrum of certainty ("perfect knowledge" as being more than just a binary something is either true or false.  As I see it, there is a realm of "perfect knowledge" which may be a very small set of things.  For everything in between, we have beliefs, optimistic desires, hope for which we want something to be true.  Belief, at least in English, doesn't clearly distinguish itself from "certain belief" or "justified true belief", therefore the term is not a useful designation for "faith" but the scriptures cannot avoid this coming from a single word in the greek.

There is a negative side of this spectrum, the area of skepticism and unbelief/disbelief.  These two words seem a little different in nuance: unbelief seems to be softer, whereas disbelief is a rejection of belief, and is closer in the spectrum to "certain disbelief".  Skepticism, properly defined, should reside at the mid-point in the spectrum.

Doubt is not on the spectrum, it IS the spectrum.  The difference between certainty and uncertainty is the extent to which we doubt.  The scriptures often juxtapose "doubt" in contrast to "faith"/"belief", creating a confusion that there necessary doubt (epistemic humility), and there is disbelieving doubt, which betrays less than epistemic humility -- Given the broad spectrum of doubt, it's all in the context -- I might politely say "I doubt that" when I mean, inside, "I disbelieve that".  Such is the fungible nature of the English language.

In creating this spectrum of faith, uncertainty, and doubt, the one thing that concerns me is that "Faith" is spectral in and of itself.  When Jesus chastised Peter for faltering AFTER walking on water, he said, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt." (Matthew 14:31).  Indeed, the better translation here of "doubt" was to waver -- Peter neglected to continue to "trust" the Lord in his "walking on water" experience.  Taken as a metaphor of how we walk in Christ, trusting Him, it is a powerful statement.  Taken out of context that doubt is the antithesis of faith is not supported by the scripture at all.

But the question remains, what constitutes the strongest "Faith"?  In my impression, the strongest faith is one that trusts with the least amount of certainty.  To trust when one believes with certainty is not a matter of strength, but a fait accompli.   To trust the Lord when one truly doesn't know, and to act in that trust, is indeed, to me, the strongest "Faith".  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Why Priesthood at All?

Verbatim, from the Improvement Era, October 1931, Page 735:

CAN any one, without the Priesthood, pray and have his prayers answered? Or receive the Holy Ghost, with its gifts and manifestations?

The answer is Yes. Men, women and children who do not hold the Priesthood have had their prayers answered millions of times in the history of Christianity the world over and in the history of this dispensation.  Men, women and children also receive the Holy Ghost after baptism through the laying on of hands.

May one have revelations and visions of heavenly beings, without the Priesthood?

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did so. In May, 1829, John the Baptist appeared to them, and that was before either of them had been ordained.   It was John, in fact, who conferred the Priesthood upon them. This function of having visions, of course, was exceptional in their case.

If, then, one may pray, may have his prayers answered, may have the Holy Ghost bestowed upon him, and may exercise many of its gifts, without holding any Priesthood, what is the place of Priesthood on the earth?

Chiefly Priesthood functions in connection with organization. That is, the greatest need of Priesthood is where there is a service to be performd to others besides ourselves.

Whenever you do anything for, or in behalf of, someone else, you must have the right to do so. If you are to sell property belonging to another, you must have his permission. If you wish to admit an alien to citizenship in our government, you cannot act without having been commissioned to do so by the proper authority.

Now, a religious organization, or the Church, is in the last analysis a matter of service. You baptize someone, or you confirm him, or you administer to him in case of sickness, or
you give him the Sacrament or the Priesthood, or you preach the Gospel to him — what is this but performing a service?

Now, when it comes to earthly power to perform a definite service, we call it the power of attorney in the case of acting legally for someone else, or the court and the judge where it is
a question of acting for the government.

But in the Church of Christ this authority to act for others is known as Priesthood.

(From the Internet Archive, as of 10 March 2015)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why I don't like apologetics

The Greek term "ἀπολογία"/"apologia" means "speaking in defense", or more specifically, "to defend something by making an excuse for it." The idea of speaking in defense of something suggests that the thing is right and true to start with, and the counter-proposition is false.

Thus, "apologetics", by very definition, starts with a position that a received religious position is true, and everything is as it should be. There is no quest for truth here, there is only a combative stance: to defend the received position with whatever means possible.  "Good" apologetics, if there is such a thing, tries to defend with logic and reason.  However, most apologetics, especially that practiced by Mormons in their attempt to defend the indefensible, are not characterized by reason or logic.

Good apologetics start with a thorough investigation of the facts, with an eye to defend, but not to deny facts that that are reasonably justified. In Mormon spheres, Brian Hales comes to mind, whose work on polygamy is very good. He still betrays huge confirmation bias in his conclusions, but at least he seeks honesty as to his facts.  In the Mormon world, he represents the best of apologetics, and is rare.

However, facts get in the way of defense, especially when facts are inconvenient.  I don't think there are many apologists anywhere that try to defend a "young earth" theory of creation, although the Bible is pretty clear on that.  One can always say that the Bible was written so long ago, that the ideas of time and space may not have been fully understood; so such things can be set aside as, well, not literally the case.  Defending biblical texts, and the historicity of biblical accounts has become as well a bit difficult, but then again, these events happened long ago, so any evidence to the contrary of the existence of Abraham or Moses, or what exactly Jesus said, is anyone's guess.  Apologists can defend, because there aren't many facts to the contrary.

Mormonism suffers from a different problem.  The founding events of Mormonism are very recent compared to events in the Bible.  What people said and did is much more accessible in historical accounts -- there are many "facts" about how Mormonism started -- many more facts than exist for Christianity in general.  And, not all these facts favor the received accounts.

Mormons grow up with a sanitized view of Mormon history -- very much made "holy" so as to promote "faith".  This might work well if the person lived 2000 years or so ago, but when modern history is sanitized, there are enough contemporaneous accounts to reveal the unsantized account to somebody.  And today, with the availability of the Internet and wide dissemination of information, the sordid facts of Mormon history, the origin of its doctrines, and the nature of its practices and rules are readily available to anyone who wants to look.

But Mormons are told not to look -- this is Rule #1 of Mormon apologetics.  Don't read that "anti-Mormon" literature -- it's all lies.  Except, that now that real live historians have had a chance to discover the inconvenient facts, Mormon apologists, the self-appointed defenders and interpreters of Mormon scripture, can avoid the bullet of the facts.

So they changed their strategy.  Today, a number of LDS apologists no longer attempt to create mind-numbing propositions to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  Instead, they seek to discredit and smear anyone the temerity to point out these facts to believing members.  They poison the well of anyone who attempted critical investigation into church claims, by attempting to demonstrate that the person who is pointing out the facts is an anti-Mormon apostate, a "Wolf in sheep's clothing", or an Antichrist.. This tactic to label and smear their perceived enemies taints the entire Mormon apologetic profession.

Once a critic or historian has been labeled as "unworthy", then Rule #1 kicks in.

Oh this should not be so.  I grew up in the LDS church, in what was called the "Mission Field" where our LDS faith was something we cherished against a very non-LDS society.  We valued the idea that Joseph Smith and others who founded this religion were about restoring the "truth" of the gospel.  I learned from my LDS parents that should not be afraid of truth in the least.  J Reuben Clark, a prominent LDS Apostle and leader, said, "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed."

To me, the Gospel of Jesus Christ starts with a quest for truth Alma called "Faith", then moves quickly to an open and inclusive understanding and relationship with Christ as the very "I AM", the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

What does "Faith" have to do with "Truth"?  To me, Faith is the epistemic Middle Way between knowing something is true and knowing something is false.  Faith is "not knowing".  Paul speaks of Faith as being the evidence of things not seen.  In our LDS scripture, we have a prophet Alma speaking about faith as being this:
Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.  (Alma 32:21)

This begins a discourse by Alma about faith, where he presents faith as an "epistemic" -- or a way of figuring out how to "know" something.  This realm of "epistemology" is critical to belief, and as Joseph Smith once said that the very first principle of the Gospel was faith, so also does all learning and philosophy begin with the "First Principle" of epistemology.  And well should it be the First Principle: "Epistemology" -- the study of "knowledge" comes directly from the Greek "πίστις", pistis, which means "Faith", and not "knowledge".  Hence, the first principle of all of our investigations should be to understand how we come to know things, reject things, and maintain an open mound about that which is in the Middle.  The epistemic Middle Way is thus "Faith".

Hence, according to Alma, faith does not start from a position of confidence or certainty. It starts with a desire to believe in something, and then to practice and experiment to explore that thing with an open mind (do not cast out for unbelief). Action is involved. And the outcome could to cast the seed away, not because of disbelief, but because the seed is not good. This negative aspect of Faith is never discussed in apologetics or in the church. yet it is right there in the Book of Mormon: "Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away." (Alma 32:32)

But let's say that the seed is good, and it bears good fruit. The typical missionary response is that this means that the entire belief structure is good and true. I read the book of Mormon, i ponder it, i pray about it, and voila! i feel good about it. This means, according to our "all or nothing, all true or all fraud" proposition, that every aspect of the book of Mormon is also true, that it is authentic history (why would god lie?), that Joseph Smith never committed fraud and was a true prophet (why would god pick a con-man for a prophet), and the Salt Lake church is true (god promised that this restoration would never be taken from the earth).

I don't think that I am exaggerating to say that this inductive method of asserting the truth of the church is based and dependent on a spiritual experience -- a good feeling -- about the Book of Mormon.

This position of asserted certainty is at the heart of Mormon apologetics. The credibility of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's integrity must be defended at all costs, lest the entire assertive truth of the church falls.

The problem is the inductive leap from a good feeling to an acceptance of the aggregate factuality of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the Church is a horrifying example of fallacy by induction. Ironically, the Book of Mormon itself warns against such a leap:

"And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; ... now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge (of the whole tree) perfect? ... Nay, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good." (Alma 32:33-36)

If I read the Book of Mormon and have a spiritual experience with it, what does that mean? What seed am I planting? What does the plant I planted look like? Does my spiritual experience prove historical factuality? I have read Les Miserables, the Lord of the Rings, and many ancient Chinese myths, I have felt powerful experiences with them. My most powerful experience was reading Chapter 17 of Lao Tzu. Should I assert that Victor Hugo, JRR Tolkien, or Lao Tzu were prophets of God because I am inspired by them? (actually, I think they were, in a way) Did there have to be a real person named Jean Valjean? Bilbo Baggins? Do I have to accept the legend of Lao Tzu reciting his 5,000 characters of the Dao De Jing to the keeper at the Gate?

Of course not. Who would ever claim that I need to believe some prophetic calling of Hugo and Tolkien or some bogus origin story of Lao Tzu to realize that divine words are everywhere.

Yet to up the stakes, Mormon apologists have demanded that the only acceptable interpretation of the book of Mormon is a literal one. Those who leave the church accurately say that the church, writ large, insists on a literal interpretation of the Book of Mormon. The time has come that the evidence against the Book of Mormon as authentic history is conclusive -- it is only a matter of time before every LDS will learn of the facts. Many LDS will stubbornly ignore the evidence, being justified by the mental gymnastics and complete disregard for logic embodied by FAIR's apologists.

Yet for an entire rising generation of people entering adulthood, for those who are willing to look on the internet, and even read the LDS gospel topics, the facts are inescapable, and the literalized methods of FAIR do far more harm than good. At this point, there are no good tools, acceptable by the church, that helps people embrace the spiritual value of the Book of Mormon, divorced from its literalism.

By purporting to providing the answers to the factual issues in the Church, and only being able to discredit logically reasonable explanations, FAIR does much more harm than good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The First Principle of the Gospel

It occurs to me this morning that the "First Principle" of the Gospel is "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". In my LDS experience, however, faith is not of any primacy, and while we speak of Jesus Christ, it seems that we are stuck in the literal and supernatural things he represents.
In Church. the first principle we teach is obedience, that we are here to be tested to see if we will obey, and we must do all we can do to be saved. Then, and only then, after all we can do, we are saved by grace. This obedience is not to the teachings of Jesus Christ, but rather, to the words and will of the Prophets, who speak in the Lord's name. Obedience to each and every pronouncement of the prophets is, by LDS definition, following Christ, because the Prophets are the Lord's representative. "By mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1)
Exploring a bit, I searched on "first principles of the gospel" in Google, just to see what came up. The first four links direct me to LDS . org, number 5 is the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and number six is a speech given by a college professor at BYU on the topic.
While I do think that the LDS church employs a bit of "Search Engine Optimization" on key themes important to Mormonism, it's interesting that our Mormon thought starts with a term "First Principles". One would and should think that such concepts are important. More importantly, if "Faith" is truly the first principle, then where does "obedience" actually fit in?
To read the BYU professor's talk, he starts with the topic in Preach My Gospel about Faith in Jesus Christ, but takes it a step further. To him, "Faith exists when absolute confidence in that which we cannot see combines with action that is in absolute conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father. Without all three—first, absolute confidence; second, action; and third, absolute conformity—without these three all we have is a counterfeit, a weak and watered-down faith."
"Absolute confidence"..."absolute conformity"...without these, we have "counterfeit faith".
I wonder. I truly wonder.
When we speak of "First Principles" in the quest for truth, usually we mean that there is something upon which our entire quest depends--something so important that we must embrace this before everything else. My fundamental question is whether "Absolute Confidence" is an appropriate beginning to any quest for truth -- I do not believe it is.
This, to me, is the heart of faith crisis: the idea that we think of faith as something it is not, and we have not created the right "First Principles" in our faith journey to properly navigate our Way.
We have been told, repeatedly, that our Church and gospel are an all-or-nothing proposition: "Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing." (Hinckley, 2003) While the term "true" could be an indicator of "direction" or "allegiance", the more common interpretation of "true" has a more epistemic (how we know things) meaning: that which is without material error or subterfuge.
As a result, we embrace a testimony in the church that makes epistemic claims about the truth of the church and gospel: I know that the book of mormon is an ancient record, translated by the gift and power of god, I know that we have a living prophet on the earth, I know that if we follow the prophets we cannot go astray. Such claims of "I know" do not allow for the humility of "I believe", or the recognition that something may be false. It is an expression of certainty, of knowledge. A "pure testimony" makes these claims.
Yet we come to a realization that within our realm of "Absolute Confidence" that there are things for which we realize do not justify such certainty. Perhaps, by doing a little digging among the LDS . org site, we find that the Book of Mormon wasn't actually "translated" at all, but rather, was somehow expressed through "scrying" -- peering into a seerstone in a hat. Perhaps we find that the Book of Abraham -- what it says it is in the Pearl of Great Price, and authentic translation of writings of Abraham by his own hand -- has absolutely nothing to do with the actual characters in papyrus or especially in the facsimiles in the book itself. There are dozens of things for which we discover that the Church and gospel are in some ways "not true".
What, then, happens to our "Absolute Confidence" in the Church when we discover there is a profound flaw? Is "Absolute Conformity" justified if we come to know that there are some things in the Church's teachings that are false?
Rene Descartes was faced with much this same problem. He had discovered as he matured in life that there were a number of things he held to be absolutely true in his youth that are no longer true. This profoundly disturbed him, so he set aside some time from his work and teaching to meditate on first principles.
Importantly, his first meditation was to discover that his entire schema of knowledge was potentially flawed, and being such, the only way to really build the proper foundation was a complete "destruction" of his schema of knowledge. He not only had doubts, but embraced them fully, realizing that only by doubting everything could he build the proper foundation.
Many who read Descartes' first meditation call this kind of doubt "hyperbolic doubt". The reality is much deeper. Descartes was suggesting a methodical approach to determining truth, and part of that method was to recognize, in humility, that we don't know. Methodical doubt is the first step on a journey towards truth.
But in this process of methodical doubt, the idea of completely discarding our schema of what we know is so profoundly unintuitive to members of the Church, it's never a good idea to muse in public. I frequently say, here, that I do not *believe* a single truth claim of the church. I do not *believe* in prevailing omni-whatever definition of god (although Descartes most certainly did). Such statements rapidly escalate into an emotional issue for members of the church, immediately labeling me as a "nonbeliever" or an "atheist", which, while technically accurate terms, do not mean the same thing for me than for those who are labeling me.
But the First Principle of the gospel is not doubt by itself. Doubt simply is the beginning of refining faith. To be clear, the First Principle of the Gospel is "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ". I'm going to suggest that when we refer to this as a "First Principle", we need to fully understand what "Faith" and "the Lord Jesus Christ" mean, not in a dogmatic sense of "doctrinal" answers, but rather, in terms of how these two things, together, constitute a "First Principle".
When we think of First Principles in the pursuit of truth, it's important that we start with some basics:
1. We need to address how we can "know" things. This area of concern is formally called "Epistemology". Curiously, the greek term for "faith" is "pistis" as a noun, and "epistomai" as a verb. In short, "Epistemology" is entirely about "Faith": how we come to know truth.
2. We need to understand the nature of the how things are, how they exist. This area of concern, discovering the nature of being, is formally called "ontology". The identity of things, how we label them, is all part of this exploration of ontology. Ontology asks questions like "Who am I?" "Who or what is god?" "What is the nature of existence?"
These two disciplines are essential to our quest for truth.
With respect to Epistemology, we need to understand how we can make the claim "I know that X is true" or "I know that X is not true", and what our approach shall be for that which is between these two poles of "knowledge". We will discover that "Faith" is the epistemic Middle Way between these two poles: the idea that Faith is not certainty, it is the humble recognition that we don't know, but given that we hope for things, we are willing to try them and to discover the truth of them.
With respect to Ontology, we will come to embrace an understanding what it means to say "I AM", and realizing this, we will come to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as a being who was fully god and fully man, who marked the path and led the Way to an integrative oneness with all that is.
As LDS, we will discover along this journey that we have unique approaches to both epistemology as well as ontology. Alma 32 will express an epistemology that redefines "faith" away from assertive belief into an experiential reconstruction of both knowledge and faith. As we embrace the LDS view of the plurality and unity of gods, we will come to a unique ontology: we exist as eternal beings in an emergent progression toward godliness, as does the being we call "Heavenly Father". To realize the intimate name of God is "I AM", and eternal constants of the universe are its matter and laws, give unique ontological insight into our divine nature. Jesus revealed this nature in John as he spoke of us being in the present gods, and that he was "I AM".
Let us therefore explore the First Principle of the Gospel in a unique light. To embrace "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" is to recognize that I need to understand how I know things and what those things are in the first place. Such exploration cannot occur when the cup of our minds are full of preconceived dogma. We must cast aside everything we think we know, and come to a methodical deconstruction and reconstruction of faith.
This is the Journey of a lifetime.
Shall we walk upon this Way?

Friday, February 13, 2015

A non-literal testimony of the Book of Mormon

My testimony of the Book of Mormon is this:

  1. I know that it is inspired scripture, useful for the LDS people to discuss spiritual values. I have experienced its scriptural power while reading it, in teaching from it, and I have felt its power changing my life.  I know the Book of Mormon inspires and uplifts me, and is very effective at laying out a number of extremely important gospel principles, including how to survive our trial of faith and improve the truthfulness of our faith.
  2. I know the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ, because the influence I feel in the book is the same as that of the Christ I have come to know throughout my life.  As circular as a reason as this seems to be, it is about a personal relationship, not any degree of epistemology.  I experience the Christ through the writings as well as in my personal meditations and supplications.
  3. I completely reject the book as any kind of history.  The proofs of this are too numerous to list here, and have been listed by others for years.  It's not important to me.  At best, it was created through a process that might be called "automatic writing", but by Joseph Smith's own account, he did not translate it in any way that scholars would consider translation.  He expressed explicitly about the Book of Mormon itself, that it was revealed through the mind and heart (see D&C 8:1-3):

This is probably not the normal Mormon testimony (no surprise there), but it may leave a bit of a dilemma: how can the Book of Mormon be "true" scripture" while it is distinctly not historical?

To me, the answer is simple and clear: it never claimed to be a literal history.

Scriptural Basis of the Book of Mormon being non-historical

The title page of the Book of Mormon says nothing about being historical.  It expresses a specific purpose:
"Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations"
Throughout the book, it refers to the idea that Nephi created two sets of plates, a larger set containing history, and a smaller set containing sacred teachings.  The smaller plates ran out of space after Omni, and Mormon created a set of plates that were an abridgment of the larger plates.  From the description of the plates, it seems that the abridgment was on the same, smaller format plates as the "small plates" of Nephi.  Al though the source material for the larger plates, containing the record from Mosiah to the end of the book, was from the larger plates containing history, Mormon's abridgment was not intended to capture the history, but rather, the sacred content.  Mormon's intent was not to give an "account" (history), but rather to a pastoral purpose.

Here are the key scriptures within the book, and apart from the "title page" above, describing the purpose and nature of the Book of Mormon, demonstrating that the book had no intent of being a history, but rather, a witness of Christ:

1.  Nephi is commanded to make the larger plates of Nephi as a record (history) of his people 1 Nephi 19:1
And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.
2. Nephi was commanded to create a set of small plates that would NOT contain a history of his people.  2 Nephi 5:29-33:
And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.
And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.
Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.
And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.
And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.
3.  Nephi explains the non-historical purpose of the small plates 1 Nephi 19:3, 6
And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.
Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. 
4.  Nephi again confirms that he is not to write a history of his people on the small plates, stating that it is to be an account of the ministry of the people.  2 Nephi 9:2-4
And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates also are called the plates of Nephi.
Nevertheless, I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people.
Upon the other plates should be engraven an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people; wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.
5.  Jacob confirms that the history of his people should be written upon the "other plates".
Specifically, "these plates" were to hold the "heads of" (summary of) the sacred, the revelations, the prophesying; for "Christ's sake, and for the sake of our people."  Jacob 1:3-4
For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates, and that I should preserve these plates and hand them down unto my seed, from generation to generation.
And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people.
6.  The other plates are described to be larger -- that is, not the same structure or format as the "smaller plates" of Nephi.  Jacob 3:13
And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.
7.  Mormon expresses that he would make a "small abridgment" of the records of the people without a full account (history) of what he had seen (in his life or among the records).  Mormon 5:9
And also that a knowledge of these things must come unto the remnant of these people, and also unto the Gentiles, who the Lord hath said should scatter this people, and this people should be counted as naught among them—therefore I write a small abridgment, daring not to give a full account of the things which I have seen, because of the commandment which I have received, and also that ye might not have too great sorrow because of the wickedness of this people.
8.  Mormon expresses the intent of his abridgment and writings, none of which is historical: Mormon 5:10-15
And now behold, this I speak unto their seed, and also to the Gentiles who have care for the house of Israel, that realize and know from whence their blessings come.
For I know that such will sorrow for the calamity of the house of Israel; yea, they will sorrow for the destruction of this people; they will sorrow that this people had not repented that they might have been clasped in the arms of Jesus.
Now these things are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob; and they are written after this manner, because it is known of God that wickedness will not bring them forth unto them; and they are to be hid up unto the Lord that they may come forth in his own due time.
And this is the commandment which I have received; and behold, they shall come forth according to the commandment of the Lord, when he shall see fit, in his wisdom.
And behold, they shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; that the Father may bring about, through his most Beloved, his great and eternal purpose, in restoring the Jews, or all the house of Israel, to the land of their inheritance, which the Lord their God hath given them, unto the fulfilling of his covenant;  And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel...


My bishop once told a story about three people having an interview for getting into heaven, where each was asked a question, "Tell me about Jesus Christ".  The first said he was a prophet, a very good man.  The second said he was the Son of God and redeemer of the world.  The third, upon entering the room, bowed down and exclaimed, "Oh Lord, my God".  We can believe all we want about Jesus Christ, and say the right things, but the type of knowledge that actually saves is not that, but rather, the personal relationship with God.

In my wayfaring, I have had encounters with a Presence that has relieved my addictions, pulled me out of the gutter of guilt and shame, and has embraced me over and over again with unconditional love and grace.  This is the Christ, to me.  Having had them, undeniably so, I can say with equal confidence that whatever I thought I knew about Jesus Christ is immaterial.  Words cannot contain or describe an encounter with god, at least in my experience.

When I am told by defenders of Christianity that I must accept the bible as the literal, inerrant and infallible Word of God, lest I be not saved; when I am told by defenders of Mormonism that I must accept the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon, lest I be not "worthy" of being a Mormon, I simply realize that those who insist on such have not met the same Source of unconditional Love as I have experienced.  Perhaps they have met the "True God", but I think it more likely that we have differing gifts and means to approach deity.  I know only this, that whatever is divine, is to me a matter of experience and faith, and not of empirical knowledge.  Such faith cannot be defended, it can only be realized, experienced, and encountered.

I have had that encounter with the Book of Mormon.  I don't need it to be literal or historical.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A short thought for a friend, Rock Waterman

I have learned that a close friend and fellow wayfarer is in the hospital suffering from pneumonia.  Rock Waterman is one of the most authentic people I know, what ancient daoists would call a "real person".

His blog is at "Pure Mormonism".

Realizing that few people visit this part of the bloggersphere/bloggernacle, I just want to express my love and admiration to Rock, and hope and pray for a speedy, full recovery.

Bless you Rock.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

John Dehlin: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

The narrative that John Dehlin is a "wolf in sheep's clothing", and thus should be cast out of the flock, is a misuse of scripture, and taking a scripture out of context.

The scripture is from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said in
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-16) 
Without equivocation, John Dehlin has never claimed he is a prophet, and I doubt anyone here or elsewhere believes that he is.  This isn't just a semantic difference: we proclaim that "prophets" are those called to be such in the Church.

Let me take a believing point of view of Church History to determine what constituted a "wolf in sheep's clothing" in the past.  Joseph was not always the best judge of character.  When John C. Bennett came to him with radical ideas, Joseph gave them due consideration.  Among all things Bennett encouraged was "spiritual wifery", and Bennett performed abortions to take care of "celestial consequences".  I will leave aside whether Joseph Smith participated in any of these, but I think we can all agree that Bennett was indeed a very bad man at the time, and preached doctrines that ultimately had very bad fruits.  Because Joseph empowered Bennett as a Counselor in the First Presidency, Bennett was indeed a "prophet" by our modern definition (although I don't think that was clear then).

Bennett fully complies with the concept Jesus laid out as a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  He was appointed in a position we now consider a prophet, his fruits where heinous, and in his role as a member of the First Presidency, he wolf behavior was shrouded in holiness -- "sheep's clothing".

In what way does John Dehlin qualify for this distinction?

  1. Is he in any way a "prophet"?  No.  He has never held a position of leadership in the church, let alone those with the distinction of "prophet, seer, and revelator".  No. 
  2. Does he teach false doctrine?  No.  He doesn't teach doctrine at all.  He doubts it.  Disbelieves it, but does not teach it, nor does he advocate any doctrine (that is "what is taught") as being official doctrine of the Church.  It's clear to anyone that John Dehlin does not represent his views as being the doctrine of the church.
  3. Are his fruits evil?  From my vantage point, he has saved lives.  I went through years on suicide watch for a daughter who faithfully went through four years of seminary and four years of BYU suppressing her same sex attraction, trying to make the LDS church work for her.  I lost her to the church entirely as a result, but thank God she is still alive and no longer suicidal.  I didn't have the tools 10-15 years ago that we have now, largely thanks to John Dehlin and others who have given voice to those struggling with both LDS beliefs and LBTGQ issues.  

The argument by the Mormon Apologists that have branded Dehlin with this label is simple: They claim that John leads people out of the church with his comments and online entities.  He destroys testimony.  Therefore like Korihor, he is a filthy apostate.  Like Corianton, he has committed the "Sin next to murder" of destroying testimony (read Micheal Ash).

Has he?  Let's look at the defining statement he made in his press release -- one that gave me incredible heartburn -- "It is my intent to provide increased support to Mormons who are transitioning away from orthodoxy."  The reason it gives me heartburn is not what it says, but what you might take away if you do a quick reading and make a snap judgment, like we all do at times.

The terms "transitioning away from orthodoxy" implies "leaving the church" to most people. Supporting Mormons who are doing so sounds to the emotional mind like "Helping them do so".  So, its an easy leap in the mind from what it says to "Leading Mormons away from the Church".  It's unfortunate language.

I'm not dispelling the idea that as bitter as John is at this point, he certainly may, in the future, become more active in leading people out of the church if the church pushes him out.  I would. I certainly would.  But the reality for now is that until this point, he has not been "leading people away from the church" but rather, supporting and helping those who are already in a process of moving away from orthodoxy, and many that are already out.

To be clear, I don't support in any way anything that "leads people out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".  Not my mission.  Not my purpose.  I'm "IN" the church as a heretic, and as much as possible, a faithful non-believer.  Many have found my position untenable, but I'm good with it and really don't care what others think at this point.  But John knows my position fully, and he supports me and I support him.

So, is John Dehlin a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  Not in the least, to my way of seeing it.  Instead, he has been the guy at the very border of the flock, watching the lambs leaving the flock and shouting out about the wolves in among the flock.  He has tried to give a voice to the stray lambs.  And for this, he will be cast out.

Who are those wolves?  We are.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Gita as a guide to these interesting times.

I'm in a particularly contemplative mood this morning about various ongoing things.  Life is full of surprises and changes.  One verse that gives me incredible peace at these "interesting times" is from the Bhagavad Gita,

"You have the right (agency) to act,
but no right at all to the fruits (outcomes) of your actions.
Do not set your heart on the fruits of action (outcomes, rewards)
nor become attached to inaction.

With Oneness of mind (l"yoga"), do what needs to be done,
Renouncing attachments, Dhanamjaya!  (another name for Arjuna)
Success or non-success become the same,
And that sameness is called, "Oneness".

The performance of action is but a step
toward enlightened Oneness, Dhanamjaya!
Find your refuge in this enlightenment,
sad are they who set their heart on rewards.

Endowed with enlightened Oneness,
cast aside concepts of "good" and "evil".
Devote yourself to Oneness,
Oneness is found in natural action."
(Bhagavad Gita 2:47-50, my translation.)

These verses inform me of an idea, an approach towards things in front of me, be them work related, faith transition, or even personal challenges.  The bottom line is this idea that "detached action" leads to Unity of mind, the idea that the poles and opposites we perceive in our reality are all part of a single divine continuum, and that we are part of something much bigger, the unity of all that is.

But in wrapping my mind around the "unity of all that is", the here and now, the present next thing I need to do, often seems so mundane, so distracting.  Events happen, or are pending happening, creating a sense of anxiety, a sense that something has to be DONE to make for better outcomes...


If I have learned anything that helps me in "these interesting times" is accepting the serenity of being able to focus on the next right thing, and as Gandhi said, "leave the rest to god."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I stay LDS - short-form

I've wandered a bit through many faith traditions...maybe I'm a bit of an interfaith tourist.  Not necessarily a good thing, and not necessarily as an adherent of the various faiths, for I never really fully left Mormonism.

After Proposition 8, I thought it was morally reprehensible to continue to claim to be "Mormon" or to sustain the brethren when they, in my assessment, were oppressing a very needy minority, which happens to include family members.

So, I took a job in India.  I preferred China, due to my experience in Taoism, but I also respected Hinduism, and my narrow specialty around identity was more applicable to India.  I spent two years there, immersing myself in Hinduism, Vedanta, Advaita, and other aspects of the culture and found myself on a very deep spiritual quest.  Part of my job, as well, was to provide identity to  the poor of India, so I had a chance to immerse myself very deeply in Indian culture and politics.

At the peak of all this, I went on a pilgrimage to Arunachala, the holy Shaivite temple revered by adherents to Advaita as the pilgrimage site of Ramana Maharshi.  I spent time at his ashram.  I participated in the most sacred rite of fire/lingam worship in a puja in the most holy place of the temple at Arunachala.

At the moment that my Indian sponsor and his family found most sacred, I had exactly the opposite impression.  Out of respect for Hinduism, I won't express what I thought or felt, but it was neither appropriate nor did it harmonize with the sacredness of the ceremony.  I found the whole thing completely and totally absurd.  Yet afterwards, my sponsor told me of how deeply spiritual and sacred that experience was to him, and how much he appreciated that I suggested this pilgrimage.

Later, having lunch with a Brahman priest and a very good friend, I was expressing some of my lessons learned by learning the Sanskrit texts in Hindu scripture.  I told him that my learning of Sanskrit had given me a lot more insight into the meaning behind the words.  He told me that I was on the wrong track.  The words didn't matter, only that they were pronounced correctly...which was, of course, impossible for me to do as a non-Indian old guy.

At the end of my India experience, I came to a conclusion.  Religion isn't a global absolute.  Instead, it is a cultural paradigm, arising from our evolutionary need to unite as a tribe and community for protection, guidance, sustenance, and life.  This is both good and bad.  Good, because it truly is life-sustaining, probably why our evolutionary ancestors, even back 100,000 years ago, had religion, and evolution favored those who did, because they survived as a group.  It's also bad, because we have allowed our religious exclusivity to go overboard and reject new communities arising from our global identities.  We are evolving, and in like manner, religion needs to evolve.

But the more important conclusion I made as a result of India was that the reason Hinduism failed to resonate with me was because it was not my tribal religion.  My tribe is Mormonism, my rituals are Mormon rituals, my faith language is Mormon-speak, and my family, friends, and tribe members use these symbols, rituals, and language to communicate and share eternal principles important to me and that go beyond words.  They are "true" for me, and in embracing them, and being an active part of my Mormon community, I can find life.

There is no such thing as "one true church" for all tribes.  There is definitely a "true church" for *my* tribe, and in that sense, I embrace Mormonism without regrets whatsoever.  Yet, the fact that it is my tribe doesn't mean that I need to accept it as normatively imperative for me, and especially not for anyone else in the world.  I need to own my Mormonism, to not only embrace it, but be the type of member of the type of church in which I want to have faith.

As for whether I'm right or wrong when I die?  I see little risk in that.  If I'm right, cool.  If I'm wrong and the're some other god out there, I am pretty sure that a more enlightened mind out there will appreciate a thoughtful faith more so than a blind one.  And if I'm wrong and there is nothing else, I pretty sure I'll never figure that out...