Monday, February 13, 2017

Time to take a stand against facism

Goebbels said, A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.  Stephen Miller said, "I am prepared to go on any show, anytime, anywhere, and repeat it.

I've tried.  I've really, honestly tried.  Yes, I voted for Hillary Clinton, and am damn proud of it.  Yet as a citizen, I realize that "The President" is not just the republican president, but rather, the President of the United States.  So, I have tried, since the election in November, to think of Donald Trump as my president.

I can't do it any longer.  Yesterday, the Trump administration's official spokesman made clear that this presidency is repeating history in the worst possible way.  One simple statement says it all:
“The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
 The context of this quote is Stephen Miller's objection to the judicial decision to put a halt on the ban on travel from seven countries into the United States, yet the implications of the statement are much broader.  In specific, the term "protect our country" has been used to refer to a number of intended actions by this administration, including their pretended outrage over three to five million illegal votes cast in the previous election.

This administration lies without restriction...about everything.  Yet this lying isn't benign.  It has an intent, spawned by people like Miller and Bannon, to overthrow the institutions of democracy.  When a presidential spokesman speaks of "our opponents, the media", he is representing no the President of the United States, but rather, the President of something else.  The media, and the "opponents" within this country are not separate from the "United States", but rather, an integral part of it. The same goes with the Judiciary.

This President, and his spokesman, have made it clear that this administration does not in any way represent the majority of the United States, but in fact, is dividing it.

It's time to take a stand.  It is not an exaggeration that this President is on the road to fascism.  In fact, as of February 12, 2017, we have arrived.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Parable of the River Master


For a moment, let's embark on a journey, following the flow of a mighty river through a canyon gorge. The person commanding our raft is a River Master, who knows the river so well he seems to command the very flow of the river.  He appears to us to be all powerful, all knowing, and completely good.

As we board the raft, things seem to go very well for a time.  Life on the raft is beautiful, pleasant, the new scenery captures our senses.

Then the rapids come.  The raft is in turmoil as we try to hold on amidst the rocks and waves.  Being novices at rafting, our first inclination is to ask the Master to intervene: in our fears, we want him to calm the raging the flow of the river. We want a miracle, but our “miracle” is what WE want–a supernatural intervention. We beg and plead with Master for our miracle. And he doesn’t. We become frustrated, We develop motion sickness.

The master smiles.  All the way along, the Master calmly shows us the way, guiding us as to what to do.  The Master doesn't really use words--he shows us by example, he expresses his instructions by intuition.  He helps us learn to observe--to learn through our own experience to discern the flow of the river.  

But we aren't listening, observing, contemplating what was going on.  The master encourages us to do things to help steer, paddle, or move in order to better balance the raft. They’re little, mundane things--natural, intuitive, and unmiraculous.  Yet, because we are intent on demanding the miracle, we don’t listen to the Master. We think we know what is best, and we continue our one-way telling the Master what we want.

Because the Master does not seem to be helping us, we are faced with a choice, either we can keep complaining and do nothing, resulting in catastrophe, or we can start taking the initiative and doing something. Most of us decide the Master is incompetent, so we ignore him or her and start paddling as hard as we can on our own. A few of us realize this is futile — it’s too hard work.

At some point after many frustrating trials, we realize that the Master actually knows the river and how to navigate it. So we seek the Master’s advice, by observing what is going on, and by asking questions — not demanding — but rather, seeking to learn from the Master. We listen to the master’s coaching, and by observing the flow of the river, are able to better command the raft.

As we learn from the Master, we become actively involved in managing the raft and journey. Because we started to naturally observe the flow and follow it, learning through our own experience and working in harmony as a team, we move down the river, navigating the rapids and smooth places without incident. By becoming one with each other, the raft, and the river, we have become one with the flow, it becomes as natural to us as breathing.

After a while, we notice the Master is no longer there. Some question whether the Master was ever there at all: “aren’t we navigating this raft by ourselves?” Others of us become arrogant, saying that there is no need of a Master. Yet as we contemplate what really happened, we realize that the Master was deeply real, a fellow human traveler along the Way, but now the Master is us, emerging from deep within ourselves, as we observe, listen, and work together in harmony and love.

On Friendship with God

What we think about god matters a very great deal.  It affects our relationship not only with god, but it affects how we act towards others.

I think to almost all religion, God is the infinite “other” -- superior in every way to humanity.  To suggest that mankind is in any way equal to god is the ultimate in blasphemy.  There is always a difference between fallen mankind and the all-powerful, all-knowing, and in every way good god.

How can I relate to that?

Our LDS faith helps us a little in this.  We think of God not as the “infinite other”, but rather, as an exalted human being -- a Heavenly Father and Mother.  This is not a metaphor to Mormons.  Like many things in Mormonism, we are literal in our beliefs.  Joseph Smith proclaimed most adamantly, “God who sits in yonder heavens is a man like us.  That is the great secret” (King Follett Discourse).

Yet in our same LDS beliefs, we distance ourselves from this radical definition.  We preserve the hierarchal relationship of us to God: God is the Parent, we are the Child.  God is the Master, we are the obedient Servant.  God is creator, we are creature.  God is infinite, we are finite.  God is exalted, we are fallen.

We believe, from our Christian background, that God created a perfect world, a literal garden of eden, and based upon mankind’s disobedience, things are fallen.  Yet, in believing this, we create a kind of nostalgia inherent to most religion.  God, and our first prophets, always get it right, and we screw things up -- we apostatize from the true faith, and thus god needs to come back through his prophets to restore things again.  This justifies our worldview that the world is inherently evil and fallen, and we should go back to the good old days when God revealed the truth to his prophet in perfect, pristine form.

Because we are so fallen, so depraved, our only hope is to obey god through his earthly servants the prophets.  Everything in our relationship with God is hierarchical, and in consequence, our earthly religions, based upon this hierarchical relationship, are also hierarchical. “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same”.

I have come to realize, in my faith journey, that this definition of god -- that of an infinite superior -- is a human creation, and harmful doctrine.  By creating a distance between us and God, we create distances between each other.  By thinking of God as infinite creator in the beginning who got everything right, we deny our own journey of eternal progression.  By preserving a master-slave relationship between God and us, we preserve master-slave relationships in this world, creating inequalities and injustice.

I think that if there is any value to the First Vision and to Joseph Smith’s last major “King Follett” discourse, it is to fully humanize god.  To almost unanimous rejection by theologians and mainstream Christians, I believe that Joseph was on to something more important than any other of his doctrines.  To define the identity of god as an exalted man has devastating implications to Christian theology, but more than that -- this is not an exercise in theology.  To think outside the traditional god box has deep implications for how we relate to one another, how we view the Church and its male priesthood hierarchy, how we address science and knowledge, and how we assess all things we do.

Yes, who we think god is has that much impact in our lives -- it’s a total impact.  This impact comes down to four questions, which are simply answered in our doctrine, if we look for them:

1. Who is God?
A: God is an exalted person.

The moment we suggest that God is an exalted person, every aspect of the traditional god definition must be set aside.  While we speak of the power of god as being everywhere, God the person is in place and time.  God is a person!  What a glorious thought.  And not only that, God is not just one person, but many -- any person who is exalted is god.

To many, this is mumbo-jumbo.  God cannot be a person because…. ….because we have already defined god as the infinite other.  We must lose any preconceived notion of god as infinite other if we are to believe that God is an exalted person.  We take this definition of God as an exalted person as THE DEFINITION of the word “God”.

2. Who are we?
A: We are unexalted gods.

The moment we suggest that mankind is co-eternal with God, every aspect of the Fall becomes irrelevant.  ALL Christian theology disappears -- the gulf of separation between god and mankind is eliminated.  There can be no pristine former condition that we return to. Instead, we recognize that we are on a journey of eternal progression -- the process of discovery to become gods -- not in the sense of becoming “infinite others”, but rather, exalted people in every way we can be.

3. What is the difference?
A: Atonement -- oneness.

Our current doctrine suggests that exaltation is a future “point in time” event, that occurs as a result of resurrection and final judgment.  At that point, we become gods, to rule and reign over worlds without end. I am going to suggest that this definition of exaltation is only one way to look at it, and one which defers the idea of exaltation to a later date.  As well, it proposes that once we’re “perfect” as it were, then we no longer progress.  In his talk “Seven Deadly Heresies”, Bruce R. McConkie condemned any notion that God is progressing.  McConkie was thus tied to the “infinite other” definition of god, and thus creates a logical impossibility: God cannot have once been man, and also be unchanging from everlasting to everlasting.

I personally reject the notion that the only valid definition of God is that of an “infinite other”.  So, what, then, is “exaltation”?   What does it mean to be an exalted person?  What does it mean to be “perfect”?  Surprisingly the answers are in our scriptures: it means to be One -- united in love and purpose with each other, with god (however we define god), and with all that is.  Scripture after scripture, particularly in the Gospel of John, describe how humans, acting in the place of god in loving and blessing others are Gods, even if they die like people in this life.

4. What is our relationship?
A: Friends.

Consider Jesus’ last commandment in John 15:
9. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
How often we misquote these verses!  We think they are a justification of the hierarchal model of God and Church, that “Obedience is the First Law of Heaven”, and that we must obey those who are Called and Ordained.  Context is everything.  His commandment is love.  You are to obey *THAT* commandment.  He’s saying, “keep my commandment.  And this is my commandment: that ye love one another as I have loved you.”

Yet what kind of Love is this?  Is this the kind of love between Master and Servant?  Absolutely NOT.  He is telling us, “Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.”  Of all the kinds of relationship in this world, friendship is the only one that is not hierarchical.

The love of a master to a servant, a parent to a child, a king to a subject is one of condescension not friendship.  In return, the servant, child, or subject is loyal and obedient, love is expressed as adoration and worship.  I suppose there is nothing wrong with this kind of love, but unfortunately, it’s neither friendship, nor is it immune from abuse.  There is always a power dynamic at play, restricting the freedom of the servant, and empowering the abuse by the master.  While we may suppose that an “infinitely other” god is immune to such abuse, mankind is not.  Thus, in our religion, if we adopt the hierarchal model of relationship, we result the an inherently abusive situation found in all religion today.

Instead, the Love Jesus commands is that of perfectly equal friendship -- something completely impossible when we think of God is any kind of “infinite other”.  This unequal relationship extends to our Mormon definition of God as Heavenly Father.  Yes, I understand the ideas behind the thought, but a relationship between father and son is not friendship, although later in life it can be to an extent.

I am suggesting that when we think of God as an exalted person, and ourselves as unexalted gods, then what makes the difference is equal love, one for another.  When we look at another person as being an enemy to god, but we are God’s friends, then we justify our dehumanization of others. When we realize that God is fully human and we are fully gods, then our relationship between each other demands respect, equality, and friendship to all.

To be a friend to god is to be friend to others.  To  love god is to love others, to see the divine within each person and fundamentally change our relationships from unequal hierarchies to mutual respect and empowerment.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On Being Mormon Amid Injustice

To me, the historical and doctrinal issues of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) pale in comparison to its acts of injustice.  Our beliefs in religion are often the result of culture, and things cultural are kind of a shared mythology.  It may be just me, but the mythology is not a shelf breaker.

From my perspective, the church has been profoundly unjust on a number of issues in my life: Blacks, ERA, Birth Control, Feminism, Marriage Equality, Male-only Ordination, CES brainwashing, Missionary Manipulation, Worthiness Manipulation, Tithing, All-things-sexuality, Excommunications, the November 2015 Policy, Religious exclusion and bigotry in the name of "Religious freedom"...  the list is endless, really.

As I wandered in the borderlands for many years, I developed an immunity to the historical and doctrinal issues, and could somewhat ignore all the issues of injustice, because, for the most part, they didn't affect me personally.  Or so I thought.  Then, two things happened: my daughter came out as a lesbian, and a couple of years later, proposition 8 happened.

I remember distinctly when and where I first articulated the complete collapse of my shelf.  I was talking to a non-LDS colleague and said that as a result of the underhanded manipulation by the Church with respect to Prop 8, I can no longer morally, ethically, and financially sustain my church.  It was in November 2008.  I was Ward Mission Leader at the time, paying tens of thousands of dollars per year in Tithing, thus supporting oppression of those, like my daughter, who were committing suicide as a result of LDS policies.

A while later, I took an assignment in India as a way to gracefully exit regular church activity.  It worked!  I preserved all my LDS connections among family and friends while not being present at church.  I always had the India travel excuse…

But did I do right?  No.

Ginetta Sagan of Amnesty International said, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor."

I did not speak up.  I just disappeared.  And, to my disappointment, I found the same injustice pervades all organized religions and cultures.  And, I yearned for home, for tribe.  Add to that, the travel was having deleterious effects on my family.  So I came back to activity.

The first Sunday back, amid a discussion about the bogus signs of the times, I ceased to be silent.  I called a rabble-rouser named John Dehlin​ that afternoon, and as a result, I have chosen to stay active in the LDS Church.  It’s been an interesting ride.  I have learned a lot.

I am passionate about this choice.  We can choose to leave, and for many that is right choice. It’s a way of voting with our feet.   Another choice is to to stay and be silent, yet in my experience, it killed me inside and leaves me complicit in the injustice.  Or we can choose to influence change.  And that is largely a quest for Don Quixote de La Mancha -- typically nothing short of insane.

Yet I relate to Don Quixote.  So here is my quest:

We need people in the church who can affect change, if for no other reason but to prevent injustice and change hearts.

But how can we *effectively* affect change and prevent injustice?  That is the real challenge!   That's why I emphasized the word *effectively*.  We can speak out all the time, but if we choose this route, will we be effective?

Recently I saw a video of an LDS couple asking if they would be welcome in the Church if they advocate for praying to Heavenly Mother or openly point out doctrinal issues, such as how the Book of Mormon’s definition of God incarnating as Christ.  They want to be accepted and welcome in the church while advocating for doctrinal positions *against* the mainstream cultural narrative.  Is this going to be effective?  I think not.

First of all, they're picking the wrong battles: the nature of god is the ultimate unknowable--no one can say for sure who or what god is.  To strongly argue one position over another simply leads to disagreements, and when someone is openly fighting against the comfortable cultural narrative, they are going to be rejected.

And once rejected in our advocacy, we become the "other", the "apostate", the out-group, the "enemy".  Instead of changing hearts and preventing injustice, such "fighting" and advocacy hardens hearts and strengthens the resolve of the oppressors.

How then do we affect change and prevent injustice?  First we need to understand why there is injustice.

Injustice is an identity strategy that dehumanizes others in order to strengthen in-group identity.  Bullying, hypocrisy, name-calling, boundary management, white-and-black thinking, demands for loyalty to the in-group--these are all part of this same identity strategy dynamic.

So, when we openly position ourselves as advocates, we are playing into the current church's identity strategy. We become the enemy -- the Apostate -- giving a focus for the church to strengthen the identity of the True Believing Mormon.

So open, militant advocacy is precisely the opposite of being an *effective* voice for change and thus preventing injustice.

What changes hearts and eliminates injustice is only one thing: Love.  This isn't an abstract strategy.  It is impossible to be unjust to someone you truly love.  In using this word, I mean "agape" (non-condescending Godly love) and not "eros" (sexual love) or philios (familial love).

The concrete example I can best give is when someone I deeply love -- my daughter -- came out to me as gay, I could no longer maintain any aspect of injustice towards my LGBT brothers and sisters.  As long as I thought of LGBT as "the other", even if I condescendingly though that they were children of god in error, I was dehumanizing them.  My heart had to change.

In the case of blacks, the way I was changed was to work in an environment where my black brothers and sisters were equals.  Then, one day, a black colleague and I were on a curb flagging a cab in DC, and the cab passed by my black friend and picked me up first.  I became a witness to injustice, subtle as it was, but only possible because a black was my friend, my equal, and hence, I could feel what he felt.

The answer to how we affect change is clearly before us in our religious narrative.  Jesus Christ was not a passive pushover--he was a revolutionary anti-establishment change agent.  He spoke forcefully against injustice, and he was crucified for it: the ultimate in injustice and dehumanization.

While he chose the route of militant advocacy, he taught his disciples the Way of non-violence: they were to remain "righteous" in exactly the way church leaders of their time defined "righteous".  And most of all, they were to be loving, both to each other and to their enemies.

These aren't abstract strategies.  We must have our own identity strategy if we are to be effective: we must present our identity as "faithful mormon" by authentically being "faithful Mormon".  We must not "other" our Mormon brothers and sisters, but rather, find deep and powerful ways to serve them, to wash their feet in humble service.

You may object to this as being acquiescing to their game.  You may think that we are pretending--and you would be right in a very important way: if we pretend, we fail.

No, to affect change we must actually BE Mormons: true blue, through and through.  We must have our own identity strategy as to what IS a Mormon, in a way with which our unjust Mormon brothers and sisters can *identify*.

Jesus said, love your enemies.  Do good to them the despitefully abuse you.  Walk the second mile.  That you may BE (identified as) children of god.   Jesus laid out the ultimate identity strategy to affect change one heart at a time.  You cannot hate a child of God.

So how do we identify as a true Mormon yet stand as witness against oppression?  We adopt the first and only definition of "Mormon" in Mosiah 18:

A Mormon is one who is willing to lift one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and stand as witness of God's unconditional love at all times and in all places they may be.

This definition of Mormon is one I can subscribe to with all my heart and soul.

Our identity strategy will affect change:

1.  We lift each other's burdens:  this is the Ammon principle: you don't change hearts and minds by first telling that they are wrong--you first demonstrate committed service.  When we are viewed as helping out in our wards, as being willing to home teach, serve in a calling, clean the chapel, help people move--they cannot reject us.  By serving with them, we develop mutual love and respect.

2.  We mourn with those who mourn.  Empathy.  We really listen with our souls, not only to those we agree with, not only with those who just have experienced tragedy but we spend time really listening to our fearful brothers and sisters who are ignorantly (or not so ignorantly) committing injustice. Their injustice is often the result of their fears and anger -- they, too, are mourning through their acts of fear and anger.  While we may not agree with them, we need to fully understand them without pushing our agenda.  We need them to embrace with their whole heart that we understand their fears and can share moments of deep connection in love.

3.  We comfort those who stand in need of comfort.  There are many victims of LDS injustice.  Our true Mormon identity is one who heals injustice by providing a safe refuge to those victimized by injustice.  We befriend the broken-hearted.  We become peer/equal friends to the outcasts.  We reach out to defend in loving ways, those who have been brutalized by malignant leaders.

4.  We stand as witnesses.  Once we have developed a mutual, loving relationship, and have demonstrated our enduring love through service, we have the moral authority to witness of an unconditionally loving god in the face of injustice.  By framing our spoken statement of opposition in the frame of our personal witness of a loving God, we become effective agents of change.

But what do we change?  If we seek to change the Church and culture, we're going to be disappointed.  It not only is an impossible task, but it is profoundly wearying and frustrating to tilt at such large windmills.

I think we need to lower expectations. Putting things in perspective: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, could not change the corporate leaders of the church of his day. How on earth do we expect to change ours?

We can't.

But we can touch those in our very small sphere of influence, lifting burdens, mourning, comforting, and bearing witness.

None of that need result in change of the system of oppression in which we are found. It never does.

But what it does do is two things. One, we have not been silent, and therefore are not complicit in the abuse. Two, we save lives. Literally. Spiritually, in every way possible.

We may find ourselves, like Jesus and his followers did, cast out of the corporate church. They can take away our membership. They can make us unwelcome in the building. But they can NEVER take away our Mormon Identity!

That is why we embrace who we truly are: We're Mormons, true, blue, through and through, and in the face of injustice, we will lift each other's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those standing in need of comfort, and we will stand as witnesses of God, as Jesus Christ did, in loving, open defiance against injustice at all times, and in all places we may find it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Which Commandments, Again?

"Obedience is the first law of heaven".

Where did this phrase come from?  Is obedience really the first law of heaven?  If I recall correctly, Jesus was asked what was the "first commandment", and it wasn't obedience.  In fact, Jesus' first, second, and "new commandment", the last one he gave prior to his crucifixion, was to love.  So, I'm a confused, wayfaring fool who doesn't quite understand this.

Doing a little digging, I found the first instance of this quote in Mormon church doctrine.  In 1874, in an attempt to encourage wives to be obedient to their polygamous husbands, Joseph F. Smith said,
So sisters, do not flatter yourselves that you have nothing to answer for so long as you may have a good husband. You must be obedient. Obedience is the first law of heaven. (Journal of Discourses, 6:24) 
Now I know that the provenance and doctrinal validity of Journal of Discourses is suspect -- after all, we don't practice polygamy any more.  And, gee, I cannot think of a less politically correct statement than requiring that wives must be obedient to their husbands.  But this doctrine didn't stop there.  It continued.  Scrolling forward 75 years, the doctrine was repeated by Bruce R. McConkie in his seminal volume "Mormon Doctrine":
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands." (P 539) 
From that point onward, the explicit statement "Obedience is the first law of heaven" can be found throughout LDS doctrine.  It can be found in the bulk of LDS standard teaching materials, and in April 2013, LDS Prophet Thomas S. Monson proclaimed the session in general conference.  In fact, there are over 150 references to this statement within current church materials.  In that "doctrine" is "what is taught" by the Church, it's pretty clear that Obedience is not only the first law of heaven, but it is also LDS Church Doctrine.

But how does this square with Jesus' rather explicit statement of the first, second, and his last mortally-delivered commandment to Love.  The answer might come quickly, for in same chapter of John (14) where Jesus gave the "New Commandment" to love one another, he also said,
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
So, ok, I got it.  We show our love for god by keeping his commandments.  Yet, as I read this text, the imperative nature of "Keep my commandments" is questionable -- to me, it is a statement of fact: when we love Christ, then we keep his commandments.  We don't obey in order to prove or demonstrate love, but rather, because we love, we obey as a result: love, and the Grace of Christ, impel us to obey, not the other way around.

But I digress.  Regardless of how the idea of "Keeping commandments" or "obedience" became of primary importance in the LDS church, I have to ask a fundamental question:

Which Commandments?

When Moses went to the mountain of the Lord, he came down with the tables of the law, ten commandments.  Jews celebrate the gift of these commandments as God clearing up what mankind should do to live in peace, harmony, and prosperity.

Yet even as Moses was speaking with God, the people demanded that Aaron construct a "golden calf" -- symbol of Ba'al -- to rule them and to whom they would pay homage.  Ba'al means "master".

The contrast is stunning.  Moses receives from God the Law, but mankind prefers to have masters rule them.  Moses, coming down from the mountain casts the tablets of the law against the idolatrous symbol of rule by masters, demonstrating that the rule of law is superior to the arbitrary rule by masters.

But which law?   Which Commandments, Again?

At first, the people of the israel lived in peace to a point under "judges".  They tried the ten simple rules.  But simple laws are too simple for mankind.  What does it mean to not kill?  what about war?  What does it mean to not commit adultery, does it include polygamy?  homosexuality?  what?  People get confused at these laws.  IN the chaos that evolved under the Judges, when there was no king in israel, people did as they pleased, interpreting the Law to their own fashion.  This led to the destruction of a tribe in israel in the incident at Gibeah, and people demanded a solution.  They demanded a King.  Ba'al arose again in the form of Kings, bad kings all.

Years later, a humble prophet Hosea laments the history of Israel since the Incident at Gibeah. By choosing kings over god's simple law, the people had rejected god and become "not his people" and "without mercy".  Hosea attempted to restore the simple law.

But it didn't work.  People still got confused.  They needed more instructions as to what to do.

The evolution of the Torah shows that the priests after Hosea weren't satisfied with ten simple rules, so they expanded the rules to make rules to prevent people from breaking rules.  And who made up all these rules?  The priests did.  The masters of the law expanded the law.  Aaron and his sons created a new kind of golden calf: Ba'al in the form of man's laws worshiped as if they were from god.  613 commandments that to this day, orthodox jews attempt to follow the the very jot and tittle of the law.

It got to the point that the very rigorous law of rabbinical judaism had created an impossible situation for people -- they became rule-bound rather than embracing god's simple laws.

In this environment, Jesus was born and lived.  He noted that the Church leaders of his day "teach for doctrine the commandments of men".  (A quote ironically present in the 1838 version of the First Vision)

One of the scribes -- lawyers of rabbinical Judaism -- asked him, "Which is the first commandment of all?"  Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Mark 12:28-31).  Upon these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).

God revealed through Jesus the Divine Law:
1.  "Hear O Israel, I AM Our Gods, I AM ONE"
2.  "Love the Lord the God with all thy heart"
3.  "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

Simple.  Easy.  Once again, the commandments are reduced to Love: of God, of others, of self.  Not possessive love that tries to own and control others.  Not preferential love that is "partial" to those of our family and culture.  No.  Godly love.  Unconditional, liberating, abiding love.

More, when Jesus taught of leadership, he categorically rejected Ba'al -- the idea of earthly masters.  "Call no-one Father, for there is only one Father in Heaven".  In fact, Jesus only reprimand or condemnation were those who put themselves into Moses seat -- the Ba'als of his day -- the leaders of the church who washed themselves in elite separation from the blood and sins of that generation.

In demonstrating how to lead, he removed his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist -- dressing like the lowest of slaves, and performed the most menial service of washing the feet of his disciples.  This wasn't anything like what the LDS church embraces as a "second anointing".  It was a model of how to lead, the exact opposite of a kingly anointing.  He even washed the feet of the Son of Perdition.

The simple Gospel of Jesus Christ was based upon recognizing the divine in all of us (I AM Our Gods), and to love that God as expressed in our daily walk of love and compassion towards all. Those who, out of necessity, are called to lead and teach, must recognize that they are servants, not "Masters" (Ba'alim).  Yes, there must be order and leadership, stewardship and accountability, but those entrusted with these responsibilities must never become Ba'alim either in their own minds, or in the minds of those they serve.

What happened?  Where did that go?  On one hand, Catholicism re-instituted a lot of rules and regulations -- doctrines, catechisms and behaviors that controlled the people.  This likely arose out of the need of the Roman emperors to have a new State Religion that could control the minds and hearts of the people.  Constantine was brilliant, and the Bishops at Niceae willingly complied.

They meant well.  It wasn't the "Great Apostasy" we talk about in our religion.  It was more of a creeping gradualism to re-institute legalism and Ba'alim/earthly masters.  It's simply a human tendency to favor strong leaders, worship them, and in response, strong, narcissistic leaders arise to meet the human need.  And these Ba'alim, these "leaders", these "King-men", establish their rules as the law people must follow.

For me, the biggest challenge in being a Mormon is realizing how much this dynamic plays out in our church.  Instead of Godly Love being our first law, we teach that "Obedience is the first Law of Heaven."  This unfortunate untruth was first laid out in the context of Polygamy, then resurrected in "Mormon Doctrine" -- arguably one of the worst things ever to be published (right along side of Miracle of Forgiveness); but then has been preached consistently ever since.

In preaching this abortive doctrine, we are never told "obedience to WHAT or WHOM", yet our children are drilled in their heads:
- Follow the Prophet...he knows the way, and cannot lead you astray.
- If I obey, I'll be happy all day.

As adults, we are commanded to have uncompromising loyalty to the Church and its prophetic leaders.  If they pronounce something, then we are to obey it -- no questions asked.  This is what our coded-language calls a "Committed disciple of Jesus Christ".

I once was leading the music in a stake priesthood leadership meeting where Boyd K Packer was to attend.  We were ordered to be in our seats, dead silent, for fifteen minutes prior to the meeting.  As BKP and the other stake leaders entered in order of hierarchical precedence, we were to silently stand.  I was seated on the stand directly  in BKP's line of sight -- I looked him in the eyes and politely nodded, yet he had no response whatsoever, nothing. It was as if a dead shark were staring back at me.

In that moment, I had a complete understanding of what a golden calf -- the representation of Ba'al is all about.  It is without life, love, or humanity.
- Instead of realizing we are all One in God, it creates an elitest separation of the anointed ones from the blood and sins of the rest of us.
- instead of Love for God felt in our mind and heart, we are to reverence these men as if they are God.
- instead of Love of neighbor, we favor only those who are worthy of our exalted love.
and most of all, we obey these men.  Obedience is the First Law of Heaven in the LDS Church.  And Obedience means one thing only: to whatever our Masters tell us to do.

This blurring of the line between what are god's laws versus the commandments of men creates a deliberate confusion in the mind of the believer: because we teach for doctrine the commandments of men, we have instituted arbitrary human rules as if they are equal to God's simple commandments: we are thus manipulated to obey men with exactness instead of following god's laws.  We are like Aaron's followers worshiping the golden substitute for God's laws.

This is idolatry.  This is to follow king-men.  this is the precise behavior Jesus condemned with all of his might and soul.

Yet in response, Jesus did not advocate leaving Judaism.  In like manner, having way-fared through various faith traditions, this human nature to worship Ba'alim is everywhere.  I recognize that by leaving, moving, or trying to change the church is not going to help me return to that simplicity of Love.

No, I need a different strategy.  Between the extremes of Ba'alim of our Church Leader-Worship idolatry and the legalistic, high-demand of our rigid, correlated rules, there must be a Middle Way, something Centered on Jesus actual teachings and the pattern of his life.  I have a choice.  I do not need to leave.  I do not need to argue.  I do not need to evangelize the Simpler Way.  I can live it.  I can BE it.

I can stop being angry and resentful of the past, or dreading of the future, by Centering myself in this moment, finding the Way I can Love others -- and myself -- instead of focusing on all the defects I can easily find everywhere.

If I take Love seriously, I need to find the Way to love my church and culture, even if it has been abusive.  This isn't to condone or embrace the abuse -- let alone participate in it -- but rather, to stand as witnesses of a more excellent Way.  If we follow Jesus, we can be vocal about the abuse, but we need to do so in a loving way, to be witnesses of god (Love) in all times and in all places we may be.

We witness by being loving.  Jesus said that if we love god, we keep his commandments.

And...Which Commandments, again?

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?

Therefore,

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 Christ...as 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.

This...is 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?