Monday, June 2, 2014

Approaching Scripture

In my impression, the most important realization we can make is that no scripture is dictated by God verbatim.  In fact, very little of scripture by its own claim starts with "thus saith the lord", and that which does, is a reflection of a spiritual experience, often recollected years later, and recounted through oral tradition; and thus mixed with very human thinking and biases. 

At its best, scripture is given through inspiration into the mind and heart of humans at a given point in time.  At worst, it consists of a document justifying ethnic cleansing and genocide (this includes the OT with respect to Canaanites and Philistines, the NT with respect to Jews, and the Book of Mormon, with to the cultural identity of native americans and manifest destiny -- the god given justification to christianize them).  Thus, the concerns of the revealing "prophets" included tribal justifications as to why a given sacred place was decreed by god to belong to my tribe and not the sinful philistines (in today's language: "palestinians").

Once we realize the process of revelation, we can easily understand how mesopotamian myths came to be part of a sacred history, and why certain stories indicate a very partisan god.

The NT is no different.  the writings were never intended as scripture (with exception of Revelation) but rather, were captured thoughts by literate believers to explain specific points of view at a given point in time.  When the pagan Constantine organized the church in order to unite the empire, writings that were favorable toward rome and central priesthood power were kept, while the more esoteric and spiritual teachings, those favoring a sense of the divine feminine, the gnostic, or the jewish-christian view, were destroyed.  Indeed, the male-centric model of authority, where women were never to hold the priesthood and were to remain silent in churches in their plain modest dress and long hair, was systematically favored in the canon.

In order to develop a thoughtful faith, one based in truth, it is extremely important to understand the history of scripture.  Even scripture itself gives the key of understanding: scripture is NOT to be taken as literal history, but rather, the writings are holographically representative of the working of inspiration through flawed and politically motivated humans.  what emerges is not accurate history or science, but rather, a set of pointers to divine reality.  Scriptures thus do not contain that reality: they are like fingers pointing to the moon...they are not the moon, and when you look at the fingers, you can't see the moon.

In John 5:39, one of the misused and mistranslated scriptures in the King James Version, Jesus pointed out to the scribes that they searched the scriptures, because in them they thought the scriptures contained eternal life (god's Way of life: the Torah).  They do not, according to Jesus: they point to Him-- the I AM -- the eternal life as reflected in the Authentic Being that Jesus reflected in archtype.  He did not command the Scribes and Pharisees to "Search the scriptures", the greek is second person plural indicative, not imperative: "Ye search the scriptures"... an observation that the scribes and pharisees searching of scriptures has no real validity.  There is a warning in this for us.
How true it is of Jews, Mormons, Christians, and Muslims alike: a man-made thing becomes the object of worship and veneration.  The scriptures are venerated as the very infallible Word of God. 

To worship such an artifact has a word used in scripture: idolatry.

That said, scripture does point to the divine reality, and can serve as part of our faith journey.  in meditating on a truth, we can open our minds to the divine realities to which they point as we abandon the specific words and symbols.  once we come to be enlightened by that reality, according to the Bhagavad Gita, then scripture becomes as a well within a pristine, freshwater lake.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Radical Rethinking of Religion

On occasion, I moderate online groups supporting those who stuggle with religion and faith. My point of view is that faith within a faith community is a "good thing", because when I tried the alternative in my sojourns to India, I really missed the communitarian aspect of Church and religion.  Maybe I was just brought up that way.

But I think another element is involved.  Religion, with all of its dogma and ritual, have a place in the community, if for nothing else but to fulfill a deep human need to be connected one to another.  Good religions foster this sense of community, and the best of religions tend to serve the needs of members and others through service.  This can represent the very best in humanity.

When I felt most isolated on my personal faith journey, I came to a conclusion that something inside me, very primal, needs the connection with others -- needs a place to call my "home".  For me, this is the LDS church, because that is the faith of my fathers (mothers, family, etc.).  As well, I have had deep spiritual experiences binding me to that faith in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Yet my sojourns through other faith traditions has given me a deep respect that as much as I self-identify as Mormon or LDS, I deeply respect that others, too, have an exclusive sense of connection to their respective faiths.  I share a lot with a colleague in Ireland who is a devout Catholic, and like me, conducts music in his congregation on occasion.  His family and mine could be identical: five children, deep commitments to family and to community, obviously the same kind of work. 

One weekend, I stayed with him in Dublin, going to a rugby game, participating in Irish folk music until late at night, and on Sunday, working with his folk choir as they prepared for and participated in the Mass.  It was a lot of fun, but also, a contest of egos as to who was in charge.... hard to give up old patterns, I'm afraid.

I had explained to him that once in Montreal, I had participated in Catholic communion, and did not understand how we can be exclusive in our religions as to who participates fully in the ritual.  He was mortified, because such a sacrilege by a non-Catholic is entirely inappropriate.  So, he explained that I could participate in the communion, but not take the host -- by crossing my arms in the form of an X.  During his mass, I did so, and the priest blessed me instead of serving me the host -- it was a remarkably spiritual moment.

There is something about the ritual that speaks to the soul.  Whether it be the Mass, or a Shaivite fire ritual, or the LDS temple, or elsewhere, the ritual stirs something inside -- a unity, a connection, a deep sense of awe.  I have been transported to another realm in hearing the Shema, or the recitation of the Qur'an.  Perhaps there are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji (as the buddhist expression goes), but to me, there is a path I'm on.

Why is (or was) religion necessary?

So what is religion anyway?  In speaking of the term, I'm refering to the organized, cultural construct whereby we worship together.  While individual spirituality and faith are often present in the organized religion, they are distinct, and indeed personal.  Religion serves a distinct purpose, to bind a community together through ritual, common caring, and identity.

I do not believe that any "religion" was and is a god-dictated construct.  I'll go with "inspired", but I also will say that in being 'inspired', some aspects of religion reflect that inspiration, but ALL religion is also a man-made construct, and arose necessarily out of the need for the tribe to survive.

Speaking from an evolutionary point of view, humans are not well equiped to survive as individuals in the wild.  Our evolutionary strength comes not only from our minds, but also our ability to form mutually-protecting groups.  It's evident to me that our rituals went back at least 100,000 years even among the related Neandethals, who dressed their dead with ritual and omens indicating some kind of community beliefs.

I would imagine, or theorize, that rituals helped bring a tribe together.  The unique languages of ritual practice, whether social or otherwise, would help identify a member of the tribe, as opposed to someone whose rituals differed.  A member of the tribe might be trusted, whereas the stranger in the midst would be distrusted.  Such behaviors did not develop because people are inherently racist or bigoted, but rather, the primitive society used these protocols to identify friends/family from foes/foreigners.  Our personal preference to those who speak and look like us, who pray like us, and who act like us is a result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary natural selection -- we are programmed to need the identifying rituals, whether we like them or not.

Today, religion stands at the gate between our tribal identities and our emerging global identities.  In fact, the more we globalize, the more desperate religion is to re-assert tribal identity among the still-faithful in the religion.  Indeed, the vast majority of the world's problems have to do with the assertion of tribal identity as a means of survival over globalization, especially in the presence of perceived scarcity of critical resources.  The global war on terrorism (GWOT), along with its partner, fundamentalist religious terrorism, dominate the world scene and serve to bring down progress and pluralism.

The Tipping Point has Arrived.

So here we are, in a world where religion stands in opposition to progress.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I moderate groups where people struggle with faith and religion.  I have been dablling in this since the 1990s, but during the past year or so, I have never seen more people flooding the gates of leaving religion.  When I was involved in early mormon-focused usenet groups (alt.religion.mormon, soc.religion.mormon), we had a few people join us on occasion -- one or two per month, maybe.  Of course, usenet was not as popular, say, as facebook or other fora (or is it "forums"). 

I've been participating on occasion within the "Disaffected Mormon Undeground" (DAMU - affectionately pronouncd "Damn-You") for the past several years.  My obsession with statistics has led me to observe the numbers of people in and out of those groups, and I have informally tracked these for the past four years.  I have seen steady increases in people involved, but within the past few two years, I can quantitively say that the number of requests for support about my particular religion, the LDS church, has not doubled, but rather, quadrupled.  This week, alone, we admitted 42 people into a facebook group after confirming that they had a legitimate concern abou their church adn were trying to make it work.  This contrasts with 20 maximum last year, and half that the year before -- and we were not nearly as selective in the past. 

And we're the ones trying to help people stay in the church.  The popularity of ex-mormon or really disaffected, "on-one's-way-out" sites is at least four to six times as great as those who wish to stay in.  These are quantifiable statistics based upon membership numbers and increase per week of the sites with various constituencies.

I'm reminded of Malcom Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, where he explains how certain social phenomenon achieve a certain critical mass, and after that "tipping point" a massive change in sentiment occurs.  I do not wish for the tipping point to turn against the good parts of religion -- but I can see the "writing on the wall" at this point.  The availability of information readily available on the internet, the social networking that connects people to each other in lieu of the community across global communities of interest -- spell a massive need for change in traditional religions.

A Radical Rethinking

I'm weird, but you know that.   I love religious ritual.  I love putting incense on the graves of the 47 ronin at Sengakuji.  I truly enjoyed the Mass in Dublin.  I enjoy the ritual of the LDS endowment, as well as the quiet, contemplative moments of communion (or what we call "Sacrament").  I love the traditions of Yom Kippur, where I draw near my family and re-assess where I stand in the book of life.  I have recited the necessary suras as part of islamic prayer.  I have chanted in sanskrit. Yet, I have been disappointed in my own efforts to create my own kind of spirituality -- it would seem to me that I feel most at home within the faith of my fathers and upbringing -- it speaks to me.

I would like to propose a new kind of faith -- a faith where we all recognize and appreciate that we don't know with certainty about the divine, but rather, we celebrate the divine in our rituals and in our daily lives.  I would like to stand, side-by-side, with a mullah, an evangelical, a hasid, and an atheist, and instead of arguing about who is right, find ways where we share our common humanity.  I don't want one world religion, I want as many as necessary to speak to our individual souls.

I would like to celebrate the Jesus Christ who challenged my forefathers' and fore-mothers' Jewish and Christian faith, by asking them who their neighbor was.  I would think that James the brother of Jesus could sit at the same table as Paul's greek converts, and while James might stay kosher in his meals, the converts may have a different view -- yet we are all one body of humanity.

Yes, there are going to be many messages in my religion, polemics of the past, that I'm going to have to discard.  I'm going to have to throw away the idea of "one true church" for everyone, except in the metaphorical sense of a unity across diversity.  I'm going to have to realize that the polemics of my church's past are not worthy of defense, but should indeed be apologized for, rather than a subject of apologetics. 

What I'm suggesting is that each church embrace a larger, interfaith community of acceptance.  Yes, our churches will need to change -- not the ritual, not the practices that are compatible with others.  We need to embrace a universal faith, while living within diverse religious traditions.  Our traditions can enrich us, but it is our faith that must unite us.

I am so much of a fool.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Orson Pratt: God as Attributes

Orson Pratt was one of the most brilliant scholars of the early LDS church, and his intellectualism often led to conflict with the leadership of Brigham Young.  Young was authoritarian, whereas Pratt was rational.  In many ways, they were both speculative in their theology, but to Young's authoritarian style, Pratt's approach was entirely too confrontational.  In 1853, it would seem that Young found a solution to this intellectual conflict: he sent Pratt on a mission to Washington DC, to testify to the Gentiles.  As part of this mission, and with the approval of the leadership, Pratt authored an apologetic tract on Mormon theology and practice entitled, "The Seer".

Pratt was a true LDS believer.  As he had learned from Joseph Smith, God was both the one being that created and governs the universe, as well as an exalted man.  God was both unchangeable, according to scripture, the same from everlasting to everlasting, yet the being we call "Heavenly Father" was once a man, and had progressed to become God.  The pre-mortal existence of man was in a realm speaking of the "Sons of God" who were in someway gods, yet there could only be one god.  Joseph Smith taught that god has an immortal, inseparably connected exalted body, and can only be in one place at a given point in time, yet the scriptures speak of god being everywhere.

Indeed, Mormon theology about a God who was once man, and the idea that man can become god is fraught with fundamental conflicts with the mainstream definition of God.  How can god be unchangeable, but the being we call god, either as God the Father transformed from mortal man to Heavenly Father, or as Jesus was once man yet progressed, line upon line in his mortal life, to become god.  If we as humans are fallible, how then can we become unchanging gods?

Orson Pratt's laid out a remarkable approach for answering this apparent paradox.  In the February 1853 edition of The Seer, Orson Pratt laid out his understanding of the pre-existence as a child of god, and his destiny as a god, thus resulting in a multiplicity -- indeed "millions" of gods.  How could this be reconciled?  Here are his words from The Seer, Volume 1, Issue 2:
All these Gods are equal in power, in glory, in dominion, and in the possession of all things ; each possesses a fulness of truth, of knowledge, of wisdom, of light, of intelligence ; each governs himself in all things by his own attributes, and is filled with love, goodness, mercy, and justice towards all. The fulness of all these attributes is what constitutes God. "God is Light." "God is Love." "God is Truth." The Gods are one in the qualities and attributes. Truth is not a plurality of truths, because it dwells in a plurality of persons, but it is one truth, indivisible, though it dwells in millions of persons. Each person is called God, not because of his substance, neither because of the shape and size of the substance, but because of the qualities which dwell in the substance. Persons are only tabernacles or temples, and TRUTH is the God, that dwells in them. If the fulness of truth, dwells in numberless millions of persons, then the same one indivisible God dwells in them all. As truth can dwell in all worlds at the same instant; therefore, God who is truth can be in all worlds at the same instant. A temple of iinmortal flesh, and bones, and spirit, can only be in one place at a time, but truth, which is God, can dwell in a countless number of such temples in the same moment. When we worship the Father, we do not merely worship His person, but we worship the truth which dwells in His person. When we worship the Son, we do not merely worship His body, but we worship truth which resides in Him. So, likewise, when we worship the Holy Ghost, it is not the substance which we alone worship, but truth which dwells in that substance. Take away truth from either of these beings, and their persons or substance would not be the object of worship. It is truth, light, and love that we worship and adore ; these are the same in all worlds ; and as these constitute God, He is the same in all worlds ; and hence, the inhabitants of all worlds are required to worship and adore the same God. Because God dwells in many temples, He frequently speaks to us, as though there were many Gods : this is true when reference is made to the number of His dwelling places ; baut it is not true, and cannot be true,, in any other sense. Therefore, in all our future statements and reasonings, when we speak of a plurality of Gods, let it be distinctly understood, that we have reference alone to a plurality of temples wherein the same truth or God dwells. And also when we speak of only one God, and state that He is eternal, without beginning or end, and that He is in all worlds at the same instant, let it be distinctly remembered, that we have no refer- ence to any particular person or substance, but to truth dwelling in a vast variety of substances. Wherever you find a fulness of wisdom, knowledge, truth, goodness, love, and such like qualities, there you find God in all His glory, power, and majesty, therefore, if you worship these adorable perfections you worship God. 
 Shortly after this was published, Brigham Young openly disagreed, saying that we don't worship attributes, but rather, a being.  This disagreement continued from late 1853 until around 1860, after which Orson Pratt was forced into submission by the Quorum of the Twelve to accept the Prophet's word without question.  He then gave a formal apology in a conference address.

Certainly many of Orson Pratt's pronouncements were speculations.  Curiously, the issue that caused the most dissension between him and Brigham Young was the Adam-God concept: Orson simply couldn't agree that Adam was an alien from another planet and who was appointed to be God of this earth.  As well, he couldn't agree, scripturally, that god continues to progress.  Here we have both Brigham Young and Orson Pratt speculating on the nature of god, and one was brought into submission because he wasn't the prophet.  Later, of course, Brigham Young's speculations around Adam-God and the progression of god have proved distinctly non-scriptural and problematic to later prophets.  In the end, who was right?

To me, it's important to observe that Orson Pratt's observations were a valid attempt to rationalize scriptural understanding of god with the god as defined by Joseph Smith.  Orson Pratt was a true believer, yet in his attempt to rationalize mormon theology, he came upon an idea, supported in scripture, that the eternal nature of god is a universal constant: truth, light, power, etc., are godly attributes, and a person possessing such attributes can and should be called "god".

Where Pratt caused confusion is to suggest that the attributes, disembodied, are objects of worship.  They are not.  It is not the attributes that make up god, but rather the attributes embodied in a person -- the "I AM" that make up god.  The body (the individual) and spirit (the attributes, metaphorically) become inseparably connected, and thus achieve the fullness of joy (power, truth, light, etc.).

As I see the Way

I see these attributes in the context of the Way.  The Way, as an abstract concept or attribute, is not god, never was, never will be.  The Way is what makes one God.  In Chinese daoist literature, the "Sage", or literally, "holy person", is characterized as being one who is in perfect harmony with the Way.  To me, Orson Pratt was on a trajectory to understand the Way in a sense that makes it real -- Any being who possesses the attributes (of the Way) and is in perfect harmony with the Way would be and is indistinguishable from god.

Sure, I understand this as being an exalted state, eventually to be achieved in LDS doctrine and theology.   But somehow, Jesus saw it differently: he saw that we could be one with him and with God in a very real, present sense.  To him, Psalm 82 spoke of mankind being gods in this life, not as a state to achieve, but rather, as state of existence in the here and now -- one who defends the poor and the fatherless, who does justice to the afflicted and the needy.  If there were any "Way" that Jesus best demonstrated, it was how we are to care for one another in unconditional love.  This was the Way of Jesus Christ: to love one another.

And this attribute, "Love", is worthy of worship.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life Happens

So… about six months since my last blog here.

Perhaps it's a cycle I go through, but I think I'm landing at exactly the same point I was three years ago: trying to make being part of a community work for me, but it doesn't…not really.  I am forever feeling like a round peg being forced into square and triangular holes, designed for other people, or for parts of me that I'm not.

I failed miserably at a whole raft of worldly activities in the past six months.  Whether it be work, or elsewhere, I'm not finding myself to be very good at many things - particularly when it comes to the responsible things of life: paying taxes, submitting expenses, doing the regular things that other people find easy…I find absolutely dreadful to do.  A man quit on me at work citing me as the primary reason for leaving, and my boss tells me that I really am no good at my job.  That was all right before Christmas…

So I gave it a thought over the holidays…  Added up my strengths, my liabilities, my assets -- literally and figuratively -- and found that I'm not so bad after all -- but I make myself bad. I allow stupid fears to prevent me from living life to the fullest.

Then, returning to work in January, it's like a completely new world to me.  I have caught up on all administrative issues, as if there was no problem at all.  Work things are starting to break nicely, and while there are profound challenges still, I am dealing with them.

It's simply the journey that matters, to be in life, but not taken back by life.

wayfaring on...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28, 1963, fifty years later

 
I am sitting in Brussels, Belgium, unable to attend the events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.  My wife and I had planned on going to the interfaith worship service that traditionally kicks off the event, but business responsibilities have taken me to another place.

Twenty years ago, I had the distinct privilege of co-chairing the organizing committee for the interfaith worship service for the thirtieth anniversary commemoration.  We struggled to find the right keynote speaker, and landed on having Andrew Young and Eleanor Holmes Norton as the speakers for it.

It was a very hot day.  Delegate Norton was struggling to find her notes for speaking, and I tried to help, saying something stupid like, "Just speak from your heart."  She eventually found her notes and spoke them from her heart.  A noisy disturbance almost derailed the service at one point, and as I stepped down from the podium at the Sylvan theater to try to calm things down, Andrew Young accompanied me, and with grace, dignity and power I have seldom seen before, this former deputy of Martin Luther King, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta immediately calmed the group that was making the ruckus.

I went into the role of co-chairing the event thinking that I could change the world.  What I learned from Andrew Young that day is that the change of the world happens at an individual level, as he lovingly calmed down a relatively minor disturbance and an obscure event.

No, I don't remember at all what was said that day, but I remember being arm-in-arm with my brothers and sisters singing, "We shall overcome". 

So, yes, I will miss this today.

I often reflect on what Dr. King said fifty years ago today, how he said it, and what happened.  In listening to his speech, the first part of it was elegant and erudite.  A promissory note not paid, language that effectively expressed the evils of racial segregation and then-current public policy.  It was a masterful speech, but it wasn't resonating.  At one point, Dr. King looked up, and abandoning his notes, began to express a dream for the world, based in the American dream.  Sure, the material came from many of his stump speeches -- perhaps everything he said from that point on was former material. 

But this was no ordinary day.  This was the day when the words expressed before would come together into a marvellous symphony of spiritual connectedness.  It was no longer just about equality for the negro, but expressed a dream where a diverse people of can come together and be free at last. 

Now, fifty years later, are we free at last?  Sure, laws have changed, such freedom doesn't happen just because laws change, but rather, there needs to be a mighty change of heart.  To say we are done with the progress made on that day is overlook the fact that we, as a country and world, are more divided than ever at a personal level.  In America, a very small minority of people with immense wealth and power are effectively dismantling the laws that put us on the track of equality and justice.  The difference between the wealthy 1% and the majority is greater than it ever has been.  Founding principles that assure freedom, such as the separation of church and state and the right of privacy are being dismantled in the very name of 'freedom'. 

We have not overcome.

We have not overcome, but we can, if we embraced the dream, and make that dream a reality.  No-one else will make this happen for us, for me.  I need to stand today, and wherever I am, to march on Washington and demand that we create the dream for which Dr. King died.  We must overcome our differences and work together.  We must overcome our deeply-held biases and learn of each other.  We must overcome our personal desire for wealth and work for a greater good.  We must overcome by setting aside our religious differences and embrace the oneness that makes us human. 

So today, this 28th of August, 2013, I will read again and listen to Dr. King's speech.  But I need to do more than that.  I cannot change the world, or even, perhaps, anyone else, but I need to see where my individual choices limit this dream.  I need to commit to making that dream a reality, if only in my individual dealings with others.  That, I can do.  That, I must do.

I ... can overcome.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thinking about the Endowment

Let me try a story here...a fable or myth that may have some bearing on why masonic symbols are in our temples.  I'm not concerned with history here -- instead, I'm doing a type of interpretive story-telling about what I consder to be deeply spiritual.   

Let's say that a million years ago an enlightened alien, a "Great Architect", came to this planet, found a bunch of primitive beings -- early humans, and decided that there was potential for these "humans" to be just like she is. Given the distances and logistics of space travel, she knew she couldn't be here to help out these beings, but knowing that they eventually would need to know some really important things, she embedded into their genetic code a set of important programs: that people would need to have communities, that communities are best if they have some sort of bond, and that bonds are made through shared traditions.

In time, the beings she left behind would create communities, but in so doing they sometimes created hostility between themselves and their neighbors The underlying programs were still working but other programs were distorting their ability to live harmoniously together.

About 2500 years ago, the Great Architect happened to be travelling through the solar system, and noted all across the world, these beings were fighting with each other and needed an update of some of the programming. given that humans by then had populated the whole earth, she decided to spread a MESSAGE through a set of messengers: they were named "Cyrus", "Ezra", "Isaiah", "Daniel", but not just them -- also: Pythagoras, Confucius, Laotzu, Gautama...many were the names of these prophets. He told them to write down the MESSAGE. One of them even wrote about this -- his name was Nephi:

"For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it."

In some parts of the world, the MESSAGE was called "THE WAY".

In another five hundred years, some wise men from the eastern lands along the Silk Road came to Jerusalem and found a very intelligent young boy who had seemingly infinite potential. As the MESSAGE had been corrupted in Jerusalem, they taught him again the MESSAGE. Most of this boy's disciples later in life would distort the MESSAGE, but because the WAY -- the principle behind he MESSAGE -- resonates in everyone, the disciples revered the boy as a God, or the Son of God.    The boy learned that the WAY was really what the Jews thought of as the Power of God...and more specifically, the boy learned that to be one with that power is to be god in very act and deed.  He told his followers that to authentically "be" is to be the "I AM".  He quoted the scriptures, speaking to all, "Ye are Gods, and all of you are children of the Most High".  When his disciples tried to get him to show them "The Father", he told them that this authenticity of being -- the I AM -- is the very father -- "If ye have seen me, ye have seen the Father".  He prayed that each of his disciples might be one with the WAY and each other, in the same way that Jesus was One with the Father.  His enlightened principle was "[the] I AM (that is the authenticity of being) [is] the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE -- laying out in the simplest terms the MESSAGE.


Go forward another 1000 years, and a group of very faithful, very sacrificing knights went to the holy land with the initial intent to reclaim the holy land from muslims, who had received the MESSAGE from corrupted teachings in a book called the "Recitation". Before these knights left, they went to get a blessing from a spiritual master named Bernard of Clairvaux. They were given "orders", or special rules, and even special tokens and signs that would help them identify a brother as they tranversed the WAY. These tokens and signs were to be kept strictly secret, in order to preserve the sanctity of the WAY and its MESSAGE, which Bernard conveyed to them.

When these knights went to Jerusalem, they found another group of people who had exactly the same understanding of the WAY and the MESSAGE. They were called "Sufis", and while they accepted the book of the recitation, they understood the MESSAGE behind the text, and found unity with the Knights. That unity was based in the Temple at Jerusalem -- a nexus of worship where Sufi and Knight could worship together. They had, together, uncovered the great secret of the Temple -- that the MESSAGE and the WAY are the very power of the universe, and to become one with that WAY is to be one with all that is. The Knights of the Temple abandaned their desire for conquest, and found the WAY to live in harmony -- They understood that oneness is to be of one heart and one mind, and to care for the poor so that there are no poor among the city of god.

In the next two hundred years, these Knights, operating as one heart and one mind became the backbone infrastructure of almost all good that was done in the society of europe. Their covenants and obligations -- they were completley obedient, they sacrificed themselves, they lived in harmony with the Gospel of all truth as they understood it -- they were rigorously chaste, and they consecrated all they had to the order.

And they prospered exceedingly. They set up the first banking system throughout europe, their financial holdings exceeded that of the Church and kings -- so much so that one of the kings, in an underhanded dealing with head of the church, conspired to have all the knights arrested and tried for heresy on the same day throughout the land Friday the 13th.

The purge of the Knights was nearly completely successful. The entire body of Knights was destroyed except for two places at the western and northwestern extremes of Europe. Nothing was heard of again of these noble Knights except for a very remarkable uprising about seventy years after the first purge.

About three hundred years later, in Scotland, in the northwestern extreme of Europe, a group of people, perhaps men in the building trades, felt the call again of the MESSAGE and the WAY. They formed lodges where they could organize their efforts.  While it seems like there was no direct connection between the Scottish rite and the earlier Knights, they adopted many of the Knights' WAY.  At the same time, Catholic Jesuit missionaries returning from Asia, hearing the MESSAGE and the WAY from their converts in China and India, inspired a type of questioning of the Church that had a lock on the hearts of europe. They called this new way of thinking, patterned after eastern words for the same -- "Enlightenment".

The members of the lodges had discovered within the MESSAGE that the WAY is not the creedal "god" -- that is, all-powerful, all knowing, and all good, everywhere but personal, etc., but rather, that the WAY was a legacy left behind by an inspired builder, a Great Architect of the Universe.   Rather than worshipping the Great Architect, they decided to serve mankind in harmon with the WAY. Yet, because the Church was very powerful, and would reject this humanist approach to service, the members of lodges, "Masons" as they were called after the trade of perhaps some of the original members, needed a way to identify each other -- signs and tokens to protect the integrity. They were also under strict oaths of obedience, sacrifice, living in harmony with the Gospel, and of course, he willingness to become one in all things.

THe message of enlightenment, humanism, and deism embodied by the Masons attracted a specific group of scottish and english intellectuals and leaders, some of whom found their way to this new land, America, a promised land, where the principles of enlightement and secular humanism could be practiced. One of the principle leaders of the masonic movement was a man named George Washington, who established a lodge in Alexandria, near his home in Mount Vernon. As well, his guiding hand behind the scenes among his fellow masons helped guide this new-found land of opportunity. And because of this influence, the MESSAGE of teh WAY found itself into the founding documents of a great nation that would house the restoration of the full MESSAGE at the right time.

I think you can finish this story on your own.

Yes, the Temple Endowment is heavily based on the Masonic ritual. And while, historically the link to the Knights Templar is weak, and there is no real link to the Temple of Solomon as claimed, the reality, to me, is that there is a deep spiritual link between the LDS temple and the MESSAGE that has been embedded into all the great and noble systems of the past.

The masons were and are not an evil organization -- but rather enlightened in many ways. when we go to the temple, and participate in the tokens and signs, we are giving homage to those who came before Joseph Smith as humble guardians of the MESSAGE, whether they were the founding fathers who were masons, the leaders of the Scottish Enlightement who gave us our freedom and economic systems, or the spiritual foreberers -- the Knights Templar, who understood, under the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, the divine order, tokens and signs, and covenants we share today in the temple.

And to understand the true origin of these rich rituals, I invite you to recall that Bernard of Clairvaux, "Saint Bernard", the founder of the Trappist monastic tradition, is the author of arguably the most sacred hymn in the LDS Hymnbook: Jesus the Very Thought of Thee". This hymn emboides the MESSAGE adn the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. In one verse in the latin, not translated intoo english in our hymnbook:

Nec lingua valet dicere, - No tongue can speak it
nec littera exprimere: - No words can express it
expertus potest credere, Only through experience can we know
quid sit Jesum diligere. the love that Jesus offers.

Perhaps rather than thinking of the temple as weird and quirky, which it seems to be for all of us at first. Perhaps we should embrace the reality that we are walking in the footsteps of some very great individuals -- Masons, Knights Templar, and holy Saints -- who sacrificed all to give us what we have today.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Doubt

-   Photo is courtesy of Amy Logan Wengreen, used by permission.

In Utah, the biggest parade of the year is the Pioneer Day parade on July 24th, celebrating the 1947 and later pioneers who came to Utah to be free of religious persecution in the east and midwest.  Each year, communities including religious groups march and exhibit floats, bands, and other stuff to represent something they're proud of. 

This year, a group in Springville, UT marched as the 2000 stripling (young) warriors of Helaman.  This story, from the Book of Mormon, tells of a number of very young men who were recruited to defend their country.  While untrained militarily, they were very believing and faithful, obeying each order with exactness, leading them to be successful in every battle with no loss of life on their side.
Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.  And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.  (Alma 56: 47-48)
For some who saw this parade, the idea of not having any doubt was deeply troubling to them -- we all have doubts of one kind or another.  Doubt is a very important emotion -- it prevents us from accepting things that aren't true.  It helps us survive against deception.  It helps us question our assumptions, and move to a position of knowing truth, if the facts are available to us.

Unfortunately, our culture doesn't countenance doubt.  Within religions, particularly the fundamentalist kind, doubt is a sign of weakness in the faith.  So, the story of Helaman's 2000 stripling warriors is a signal to the doubters to cast aside doubts and march with the faithful...

And that can be painful, indeed.

I have a different view of doubt.  To me, "doubt" is a temporary, unresolved negative feeling toward a given belief. If I no longer believe a given thing, it's no longer in "doubt".  If I decide that the evidence is insufficient to make a belief decision, then I can suspend judgment, but again, I am no longer in 'doubt'.  Doubt is the moment of hesitancy, the point at which one feels that a thing believed may not be 'true'.  I see doubt as a necessary, temporary feeling, motivating me to resolve the area of doubt, and there is a time and place for doubt.

Where "doubt" doesn't make sense.

The story of the 2000 stripling soldiers equates a lack of doubt with success in a military setting.  This is entirely reasonable.  "Doubt" can impair the warrior's ability to act decisively and courageously. If I have been given an order to take a hill, then my exclusive focus is to take the hill without questioning or doubting the merit of taking the hill. This does not mean that I think that there is merit in taking the hill: what I believe is irrelevant to the action taken in faith--therefore I suspend both belief and disbelief and simply do what needs to be done.

Yet, I wonder in a military situation whether 'not doubting' is appropriate in all military situations.  No soldier in a modern, ethical army should obey an order that violates law.  For example, I would hope that soldiers have enough doubt as to question wether their actions might harm civilians, and indeed, in modern armies, soldiers are trained over and over to recognize illegal and unethical situations, and to act accordingly.

Battle is often a difficult endeavor, and decisions are often clouded by the fog of war.  In the actual engagement of battle, the thinking has often to be set aside in favor of training.  In this sense, the training of the 2000 stripling warriors, paradoxically by their mothers, was effective in making correct decisions in the instant of the battle -- they did not doubt, because their training had been effective.  I suspect that part of that training, by mothers who did NOT typically go to war, was to make prudent moral decisions: their training had been sufficient to act morally and effectively without having to ponder and hesitate.

In leading people, establishing a direction for the future, I find that I often doubt as to what direction I should go, fearing failure if I make the wrong choice.   But to the extent that this doubt remains in my mind, hesitating my choices as a leader, I am also making a choice -- to do nothing.  And, such 'doing nothing' can be the wrong choice.  Leadership isn't being certain about the direction, it's about being decisive on the direction when such is necessary.  Leadership demands, at times, decisiveness, as noted by Paul:
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8) 
Yet, again, Paul is invoking the battle metaphor for a non-military situation.  In fact, when the metaphor is read in context, it has nothing at all to do with doubt or inability to take action: it's about the futility of speaking in tongues in a preaching situation, because the hearers won't understand the words -- it's about the opposite of doubt: clarity.

Another important battle metaphor from another faith tradition is that of the Bhagavad Gita, in a battle between two kindreds fighting for the right to rule, Arjuna, the leader of one goes with his charioteer to observe the battlefield.  His charioteer is Krisha -- god -- and he does not want to fight.  Arjuna has doubt.  But Krishna helps him overcome doubt to understand that there is a time and place for decisiveness - in any battle.  Later in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the "field" of battle is really "the body", or in other words, the battle is within us.  The warriors on the battlefield are our attributes -- our gunas -- the things that may serve in some time and place, and in others, not.  When it is time, it's important to kill, or cast aside, our "gunas" -- our desires, our appetites, our passions, and do what is needed. 

But these stories are myths and metaphors: whenever we literalize them, or take them too far, we run the risk of absurdity: we are not military.   For years I set aside the Gita as having a very narrow worldview of killing one's kindred -- I had been taking the text literally.  But when I realized that the Gita is absolutely metaphorical -- a myth that never was but always is -- I learned that the war we are fighting, if any, is with our own selves, to overcome the gunas (worldly attributes) that bind us down and limit our freedom to act with authenticity.

So, to the extent that doubt impairs our ability to act when action is demanded, then doubt is not appropriate.  I might go so far as to say that at this point, it is too late for doubt -- a decision is required, and the time for training has long passed.  In these moments, making a choice, being confident in that choice, and moving forward.  Yet these moments of decisiveness are few and far between.  Our lives are filled with time where we can make considered decisions, where we have time, and where that time allows us to...doubt.
 
Where doubt is absolutely necessary

Doubt is an integral feeling within our emotional mind.  It occurs when we encounter thoughts or sensory input that call into question what we have already stored in our belief structure.  To be precise, I will use the term "schema" to refer to the structure of our stored beliefs. 

We don't store information in our schema in nice neat folders.  We receive input from our senses and our thoughts, and our minds need to store them somewhere.  Instead of an image or recording of those thoughts or sensory impressions, we store associations to what we already have in our schema.  We see a chair made of brown wood in a particular location and we associate that object "this chair" with our sense of what "chair" means, as well as to other objects: wood, "brown", etc.  We may store this chair in our episodal memory -- with this place and time.  Each of these data add to our schema by association. 

Importantly, if we have discovered something about this chair, we may have a positive or negative experience about the chair.  As we sit on a chair, we learn it's usefulness -- we trust the chair.  This feeling of certainty is important, because we have identified "chair" as being something that keeps us alive, it helps us -- we trust it... We have faith in the chair.  As we have come to understand the neurological workings of our minds, "faith" is a neural link to the "certainty" emotion within our mind's schema.

What happens when we sit on a chair and it breaks?  We hurt ourselves, or we certainly see how we could have hurt ourselves.  Within our minds, this new data causes a negative emotional association within our schema about this chair, and potentially all chairs we have associated into our schema.  The link to "certainty" is now in conflict with the link to "fear".  In fact, our minds utterly detest this feeling of fear about something we formerly held as certain.  On a large scale, this feeling of contempt is called "cognitive dissonance", but on the scale of a singular event, it is called "doubt". 

Thus, we cannot avoid "doubt".  It is part of our ability to learn. It keeps us alive, as we learn, through our own experience, to distinguish things that are good for us, or evil for us.  While all other chairs may be ok, there is something now that causes us concern about the integrity and safety of that chair.

But here is the thing: if we allow this negative emotion to paralyze our feelings about all chairs, then we have made an incorrect association within our schema.  Curiously, the permanent neural associations are not made immediately within the mind -- neural connections take time to establish themselves.  Thus, in a learning experience, when something negative happens, it's important to sort out quickly what the cause of the problem was.  For example, when a child learns to ride a bicycle, if s/he falls, it's important to get the child back on the bike quickly in order to complete the positive nature of the experience.  Removing the child at the point of negative experience tends to leave in place a negative experience about bicycles. Thus, when we allow guilt to fester, to remain unresolved, there is a danger of extending the neural negative association beyond where it is appropriate.

Returning to the chair, if I allow the experience of the broken chair to sit in my mind, or to affect my impression of all chairs, then my doubt is harmful to me.  On the other hand, if I come to realize that "this chair" has a specific attribute or flaw, then my "doubt" is resolved: I have a justified belief that such attributes or flaws are the issue, and not all chairs. Once I know the truth, then my faith is restored in chairs, albeit with a new-found exception.  My schema has been altered by this experience, or in much simpler terms: I have learned something.

This is what I might call "experiential learning", or "learning through our own experience to distinguish good and evil".  It is a powerful method of teaching and learning.  It involves making mistakes, experiencing doubt, and by resolving doubt at the point of experience, we become more intelligent and enlightened beings.  Being open to doubt allows us to be humble: to recognize that we could be wrong, and then to correct it based upon the new facts.


Doubt as the Antithesis of Authoritarian Faith
 
In the military metaphor and in the example of the chair, "faith" was a learned behavior -- a trust in something that empowered action.  For stripling warriors, their action in faith, without doubting, empowered them to be successful in their military endeavors.  In the case of the chair, my faith in the usefulness of a chair means I can confidently act -- to sit down on the chair and make use of it.

I have no doubt that unresolved doubt is nearly the opposite of faith.   One cannot trust in faith that which one does not trust due to doubt.  But what kind of "faith" fears doubt?  If doubt is a necessary part of learning, then shouldn't doubt be part of the enhancement of our faith?  Once I understand what flaws there are in certain chairs, then is not my faith more mature in chairs?

To answer these questions, we need to go back to the concept of our mental schema -- how we construct what we believe within our minds.  There is another type of learning than "experiential learning".  We call it "indoctrination", and it is used by authoritarian systems to instill the principles required by the system. 

Authoritarian systems dictate a specific, hierarchal schema of knowledge and behavior.  The hierarchal nature of the schema is due to the underlying core principles of the authoritarian system -- the autocratic rule it must instill upon its adherents.  Within fundamental religions, the core principles are that an authoritarian god has dictated his will verbatim to his prophets, and that this prophetic word is infallible and inerrant.

Authoritarian systems often try to monopolize the education process.  We see examples of this in the way the Taliban have attempted to terrorize teachers and children within secular schools, and the push toward teaching creationism or "intelligent design" in order to preserve the infallibility of the literal interpretation of the Bible. 

Authoritarian systems use the process of "indoctrination" to create in the minds of adherents their specific hierarchal schema, or tree-structure, of knowledge of good and evil.  Concepts such as infallibility and inerrancy are used to connect this schema with the emotional feeling of certainty.  Distinctly illogical concepts and behaviors are taught as being essential, in order to alter the adherent's ability to use logic as a means to determine truth -- instead, "truth" is defined within the bounds of the schema, and anything else is suspect.

Doubt in the authoritarian teaching is considered a weakness, and is never countenanced.  Thus, adherents in an authoritarian system tend to have to put aside feelings of doubt, and embrace the authoritarian schema without questioning or doubt.  Manipulative techniques such as splitting ("You're either for us or against us", "It's either all true or the biggest fraud in history"), combined with lock-in techniques holding entire families into the system and shunning those who doubt create a hostile environment for any doubt.


When Doubt Leads to Faith Crisis

Authoritarian control over doubt does not last forever, particularly in today's climate of open information sharing via the internet and other means.  As the adherent to an authoritative faith schema shelves doubt, at some point, the doubt is too overwhelming to ignore. 

I think of this moment of faith crisis is a collapse of the authoritarian schema.  When the core principles of infallibility are questioned and found wanting, and when the authoritarian approach has been to split the adherent with the false, "all or nothing" dichotomy, then all the values and doctrines associated with the hierarchal, dogmatic schema are likely to collapse as well.  The adherent in such a condition finds him or herself without an anchor within the faith.  To those friends and family still within the authoritarian system, such a faith collapse is seen as simply the working of evil "doubt" or the influence of "Satan", "the World", or other such sources.  To those still in the system, faith collapse and doubt are simply weaknesses or trials to overcome.  Friends and family will hope and pray that the doubter will return to the blissful position of full faith.

This forces a choice on the doubter: either to ignore the cognitive dissonance caused by flaws in the core principles of the authoritarian system, or to leave the system entirely, if no middle ground is found. 

Let me explore concrete examples.  For those in Christian fundamentalist systems that insist in biblically inerrancy, infallibility, and literalism, the creation stories are not to be questioned.  Miracles stated in the New Testament that are clearly outside of scientific possibility are literal facts.  When a person within that system learns the history and origin of scripture as taught by sholars, coupled with legitimate science, then the literalism becomes untenable: The earth was not created in six days or even six thousand years.  Adam and Eve did not live at the same time based upon DNA analysis, and death was not introduced into the world by virtue of partaking of forbidden fruit.  These are clearly and unambiguously myths, embraced by a semitic tribe and incorporated into the Torah used by Jesus and his followers.

To Mormons, the sacred experience is the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  These are posited as absolute evidence that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and restored the original Church of Jesus Christ on the earth.  Doubters in the literalism of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are effectively shunned in the Church: the former apologists who left the Maxwell Institute to form their own self-appointed "Interpreter of Mormon Scripture" categorically reject any non-literal approach to the Book of Mormon as incoherent and apostate.  Yet, the evidence against Book of Mormon literalism is overwhelming, and the evidence against the Book of Abraham is concrete and absolute: Joseph Smith did not know how to translate egyptian heiroglypics.  Period.

Mormons are particularly attuned to prophetic infallibility.  Questioning leaders or doubting that which is proclaimed at General Conerence will find one on the way to apostasy and within a church court if one is not careful.  Statements like "The Lord will never lead the prophet astray" must be reconciled with flawed principles such as "Adam-God" and "Blacks and the Priesthood" -- indeed the Prophets did lead the the prophet astray and all the members along with him in many occasions.  Early leaders warned against the principle of prophetic infallibility, but today's church instills it in children from the earliest years of primary.

Where does that lead the person who no longer can accept scriptural or prophetic infalliblity?

As I see it, there are some ways through this faith crisis:
  1. I can return to full faith, ignoring the evidence that these texts are mythological qne that prophets have always been fallible.  The challenge is that doubt will always be in the my schema.  I will have to live with unresolved doubt, trying to reconcile scientific fact with scriptural and prophetic infallibility and literalism.  Living with such cognitive dissonance and doubt can adversely affect the soul, and prevent me from embracing the full spectrum of truth and life.
  2. I can pretend.  This is to live in constant conflict with the faith system, and to struggle constantly with personal integrity and authenticity.  While I may have resolved cognitive dissonance by simply rejecting faith, the lack of authenticity of this path is cancerous to the soul.
  3. I can leave the faith system entirely.  True, there may be consequences to friends and family who remain behind in the faith, but if personal integrity is important, then perhaps my friends and family will understand.  They often do not, and this path often does not retain those family and friend relationships.
  4. I can adopt a Middle Way -- one where I am in charge of my spirituality, and while I may participate in a given faith system, I no longer am bound to its authoritarian control of my personal faith schema.  I am honest about my personal beliefs or lack thereof, but at the same time, compassionate and accommodating of those who don't share my beliefs. Of the three, this is not only the least common, it may be the most difficult.
It may be obvious that I favor the Middle Way approach.  I have tried all of them, and found them wanting.  On the other hand, the Middle Way has helped me embrace the good things of my chosen religion, while being open to many possibilities from many different sources.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Atonement

I've always been intrigued at the Jewish idea of Atonement: once a year, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is opened, and Jewish people draw inward to determine where their life does not fit into the Book of Life, and then, identifying behaviors that aren't consistent with what is expected by God, they place their 'sins' on what was a 'scapegoat' -- a type of sacrificial lamb, and make a determination to live in tune with the better life.  The scapegoat, no longer sacrificed or sent afield as in ancient days, is symbolic of where we set aside our sins.  What is fascinating is that "Atonement", to the observant Jew, involves deep personal responsibility.

As the Jewish Christian community evolved, and the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the community came to associated Jesus Christ as the "suffering servant", the "scapegoat", in a symbolic sense, that would take upon himself our sins.  It was clear to the Jewish Christians that Jesus Christ as the "Atonement" symbol was deeply symbolic.

On the other hand, Paul proclaimed the Corinthians that he had taught them that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:3)  To the Greek converts, who became the majority of Christians by the end of the first century, the idea of "Atonement" had departed from the association with Yom Kippur.  Paul had seen in Christ a relief from his personal feelings of depravity, that the unredeemed man was condemned to death.  Later, Augustine would magnify the concept of original sin and guilt, leading to the Calvinist concepts of total depravity of mankind.

Along with the evolving idea that mankind was inherently evil were an evolving set of ideas around Atonement.  Whether these were "Moral Influence" -- that God needed to send Christ to put mankind back on track, or "Ransom" theory -- that God needed to pay Satan a ransom for the sins of mankind from Adam, to the Penal Substitutionary Model -- where mankind was so inherently evil that someone had to satisfy God's justice by paying the penalty for our sins in order to redeem mankind to the justice of God.

But here is the deal: all the Christian concepts of Atonement, including those taught in the Book of Mormon and in the LDS Church, are based upon man being completely estranged from God: the natural man is an enemy of God.  And while there might be some aspect of our personality that is worldly and evil, LDS beliefs are more that we have divine nature, an uncreated intelligence, co-eternal with God, that is better reflected that we are truly, literally, in ways we cannot fully embrace, children of God.  All of us. 

Given all this history of Atonement and the our true, divine nature, I do not believe the standard definition of Atonement: the concept that God is so hung up on justice that Jesus had to be tortured and killed in order to satisfy his thirst for vengeance for our sins. All the stories told in the church to try to explain this concept simply have failed to convince me that this makes any sense.

As well, I'm also reject the idea that original sin has any relevance to us today.  LDS Doctrine is that Christ's atonement has saved us (past tense) from the fall and therefore man is free. Since all this has already happened, the concept of original sin and fallen man is now moot: we are free agents, and I believe this deeply. The symbolism, however, of fallen man and redemption is very important.

As humans, we seemed to be easily estranged from ourselves, from each other, and from whatever God may be defined as being. The Atonement is an amazing principle: we are forgiven already, so stop feeling guilty and get on with living. Oh, and be One with your self, with god, and with each other. At-one-ment means just that.

If we accept that because of the Atonement of Christ, then the original Jewish principle of the Yom Kippur scapegoat symbolism is deeply meaningful.  Let us cast aside our sins and move on to the enlightened life, each day (yom) can thus be the day of atonement (literally, what "yom kippur" means, when we recognize our deficiencies, cast them onto the symbolic atonement sacrifice, and embrace the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

To me, atonement is best explained in the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. When Jesus asked where her accusers were, she didn't see any. Then he said, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." He forgave her, releasing her from the bondage of her sexual addiction, then charged her to live her life in harmony with the gospel (as it were).

It's important to note that he had already forgiven her before any act on her part. The idea that the atonement is conditional places conditions and limits on God's love, with is both infinite and unconditional. He has forgiven us from the foundation of this world -- we need only accept this atonement: he stands at the door and knocks, we need but to open up the door. We do not earn atonement, we embrace it -- we become one with it.

My testimony of the Atonement is a personal one. I was once addicted to alcohol, mainly because of the guilt I felt when I took a drink. I could never drink moderately, because I felt that I had already sinned, so I might as well enjoy it. It became an obsession -- i simply could not stop. I went into AA, because frankly, all church repentence processes, including going to bishop after bishop, failed to work. At the point that I 'turned my will and my life over' to a higher power, whom I felt was 'christ', I had a complete removal of even the desire to drink at all. ever. I did not have to go through a period of "repentance" and proving myself worthy, although when I did go to the bishop after this release from addiction through the atonement, I had to go through church discipline hell. (given the power of my atonement experience, I have an un-testimony of CD as a result of this). I came to the deep realization that atonement is absolutely real and tangible. I attribute this personal miracle to Christ. While this release from addiction could have been a result of releasing myself from church-imposed guilt, I don't know, nor do I care. The personal, spiritual experience I had from this release was very tangible to me.

Now I really don't know whether Jesus Christ will serve as my judge someday in the eternities as part of an entrance examination in the the "heaven" per the 'standard definition' -- to me, he already has judged me and found me to be acceptable to him. Completely and totally. The arms of his love completely encircled me and he has stood by my side since. So to me, Jesus atoned for me, and is my personal Savior and Redeemer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Badoit

 

I absolutely love Badoit water.  I'm here in Brussels, Belgium, and having "just" a pedestrian lunch of a baguette, ham, cheese, salad, and other stuff, I saw that Badoit was on sale at the sandwich shop.  This stuff goes for $3 a bottle in US, but much more common and cheap here in Europe.
 
It's very lightly and naturally carbonated, rich in good minerals, not over-packed with Sodium -- it's a pleasure to drink and very tasty.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is the Church true?

Every Sunday, I greet my former Bishop and very good friend with the statement, "Well, Bishop, is the Church still true?"  His normal response is, "What does that word mean?"  We laugh. 

His wife has been struggling for some seven years about whether the truth claims and hagiography around the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are valid.  She's researched all sorts of evidence that there are challenges with these claims, and she views that the Church tends to whitewash its leaders and history in the most positive of light.  She especially struggles over Joseph Smith's hidden polygamy and polyandry as being inconsistent with the role model we paint as what a Prophet should be.  Having been through all that, I certainly know where she is coming from.

Over dinner with my wife and her husband, she asked me, "Can you say that the Church is the only true church on the face of the earth?"  I simply answered, "Yes, it is for me."  This, from a wayfaring fool who believes none of the truth claims as being literally the case.

The "Mormon Apologists", or "mopologists" claim my Middle Way is incoherent nonsense.  Do they have a point?  Is it possible to have the Church be "true for me" when I don't believe in its historical truth claims?

I think what drives me to declare that the Church is "True for me" is the way many insist that since some of these truth claims are not valid, it must be "not true".  One ex-mormon thinks my Middle Way is "intellectually dishonest", because I fail to reject the whole because some of the parts are not valid.  Another non-mormon observed:
"The church is obviously not true because it's pretty obvious Joseph Smith just made things up, it's not at all clear that any of his more substantive claims, such as to have had hands laid upon him by resurrected or "translated" beings to confer authority on him from the Creator of the Universe, involve actual occurrences or are in fact later inventions designed to bolster his influence over his followers. Supposedly ancient scripture allegedly translated by Joseph Smith appears to have been of modern invention, etc."
 
This triggered something inside of me. 
 
It didn't trigger "doubt" -- I don't doubt the claims, for I have set aside belief entirely.  An empirical claim is either true, not true, or unproven, and doubt doesn't have a lot to do with it.  True claims I accept.  False claims I reject, and the Middle Way between them -- the area of the unproven, I suspend both belief and disbelief and hold such things in "Faith". 
 
No, I think it triggered "loyalty".  I think I objected to the buying-in of the "all or nothing" proposition -- it's either "all true" or "all fraud", and such absolutes don't work for me anymore.  My response was as follows:
I really have a serious issue with the proclamation, "It's obvious the church isn't true".

What does it mean for a 'church' to be 'true' or 'not true'?   I could look at a photograph, and say, is that photograph a true and accurate representation of the subject, and perhaps it is or perhaps it isn't. If I make a claim and say that the photograph is a picture of bob, when it really is a picture of 'fred', then we might be justified in saying 'it is not true'.

But the church is not a photograph. It is meant to point to something, and that something is 'Christ'. Does the church accurately point to Christ? Can I come closer to Christ by reading the Church's scripture (the book of mormon, etc.)? Is my daily life closer to Christ when I live in harmony with what the Church teaches?

Something within us all points to Christ. Something within Joseph Smith pointed very well to Christ. And that something, which I choose to call God, revealed to Joseph a powerful scripture that leads people to Christ by speaking to that spark of Christ within us all. We can choose to look at Joseph Smith's methods for getting that divine spark across.  We can pretend that he translated some ancient records and swear on our testimonies that he did. But any literal claim or lack thereof doesn't change whether or not the product of his prophetic experience points to Christ or not.

And the proof of that claim is entirely in the person experience one has. We have a word for that personal experience: "Testimony".

To say, "The Church is true for me," is to declare that it is mine.  I may not like everything it does -- it is full of people with whom I may agree or disagree.  Sometimes, I profoundly disagree.  But in the end, this is my tribe, my culture, and my Church.

This doesn't mean a blanket acceptance of harmful falsehoods.  Sterling McMurrin said in an interview in Dialogue, "I really have a genuine love for the Church and a concern for its well being."  He often stood in opposition to orthodoxy that didn't make sense, and was counted as a true "heretic".  I think his example is very critical.

To love the Church is to stand tactfully against those things it does to harm its members and others.  I struggled mightily with the Church's position on Proposition 8, as I did with its position on blacks and the priesthood on my mission.  On my mission, I caved and taught the principle of exclusion from the priesthood.  Proposition 8 had me distancing myself from the Church.  I find neither of these approaches satisfactory.  To be concerned with the welfare of the Church is to remain engaged and find the way to mend the harm done by the institution when it does harm.  This is the Middle Way of appropriate activism: to remain faithfully engaged in helping the church not do harm to itself.

Because the Church is mine, I bear responsibility for its actions, even and especially when I don't agree.  This is what it means to me to "sustain" its leaders.  I have no illusions that I can change any aspect of the Church.  The leadership is somewhat autocratic, and my voice is nothing.  But I can be very engaged.  I can and must stand in opposition, as I do, to those "mopologist" voices whose supposed defense of the Church does far more harm than good.  I will continue to oppose the blurring of boundaries between Church and State.  But these efforts often bring me down, emotionally, and do not bring out the best in me.

Where I think the Church matters the most is in the individual service we render.  I can sit, one on one, with those who struggle with faith, and find the way to lift them while lifting my own soul as well.  Here is where the church is truest to me -- in the quiet, loving service we render in support to another human being.

 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My responses to an apologist

You probably know by now that I don't think much of apologetics.  I had some conflicts with a noted LDS apologist last month, for which I regret some of my reaction to his antics.  I lowered myself to his level, and that's a bit embarrassing. So I need to leave these things aside. I apologized on webpages I can no longer access, he refused to acknowledge it, so that is life.

Yet this apologist continues to blog about me -- I think it must be a bit of an obsession for him to have someone who tries to live a faithful Middle Way -- it does not compute in his worldview. Here is his post:
I ran across [sic] the following pseudonymous comment on a Mormon-focused message board dominated by formerly active members of the Church who are now atheists and agnostics. It comes from an outspokenly atheist former Mormon — an exceptionally bright one, though one who is seldom fair in his remarks — and is addressed (sincerely, I think) to another pseudonymous poster who had been wondering, given her own unbelief (I’m simplifying here; her position is somewhat obscure and perhaps incoherent), whether she still belongs in a church in which nasty people like me insist so firmly on the literal deity of Christ, his physical resurrection from the dead, and the literality of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and of the visits from Moroni. I’ve corrected the punctuation very slightly:

The Church just got rid of its official apologetics outlet and turned it into a Mormon Studies outlet. Mormon studies allows anything, from creative apologetics to existentialism and atheism, and is a huge win for people like you. They [Mormon apologists, specifically including me] know this, blog quite openly about it, and now have even more reason to make you the enemy, so why are you so disheartened? Today is the day for you, my friend. The field is ripe.

Worthy of reflection, I think, even though the Church, as such, played no role whatever in the recent purge.
I responded as follows:
In doing a little research on your post here, I believe I am the "pseudonymous poster..." you refer to above.

I love the Gospel of John. In it, a well-educated, rational Jew named Nicodemus interprets Christ's words literally that we must be born again. He asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?" After which Jesus explains that there is a difference between heavenly things and earthly things, and that spiritual things are equally real even if not physically so. That's why Jesus taught in parables -- the truth is the normative value of the story, not the physical literalism thereof. ."

Nicodemus continued to be caught in a literalist mindset, so Jesus asks, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?"."

I have stated that it is possible to be a fully faithful member of the Church in good standing and not have a literal belief in certain claims. Faith is distinct from belief, in that faith recognizes explicitly the difference between knowing something, and hoping for and acting on something while not knowing it is true. Belief is passive, faith is active. Belief does not recognize the difference between knowing and not knowing, but simply claims to know. Belief does not distinguish whether something is true or not: faith in something not true, by Alma's definition is not faith at all. ."

To recognize that someone can have faith in something without knowing it is true seems to be entirely consistent with Alma 32's definition of faith. This is and has been my position. I hold this position because by not anchoring on the literal, my faith can withstanding the knowledge, for example, that the Book of Abraham was not a translation of the Papyrus as Joseph Smith claimed, or that the Book of Mormon is not a literal history of the native americans as a whole as prophets have claimed up until recently. ."

To be specific, I do not know that Jesus physically resurrected from the dead -- I neither believe it nor disbelieve it -- there is no *reason* to believe it -- meaning that it defies logical proof ("reason") -- yet I know through personal experience and testimony that He lives. How is an honest self-appraisal of the lack of valid empirical evidence for something an obscure or incoherent position? Yet you and others "insist so firmly on the literal", implying that those who are honest and sincere about their lack of knowledge are somehow lesser Mormons than you. Your colleagues have gone so far as to call those who don't believe 'anti-christs', and having asked you to repudiate this, you have firmly stood behind it.."

I consider you, Dr. Peterson, a master of Mormon Israel. How is it that you do not know these things?
I am not surprised, but my response did not survive his moderation. His terms of "dialog" are always to do so in a safe environment where he can have his say without thoughtful response...

At the same time as I posted -- knowing he was responding to other comments, I noted that this apologist saw "Les Miserables", being grateful that it promotes "religious faith".  I responded as follows:

Like you, I find the message of Les Miserables sublime and clearly faith promoting.  I'm not sure I would agree that such faith is 'religious' per se.  The message of forgiveness, of redemption, and of walking the right path is clearly in common among many religious and non-religious.

To me, the lesson of Javert is an extraordinarily important one.  Javert represented the best of righteousness and justice - his integrity was impeccable.  Yet, Javert could not accept that there was another way to be acceptable to god other than through the exactness of obedience: Justice must be served.  He could not accept that Jean Valjean was a redeemed person, that although they may have believed differently with respect to the law and justice, that both were indeed good and righteous people.

This is the beauty and irony of Javert: perfect goodness can also be perfectly evil.

We find in the Church today many who believe in a very specific and rigid definition of mormonism.  They claim that anyone who believes differently, particularly those who have a non-literal belief, to be "anti-christ", citing specifc scriptures out of context.  These are the "Javerts" of the church -- their testimony is strong, their righteousness is unquestionable, their integrity the highest of all -- yet because they fail to understand the real principle behind "atonement" -- that is, "If ye are not one ye are not mine" -- they lose track of the "more excellent way" of Godly love.

"Take my hand, and lead me to salvation,
Take my love, for love is everlasting,
And remember the truth that once was spoken:
To love another person is to see the face of God."

It is my hope and prayer that in this new year, we can lay aside the conflicts of the past and embrace one another in full fellowship.  That, to me, is to love another person.  That, to me, is what Jesus asks us when he says, "I say unto you 'be one', and if ye are not one, ye are not mine."  That, to me, is to see the face of god as we welcome diversity of spiritual gifts without judgment and exclusion.

Can we walk this Way together?
I'm not sure this will have any effect. I doubt it will survive his moderation. But it truly is my hope that such 'defense of mormonism' that causes such antipathy be done away.

And in another post, this same blogger quotes Bertrand Russell out of context claiming that the atheist worldview provides no comfort to mourners. He fails to recognize the purpose of Russell's charge to focus on the present rather than on a powerful god that is supposed to make things right, because in Russell's view, the universe doesn't seem to care in the least about humans. Instead, he charges us to make the most of today -- a very different message than the caricature of Russell's beliefs by quoting Russell out of context. Here is what I wrote:

By quoting Bertrand Russell out of context, it certainly paints a bleak picture. But the title of the article is "A Free Man's Worship", and while he certainly paints a bleak picture of death, his purpose is to enhance the free man's ability to make the most of the present -- to establish morality and goodness amidst what he views as the cruelty of the omnipotent universe. This is what Russell's point was:

"Let us learn, then, that energy of faith which enables us to live constantly in the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into the world of fact, with that vision always before us."

I would hardly think this charge to have faith in a way that leads to action for good is a message at odds with what we as LDS believe. To seek a world of 'fact' is to embrace the gospel as it was meant to be taught: all truth is circumscribed into one whole, to have faith in something proven to be not true is no faith at all.
Well, this is often the Way of apologetics -- to defend one's beliefs regardless of the truth or objectivity of the matter. I always liked the late Rodney King's response to all the polemics following his beating by the LA police: "Why can't we just get along?"

Update: Our "Apologist" has posted his response onto Mormon Dialogue and on his own blog. Evidently, his blog server lost all three of my entries above, or so he claims. Uh-huh...right.