William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Damaging Effects Of Church's Stance On Sexuality

The question was put:

There is a new petition site for those who want to pressure the LDS Church on changing its position on Homosexuality.

[Members should not presume] to correct the Lord's annointed.

Visit: LDSApology.org"

To which someone commented:

"Does anyone make arguments about the Church driving people to suicide for any of their other teachings? Are there people driven to suicide because they can't stop smoking and the Church teaches it's wrong, for instance? How about suicidal sabbath breakers?"

To which I responded:

Yes. People have made arguments about the Church's prohibition on masturbation as contributing to suicidal tendencies, and as far as I'm aware, there was even a major lawsuit about it a decade or two ago. In the case of smoking and sabbath breaking, those prohibitions are much less likely to contribute to suicides, for two main reasons: (1) the level of emphasis is much lower; and (2) the behavior is not as innate to the human condition. I can't remember the last time anyone stood up in church and gave a detailed fire-and-brimstone sermon about the evils of smoking. But I can certainly say there have been numerous talks (and private chats) on issues dealing with sexuality. A person's sexuality in most cases is part of the core of that person's being. Attacks on their sexuality can cause emotional trauma in ways that other criticisms could not. Just as I would expect a rape victim to have a much greater likelihood of lasting emotional trauma than the victim of a mere physical beating, so, too, I would expect people to be much more affected by attacks on their sexuality than by attacks against non-sexual vices they may have. If you truly reflect on the matter, you might realize how rare it is for any member of the church to publicly admit to sexual sin; yet it is quite common for members to jokingly admit to other behaviors as long as they have nothing to do with sex. I think there is a reason for that: the shame factor is much stronger when it comes to sex. One could expect little else in a Mormon culture which ranks sexual sin just below murder in the heirarchy of vices.

Do you know of any instances where a member was excommunicated for smoking? How about breaking the Sabbath? I don't know of any.

Which religion has the most compelling case against Mormonism?

The question was put:

"Which religion has the most compelling case against Mormonism?
Which one is the most difficult to deal with
The Catholics (i.e. Continuing line of authority) (17 votes [18.09%])
Percentage of vote: 18.09%
The Protestants (i.e. Priesthood of all believers) (10 votes [10.64%])
Percentage of vote: 10.64%
The secularists (i.e. its all in the mind) (60 votes [63.83%])
Percentage of vote: 63.83%
Other None Christian Religions (i.e. Some other explanation) (7 votes [7.45%])"

To which I responded:

If the poll had been worded differently, I would have chosen the secularists, but I did not like the phrase "it's all in the mind" because I think it suggests that secularists also have to be atheists or otherwise deny the authenticity of spiritual experiences.

Should A Doubter Hold A Temple Recommend?

The question was put:

"Today I was driving a relative home from church. She has always been sort of luke warm on the church, but she is married to a strong member and has kept her own concerns to herself and went along with him to keep the peace I guess. Well today she was really hitting me with the questions about what the Bible says regarding the 3 degrees of Glory and that she really has a hard time with it. I haven't alot of scripture study experience so in my meagre way I tried to say that we understand the 3 degrees of Glory more fully thanks to modern revelation through the restoration. She holds fast to the Bible as being the supreme source of doctrine so I mentioned that reading The Book Of Mormon and D & C would provide a more accurate description for understanding that doctrine....however she seemed very resistant to the idea of anything trumping the Bible for her. I was sort of surprised at how deeply she feels about this....and I wondered to myself...how does she hold a Temple Recommend? I am not trying to ask to be judgemental....but wondering how the authority would feel inclined to give her the Recommend when clearly she is not totally converted to what the church represents. She likely answers the questions the way she is supposed to, but I know that the Bishop/Stake President can feel whether or not to grant her the recommend. Any ideas?"

To which I responded:

For members who are closet doubters (i.e., who disagree with or reject any significant church doctrines/lore/policies), they often find themselves in a quandry. On one hand, they don't want to stir up trouble or create disharmony in their families; on the other, they may feel extremely uncomfortable putting on pretenses to fit in. Having experienced this myself, I tend to conclude that I should not fault these people for either decision. In general terms, if I had my druthers, the Church would just be more accepting of dissent and disagreement, and allow its members to express their grievances more openly without shame or fear of excommunication. Of course, I suppose there also ought to be a limit on the range of beliefs which are permissible for a member to retain membership and/or qualify for a temple recommend. For example, if they do not even believe in God, or if they are shouting "Death to Thomas S. Monson," they probably should not be considered part of the fold, so to speak. By contrast, if they believe the BoM is an inspired, but historically inauthentic record which mixes true revelations from God and the personal musings of Joseph Smith, that alone should not disqualify them from membership or a temple recommend, in my opinion (any more than a similar belief about the Biblical accounts of the flood, etc. should). In my own case, I have serious disagreements with Church doctrine on various subjects, and I therefore feel ill-at-ease accepting any church calling which pressures me to masquerade as a TBM.

In the case of your friend, I would say let her make her own decision. Members should not have to be religious zealots to be considered worthy to worship in the temple. The chief component of worthiness is a desire to serve God and our fellow men. How closely our personal doctrinal beliefs match up with the Church's official party line ought to be a minor secondary consideration.

Are Families Truly Forever?

The question was put:

"I'm a college student at the University of North Texas, and a born-again Christian. I feel like God is really leading me into ministry, so theology is always one of my favorite topics to discuss.... and this board seems like the perfect place to do it! I've been reading a lot of the posts and am excited to get into some discussions. Anyways, in the spirit of Mormon apologetics, I've got a question for everyone to take a stab at: Are families truly forever? And please explain why. Thanks!"

To which I responded:

Thanks for your honest questions. To be fair, there is not a whole lot of concrete LDS doctrine concerning what is meant by the concept, "Families are forever." When you really dig into it, you find there are abstract concepts like "sealing," etc., but not a whole lot of practical information. From my own perspective, I don't see how it is that two people's relationship to each other, including how they consider each other, would change merely by virtue of death, regardless of the existence of a sealing. I know of no LDS doctrine which says that non-family members who make it to the celestial kingdom will be unable to interact with each other. For that reason, I just don't understand why an ordinance would be necessary to make a familial relationship continue in the hereafter.

What I make of the "families are forever" doctrine is that it is really a matter of attitude towards our loved ones. We should treat our relationships as eternal ones and try not to allow our selfish short-sightedness to erode the quality of our relationships. Also, the reasonable sacrifices we make for our family will move us closer to God and help us to become more like God. In truth, however, I see no reason why (other than the need for general societal order) why our love and service and affection towards our immediate family members ought to be any greater than towards our other "spiritual" brothers and sisters.

As for the "worlds apart" issue, I imagine that heavenly beings will be able to travel sufficiently quickly that physical distance will not create a meaningful damper on a relationship.

Women And The Priesthood

The question was put:

"Over in "Introductions", Saint Sinner posted some interesting quotes on women and the priesthood. I have to say that I see exactly the same relationship with the priesthood there as we, the women of the Church, have now.

Part of my perspective may come from something my very wise SP said to me as he set me apart for my mission. It's too long ago now to report verbatim, but in essence, what he said was, "There are two callings in the Church that women can hold that are priesthood callings. One is as a full-time missionary, and the other is as a temple ordinance worker."

Saint Sinner, on Jun 5 2009, 02:56 PM, said:

I think that it should revert back to allowing women the priesthood and admitting its mistake in consolidating power to white male authoritarianism. I don't want polygamy to ever come back. When it comes to the equality issues, I feel that Joseph was right. On some other issues...not so much.

Referencing Female Priesthood:

Joseph Smith recorded a promise which he gave to the Relief Society regarding the priesthood in his instructions to the Relief Society on 28 Apr 1842:
gave a lecture on the priesthood shewing how the Sisters would come in possession of the privileges & blessings & gifts of the priesthood & that these signs should follow them, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. & that they might attain unto these blessings
(Book of the Law of the Lord, (Joseph Smithâ??s journal) 28 April 1842; also in Dean Jesse, ed â??The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol 2, 378-79.)

Dean Jessee's footnote to this says, "A summary of Joseph Smith's discourse on this date is in the Relief Society minutes kept by Eliza R. Snow, the diary of Wilford Woodruff at the end of the year 1842, and History of the Church, 4:602-7." I found that online. (Scroll way down to chapter XXXV or search for "President Smith arose and called the attention of the meeting to the")

He addresses the issue of complaints being made against women who had been laying on their hand to heal the sick, saying, basically, "leave them alone."

"President Smith continued the subject, by quoting the commission
given to the ancient Apostles in Mark, 16th chapter, 15th, 16th, 17th 18th
verses, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every
creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that
believed not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that
believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new
tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing,
it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall

No matter who believeth, these signs, such as healing the sick,
casting out devils, &c., should follow all that believe, whether male or
female. He asked the Society if they could not see by this sweeping
promise, that wherein they are ordained, it is the privilege of those set
apart to administer in that authority, which is conferred on them; and if
the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their
tongues, and let everything roll on."

He further says:

"He spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the Church, and
said that the faithful members of the Relief Society should receive them
in connection with their husbands, that the Saints whose integrity has
been tried and proved faithful, might know how to ask the Lord and receive
an answer; for according to his prayers, God had appointed him elsewhere."

Saint Sinner said:

Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, testified that Emma Smith was the one to whom the female priesthood was first given,
Sidney Rigdon to Stephen Post, June 1868, LDS archives

Was she not the first female ordinance worker?

Saint Sinner said:

When Brigham Youngâ??s own wife received the endowment on 1 Nov 1843, he wrote, Mary A Young admitted to the hiest order of the Priesthood [sic]
Brigham Young Diary 29 Oct, 1 Nov 1843, copies in Donald R Moorman papers, ARchives, Weber State University

Isn't the highest order of the Priesthood received only by husband and wife together?

Saint Sinner said:

Now Brethren, the man that honors his priesthood, the woman that honors her priesthood, will receive an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Brigham Young ;JoD17:119

I'd take that as honoring the "priesthood" that we receive through temple ordinances."

To which I responded:

For what it's worth (probably nothing), my opinion is as follows:

Assuming that the "Priesthood" as we understand it is the real deal, i.e., the authentic power of God exercised with authority, then it is my belief that women should have held it as men do a long time ago, and that women eventually will (not just through the marriage or sealing, but through a standard individualized, non-husband-dependant, laying on of hands). I do not dictate to God; I only state my opinion about what I think his will would be.

Of course, if God does not exist, or if "priesthood" is not conveyed through callings per se or laying on of hands, or if priesthood power can be utilized or obtained by those who are not LDS, or if priesthood is simply a farce and does not enable a person to exercise any greater power than they could without it, then it doesn't matter.

Will billions make it to the Celestial Kingdom? Without being tested in mortality?

The question was put:

"Will billions make it to the Celestial Kingdom? Without being tested in mortality?
This is a topic I have been thinking about recently. D&C says that children who have died before reaching the age of accountability (eight years old) will be saved in the Celestial Kingdom. Any guesstimates on how many people that would be?

Here's mine: If you assume that roughly 70 billion people have lived on the earth (I know, a number that could vary widely depending on how long you believe the human race has been on the planet), and for most of human history, child mortality rates have ranged from 25% to even close to 50% (i'll use 35%), then approximately 25 billion people would have died so far and be guaranteed Celestial Glory. Judging by the percentage of the world's population that now accepts the gospel, it seems possible that the majority of people that make it to the Celestial Kingdom will have never been tested in mortality.

I'm curious to see how some of you reconcile this doctrine with the rest of the plan of salvation. If a key part of the plan is for us to be tested, how is it that so many will enter the Celetial Kingdom without being tested? Or do you believe that these children will at some point be tested?"

To which I responded:

I personally reject the "automatic Celestial Kingdom for any person lucky enough to die before turning 8" doctrine. In my opinion, the doctrine was probably originally developed to combat the prevailing erroneous doctrine of original sin whereby we are considered guilty before God without even having done anything wrong. This is evident when you look at the BoM and the commentary along the lines that those who consider little children to need baptism to save them from Hell are in the gall of bitterness. During the time that the BoM was produced, JS had a more limited understanding of heaven and hell. He probably imagined there were only two possibilities: eternal bliss in the Kingdom of God, and an awful fiery hell for everyone else. Joseph's understanding of different kingdoms and degrees of glory came later, but by then, the doctrine that little children who die get an automatic salvation pass had already developed.

In analyzing the question, I start from the premise that God is just. And being just, he would not subject one soul to a more difficult test to earn the right to Jesus' salvation than he would another soul. One way people try to reconcile the problem is by concluding that any child that dies before accountability was actually planned in advance by God to die, and that it was his will to take them because they did not actually need to be tested. I completely reject that notion for several reasons. For one, I can discern no meaningful statistical difference in the behavioral, mental, and psychological development of kids who die through some mishap or non-mental health disease and those kids who live on to the age of accountability. I would expect there to be an observable difference if in fact some kids did not need to live to accountability to be tested. Take, hypothetically, two kids. One is practically an angel who shows the utmost kindness in childhood, but later becomes a murderer as an adult, and another who is an absolute devil, exhibiting vicious propensities but dies at the age of 7 and 364 days in a car crash. How likely is it that the latter was "so valiant and/or spiritually advanced in the pre-existence" that he in fact didn't need to be tested at all, but that the former was the one who really needed to survive to adulthood so that he could have the opportunity to experience temptation and grow spiritually by choosing good? Extremely unlikely if you ask me; if that were true, there would seem to be no rhyme or reason to God's decisions, and he would be a respecter of persons and an arbitrary and capricious god.

Secondly, I cannot accept that the evil acts of man are always or even generally part of God's plan. Take, hypothetically, a parent who is afraid their child will live to the age of accountability, sin, not repent, and not go to heaven. In order to guarantee the child is saved, the parent murders the child at age 7. How do we analyze that? Do we say it was God's plan all along that the child not live to the age of accountability because he didn't really need to be tested? If so, can we really blame the parent for the murder if the parent was simply doing what God had planned all along? If, on the other hand, God had intended the child to live to adulthood and be tested, but the well-meaning murdering parent's actions thwarted God's plan, then wouldn't it be unfair to send some of the people who live to adulthood to hell (when if only they, too, had been killed as little children, they would have instead gone to heaven)?

I suppose there is one (and only one that I can think of) way for the "all little children go to heaven" doctrine to be true, and that would be that ALL of us will eventually end up in heaven anyway- it just may be a matter of time. But if that is the case, then we need to seriously revise our Mormon world view about at least some souls being cast off forever.

Does Satan influence Christian ministers to preach false doctrine, for instance regarding a knowledge of God and man's true relationship to him?

The question was put:

"Does Satan influence Christian ministers to preach false doctrine, for instance regarding a knowledge of God and man's true relationship to him?"

To which I responded:

Probably not. I am doubtful of Satan in the first place, but if Satan exists, I believe he generally inspires people who are out to do evil already, rather than cause would-be-good-doers to preach false doctrine. Christian ministers who preach false doctrine probably do so because of their own ignorance, just as LDS leaders who preach false doctrine do so out of their own ignorance.

Responses To Various Questions About Joseph Smith And The Book Of Mormon

I will try to answer based upon what I believe is most likely.

1. Did Joseph Smith believe that he had visions and revelations or was he lying?

Both. Sometimes I think he really believed it and sometimes he was lying. (and sometimes he truly had them)

2. Did the Smith family believe in the authenticity of Joseph's visions or were they lying?


3. Did Emma Smith believe in the authenticity of Joseph's visions or was she lying?

At times she believed and at times she probably lied.

4. Did Oliver Cowdery believe in the authenticity of Joseph's visions and the Book of Mormon translation or was he lying?

At times he believed and at times he probably lied.

5. Did Martin Harris believe in the authenticity of Joseph's visions and the Book of Mormon translation or was he lying?

At times he believed and at times he probably lied.

6. Did Joseph Smith construct or acquire something that resembled gold plates?
a. If so, how was this accomplished?

Don't know.

b. Did the Three Witnesses actually handle something that they believed were the plates?
Unlikely, but maybe.

c. Did the Eight Witnesses actually handle something that they believed were the plates?
i. If not, why do you think they claimed to?

Unlikely, but maybe. They could have lied because they so much wanted it to be true, or were convinced they were supposed to perceive them when there was in fact nothing to see.

ii. If not, why do you think they never repudiated their claim?

Somehow I thought that at least one of the 8 witnesses had retracted his testimony, but I don't recall where I heard that. In any event, if none of them repudiated, it could easily have been because they did not want to admit to lying.

7. Did Joseph Smith construct or acquire something that resembled what he described as a Urim and Thummim and breastplate?
a. If so, how was this accomplished?

I don't know, but his magical world view would be consistent with either creating such instruments or else finding some object which he took to have magical properties and using that.

b. If so, why did he only show them briefly to a few and then dispose of them?

One explanation could be that he knew that the general public would not accept their authenticity and/or magical properties if they were permitted to examine them.

c. If not, was Lucy Smith lying or deluded when she claimed to have seen and handled them? If deluded, how was this accomplished, considering the detail in which she described them?
She could have been outright lying or else embellishing her testimony, or she could have been telling the truth. She could have been deluded if she so much wanted it to be true that her imagination got the best of her.

8. Were the Three Witnesses lying or deluded when they claimed to have seen the vision of the angel who showed them the plates and Nephite artifacts?

Don't know. I believe in angels, and I believe JS was a prophet, but I also believe there were a lot of lies and embellishments surrounding those early experiences in Church history.

a. If deluded, how was this accomplished?

b. If lying, why do you think they did this?

c. If lying, why do you think they never repudiated their claim?

d. What do you credit the conviction that they spoke of the experience with throughout their lives?[/indent]

If you desperately want something to be true badly enough, or if you are sufficiently scared of being exposed as a liar, you might sound very convinced and authentic. Ever heard of the phrase, "he doth protest too much"?

9. Who (if anyone), besides Joseph Smith, contributed to the Book of Mormon?

Emma. Sidney Rigdon. Oliver Cowdery. All the scribes.

a. If others contributed, how was this accomplished?

I suspect they had oral conversations with Joseph, not necessarily explicitly about putting things in the BoM, but they raised concerns with Joseph which coincidentally were addressed in the BoM. I suspect Emma conversed with JS about polygamy and that the Jacob chapters were in part dictated during Emma's scribe period.

b. Did the traditional accounts of translation with Joseph using a seer-stone and dictating a scribe take place?[/indent]

Probably, but the accounts are probably embellished.

10. Did Joseph Smith have written sources present during the Book of Mormon dictation?

Maybe not present, but he almost certainly relied upon his own recollection of those writings while dictating the BoM, as evidenced by Abinidi's King James version of the 6th commandment (Thou shalt not kill, instead of the correct Thou shalt not murder).

a. If so, were the scribes aware of this?
i. If so, why do you think they lied about it
b. If so, what sources might he have used?
11. If others beside Joseph Smith contributed to the Book of Mormon and/or if written sources were used, how do you think this was accomplished?

See above. The contributions were not necessarily express, but JS likely addressed concerns of people close to him in the BoM to encourage them to believe in its authenticity and correctness.

a. If Joseph Smith used a seer-stone as the accounts claim, how do you reconcile this translation ritual with blatant fabrication?

The seer stone could do two things: convince JS that his own thoughts were true revelations; convince others that his "revelations" were authentic.

All of that being said, I still think he was a prophet, even if he was a liar like all of us.

Is There A Correlation Between Wealth And The Payment Of Tithes/Offerings?

While there are always exceptions, the greater the wealth, the greater the ability to pay. The first few dollars of a person's income almost always go for essentials. As you start to make more, there is more opportunity for discretionary items. That is one reason why, in my opinion, the law of tithing as preached by the LDS faith is simply wrong. Ordinary living expenses are not "increase." They are simply taking care of staying alive. So long as a person does not have a lavish lifestyle, I believe a proper tithe should generally be based upon increases in their net worth, not their income.

Some wealthy people have a tendency to become greedy and decide not to tithe, but in general, I think if reliable statistics were available, you would find more tithe payers among the more economically affluent than among the poor.

How Reliable Is The Holy Spirit?

The question was put:

"I would love to get some of your opinions on a question I've had for a while now. It's in regards to the reliability of the spirit as a source of information/knowledge.

The church teaches a very straight-forward, step-by-step way of obtaining truth and knowledge.
1. Study the particular topic in question.
2. Pray, asking God for an answer.
3. Wait for a response through the Spirit.

Moroni's promise is pretty cut and dry: "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things". Over the years, however, it has become apparent to me that this method is fraught with issues that make conclusive results very evasive.

One very difficult question that everyone struggles with on a certain level, if they are being honest with themselves, is how to differentiate between the influence of the spirit and your own thoughts and desires. What would you tell someone who prayed about the Book of Mormon and got an answer that it wasn't true? Would you suggest that their own thoughts were clouding the "correct" answer? How do you know your own thoughts aren't clouding your answer? We are all capable of producing emotions within ourselves with just a thought. How can you be sure that any emotion that you feel and interpret as an "answer" is not simply a product of your own mind? How many times have you felt feelings that you normally associate with the spirit in completely inappropriate places, like during a movie or listening to a secular speech or music? Is that really the spirit you're feeling or are they just emotions that feel like the spirit? If it's the spirit, why would you be feeling it when watching the hero in a movie rescue his girl or some completely non-spiritual act. If it's just plain old emotion kicking in, how can you be sure that when you think you are feeling "the spirit" that it really is the spirit?

In my experience, trying to gain knowledge in this way is very dicey and not nearly as clear-cut as it is made out to be. Moroni promises that you can know the truth of all things through the spirit. If you feel like you have received an answer that the Book of Mormon truly is what it purports to be, do you feel like you could similarly determine the veracity of any document? If someone presented a letter to you that was supposedly written by Joseph Smith, would you be able to pray about it and determine without a doubt whether it was authentic or fraudulent? That test is well within the bounds of Moroni's promise that you can know the "truth of all things" by the power of the Holy Ghost. If you truly can gain knowledge in this manner, why aren't members of the church getting concrete answers to the many questions we have about life in general, e.g., autism, dinosaurs, Bin Laden's location , etc, etc.

Consider this: You sit down with an "investigator", and have intimate discussions about spirituality and talk about how much God loves them and how happy the gospel has made you. You talk about how you "know" the Book of Mormon is true because you've felt overwhelming love from God while you read it, etc. Then the investigator is to read the book, and in a quiet, peaceful place, kneel down and with their eyes closed ask God if this wonderful book is true and wait for the warm, peaceful feeling to sweep over them. Now, I can tell you that with that kind of coaching, even if there is no God, that person is going to generate emotion within themselves or at least feel something that could pass as "a peaceful feeling", especially if they are wanting it.

When you really think about it, relying on emotions to determine truth is very borderline folk magic. Moroni's promise is easily tested. Since the Book of Mormon can't be "proved" true, you would have to test it on something else; if what Moroni says is true, you should be able to test his promise on something other than the Book of Mormon. But no one ever does.

To which I responded:

I truly believe there exists authentic revelation through the Spirit of God. But I also strongly believe that it can often be nearly impossible or impossible to recognize the difference between that an one's own emotions. Therefore, as a general rule, my philosophy is that, in approaching any important question, we should start with knowledge, reason, and the scientific method. When those methods are inadequate to finding an answer (such as to the question of whether God exists), then we should delve into trying to learn the truth through spiritual means, but with an eye towards reconciling our feelings and perceived spiritual experiences with the objective empirical data available to us. Ultimately, even my suggested method is not foolproof, but I believe that, overall, it is much less error-prone than going on "all spirit."

Mormons And The Constitution

The comment was made:

"We seem to be at a crossroads in this country. No one political party seems to be dedicated to the constitutional precepts upon which this country was founded and many LDS in Utah and elsewhere are supporting people and political parties dedicated to socialism, no-fly lists, the suspension of habeas corpus, wars without declaration by Congress and huge bailouts.

The Lord referred to the Constitution "of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles" (D&C 101:77). The Lord then said that He established the Constitution because it is "not right that any man should be in bondage one to another." This is, one assumes, not only physical bondage, but financial bondage as well. And President Hinckley noted: "The Constitution under which we live, and which has not only blessed us but has become a model for other constitutions, is our God-inspired national safeguard ensuring freedom and liberty, justice and equality before the law."

Now headlines all over the nation are questioning whether the Constitution as we know it has any place in the new century and some of our elected leaders, and some of our non-elected leaders among the multinational corporations, are openly talking about world government and a "new world order." Many of these people in both political parties enjoy great support among the Latter-day Saints. (I deduce that if they're putting bumper stickers on their cars that they're actively supporting these people.)

President Hinckley wondered why the people in the church didn't show more passion for the things they should be supporting and more opposition to the things they should oppose:

There are many little things that test our willingness to accept the word of the prophets. Jesus said, â??How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!â? (Matt. 23:37.) So it has been through the history of mankind, and so it is today. In our own communities, even here in Utah, we have experienced some of this. President Grant carried to his grave a deep sense of sorrow that, contrary to his counsel, the people of Utah cast the final vote, in 1934, that repealed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. (â??Believe His Prophetsâ?, Ensign (CR), May 1992, p.50)
This was a case where the church actually asked for support and it was denied by the saints. What is it that keeps us from seeing the red flags when our national leaders use every opportunity to bypass or completely ignore the constitutional precepts of states' rights and increasing federal controls over every aspect of our lives? The Constitution (10th Amendment) stipulates that the federal government is limited only to the enumerated powers granted by the Constitution, yet unscrupulous politicians and courts have virtually negated that portion of the document.

Without the influence of the church, I most likely would have voted to end Prohibition myself; however, had the church taken the position that it did, I would have voted as the church had wished me to vote.

The members who defy these principles and who vote for men and women who run on platforms of changing the Constitution and strengthening the interdependent role of nations geared towards a world government appear to be good, honest people. They pay their tithing, try to live the commandments, yet they support the very people who would shackle us with chains.

I'm still wondering why."

To which I responded:

A few points are in order:

1) If you are trying to say that the constitution is an unambiguous document, you are simply wrong. It necessarily requires interpretation, which is drawn from many sources, including legislative history, changed conditions in the world, scientific and social awareness, experience, and underlying principles of equality, fairness, justice, and common welfare. If it were an unambiguous document, there would hardly have been the need for the 200+ years of jurisprudence we have developed in our common law system.

2) In ascertaining the type of laws and governance which we should have, and particularly with an eye towards what would please God, we need to bear in mind a few important principles, chief of which is agency. We must start from a premise of personal freedom, i.e., everything is permitted unless and until there is a sufficient justification for prohibitting it. In the case of alcohol consumption being legal or illegal, the mere fact that we consider it to be immoral does not end the discussion on determining whether it should be legal. We must also consider, at a minimum: (1) the extent to which a prohibition would restrict individual choice; (2) any benefits, even if nominal, to individuals and/or society in permitting the practice; (3) the harm to individuals and society in permitting the practice; (4) the degree to which permitting the practice has a tendency to cause infringements on the rights of those who choose not to use alcohol; (5) the availability of regulations or other alternatives short of outright prohibition for lessening or eliminating the harm which the practice causes to others; (6) feasibility of enforcement of prohibition, including financial resources to enforce laws, to run the justice system, and to punish offenders; (7) the degree to which the practice is widespread among the population; ( the potential negative effects of prohibition through criminalization (i.e., fostering worse illegal activity such as mafias, violence, etc.); etc. Under all of the circumstances, it would have been quite reasonable for anyone in the 1930s, including a believing LDS member, to conclude that continued prohibition was not the best way to go, and that alcohol use is here to stay, at least in the near term until individuals have the education and willpower to voluntarily abstain from it.

3) We should be extremely careful not to mingle religious influence with politics. When the two mix, it is nearly inevitable that individual consciences will be coerced by the political might of those with popular support. Joseph Smith seems to have understood that principle well, I think, as evidenced by Section 134 of the D&C. Our political positions should be guided primarily by the parts of our beliefs which can reasonably be defended with resort to secular moral philosophy and science. There is a place for religion- a very important place- but it is generally not in politics.

*And in response to someone's comments that:

"I really do find it odd that someone of your obvious intelligence and wit can appear so terribly facile when dealing with subjects such as this.

1. Socialism (communism) was, and has always been understood to be, the attempt to make a heaven on earth through ideological/political means independent of God or without reference to him.

2. Socialism is inextricably linked to atheism and unrestrained human hubris and pride.

3. The equalization of wealth requires, not only the denial of free agency across a number of areas (all those mentioned in the constitution and the Bill of Rights, if one desires to push this idea to its full conclusions), but, again, if one desires to see this concept through to its logical outcome, ruthlessly and relentlessly so.

4. The core elements of Satan's alternative plan were the denial of agency and elevating himself to the position of God - pride and hubris. These are also the salient and perennial elements of all leftist/socialist systems of thought and practice as they have existed throughout the last century and into the present one.

5. For Satan to have saved all, and to have left "no child behind", his plan of salvation would have had to be, for want of a better term of recent coinage, "outcome based"

In other words, socialistic. If one child of God returns to his presence, then all must. Either all are saved, or none are. To do this, of course, the removal of agency and freedom would be fundamental."

I responded:

You have your terms seriously mixed up. Socialism and communism are not the same. It seems to me that, while capitalistic principles are often true and there is a lot we can and should take from them, socialism is often attacked by people who are simply greedy, selfish, and who feel threatened by anyone who wants to keep a bright separation between church and state. I think the ideal government given the world's limitations and imperfections is a mix of socialism and capitalism. Too much of either encourages either laziness or greed.

When, If Ever, Is Getting Offended Justified?

I posed the question:

"I would like your thoughts on the following:

1) What does it mean to "get offended"?
2) When, if ever, are we justified in getting offended?"

And I commented as follows:

I think the term does get used in quite different ways. One way has to do with injury to a person's ego or pride. (i.e., he offended me when he did not even invite me to the party). Another usage appears to be associated with an attack on a person's view of what is right, be it philosophically, morally, intellectually, etc. (he offended my sensibilities when he murdered an innocent person out of jealousy).

I think the key is not to never feel offended, but rather to exercise self-control in analyzing the behavior or philosophy that offends us, and reacting with tolerance and forgiveness towards others. If, for example, I hear someone say, "All mormons are idiots," it will tend to make me annoyed and angry. But if I consider their likely ignorance or other circumstances in their life, I will be in a better position to forgive them and not have a harsh reaction. Most of the time, people say or do stupid things without intending to harm anyone, even though a casual onlooker might be inclined to assume that harm was intended because feelings were hurt or harm was done.

Perhaps "getting offended" can't be avoided altogether. What we can do is give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time. That is not to say that we should always be passive or refuse to prevent injustice. If I see someone killing innocent people, for example, I would feel compelled to stop it, not sit there and tolerate it. But if I see someone, say drinking a can of beer (and not, say, driving drunk or endangering others), I will be privately annoyed, but I will leave them their human dignity of making their own choices, and I will not let it get in the way of my loving them as a child of God.

On The Concern That Dishonesty Is Infiltrating LDS Temples

The question was put:

"Dishonesty Infiltrating The Temple:

I helped out with temple baptisms the other night and afterwards I was talking to a guy there about temple matters in general. He said he heard that at the Draper Temple (and it could be happening at others as well) that they took it off the "endowment session by appointment" program because so many people would show up and say they were there for initiatories or sealings or baptims but then go into an endowment session instead, intentionally even, not because they had a sincere change of plans. I don't know if they were too lazy to call and make an appointment or if they called and found out it was full and wanted really badly to do an endowment session and they decided it was worth the price of dishonesty or what. Hopefully it's not true but if it is true then isn't that a little icky to think you might be in an endowment session with somebody who lied to get in?

My temple is still on an appointment basis and 90% of the time I have called and they wrote my name down and said, "Well see you then." Once or twice they would say, "Well, we are kind of full then but we can work you in." Or if they were full I would say, "Maybe I'll do initiatories instead." In short, being honest about it never presented a problem so I don't see why others felt like they had to be sneaky."

To which I responded:

I think it is safe to say that dishonesty has been infiltrating the temples for generations. The only way we can hope for that to ever change is by changing our unrealistic standards into realistic ones.

Does The Book Of Mormon's Prediction Of People Denying The Holy Ghost Help Prove The Truth Of The Book Of Mormon?

The comment was made:

"Another true prophecy from the Book of Mormon:

Here is the relevant passage:

2 Nephi 28
4 And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance.

On one point almost all the enemies of the Gospel, whether secular or sectarian, have always seen eye to eye: the testimony we bear and share cannot possibly come from the Holy Ghost. It must be mere emotion, or something.

Does this mean that our sectarian critics are actually denying the Holy Ghost? Is this what Nephi is talking about?"

To which I responded:

The "prophecy" might well strengthen the faith of those who already believe, but it has no value to those who do not consider the BoM the authentic word of God. If the goal is to use this passage to convince non-believers, I think you have to concede that it is a circular argument: the BoM is true, so the prophecy is true, so the BoM is true, etc.

Another important point: even assuming it is the authentic word of God, it has the tremendous problem of ambiguity. TBMs will almost certainly interpret it to mean that those who disagree with them are necessarily denying the Holy Ghost. We need to look at this issue with a little more broad-mindedness. My life experience has been that there have been times when I thought I was feeling the HG giving me a spiritual conviction about something, and at a later point in my life, I felt essentially the same feeling giving me the opposite conclusion. Even TBMs generally concede that there is simply no objective fool-proof test to determine whether a perceived spiritual experience is a God-given revelation. If there were, I highly doubt we would find ourselves in a world where the number of versions of the "Gospel" is roughly equal to the number of people who believe in a gospel. I say these things not to destroy the notion of revelation or authentic spiritual experience, but rather to emphasize the need for humility on the subject. While we may hold to our own convictions based upon our own perceived spiritual experience, we should be extremely wary of denying the possibility that we could be in error.

Some people are much more prone to spiritual experience than others. Some people dream up spiritual experiences out of whole cloth because they want so much to have them or to fit in with their social circle. Others misinterpret the genuine spiritual experiences they do have. Still others seem to have great difficulty having any spiritual experiences even though they are not bad people. That people would deny the "Holy Ghost" is a very rational result to expect in the face of the general unreliability and non-uniformity of human spiritual experience. While I myself truly believe in spiritual revelation from God, I cannot fault those people who, for one reason or another, have difficulty believing despite their desire to be good and their willingness to give of themselves. All I feel that I can reasonably ask of those people is that they strive to do their best and be open to the possibility that there is a God who cares about them and will communicate with them.

There are, of course, a number of people who are blatantly selfish and who have no desire to believe or even seriously entertain the notion of God because they do not want to inconvenience themselves. For the people who do not even have a desire to seek after the truth, I have no sympathy for their philosophy. But for those who are trying, but who have not had the fortune of finding it, leniency is in order, and I believe we should be careful not to presume bad faith on their part.

On The Propriety Of An Ecclesiastical Leader Encouraging A Breakup In Preparation For A Mission

The question was put:

"My daughter (a senior in high school) has been dating a senior boy for a few months. They will both graduate next week, and he will spend the summer getting ready to serve an LDS mission. He turns 19 in September and is meeting regularly with his bishop. In a recent interview, his bishop asked him when he was going to break up with my daughter so he could fully focus on his mission preparation. My daughter has shed many tears over this and I would like to know if it's normal for bishops to encourage young men to break up with their girlfriends before serving a mission or if this one bishop is an exception."

To which I responded:

I personally completely disagree with the notion that a mission should require missionaries to disregard romances. While there may be some benefit to casting aside romance, there is also a detriment of loneliness and lack of companionship. After all, couples can also serve missions, and to the best of my understanding of LDS history, many missionaries historically had romances and/or met spouses on their missions. There is no need for a blanket rule requiring young, hormone-raging missionaries to "lock their hearts".

All that being said, our church has a culture which very much disagrees with me, and I think it is to be expected that our puritannical notions of sexual morality will pour into happenings like this. I see no good reason why young couples (including newlyweds) should be barred from going on full-time missions if they practice birth control.

Morality Of Torture

The question was put:

"Imagine a scenario where a scientist in his own private research discovers a cure for cancer. For whatever private reasons he holds, he opts not to share his results. He is offered fantastic sums of money, yet for whatever reasons, he declines all offers. The clock is ticking. For every hour the scientist refuses to share his results, there are millions of lives in danger. What do the scriptures say we should do in this situation?

Should the motivation be taken to the next level? Should he be detained and tortured in order to get the pressing bits of information other scientists would need to replicate his work? For every minute that is wasted in ethical debates, millions of women and children are facing death."

To which I responded:

I do not believe in torture generally. Assuming the scientist were the sole person who participated in the research and learned the critical information, then it is up to his or her own conscience to decide whether to divulge the life-saving information. The situation would be quite different if we changed the hypothetical, and, say, the scientist stole the information from someone else and would, in my opinion, no longer be entitled to the freedom of conscience to retain the information. Even in that scenario, I do not think physical torture would be appropriate.

The scriptures are highly ambiguous on the whole topic. However, I believe that we must be guided by the principles of compassion, love, forgiveness, and charity. Those must win out over revenge and retribution.

Effect Of Deemed Unworthiness On Validity Of Sacrament Ritual

The question was put:

"17-year-old John went too far with his girlfriend one Saturday night. The next morning, he blesses the Sacrament. Is the blessing still valid? Is the congregation still able to renew their covenants?"

To which I responded:

We are all unprofitable servants. The most important part of the ordinance is the faith of the one who takes the Sacrament, not the worthiness of the ones who bless it. If ordinances are considered "invalid" because the one performing it is "unworthy," then all of us priesthood holders may have to reconsider our "line of authority". If we accept that a sacrament blessing is invalid because the 17-yr. old priest went too far with his girlfriend the night before, then, before we could confidently claim to hold the priesthood, we would have to investigate the private sexual habits of each person in our chain, including Joseph Smith, Jr. I can't imagine God intended that result, unless either the priesthood is meaningless or can be wielded by an unworthy servant. Besides, I question the premise that the young man is truly unworthy because he went too far with his girlfriend. We all yield to temptations sometimes. What counts is our desire to do good and serve God. Though this boy yielded to temptation, I do not consider the offense necessarily grievous enough to deem him unfit to perform a priesthood ordinance, provided that he is striving in his heart to do what is right.

Is Doubt A Virtue?

The question was put:

"In another thread, Bender said that "doubt is a virtue".

It struck me instantly that I disagreed with that point of view, and that it was a central issue to Bender's values as opposed to mine.

I have often felt that values and psychological preferences often trump "reason" for atheists and believers alike. We often end up believing what "feels right" to us even if we demand "proof" everywhere we look.

Bender obviously feels that it is "good" to doubt and demand proof. (I should say that I could not find the actual quote-- so apologies to Bender if I got it wrong- still there are others who seem to agree with this point of view)

I think no one would advocate "blind faith", so I suppose it is a question of balance.

My time is short right now, so I will probably put this thread on "autopilot" and see what happens, but I think the question is crucial and central.

From an ethical perspective, is doubt "good"? I think the degree to which we think it is good is what divides many on this board. Atheists demand it as an absolute value, and believers put it on the back burner.

What do you think?

How do we get the right balance?"

To which I responded:

Doubt is a tricky word. Some people equate it with disbelief, but I think it is not necessarily so in every case. In my view, doubt can actually (and very often does) coexist with faith. Doubt is at a minimum lack of certainty- a willingness to entertain the possibility or likelihood that something is not what someone claims it is. Doubt is an inevitable part of our reasoning process, even if it eventually is overcome by evidence or personal resolve to accept something as true without complete evidence.

Whether you are an atheist or a theist, you will almost certainly have faith of some kind or another. The issues are deciding when it is reasonable to believe something even without perfect evidence, and when the belief should exclude all doubt. My opinion is that there are many instances when we can have faith in things which lack perfect evidence. I have never seen God, yet believe in him based upon my own spiritual experiences and thoughts about the universe. Yet at the same time, I accept the possibility that he may not exist, and I therefore have faith and doubt simultaneously. In my case, my "faith" is my choice to believe even though I do not have a perfect knowledge.

The times when it seems unreasonable to have faith in something is when there appears to be affirmative evidence or argument, whether direct or circumstantial, to render the thing believed in unlikely to be true (even though it is theoritically possible that it could be true). Obviously, there is a great deal of disagreement on this point, particularly what constitutes "affirmative evidence or argument, whether direct or circumstantial, to render the thing believed in unlikely to be true." Many atheists would argue that the lack of affirmative objective evidence for God is inconsistent with a view of a God who daily intervenes in our lives, but this does not quite hold up in my opinion.

There are instances where I choose to reject various LDS doctrines because I perceive there to be "affirmative evidence or argument, whether direct or circumstantial, to render the thing believed in unlikely to be true". For instance, some LDS restrictions on the expression of human sexuality are, in my view, highly inconsistent with our God-given physiology, empirical evidence of human behavior, and my own anecdotal experiences in life.

Are homosexual relations beneficial to society?

The question was put:

"Are homosexual relations beneficial to society?"

To which I responded:

The short answer is yes, qualified as follows: People who are pre-disposed to homosexuality appear to be miserable if not permitted to express their feelings. This does not mean that every feeling a person has must be expressed, as there are clearly situations where it is objectively harmful (for example, child molestors, rapists, murderers, child pornographers, drug addicts, etc. are not morally justified in acting out on their inclinations). But I believe that in all moral evaluation, we start out with the presumption of freedom and especially freedom of conscience. We only limit freedom when there is a substantial justification for doing so, and in general, my personal belief is that God's commandments are also crafted with such a rationale in mind. A prohibition on individual freedom, whether imposed by a secular law or by religious edict, can be extremely damaging to a person's psychological well-being particularly where the burden placed on the individual substantially outweighs the societal benefits of the prohibition.

Sexuality is an area of human behavior which does require a certain amount of discipline and responsibility in order to be expressed safely. Homosexual adults who have the maturity and discipline can have the ability to engage in homosexual relationships in a way which, I believe, is neither harmful to themselves or society, and which brings them both pleasure and happiness in a loving relationship. People who are happier about their own lives generally are better citizens in society; they are less likely to become depressed and consequently become unproductive. There is also, I think, an intangible aura of pleasantness which tends to flow from people who are content, which makes life better for the rest of us and lessens the likelihood of conflict and bitterness. Homosexual relationships do not benefit society at large in a direct way, but I believe that in many instances, they benefit us in an indirect way by making the world a happier place, especially for those of us, including heterosexuals, who interact with homosexuals.

There are, of course, instances where homosexuality, practiced irresponsibly, can be problematic, as is the case in homosexual circles which promote promiscuity combined with unprotected sex. Sexually transmitted diseases and other health problems, however, are not a sufficient justification for a prohibition of all homosexual relationships and behavior; they merely demonstrate that a person's right to have a homosexual relationship does not give them a blank moral check to do whatever they want and act irresponsibly.

"One Eternal Round" What is it?

The question was put:


1 Ne. 10: 19
19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Alma 7: 20
20 I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round.

Alma 37: 12
12 And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.

D&C 3: 2
2 For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.

D&C 35: 1
1 Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever.

What are your ideas for what this phrase is supposed to mean?"

To which I responded:

I don't think anyone has given me a satisfactory explanation for what the "his course is one eternal round" phrase is supposed to mean, but my own speculation is that it is a poorly articulated attempt to describe the fact that God's ways are consistent with each other; he does not possess characteristics which contradict other characteristics. For example, in my view, this principle comes into play when I evaluate the plausibility that God is a vengeful, spiteful god as often portrayed in the Bible; after considering that he is a merciful and loving god, I conclude that consistency requires that I reject the notion that he is also vengeful and spiteful. Just some thoughts.

On The Proclamation On The Family And Gender Permanency

The question was put:

"What is meant by "gender" in the Proclamation (choose all that are correct)?
It means biology and anatomy: even spirits have real gonads (35 votes [40.70%])
Percentage of vote: 40.70%
It means sexual orientation: spirits naturally experience heterosexual attraction (13 votes [15.12%])
Percentage of vote: 15.12%
It means cultural gender roles: men provide and women nurture (15 votes [17.44%])
Percentage of vote: 17.44%
t means religious gender roles: men have the priesthood and women do not (12 votes [13.95%])
Percentage of vote: 13.95%
It means something else (11 votes [12.79%])"

To which I responded:

I did not vote because none of the choices seemed to quite fit. The clear intent is to take something that no one can dispute with any evidence (the doctrine that we had a gender in the pre-mortal existence) and turn it into a justification for denouncing homosexual behavior in mortality. I personally feel convinced that, however eternal our gender might be, during mortality, a substantial percentage of the population has a biological predisposition toward homosexuality, and a loving god would not imprison them in mortality with a total prohibition on homosexual fantasies and acts. To the extent that those things are "unnatural," I'm confident they can be ironed out in the afterlife. In the meantime, I don't think God expects mankind to practice total abstinence just because they happen to be gay.

On Speaking In Tongues

The questions were put:

"Have you ever heard someone, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, speak in a language not known to them?
Do you believe that such a thing is possible?
If you have experienced this, what language did you hear?"

To which I responded:

I believe it is possible, but have never experienced or observed it. The term "gift of tongues" should not, in my opinion, be reinterpreted to include those intances where a person, such as a missionary, simply makes amazing progress in speaking a foreign language and is deemed to speak it so well that it is classified as having the "gift of tongues." The gift of tongues, as I see it, could arise in two contexts: (1) the speaker, having no knowledge of or training in a language, speaks it by pure revelation, relying only upon the Holy Ghost (and not the vocabulary they have learned) to know how to express certain things in a known foreign language; and (2) the speaker, relying only upon the Holy Ghost, speaks an angelic tongue not known to mankind, and the words spoken are universally understood as having the same meaning by both the speaker and at least one hearer. In both instances, God's purpose is to communicate something which could not be communicated in the absence of the gift. For example, it may be that angelic vocabulary has words which express ideas that cannot be adequately expressed in a known language. Or the listener needs to hear a message in their own tongue in order to understand something.

Here's what I have observed in my own life:

(1) no missionary that I've seen ever had the gift of tongues as I have defined it above, yet they have often been said to have it by people who want to redefine the term in order to inspire faith in others. In fact, one of my companions even claimed I had it, based upon a particular instance when I quoted a scripture in a foreign language. Thing was, I had already learned the vocabulary I was using, and I was simply translating the verse from how I had memorized it in English.

(2) televangelists often pretend to have the gift of tongues. They speak words that sound like complete gibberish to me and resemble some hybrid of hebrew, arabic, and farsi. The gibberish allows them and certain conspiring believers to pretend that something angelic is being said when in reality they are just feigning a miracle to get your money. It would be a rather funny exercise to separate the purported speaker in tongues and the one in the audience who claims to understand, and ask each to independently describe in English what was being said. Apart from a bunch of Hallelujahs, you'd probably find very differing accounts. As for speaking in tongues when no one understands what is being said, I can't see the point and cannot imagine what purpose God would have in mind in bringing about such an event. I seem to recall that Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul both made that same point as well.

Hypothetical Pronouncements From Thomas S. Monson On The Book Of Mormon And Other Topics

The questions were put:

"What would you do if Pres. Monson said that the Book of Mormon is not inspired?
What would you do if Pres. Monson said that Joseph Smith wasn't a Prophet, but "an earnest seeker after God" or "a man who tried to express God's mercy but his theology wasn't biblical"
What would you do if Pres. Monson announced that we were saved by "grace alone" and that the LDS Church would stop proselyting other Christians or teach exclusive doctrines?"

To which I responded:

I think that this poll suffers from two main problems, and therefore I did not vote. First, the questions don't deal with the more difficult question: what if the BoM is "inspired" in the sense that it conveys at least some true doctrines as revealed by God to JS, but is not what it purports to be, i.e., a literal translation of an authentic ancient writing, without JS's editorializing and own ideas? If Monson would say the BoM is not even "inspired," then that would seem to constitute an admission that JS was not a prophet and that would destroy the foundation which distinguishes Mormonism from other Christian faiths. Secondly, none of the choices are acceptable: leaving the church does not mean that one must necessarily that one turns atheist or evangelical or joins some wacko sect. A person might leave the church, continue to believe in God, and simply dissociate himself from organized religion, for example. The "stay with the church" choice is also severely lacking in that it does not include conditions, limitations, and reservations that might accompany a person's choice to remain a member.

In my own case, I have determined that: 1) it seems impossible for me to know the extent to which the BoM is authentic; 2) the BoM in any event contains truth which I consider to be God-inspired; and 3) whether the BoM is authentic has no bearing on my views towards current church doctrine. Even if it is authentic, that does not, in my view, mean that the Church is correct in its doctrines about blacks and the priesthood, temple ordinances, eternal families, the eternal nature of gender, sexuality, pornography, masturbation, homosexuality, polygamy, etc. 4) at most, the BoM is a highly editorialized historic document partially translated by JS with his own ideas but mingled with God-inspired revelation; and 5) at least, the BoM is a creative hoax made up by JS, Sidney Rigdon, and/or some of JS's cronies, with a few truths developed by the philosophy of men.

Surely there are some people who would discount any statement (whether by Monson or anyone else) that the BoM is not inspired; they would hold that such a statement would demonstrate that Monson has fallen away and is no longer God's chosen prophet.

Is Speeding Sinful?

The question was put:

"Speeding: Do you do it and Are you Sinning?"

To which I responded:

Legally speaking, speeding is a violation any time it is not justified by an emergency. Morally speaking, it is only immoral whenever it unjustifiedly endagers. I routinely speed in situations where there is free-flowing traffic, straight flat, dry road, wide lanes, there is plenty of security distance between me and the car ahead of me, and I only travel at a speed that is safe. Posted speed limits usually do not account for individualized conditions, including: the alertness of the driver, the kind of car being driven and whether it is kept in good repair, the amount of traffic, the lighting, the weather, etc. The posted limits are generally conservative to prevent accidents from crazy or incompetent drivers. What gripes me is when people tailgate, cut people off, and change lanes without signaling.

On The De-Criminalization Of Polygamy

The question was put:

"If legislation to allow polygamy or polyandry were brought to the table, how would you respond? Would you support the measure? Oppose it? Be indifferent?"

To which one person commented:

"Consenting adults should be allowed to enter whatever sort of social contract they wish. Yes to decriminalizing polygamy."

To which I responded:

Hear hear! So long as it is only available to consenting, sane, competent, uncoerced adults, and is available to both women and men (polygyny and polyandry) I would fully support it. This, in my view, is an area which God commits to the individual discretion and conscience of people, with the sole limitation that they have an obligation to carry out their business in a way that does not, by an objective standard, cause more harm than good.

Caveat: as I have stated before on many occasions, I do not believe it is the Government's prerogative to label this (or any other) relationship marriage. I am simply advocating that polygamy not be illegal.

On The Issue Of Criticism By Racists Of The LDS Church's Denial Of The Priesthood To Blacks

The comment was made:

"Authors of nearly every news story that discusses Africa, Church growth, or African American Mormons, seem to feel the need to bring up 1978 in depth. Maybe this is acceptable. It is, after all, a part of our history. What I object to is the tone of many of these articles, but oh well.

My question is this: when did the other American churches begin to allow blacks to fully participate in their leadership? How many were actually segregated, while LDS wards were not? In fact, baptist congregations are still among the most segregated in the country (see: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7...g2.html?cat=47), althought voluntarily, and many religions continue to lack significant black leadership. Why is 1978 always brought up with us, but policy changes are rarely if ever brought up with other churches. Is it because it was a definitive date at which this changed, while other churches kind of fazed it in?

My point is that virtually ALL religions and churches have changed their approach to minorities, particularly blacks in the US. (As a point of fact, Jesus Christ changed his church's policy toward whites.) But the LDS continue to be hounded about their "overnight" change in policy.

As a side note, I personally believe the ban on the priesthood was a cultural, and not doctrinal policy, but that is my opinion. However, I loved Elder Sitati's quote in the trash tribune today:

It does not bother him that the church barred blacks from the priesthood until 1978.

"Christ came only to the Jews and not until the end of his mission did he commission the apostles to go to all the world," he said. "Different communities are invited to participate in the plan of salvation at different times. What is important is that the salvation to which they are invited is the same. It doesn't matter that the Jews were the first, if you like, and the Africans are the last."

Oh . . . and

Most of the current anti-Mormon attacks are imported from America, Sitati said. "Some people who are trying to protect their own faith spread bad stories about Mormonism. There is no indigenous hostility to the church."

To which I responded:

I have no sympathy for any racist who complains about the Church's practices regarding blacks and the priesthood. Hypocrites hardly have a leg to stand on.

That being said (and with the disclaimer that I am not an expert on the history on this subject), it is my belief that an examination of history will show that, although the LDS church was not at all alone in its failure to grant equal rights in the church to black members, there probably were quite a few religious organizations who were much more progressive and afforded blacks equal rights much earlier than the LDS church did. Also, many of the critics of the LDS church's history with blacks are not themselves racist and had no part in their own organization's history of discrimination. Those people may be, but are not necessarily, hypocrites. They would only be hypocrites if their own organization claimed doctrinal inerrancy but had a racist history. Most evangelicals do not belong to a coherent religious organization with a top-down institutionalized structure. They may come from a generalized "baptist," "methodist," or "pentacostal" background, but they do not generally have leaders who claim the right to exclusive prophetic revelation/authority on behalf of the world at large.

What gets the LDS church in trouble is the simultaneous claim of doctrinal inerrancy and the historical discrimination against blacks. (And anyone who maintains that the "policy" of not giving blacks the priesthood was non-doctrinal apparently has not read the sermons of Brigham Young and Mark E. Peterson). I am not aware of the LDS church ever having admitted error in any of its doctrines. Instead, it attempts to portray its current views at any given time as unquestionably error-free. When changes occur, it has the difficult obstacle of reconciliation. Various attempts to rationalize and reconcile doctrinal changes just leave us asking more questions.

The LDS church needs to face at least three facts, in my opinion:

1. For better or for worse, the true reason for ceasing the practice of polygamy in the late 1800s was not that God just happened to decide at that moment that the church should stop practiciing it, but rather that there was too much opposition from the powerful United States government.

2. The 1978 official declaration allowing male blacks to obtain the priesthood was not just because God happened to decide that "the time has now come" for blacks to have the priesthood, but rather that church leaders saw the writing on the wall: racism and discrimination are not reasonably supported by logic and reason, and the discriminative denial of the priesthood to blacks was a public relations nightmare for the church.

3. Admitting error by the LDS church, while it will inevitably shake the fragile faith of some people who apparently only have the ability to see things in black and white (no pun intended), will be much better off for the church in the long run and should instill in its leaders the humility that comes with understanding that we do not have all the answers and that some doctrines which we have long accepted as true may actually be erroneous.

*And in response to this comment, one person commented:

"William, there is a bigger problem here.

The LDS church is supposed to have prophets who communicate directly with God, who is really running the church.

Why did God, who is no respecter of culture, allow this ban to take place? And, even though his mouthpiece claimed that the blacks would not get the priesthood until all the sons of Adam, God caved?

Can you not see the difference between religions led by men who follow the culture of the times vs a church led by God?

Well, actually, neither can I. It sure appears that the LDS church is no more led by God than any other religion out there."

To which I responded:

Thanks for your input. I agree that these are major problems, but it seems you are implying that the LDS church cannot possibly be led by God any more than any other church if it denied blacks the priesthood. I respectfully disagree. Because humans including church leaders, are subject to prejudices just like the rest of us, they will err as we do. But I don't believe that necessarily proves that the church is without priesthood authority from God. What it does prove, in my opinion, is that there is no guarantee that church doctrine today is error-free. It also shows, in my opinion, that those who disagree with the church in good faith on a point of doctrine will not be punished God on the ground that their own conscience was at odds with the church. For my own part, I disagree with the church on many doctrinal points, but am willing to accept other doctrines which I feel truly speak peace to my soul. I realize others may have a different experience.

On The Issue Of Judicial Activism As It Relates To Gay Marriage

In reaction to a court in Iowa legalizing gay marriage, the comment was made:

"It's judicial tyranny. That's all.Our betters have spoke, and we rubes and ignernt bigots need to recognize our place and fall into line. Pay, play, and obey."

To which I responded:

While it may be "judicial tyranny" for courts to ram gay marriage down the throats of religious conservatives, it is also a kind of tyranny for a religious majority to insist upon the Government sponsoring only their religion-based version of marriage. The term "marriage" carries with it a religious connotation, and while I disagree with the Iowa Supreme Court's decision, they aptly noted the connection between marriage as an institution and private religious beliefs. For that reason, we should take the Government out of the marriage question altogether, let couples of all sexual orientations have civil unions, and leave it up to individuals and religions to determine for themselves which relationships do and don't have the sanction of God.

On People Who Leave The LDS Faith Because Of Feeling Deceived

The question was put:

"This is a sincere question for those who left the church because you felt that the church hid something from you, or who advocate the church be more forthcoming about what you consider the negatives. Assuming you were able to learn these things sooner, what difference would it have made on whether you left the church or not. I don't see how it makes any difference if some of the things that turn you away from the church are learned earlier or later. Perhaps you can explain it."

To which I responded:

This would not directly apply to me because I have not left; I remain active but privately I have major disagreements. I am not so much bitter as I am saddened and highly disappointed that the world I grew up believing existed does not appear to really exist. I see this as partly due to the Church (in my view) concealing the real lives of members and leaders and giving ordinary members like me the impression that living Church standards can be reasonably expected of me and that there is something wrong with me if I don't manage to do it. I have now come to believe that some of the standards are simply based upon misperceptions about human nature.

Intellectually, I can reconcile the fact that the Church can have serious doctrinal errors and still be endorsed by God with priesthood authority. But in a day-to-day practical sense, it is awfully difficult to remain active and to give the false appearance of devoutness while privately having serious misgivings and not being permitted to voice them without being branded an apostate. When it comes down to it, I suppose I could say that the only thing that keeps me hanging on is the belief, or at least the hope, that one day, things will change, and the leadership of the church will have the foresight and the humility to be open to revelation from God to correct the serious errors. But I fear it will not be in my lifetime, so perhaps it is simply a cross that I and countless others will have to bear in silence.

Gay Activist Vandalization Of LDS Church Buildings

In reaction to media attention about gay activists vandalizing LDS church buildings in Washington State, the comment was made:

"I really don't think that this particular group is a reflection of the gay community in general. These guys are crazy anarchists who happen to be gay."

I tend to agree. For the record, while I support anyone's right to free speech, I condemn any such acts of vandalism which are directed toward a non-violent entity such as the LDS church. I continue to be active in the church despite my private disagreement over the issue of homosexuality, but these things should be resolved by peaceful debate. (On a sidenote, I lament the fact that the Church does not permit "peaceful" debate in an open fashion among active members, because any dissidents are immediately branded as apostate and tend not to be heard by those who would have the recognized authority to make doctrinal and policy changes in the church.)

Does God Answer Prayers Of A Non-Spiritual Nature?

The question was put:

"Does God Answer Prayers of a non-spiritual nature?"

To which I responded:

From my standpoint, God certainly has answered many of my prayers which were not "spiritual" in the traditional sense of the word. So I answer "Yes".

Reaction To Disagreements Over The Bible's Alleged Condemnation Of Homosexuality

The comment was made:

"An interesting response to Newsweek's recent attempt to justify homosexuality and homosexual behavior from the Bible, interestingly co-written, it would seem, by Joseph Bottum of First Things, John Mark Reynolds of the evangelical Biola University, and Elder Bruce D. Porter of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:


To which one person responded by citing approvingly to a quote from the article, as follows:

"Jesus loves us enough not to let us do whatever we want. Every generation attacks biblical ethics in some new way, but the Bible endures. Hypocrites pretend they have no sin. Hedonists pretend their sins are good. Honest people repent."

To which I responded:

Zealots pretend there is no reasonable dispute concerning their interpretation of scripture. Puritans think just about anything pleasurable is sin.

It is a good thing to be willing to repent of wrongdoing. But first it must be established that something is wrong. Those who subscribe to divine command theory think that the rightness and wrongness of things are determined by whatever God happens to pronounce. I do not subscribe to that theory. I believe that God's commandments to us are generally only given to codify what independently exists as right and wrong. Therefore, I believe that right and wrong can generally be deduced by logic and reason. The scriptures function to clue us in to the issues; they are not inerrant pronouncements of God's commandments. I claim the privilege to reject any scripture which in my good faith view does not hold up to logic and reason. The scriptures were written by people who had their own prejudices and misunderstandings and circumstances, and those prejudices in my view often tainted the revelations from God.

Honest people repent. But does that mean that every perceived sin that we "repent" of is actually a sin? What of the LDS investigator who "repents" and confesses to his minister that he has been talking with the missionaries, and commits to no longer talk with them or read the BoM ever again? Do we applaud that person for "repenting?" What about a catholic priest who breaks his vow and gets married because he can't stand the loneliness of being single, and is then later convinced, after his wife dies, that he should "repent" of having married and re-join the ministry?

The point of all this is that the starting point for morality is that everything is permitted, unless there exists a justification for prohibitting it. We need not reject a practice as sinful just because someone wishes to do it because it makes them feel good. Granted, there are a great many things which are legitimately regarded as sinful: murder, sexual assault, harmful drugs used without medical justification, slavery, spousal abuse, white collar crime, etc. But in each of those instances, there is an identifiable objective harm.

In the case of gay people, no one has demonstrated to me any inherrent, objective harm associated with responsibly-conducted, consensual gay activity. As such, I have an extremely difficult time concluding that God would outlaw homosexual behavior or declare it sinful in and of itself.

Claims Of Knowledge In LDS Testimony Meetings

The question was put:

"In testimony meetings, we often say, "I know that such and such is true." But do we really?

Ether 3

19 And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.

I've never seen Christ. Wouldn't it be more accurate to use the word "believe" rather than "know"?"

To which I responded:

Common definitions of "know" include:

verb (used with object) 1. to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty: I know the situation fully.
2. to have established or fixed in the mind or memory: to know a poem by heart; Do you know the way to the park from here?
3. to be cognizant or aware of: I know it.
4. be acquainted with (a thing, place, person, etc.), as by sight, experience, or report: to know the mayor.
5. to understand from experience or attainment (usually fol. by how before an infinitive): to know how to make gingerbread.
6. to be able to distinguish, as one from another: to know right from wrong.
7. Archaic. to have sexual intercourse with.
â??verb (used without object) 8. to have knowledge or clear and certain perception, as of fact or truth.
9. to be cognizant or aware, as of some fact, circumstance, or occurrence; have information, as about something.
â??noun 10. the fact or state of knowing; knowledge.
â??Idioms11. in the know, possessing inside, secret, or special information.
12. know the ropes, Informal. to understand or be familiar with the particulars of a subject or business: He knew the ropes better than anyone else in politics.

I suppose you could break down the word "know" into two basic elements. One element consists of the criteria an individual uses to decide whether to accept something as being certain. The second element is a sort of declaration that the world at large must accept that thing as certain because of the individual's criteria being satisfied. The weight to be given to any claim of knowledge must be based upon the strength of the criteria used by the declarant in arriving at his or her conclusion.

In the LDS faith, as well as in many others, subjective spiritual experience is typically the primary criterium which people rely upon. There is often a deep mistrust of logic and science which are often dismissed as "the philosophies of men." One need only listen to the varying testimonies of people claiming to have revealed truth to see that it is extremely unlikely that spiritual experience is a reliable method for learning the truth. Recently, I was watching a special on National Geographic about Jerusalem's holy sites and the religions which consider them holy and significant. I was struck by the testimony of a muslim woman who stated that when she entered a particular mosk, she felt the presence of God all around her, implying that such an experience was confirmation that Islam was true. It sounded almost identical to LDS accounts of entering an LDS temple.

If we are ever to get past the "well only my spiritual experiences are genuine" stage of argument, it seems to me we have little choice but to engage in real debate and philosophy based upon science and empirical data. "I know the church is true," while it may be a comforting statement to some, offers little help in a critical analysis.

Faith still must play a role. But we must not become so obsessed with having the absolute answer to all things of a spiritual nature that we start to ignore the things which tend to contradict or undermine the beliefs we have.

My personal opinion (which I have admitting that I do not actually know myself) is that most or all of the people who say in church that they "know" such and such really don't know it, but rather have faith in it, combined with subjective spiritual experience which they have interpreted to be a confirming witness.

How To Pass A Prophet Even If You Weren't Really One

The question was put:

"We all know there are false religions, fake or self decieved prophets, gurus etc.

Suppose we ask "what is the best method that a would-be guru or prophet should use for getting people to believe in them or their religion?".

I have a very strong suspicion that telling people to ask God and wait for a confirmation from God is the best approach assuming you can present this option to enough people. Tell them they may need to try more than once and that a special faithful state of mind needs to be sought out.

Some percent, maybe a small percent, will think they have gotten a positive answer and then they will be in it for life. Once they are in, they will teach their children and from there, with a little luck and a couple generations, a new religion.

I predict, more will try it in the future either dishonestly and deceptively or sincerely but self-deceptively. A similar tactic is to ask the person to follow their heart or to look within for something beyond ordinary words etc, or give faith a chance, take a leap (anything but employ normal skeptical thinking).

Your take?"

To which I responded:

I can think of four main ingredients one would need: Charisma, credibility, cleverness, and uniqueness. You should be likeable as a person, have a credible story (i.e., asking people to pray about it themselves helps to come across as credible), be smart at concealing or making up the truth, and have something that sets you apart from all the other truth-claimers.

Marital Issues Between An LDS Spouse And A Spouse Who No Longer Believes

The question was put:

"I'd be interested in seeing everyone's thoughts on some questions about the possibility of making a marriage work when one of the spouses leaves the Church:
1. If the exmo intends to be honest about his/her opinions about the Church with the couple's children (but won't oppose the children attending Church, etc) would/should the Mormon accept that?
2. What if any compromises should the Mormon make (tithing, Sunday activities, etc)?
3. What compromises should the Exmo be willing to make about his/her beliefs or actions?
4. Does the exmo's expressions of disbelief qualify the Mormon as affiliating with apostate individuals? and/or along those lines:
5. Should a Mormon stay with an exmo spouse who openly expresses his/her opinions about the Church to others?
6. Do any of you know about any official Church material on this topic? It would seem a subject that comes up often enough but I am not aware of any talk or article that has dealt with this issue."

To which I responded:

My general philosophy is that each spouse (apart from kid-related and alimony/child-support-related issues) is free to pursue the course of action which he or she believes is most likely to maximize their long-term happiness. If what prompts the desire to break off the relationship is infidelity, or a change in beliefs, or a change of character, or abuse, or lack of fulfillment, a spouse (with the caveats above) has every right to leave and pursue his or her own happiness. Sometimes this will even happen where there is no "fault". For my own self, I try to hold myself to a higher standard and endure somewhat more (than I would expect of someone else) when it comes to dealing with difficulties.

In the particular context you have, the complicating factor is of course the children. My own bias favors having the kids go to church without much opposition from the non-believing parent until they are old enough to digest the point of view of the non-believer. Kids are fragile, especially when they are young. I believe they are better off starting from a general position of faith and willingness to believe than demanding that everything be proven up front. That being said, a non-believing parent should not be pressured to go along pretending to have a belief to which they do not subscribe. Rather than just telling a 7-year-old, "I don't believe any of this and it's all a bunch of crap!", the better approach for a non-believing parent is to explain the different approaches of faith and empirical science, and to explain the reasons why people choose each approach. The non-believing parent should not try to interfere with the child's faith in diety, but as the child grows older, the non-believing parent has every right to tell the child the reasons why they are a non-believer and make sure the child understands that you will love them no less regardless of how they come out.

Just some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts.

Our Duty To Question Church Leadership

In response to someone's comment:

"it is our duty to question the leadership. We have a guideline for doing so. We are taught to "search, ponder and pray." We must question our leaders. We must not "trust" them. We must see possible error and research the subject ourselves, then we must consider the implications of the matter from an educated perspective then finally we approach God on the subject and obtain confirmation one way or the other regarding the subject.

Church leadership throughout the Bible shows the need to question their actions. The sons of Eli, Abraham and Hagar, Moses screwed up and made the Israelites wander longer than was needed, etc. etc.

To maintain a strong and "true" Church of God all memebrs must exercise their ability to verify the correctness of the application and practice of the Gospel as well as statements by its leadership."

The comment was made:

"God himself has promised through the Prophet Joseph Smith that this would be the last time the gospel would be restored until the Savior returns for his millennial reign. So the is no more apostasy to occur at an organizational level ie the church will remain in tact until the Lord returns. IF you believe in that God reveals his words through His servants the prophets and the aforesaid is true, they will not lead us astray therefore no need to question. There is also no harm in asking for confirmation on any true and correct event or principle. But to question because of possible error/falling away or ill conceived doctrine of our leadership, that is totally and unequivocally incorrect, in fact we are commanded not to do it, there is no need."

To which I responded:

Suppose one of those church leaders in the old testament claimed receiving a similar revelation from God (such as the one made by Wilford Woodruff). What then would have happened to the church? Bottom line: the validity of the statement depends upon the assumption that the one making it truly received that revelation from God. Mustn't we also verify that before we follow every subsequent instruction without question? If we do not question, we will fall into the category of members criticized by Brigham Young when he said something along the lines of that he was concerned that members would so unquestioningly follow the prophet that they might stop thinking for themselves and be led astray.

Is The Testimony Of An LDS Member More Valid Than The Conflicting Testimony Of Someone Else?

On this question, the comment was made:

"A few thoughts:

First, let's make sure we are comparing apples to apples. The nature of an LDS testimony (ostensibly based on receiving a spiritual witness from God) is, in my view, necessarily superior to subscribing to a belief system for lesser reasons (cultural/familial expectations, tradition, prooftexting, bibliolatry, etc.).

Second, I think LDSers are fairly unique in that they strive to base their testimony on personal revelation.

Third, I think LDSers are also fairly unique in that their testimonies include a belief in divine authority vested in a specific, visible, quantifiable earthly organization: The LDS Church.

I don't think we do. Not wholesale, anyway.

Please give some examples of Muslims professing faith in Islam because they have received a spiritual witness from God about the matter. IIRC, Daniel Peterson (a professor of Islamic Studies and occasional participant on this board) has said that the LDS paradigm of receiving a testimony is pretty much foreign to Islam and its adherents.

In other words, I think you are creating parallels where none exist. In the main, other religions don't exhort their members to read, ponder and pray about scripture, and then seek out confirmation from God. (In fact, we are regularly taken to task by some of our Protestant critics for doing this.

Kinda loosey-goosey here. Are you going to dismiss any answer you like as not rational?

No, we should not leave such important matters to chance.

Your handle ("LDS1973") suggests you are LDS. Is that right? If so, please explain your preferred method of developing faith."

To which I responded:

You raise some good points. But here's where I think the reliability of the LDS spiritual confirmation of LDS-ism falls apart: It appears to me that a great many people have taken the Moroni challenge, and sincerely studied and pondered and prayed to ask God about the truth of the BoM and the LDS church. And very often, they do not get the promised confirmation. We can try to explain this away by saying they were not truly sincere, or that they were unworthy at the time they asked, or whatever other excuses there might be. But ultimately, we will find ourselves having to make judgments about the good faith of others' attempts at seeking the truth in order to defend the correctness and soundness of our own LDS testimony. Protestants will say that we are deluded or wicked or deceived, and explain our "testimony" that way. While good faith is a necessary ingredient in our quest for truth, it is not in itself a gaurantee that we will find it easily or in this lifetime. What it boils down to is that we have to do the best we know how, based upon imperfect information, and while we may have convictions, we must also recognize that those convictions will sometimes require modification where the evidence justifies.