Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Religion in the West

This social scientist is observing the decrease in religious identity in the West due to secularization and modernization.  He argues that if children are not brought up with religion, they are less likely to feel comfortable with it. As the population enjoys prosperity and comfort, they are less likely to turn to religion for solace. It is his opinion, that religion in the West will continue to erode and will never rebound.

I do think this sociologist makes correct observations about factors that are contributing to decreased religious identity in the West. However, this scientist discounts many factors which run counter to his  conclusions. First, he says religious identity in a country is inversely proportional to its modernization. Yet he notes that for many Muslim middle eastern nations, this is not the case. Also, he doesn’t really talk about religious revival in US history such as the second great awakening or in other countries but only speaks of limited revivals followed government suppression. 

I am making the argument that religion provides many inherent benefits to society.  Accordingly, religion will always experience eventual revival for several reasons:

1. God really does exist and really created the universe and really does manifest Himself to His children.  So, rebellious children can only deny reality to a point. As long as God remains a caring parent, He will continue to convince His children of His existence. 

2.  Human have an innate drive to believe in God.  Belief in God is what makes us human. Man originally believed our relationship with God is what made man different from the other animals. Scientists had tried to redefine humanity in terms of our ability to use tools or language or other factors but have been disappointed by documenting other animals with those same capabilities. In the end, religion continues to set humans apart from animals. Religion is what defines us as human. If we lose religion, we lose our humanity.  

Opponents to religion try to claim religion oppresses and controls behavior through fear and creating a system of contrived and imaginary punishments. Religion does discipline behavior, but in reality, the opposite is true. Animal behavior is fear- and survival-based; even animal group behavior.  Human’s who respond to conscience, on the other hand, can choose to act motivated by love and not fear. 

3. Religion is a matter of culture, but also has enduring benefits, even in times of prosperity. Modern religion has gotten away from its true purpose in many cases which has led to its devaluation.  But ideally, religion is about welfare and virtue (James 1:27).  Religion is about setting up a community focused on helping and ministering to its members. The State may have tried to ursurp the role of religion, but religion will always do a much better job of administering welfare because of increased efficiency, and accountability. 

4. Religion is also about defining, upholding and maintaining virtue in society.  If man knew nothing of God, how would we know not to kill, lie, or steal. Animals only follow instinct. but because man has a knowledge of God and His will, we have a choice to act counter to the natural man and follow conscience.  Man can feel hungry but choose to fast. Man can feel offended but choose to forgive.  Man can feel greed, but choose to tithe.  Man can feel self-absorbed, but choose to serve.

5. Religion upholds and institutionalizes virtue in society by administering covenants in the same way the millitary and judicial system has its officers make oaths of office, oaths of honesty, and pledges of allegiance. The world continually gives us excuses to break our promises. Covenants with God gives man reason to keep our promises despite our seemingly valid excuses and rationalizations. Through baptism and the Lord’s Supper believers covenant to follow Christ, follow His example, and keep His commandments at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances. 

6. Religion provides man a promise of ultimate justice, hope and solace. God reminds man in scripture agaun and again “vengance in mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay”. How liberating this concept is for man.  We can leave justice to God and move on with our lives and self actualization and not get bogged down with revenge and personal vendettas. Also, God give us hope in an afterlife that selfless altruistic service here in this life leads to greater rewards in the next life. A selfless community living to help one another is much better than living in a self-centered community where everyone is only ever looking out for their own self interest. Religion also provides solace to deal with death and loss. In addition to helping us deal with death by a promise of afterlife, God promises to make up to us all our losses and wipe away every tear. 

7.   If society gets to the point of secularization where prosperity leads to a loss of its moral foundation, than history demonstrates and warns that corrupt nations will collapse. Prosperous  societies that uphold false religion which do not uphold virtue or discharge the duties of individual welfare, become demoralized and corrupt and eventually and suddenly collapse. The ruins of Egypt, Rome and Greece are stark reminders. The scriptures tell the accurate tale that demoralization leads to increased poverty in society, and increased demoralized behavior and poverty leads to a greater consolidation of political power and political corruption. The eventual collapse of corrupt demoralized societies always leads to increased humility and greater religious identity.  This is the well-known “pride cycle” recorded in scripture.

The United States is the model of Constitutional government based on limiting corruption by the separation of power.  Constitutional self-government can only be maintained by a moral society.  Religion is supposed to define and uphold individual morality.  As society becomes demoralized, increased poverty and problems enter and government increasingly encroaches upon and usurps the duties of religion.  There becomes to be a consolidation  of political and economic power that promise to solve social problems and provide social justice. But consolidation of power is never the answer, is unamerican, and always leads to increased corruption.  Consequently, the West seems to be increasingly controlled by Big Government, Big Industry, Big Pharma. and now Big Data propagandized by Big Media. 

If religious identity is waning in the West, it is not because archaic religion has lost its value in a modern society, but because modern religion is getting away from its traditional foundations, purposes, and inherent usefulness.  When I talk to millennials about why they are religious.  they invariably list its many benefits.  Modern society is increasingly seeing modern virtue-less religion as no more beneficial than a local Kiwanis or Rotary Club or even less benefit than some global NGO’s.

Religion can also give itself a black eye by over-interpreting  virtue and being too strict. Religion becomes less of a support and  more of a burden when it enforces overly restrictive clothing standards that go beyond modesty, for example. Evil likes to take us the the extremes when the correct road is down the golden middle.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sins and Mistakes

This talk by President (Elder) Dallin H. Oaks discusses the difference between sins and mistakes. Elder Oaks doesn’t define transgression vs. sin in this talk but focuses only on sin vs. error. Generally speaking, my definitions aided by Elder Oaks are:  1.  a mistake is something you do thinking it is right but actually is wrong.  2. A transgression is doing something you know is wrong but you don’t fully understand is wrong. 3. A sin is doing something wrong that you both know and understand is wrong.

Elder Oak’s conclusion is that God and God’s servants (Bishops) determine what is a sin, while as members of Christ’s kingdom, we are to give each other the benefit of the doubt and generally assume others bad acts were mistakes and not sin.  We should assume others misdeeds were unintentional and due to their lack of understanding. This is how Alma the Younger delt with his wayward son Corianton.  In reality, if we had a perfect knowledge of God, a perfect knowledge of His love, and the rewards for righteousness and penalties for error, most of us would never ever sin. 

Rabbi Haim Richman of the Temple Institute says that there is no actual sin offering in the temple service. According to the Law of Moses, there was to be no forgiveness for intentional sin.  Instead, offerings were given to ask forgiveness for unintentional mistakes and trespasses only. When a person is repentant, humble and contrite, they will recognize that their mistakes were unintentional, a product of ignorance,  and a tragic lack of judgement.  Seeking forgiveness of sin without a humble and contrite heart would be the same as paying for an indulgence. 

Elder Oaks taught that we should always treat each other with love and kindness. Positive treatment and reinforcement always tends to favor better long-term behavior and encourages less mistakes. Sin does require chastisement and correction, but that can be left to God through our inevitable pains of conscience and Bishops. We don’t need to heap on our own helping of judgement. Leave judgement to God and God’s servants. 

Interesting that Elder Oaks would teach that while we should avoid sin, we should not avoid mistakes at all costs.  This fearful thinking often leads to contention and inaction. I remember as a missionary, disagreeing on what we should do next and defiantly sitting in the car for a few minutes until my heart was softened and I realized contention and inaction was worse than whever my companion was wanting to do. 

Ofttimes disagreements are not about what is right or wrong but about good, better and best.  When there is a disagreement between missionary companions, each should be free to share their feelings and reasons. If minds do not change, missionary companionships have a senior and a junior. The senior should sincerely consider the feelings and reasons of the junior companion but the junior companion should defer to the senior’s decision. But, ultimately, if the junior is unrelenting, and its not a good or bad issue, or about a mission rule, or a safety issue, the senior may defer to the junior to avoid contention and inaction. If its a safety issue, Zone Leaders should be contacted.  Apart from these severe exceptions, the best way sometimes to win a argument is to not argue and just do it their way with full intent (no passive aggression) and fail or succeed.  This principle also applies to parents and children. 

At the end of the day, doing nothing may be worse than going in the wrong direction.  If our hearts and intentions are pure, even if we make a mistake, we will quickly recognize and correct it. Elder Holland recently taught about how initially taking the wrong road can lead to a greater assurance that you are on the right one after a course correction. In this way, mistakes can lead to learning and growth. 

My favorite quote from Elder oaks’s talk is:

“there is a large category of undesirable conduct that is surely an error or mistake and at an extreme level can cross over the border into transgression. When we willfully pass up an opportunity to progress toward eternal life, this is surely a mistake that should be corrected. In one way of looking at things, it is also a sin. This would apply to such things as failing to get schooling to prepare us for life, wasting our time, or failing to maintain the good grooming or to acquire the social or communication skills that would help us obtain employment or favorable consideration for marriage.”

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Least in the Kingdom of God

Someone took issue with the LDS concept of exaltation and asked why we felt needed to be better that John the Baptist and what the LDS Temple was all about. 

1. John the Baptist being “least in the Kingdom of God” is not saying John the Baptist is not going to be exalted. It means that if a person were baptized only, they would qualify for the Celestial Kingdom (baptism is the gate), but they would not receive the highest degree/reward/calling = exaltation.

2. Masons borrowed their stuff from Solomon’s temple and changed/corrupted the content (Hiram Abiff etc), Joseph Smith took it back and restored it to its Christ-centered original form.

3. The LDS ordinances of the endowment are just a way to teach like a lecture, powerpoint, Socratic method except the temple doesn't require literacy which puts the learned and the unlearned on equal ground. Remember that literacy was an exclusive privilege of the wealthy throughout most of history. Its only recently that literacy has been pervasive thoughout society. But while the teaching mechanism is similar between Mason’s and LDS Temple, (ritual symbolism, participatory dramatization) the content is totally different. And remember, the Mason’s borrowed the teaching style/mechanism fom the ancient temple. 

3. Being exalted means and recieving a higher degree of glory than another just means that certain people will be allowed to have different callings and do different jobs in the eternities. I don’t think its a materialism thing. Our reward is not a bigger physical mansion. You dont sleep so you dont need a bed, you dont eat so you dont need a kitchen, you dont poop so you dont need 8 bathrooms. There is instant transportation so you dont need private jets or a yacht or whatever. You dont likely need to buy anything except robes, so, there may be money, but who knows how much celestial robes cost??

So, whats left. What is the big prize and what is the basis for status in heaven. I think what differentiates exaltation vs lower glories is calling/assignment. What calling could only go to the exalted? I think —Eternal Parenting or in other words, teaching “Mortality Prep 101”.

In the pre-existence, we received our “first lessons”. Who taught these leasons? Who would God authorize and trust to teach these lessons? If you never figured out how to control the body, apply the atonement of Jesus Christ, submit to God’s priesthood authority, how could you ever advise other spirits upon embarking on their mortal probation?  

Short answer— if you never figured it out during your probation, you will never fully be able to assist/parent other “children” in their preparation— worlds without end.

4. Being a “King and Priest” is about being a ruler over your own behavior and choices NOT being a ruler over other people. Constitutional government is about citizens being sovereign over their own decisions and trusted to govern themselves if taught correct principles.

5. Christ’s Second Coming is preceded and accompanied by the restoration of His temple, turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. The temple according to Isa 2 is the mechanism by which peace on Earth will be achieved. In the temple you learn who God is, who you are, and what God expects of you.  Making covenants/oaths like many many public servants, gives you a reason to keep your word even when life gives you excuses not too.  And it’s God and God’s people keeping their word, even when times a tough,  that will make all the difference in the end. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Carrying the Name of God in Vain

John 7: 15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?

Ezra was a scribe in Babylon that arrived in Jerusalem after the 2nd Temple had already been built.  Ezra was sent by the Persian king Artaxerxes with gold and silver to donate to the temple but also establish a scholarly scribal and rabbinical system to teach the Law of Moses and enforce this system by capital punishment, banishment, imprisonment and the confiscation of property. Ezra is very clear that he had been sent by the authority of Artaxerxes and not God.

Ezra 7:25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.
26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.

Ezra and Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem and deposed the families of Jeshua, son of Josadak who was the high priest and Zerubbabel.  The basis for removing and replacing Jewish ecclesiastical and secular leadership was over their practice of marriage (marriage to proselytes, polygamy). 

The consequence of Ezra’s actions were the establishment of the Jewish scribal and rabbinical system and the cessation of prophets. Malachi was a contemporary and when the Jews adopted this false scholarly system, God ceased to send prophets to Israel until John the Baptist. (Jeshua is a type of Christ)

Another consequence of Ezra’s rabbinical system is that the resultant scribes and pharisees led the people astray such that when thier Messiah came to them, they not only did not recognize Jesus as the Christ, Christ’s words and actions offended them to such a degree that they crucified their God. Jewish priestcraft caused the truth to become repulsive, disgusting, and repugnant. 

The third commandment given to Moses and Israel was Ex 20:7 Thou shalt not take/[carry] the name of the Lord thy God in vain;. The word “take” is more correctly interpreted “carry”.  Thus this commandment has less to do with cursing and more to do with the sin of priestcraft and falsely claiming to act in the nane of God when they have not been called. 

Today we see that the mainsteam Christian world has adopted the scholarly system ofecclesiastical  authority modeled after Ezra’s rabbinical and scribal system.  The consequence of this is that billions of Christians are being led astray such that the true church and true doctrine of Christ sounds and feels disgusting to people. 

John 8:37 I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.

The true Church and Kingdom of God is led by Prophets and Apostles who may not havetheological  or divinity degeees, but have been called by God by revelation and ordained and set apart with the authority of God. 

1 Tim 4:14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Watch and Pray

Mark 13:33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.

Jesus Christ foretold that His Second Coming would be preceeded by a period of Tribulation and natural disasters. Accordingly, He called for followers to “watch and pray”.  Watch, in this context, means to ‘actively prepare for’ and not just ‘look out for’ without doing anything. Jesus Christ wanted His disciples to adopt an attitude and practice of consistent self-reliance and preparedness. 

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Some criticize Christians for their preparedness efforts claiming that many generations have come and gone always looking for the End of the World which has never come. In the critics mind, this so-called apocalyptic outlook is not only a waste of time and resources but also pathologic and even dangerous.   Hollywood productions like “Doomsday Preppers” seeks to discredit preparedness by taking things to the far extreme.  These reality TV shows make preparedness appear unattainable, silly, and even mentally unstable. 

Matt 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

The commandment to “watch” or “be prepared” is not about trying to predict the End of the World.  If we could predict the exact timing of the Lord’s Second Coming, then we wouldn’t need to be prepared at all.  We could just procrastinate until the day before and then stock up at the last minute.  But Christ’s commandment is teaching the exact opposite of procrastination. 

The Law of Moses taught a similar principle.  Every year the Jews and other tribes of the House of Isreal were commanded to observe the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).  This feast required that the family set up a hut or tent in their yard and eat and even sleep out in their “sukkah” for a week. I’m sure this religious requirement to camp seemed strange to foreigners.  What was it’s purpose?

In addition to learning obedience, humility, gratitude by remembering how God led Israel in the desert for 40 years before entering into the land of Israel, the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles also helped Israel look forward.  When society becomes sufficiently corrupt, God has eventually called His people to come out of and flee Babylon.  If God were to relocate His people again, how could he expect to get much compliance if “camping” weren’t a thing.  So, in a very practical way, observing the Feast of Sukkot served to preserve these skills among His people and psychologically prepare them.  So, when Lehi and others were later called to flee Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian conquest, the way had already been prepared for them to accomplish the thing which the Lord had commandment them (1 Ne 3:7).  The Lord showed His example of perfect preparedness by commanding Israel to be prepared. 

We take it for granted that camping is still a thing in our western culture.  Many westerners camp for fun.  In third-world countries, camping is daily life.  But, here in the comfortable first-world, camping might just as easily not have been a thing. But, thanks to our Judeo-Christian heritage (I think), Walmarts and numerous sporting goods stores carry an array of camping and outdoor equipment.

However, when it comes to the the coming Tribulation, its gonna take a bit more than a tent and few sleeping bags to make it.  God intends that a good number of His best people to survive (remnant).  A clensing of the Earth will one day occur, and Christ is teaching that a bit of sensible preparation will be enough to “abide the day”.  That faithful remnant will then be empowered to rebuild and eventually inherit a paradisiacal Earth. This is a test. 

Modern prophets have called all true believers to adopt a custom of preparedness and keep a personal supply of food, water, fuel, and other essentials.  Latter-day Apostles and Prophets have clarified that believers should store food and water and not guns and ammunition. God’s elect will instead seek to gather into the Stakes of Zion as a refuge and protection from the coming storm. All those who fail to gather are prophesied to be at war with one another. 

D&C 45:68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
D&C 115:6 And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.

I remember talking about preparedness with a Christian neighbor who was comvinced that a rapture of thecrighteous would occur before any Tribulation so no preparation was necessary.  In her mind, preparation was not trusting in the promises of God.  Sad, that in many so-called mainstream Christian religions, doing nothing equals faith.  But it seems clear in scripture that our triumphant reunion with Jesus Christ will occur after the Tribulation and only the prepared will be empowered though their faith and by their works to stand and abide the day.

D&C 45:57 For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived--verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. (doers of the word are not deceived)

So, what are we do say if Christ doesn’t return in our lifetime?  Was all our preparation in vain? I say, “No way!”  Just like it wasn’t vain for the Jews to continually observe the Feast of Tabernacles which the prophet Zechariah prophesied all nations would be required to observe the Feast of Sukkot in the Last Days (Zech 14:16).  Being prepared gives peace of mind, hope, and assurance through faith that the Day of the Lord, whenever it comes, will be great and not terrible.  

D&C 38:30 but if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.

Adopting a balanced attitute and practice of preparedness preserves preparedness as part of our culture.  Believers are still able to easily purchase bulk grain and other commodities. Christians learn how to grind and use storage wheat as well as how to sew and mend clothing.  Gardening and canning supplies are relatively cheap and available at the big box stores. Finally, adopting an attitude and practice of self-reliance, provident living, and preparedness passes down a legacy of faith to future generations which not only benefit us in our day with an attitude of humility and thanksgiving but also will eventually bless a future posterity.