Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Message 2018

It is Christmas 2018; the time when we commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But why should a figure born 2000 years ago not only be remembered, but also revered?  Why is Christianity, with its 2.3 billion members, the world's number one religion?  Why is the message of Jesus more influential than the philosophies of Solon, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, and Muhammad?   More than any other teacher or philosopher in the history of the world, Jesus of Nazareth presented a message of love and hope that was not just revolutionary, but transformative and exalting.  Jesus Christ elevated the entire human family based on a message of humility, faith, and love.  For this and other reasons, Christians not only revere Jesus as a great philosopher, or prophet, but He is the promised Messiah, and the only begotten Son of the Living God.

For 4000 years up to that point, most humans had lived a fear-based existence. Men and women conquered and prospered according to their strength and genius, and triumphed according to the strength of their own will.  This fear- and power-based philosophy has plagued Earth's 6000-year, war-ridden history. But Jesus Christ, came from the presence of Our Heavenly Father to reveal to man that true enduring safety, prosperity, meaning, and happiness are not obtained by exerting our own will on the university, but by submitting our will to the will of Our Heavenly Father.   (not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matt 26:39)

What revolutionary things did Jesus Christ teach?  Here is an abridged list:
1. Christ taught that if we changed how we think, humans could become a new elevated species. Christ taught that humans can transform themselves by how they think and that we could become like Him and share in His divine nature.

Proverbs 23:7 (Matt 5:28) For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.
John 3:3 no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
2 Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man be in  Christ, he is a new creature.
Matt 19:26  with God all things are possible.

2.  Christ's Beatitudes teach that virtue, and power does not depend on the strength of your arm, genius, or but the strength of your character, self-restraint, and the mastery of your passions.   Animals are slaves to their fears, instincts and appetites.  What makes human's higher than the animals is that we can be motivated instead by faith, hope, and love (charity).  Christ taught that a true son of God is humble, teachable, merciful, peacemakers, and patiently endure persecution.

3. Jesus Christ taught the value of all human life.  Christ taught what is known as the "Golden Rule" to love one another and to serve and forgive even the least of our brothers and sisters because we are all part of the same heavenly family.  
John 13:34 Love one another. As I have loved you.
Matt 25:40 Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Luke 6:31 do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Matt 18:21 how of shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?... seventy times seven.
1 John 3:3 now are we the sons of God.... when he shall appear, we shall be like him.

4. Jesus warned us to not be entitled, narcissistic, and self-absorbed in our own suffering or self-importance.  Christian disciples were encouraged to forgive, endure persecution, agree with our adversaries quickly, and to carry our cross.  

Matt 10:39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Mark 8:34 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

5. Jesus Christ exemplified a life of empathy which culminated in the Atonement and death on the cross.   Christ didn't just talk about doing good, The Creator of Heaven and Earth, condescended to take upon flesh, and be born in the humblest of circumstances. He walked the perfect walk culminating in taking upon himself the sins of all mankind.

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.
Alma 7:13 the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people... that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according o their infirmities.

6. Finally, Christ overcame death and hell resurrecting from the dead and assending into heaven to stand at the right side of The Father.  Not only that, Jesus Christ called forth many of the dead from the grave who were restored to life.  Also, many prisoners in spirit prison had the gospel preached to them.  Thus, Christ gave us hope after death, such that we no longer need to constantly live in fear of our impending death.  Instead, through Christ, we can endure hardship and live with faith, and hope of a better world here and in the world to come. 

Matt 28:6 He is not here: for he is risen, just as he said.
1 Cor. 15:55 O death, where is they sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
Matt 16:18 the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
1 Peter 3:19 (Isa 61:1-2) By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.
John 14:3 I go and prepare a place for you;... that where I am, there ye may be also.
2 Cor 4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight for glory.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Guilt v. Shame: Letter to Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons

2 Nephi 1:26 And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not restrain, manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities.

Laman and Lemuel would fit right into today’s generation who consider  judgements about incorrect and immoral behavior as “micro-aggressions”.  These two brothers definitely took the truth to be hard. While all people are children of God and we are to love everyone; we aren’t expected to love everything people may do.  And we are expected to speak up for truth, even when the truth has become unpopular.

The other day, my daughter was telling me about the story of Dan Reynolds, the lead singer for Imagine Dragons, (I already had heard some of the story).  So, Bro. Reynolds was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ. He was an Eagle Scout, served an honorable mission, was endowed in the LDS temple, and attended BYU.  Tragically, Bro. Reynolds was expelled from BYU for an unfortunate honor code violation.  More seriously, Bro. Reynolds indecretions violated his religious covenants and everything he once stood for.

BYU is a private religious school and all attendees, even athletes, sign an honor code that commits the student to maintain certain standards. Bro. Reynolds violated the honor code and was suspended.  Unfortunately, there have been several high-profile student athletes that missed bowl games and NCAA tournament games due to similar honor code violations. 

Mr. Reynolds is no longer active in the Church of Jesus Christ, but has gone on to have an award-winning rock music carreer. Reynolds has also become an advocate for the LGBT community and has recorded a documentary, hit single, and started the LoveLoud music festival which raises awareness for LGBT issues.  Reynolds said that he empathized with the LGBT community in Utah because he was similarly shamed because of his sexuality. Reynold’s song “Believer” talks about his “pain ... made [him] a believer”. 

1. I don’t support shaming.  I don’t know how Reynold’s disciplinary process was handled, but “shaming” should never be the means nor the ends.   The goal of Church discipline should be increased understanding and repentance.   But in the process of change, a repentant person may naturally experience feelings of guilt, sorrow,  remorse, humility and embarrassment.  

These unpleasant feelings are necessary, productive and help lead a person to improve themselves.  Guilt focuses on behavior and says ‘I did something bad’.  Shame, on the other hand, focuses on self and says, ‘ I am bad’. Shame is absolutely undesirable and destructive and impedes change.  The Church of Jesus Christ always emphasizes that all people are  children of God, of infinite worth, and never beyond improvement and salvation. 
2. I think we forget why sex outside marriage is harmful. Morality is really very simple.  Many people try their best to complicate it.  However, at its essence, morality = “do no harm”. That’s it. As a boy scout, former missionary, holder of the Melchizedek priesthood, and temple-endowed member of the Church of Jesus Christ, Mr. Reynold’s was expected to be an ambassador for these most basic family values. 

The scriptural and moral basis for reserving sex for marriage is that, even with birth control, sex still leads to pregnancy.  The medical and scientific reality is that all forms of birth control have well-documented failure rates of 2.5% - 18% over 24-months. If you are secually active, you will eventally get pregant.  Notwithstanding, children have a right to be raised by a mother and father.  And women, have the right to not be exploited for sex and then abandoned by their partner to raise a resultant child alone.   Also, marriage is intended to elicit and foster a life-long commitment, devotion and unity between the couple. Human nature has proven itself again and again that if men (generally speaking) can use a woman for sex without commitment, they will. These reasons are why marriage is a thing. 

Consenting, LGBT’s should have all the legal rights, penalties and privileges to live together if they so choose. However, when it comes to children, the law must protect the rights of children to receive a full genetic inheritance from both a male and female, and to be raised by a mother and father. As I will explain below, LGBT’s who live together cannot expect full religious rights as their relationship constitutes a degree of self-harm. In the same way, growing cannabis in your back yard, possessing, and using it recreationally should be legal but not moral, but selling or distributing it is both illegal and immoral. 

The brain rewards us with a dopamine surge for productive behavior.  Whenever we set a worthwhile  goal, and achieve it, we feel good.  Sex within marriage is meant to both produce offspring and emotionally unify the couple.  Sex outside of marriage, like illicit drugs, exploits these reward centers to achieve a reward that was not earned.  Prodictivity decreases when we can just sit on the couch and trigger a chemical high. 

Mr. Renolds as a missionary of Jesus Christ was advocating the cause of the fatherless and the widow by encourging people to observe the Christian law of chastity and sobriety. He preached this message full-time for 2 years. Illicit recreational drugs and promiscuity destroy people’s lives and families and results in greater poverty.   Fighting poverty is the business of religion (James 1:27), and not government because only religion can provide accountability and rehabilitation.  Government can redistribute wealth, but it does not improve people’s behavior. In fact, government welfare actually harms people by enabling them. Government entitlements and bailouts rob people of the motivation to improve themselves and their situation.

Religion in America has really fallen down. Like Rome, America suffers greater poverty due to increased recreational drug use (idle poor) and promescuity (illegitimate poor).  Religion is not doing enough to uphold morality, as well as provide for and rehabilitate the poor.  Consequently, the government, in the name of social justice, has opportunistically stepped in and usurped the sacred duty of religion.  However, government welfare doesn’t improve people, is very inefficient and is bankrupting the nation.   Rome lost its democracy to the Ceasars who came to power promising greater social justice by promising the poor with “free bread and circus”.  This contribution to poverty and threat to freedom is why scripture emphasizes chastity and sobriety over other forms of self-harm.

3.  (Now we get to the real point of this post.)  The business of “pure religion” is both wefare and virtue. Like I said above,  I am no fan of shame, but Bro. Reynolds seems to have a case against the Church of Jesus Christ for having rules regarding the appropriate and safe expression of sexuality.   Unfortunately, the reality is that unrestrained sexuality can and does cause harm.  There must be rules. When a person harms another without their consent, that is the jurisdiction of the government.  When a person is harming themselves (self abuse), that is the jurisdiction of the Church. 

So, as a necessary institution in the fabric of society, how does the Church establish, encourage, and defend virtue and morality? The Church of Jesus Christ employs a spectrum of positive and negative reinforcements.  In addition to teaching correct principles, The Church maintains a community of believers, provides ministering rehabilitation, receives confession, and can disfellowship (withdraw sacraments) or ultimately excommunicate.  

When it comes down to it, if positive reinforcement has failed, the essence of religious discipline involves increasing levels of embarrassment (not shame).   At the basic level, the Church community seeks to help each member conform to the moral standard.  In the early 1800’s chewing tobacco was common place.  Now its rare.  Why the change in behavior?  It’s because chewing tobacco ceased to be socially acceptable. Now those who do chew face a bit of social stigma. Spittoons were common and even expected pieces of household furniture.  Now spittoons have nearly gone extinct. 

In addition to the Church using positive social pressure to positively influence moral behavior, the Church also uses confession. The Bishop is set appart as the only person to hear about your list of dirty laundry. Bishops are to keep this informatiom strictly confidential.  But admittedly, like undergoing rehab, divulging your sins to another person is embarrasing but also cathartic.  But the sting of guilt serves a very useful purpose. The embarrasement can change your brain. 

I work in a local Emergency Department. Many people around me swear all the time. Youtube is also filled with swears. The consequence is that I was occasionally cursing under my breath when extremely frustrated. One of my work colleages knows I dont like cursing.  She heard me curse under my breath and called me on it.  I was embarrased, but I thanked her because the feeling of embarrasement helped change my brain making it easier to not curse.  I wasn’t offended at her “shaming” me because I wanted to do better. 

My simple cursing example doesn’t compare in scale to Bro. Dan Reynolds.  However, in scope, I feel I didn’t become resentful at my embarrasement because I was penitent and  desired to change.  Or at least, I wanted to want to change.  In Bro. Reynold’s case, it appears he didn’t, became resentful, and has turned critic. 

Dan has since struggled with depression, and inflammatory disease.  Unfortunately, fame and fortune cannot ultimately supply health and peace of conscience.  Depression is caused by a complex combination of genetic, internal and environmental factors. But I can assure you this, it’s not the Church’s rules and their enforcement that is to blame.

Genetics: MTHFR gene activity
Internal: Repression of or discontinuity with truth. 
Environmental: Stress, sunlight
Physiologic: Dopamine, Serotonin, Low Vitamin D, Testosterone, Thyroid, or Sulfate (SAMe). 

There is a place for discipline in society.  A work colleague of mine was telling me about his neglectful upbringing.  I ask him “how did you turn out so good?”  His response was, “the military”.  He said he needed the discipline because “I couldn’t even wake up and brush my teeth.”  When we cannot “nice” people into doing the right thing, then we need to have ways to discipline them into it. Of course this is all by the individual’s consent. There is no place for coercion in religion. 

In our day of permissive “helicopter parents” who are raising “snowflake” children, our society is getting soft.  Just yesterday, there was outrage over a father who made his daughter walk to school after she got suspended from the bus for bullying.  She walked 5 miles in the cold with a hat, coat,  and was followed the entire way by her loving and dutiful father in his car. We must not lose sight that there is an important place for discipline in our families and in our churches, and society.  

Heb 12:7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?