Archive for April 2009
When I started blogging about LDS doctrine and issues a few years back I did not expect to get a lot of comments right away. After all, nobody knew about my blog yet. I was just another blog among millions. So I happily wrote all kinds of essays about things that had been on my mind for several years. Then I started promoting my blog and the number of comments picked up.
I enjoy reading the comments. Most of them are from my fellow LDS bloggers. We read each other’s material and provide feedback. It’s like a peer review system among bloggers. For the most part the comments are complimentary and encouraging. In other words, the writers of the comments either agree with my points of view or express understanding of what I have written.
A believing approach
Of course not everybody agrees with me. I am a very conservative, traditional Latter-day Saint, a typical Southern Californian with an easy-going, laid-back approach to life. I feel like I have always been blessed because of my faith and my participation in church. I tend to model my approach to life according to what I see and hear from church leaders, both local and general.
My faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has served me well. It brings me happiness and satisfaction with the answers it provides to life’s challenges and the mysteries of eternity. For me, the counsel to constantly feed our testimonies has been sound. It works. Perhaps I have been blessed with the gift of not doubting, but I feel secure in my knowledge of the gospel.
Those who do not believe
When a reader disagrees with me, I like to initiate a dialog to determine if they perhaps did not understand my points. Sometimes that proves to be the case. Our differences are then resolved and we go merrily on our way. And then there are those who flat out tell me that I am wrong. They claim that my faith is false and that I am not really happy because I have been deceived.
Some of those who tell me I’m wrong are disaffected Mormons while others are evangelists for their Christian faith. Being a returned missionary I felt confident in my ability to deal with them. Usually after a few exchanges of comments we could come to at least acknowledge each other’s point of view. But how do you respond to someone who adamantly wants to prove you wrong?
And those who attack
I have in my library several books dedicated to dealing with those who fight against the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I have listed them at the end of this essay. Just this week I finished reading a new one that has proven to be tremendously helpful to me. I know it has been out a while so I am not the first to mention it but I learned some things that I would like to share.
In case you didn’t know it, there are people out there who make it their practice to troll the blogs of faithful LDS members and leave disparaging comments. I suspect that they are becoming just a little bit dismayed by all the good we are doing. One of them wrote on his blog, “What’s up with Mormons and blogging? It’s as if their leaders told them to put out a good public image.”
Shaken Faith Syndrome
The book is called Shaken Faith Syndrome and it is published by FAIR. The author, Mike Ash, has been involved in LDS apologetics for many years. It is divided into two parts. The first 108 pages contain a series of essays addressing the whole idea of dealing with criticism and doubt. I especially liked chapter seven: Betrayal and Church “Cover-Up”. I have seen that firsthand here.
On an early essay here at Latter-day Commentary I wrote that I had visited a few LDS discussion boards and was amazed at the number of people writing that they didn’t know about some piece of history. They expressed shock when they discovered it and then outrage when they decided that the church had somehow failed them because they didn’t know about this historical fact.
No church cover-up
The example provided was that Joseph Smith entered into polygamous relationships in his life. It still amazes me the number of people who don’t know or believe this. As I wrote in my earlier essay, I learned this in seminary and thought everybody else growing up in the church did too. It’s not just converts who go through this. Lifelong members have had the same experience.
So is the church to blame because we don’t know about Joseph’s plural wives? I have never felt that there was a cover-up of any kind. If there was, then it was unintentional. Sure, some of the early histories were written to only provide a faith-promoting view. What’s wrong with that? The shock and sense of betrayal are not what I would consider a faithful or believing response.
Unrealistic prophetic expectations
In other words, if we are serious about our gospel scholarship, it is inevitable that we are going to discover some not-so-pleasant things about our history. This fits perfectly with the idea that the Lord reveals things to us line upon line, precept upon precept. For some, learning difficult things about our history becomes a major test in their life. I sympathize and yet see this as immature.
I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I simply mean that it is a normal process of growing up in the gospel to learn new truths and to change our beliefs accordingly. Prophets are not perfect. It is unrealistic to expect them to know everything, especially in those areas which they have not studied. Can a prophet express his opinion and it not be the way things actually are? Of course!
Amateur LDS apologetics
The rest of the book provides great responses to specific anti-Mormon claims. I wish I had this book when I was dealing with my own antagonistic visitor who wanted to contest my essay on the Book of Abraham. There is a real talent to apologetics and I applaud those who can do it well. I suspect that most new LDS bloggers like me could use a course to develop the skill.
Mike’s book is well written, thought-provoking and for me, a little bit eye-opening. No, reason alone cannot answer all life’s questions, but it would be better if LDS bloggers, and all members for that matter, were more prepared with reasonable answers to difficult questions from our readers who do not have the advantage of a secure witness borne of the spirit of gospel truths.
Summary and conclusion
My antagonistic visitor derided me and claimed that I always retreated into an unreasonable bubble of a testimony when I could not answer his challenges to his satisfaction. Not having experienced personal revelation himself, he could not relate to the idea that we can and should obtain knowledge of spiritual things through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost in prayer.
I normally don’t finish my essays with a testimony but in dealing with apostate attacks, there really is no other way. I know from personal revelatory experience that God can and does send his spirit to teach us things that we can learn in no other way. We can stand as witnesses to those things that are true even though we were not eyewitnesses at the time. The effect is the same.
For more information:
1. Shaken Faith Syndrome, Michael R. Ash, 2008, Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research
2. Take Heed That Ye Be Not Deceived, Richard I. Winwood, 1992, self-published but now available electronically on the FAIR website
3. Guess Who Wants to Have You for Lunch? Alan Denison & D.L. Barksdale, 1999, FAIR
4. One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions, Stephen W. Gibson, 1995, Horizon Book Publishers, available online at LightPlanet
5. They Lie in Wait to Deceive, volumes 1-4, Robert L. & Rosemary Brown, 1981-86, Brownsworth Publishing Company, available at FAIR
Carol and I are flying up to Salt Lake on Friday to attend a gospel-related symposium on prophecy and cosmology. In other words, it is a seminar about Armageddon and the last days. It is being held at the Provo Marriott in the Aspen room. Attendance is expected to be several hundred. I am encouraged by the interest in the subject and by the very idea that such an event is being held.
Let me explain why. A few years back in the LDS Church, there were a number of people in Utah who started holding gospel study groups in their homes to discuss doctrines that were not being taught in depth in the regular church meetings. One of those doctrines was Armageddon and the events of the last days. You could say that some participants were just a little obsessed.
Gospel study groups in the home
You may recall that the Manti group formed out of a gospel study group that met in the home. For those who don’t know, that was the forerunner of yet another polygamous split-off called the TLC started by James Harmston. It was a sad period in the history of the church because it was also about this time that several outspoken LDS intellectuals were excommunicated for apostasy.
This was also the time that Bo Gritz was running for president and was promoting his ideas of being prepared for the impending collapse of the current socio-economic order. He taught there was a secret conspiracy and new world order being planned and that we should do all we could to resist it. His encouragement of paramilitary preparation was very popular in Utah and Idaho.
The decline of church firesides
The response of the church to the Manti group, the intellectual apostates, and those who went so far as to quit their jobs and hide in the mountains with large supplies of ammunition and food, was to send out a letter to all priesthood leaders warning them of the dangers of people holding study groups in their homes. President Packer also referred to this in General Conference.
The result was that there was an immediate decrease in firesides held throughout the church. I noticed it and so did a lot of others who enjoyed a group gospel discussion outside of church. It is unfortunate that the stimulating intellectual growth that comes from a group setting discussion was curtailed as the result of a few individuals who went too far and led others to apostasy.
I can understand the response of the Brethren in doing what they did. Their duty is to protect the church and to see that the doctrines taught are pure. The unintended result was the demise in legitimate intellectual dialog. I guess what I’m saying is that gospel doctrine classes don’t meet the needs of some individuals when it comes to wanting to increase their gospel knowledge.
I have missed the firesides that we used to have growing up where we talked about the last days and the signs of the times. I confess that I’m a little bit unorthodox when it comes to wanting to know more about Armageddon. I don’t think I am obsessed but my interest is keen, especially as events that I see as being fulfillment of the signs of the times become more and more abundant.
Exploring ideas together
That’s why I am so excited about this symposium and would invest the time and money to travel from California to Utah to attend this two-day event. Now don’t go thinking that I’m following after one of those individuals that is trying to lead the people of the church astray. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anthony Larson is a respected author and authority on the subject.
I have read all five of his books and all of his essays over the years and can tell you that he is in no way advocating anything other than loyalty to the church and to the Brethren who lead it. He does, however, have some rather unique views on what is prophesied to happen in the very last days as the advent of the Savior draws nigh. It has to do with an unorthodox view of cosmology.
I think such a symposium like this can be held again because of the way that the Internet has filled the vacuum for intellectual gospel discussion. The church has embraced new technology and is encouraging members to speak out through all aspects of the new media in sharing the message of the restored gospel. Those with common interests have found each other online.
It is true that a subject like Armageddon can bring out the whackos among us. I have seen this on several of the online discussion groups, blogs and websites. It is also a subject about which mainly guys are interested. Carol finds it boring and is only attending the Friday evening meeting as a courtesy to me. She is spending Saturday taking pictures on the BYU campus.
What is unique about this symposium is that Anthony Larson is considered a crackpot by some in the LDS academic community. His ideas are unorthodox, unproven and in fact, go against what modern science teaches about cosmology. But that’s what I like about him and his ideas. He has studied this out in detail all his life. Isn’t he entitled to some inspiration on the subject?
So I’m going to give him a fair chance. I’m going to hear his ideas out and consider what he has to say on the subject. I have an advantage in that I have already invested dozens of hours over the years in reading and understanding his published material. But still, I have never met the man nor have I seen what kind of individuals attend his symposia. I may be in for a shock.
Preparing for Armageddon
Academic symposia in the LDS community are not new. Sunstone and similar groups have held such events continuously over the years. I am not a Sunstone kind of person. I find that some of the material they publish is not faith promoting. Independent thinking is encouraging, but not at the expense of loyalty to the prophets and apostles who lead the true church of the Lord today.
I am confident that what I hear from Anthony Larson this Friday and Saturday will in no way cause me to feel any less inclined to follow the Brethren. I do expect to have my understanding of the cosmological events of the last days increased. After all, haven’t the prophets always warned us to watch and be ready that we may be prepared for the days when the Lord returns?
Note: I have also written a report of the symposium
While watching the Mormon Messages Easter video of Elder Holland rise on the charts over the weekend, I couldn’t help but notice another rising star – Susan Boyle. If you haven’t watched her video yet then you haven’t been paying attention. In less than five days, adding up all the versions out there, it has achieved over 16 million views. That’s got to be some sort of a record.
Update: According to Viral Video Chart, it has now exceeded 91 million views and will shortly surpass 100 million, approaching the record of the most watched video on the Interwebs.
And no wonder! I confess that I have watched her stunning performance at least a dozen times and am floored every time I do. Susan is from a small town in Scotland and has never been married. In fact, she’s never been kissed. She lives in the same home in which she grew up with eight brothers and sisters. Her father passed away ten years ago and her mother in 2007.
Her choice of song is one of my favorites, I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. My favorite performance before this last weekend was from the 10th anniversary concert. That’s one of my favorite DVDs. The song fits Susan because of the message. She has a wonderful attitude in spite of the life she has been given. She developed her talent singing in church. You go, Susan!
What Seth calls “a simple video” that he made for Easter, I call amazing. Is it a simple thing to put a beautiful piece of music to a collection of wonderful paintings of the Savior into a video? Maybe some of you can do it with little effort, but for me, it demonstrates real talent. Thank you Seth, for helping me to continue to feel the spirit of Easter on this Monday morning. <Video embed removed>
“At this Easter season of hope and renewal we testify of the glorious reality of the atonement and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The empty tomb brought comforting assurance and provided the answer to the question of Job, ‘If a man die, shall he live again?’ (Job 14:14).
“Because of the Savior’s resurrection we will overcome death and become the beneficiaries of His mercy and grace. In a world of trouble and uncertainty, His peace fills our hearts and eases our minds. Jesus is in very deed ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6).
“We give our sure witness that Jesus is the Christ. Though He was crucified, He rose triumphant from the tomb to our everlasting blessing and benefit. To each member of the human family He stands as our Advocate, our Savior, and our Friend.”
Jesus Christ is central to Mormon beliefs and doctrine. Sermons given at the Church’s recent worldwide general conference included doctrinal discourses on Jesus Christ. A video summary of a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, focuses the attention of “those who are alone or feel alone or, worse yet, feel abandoned” to the life of Jesus Christ, and can be viewed here:
As I watched Elder Holland deliver this General Conference address last Sunday, I was profoundly touched by his eloquent and moving description of what the Savior passed through for us. I was very impressed by how clearly he taught that he went through the atonement alone. Even the presence of the Father left him in the end.
For those who suffer with loneliness or who feel abandoned, we can never say that the Savior does not understand. He trod the wine press of the wrath of God alone, with none to assist him. He is indeed our advocate with the Father, having paid the price of suffering for our sins. He is our friend and will not leave us alone.
And just because I think that the church is doing a great job with these Mormon Messages, I include the latest one here <video embed removed> with a few comments. I’ll bet hundreds, if not thousands of other Latter-day Saints are adding these videos to their blogs as well.
Wouldn’t it be great if more people viewed the words of living prophets and apostles like Elder Andersen? This was not from the most recent conference but it sure struck a chord with me when I heard it. I love the idea of being able to exercise simple faith.
There’s no way we can know everything about the purpose of life, the doctrines of the gospel, the history of the church, the scriptures and all the other stuff we have to cram into our little heads to make a living and to have a happy family. But, we can know enough!
We can know enough to be happy. We can know enough to realize that we can leave the big things up to God while we focus on the things that he asks us to do for right now. This video illustrates the idea of having that security, even as a little child.
As a follow-up to my previous essay about how difficult it is for some people to understand or accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ because they intellectualize it way too much, I offer the following video clip of Elder Gerald Causse. It expresess beautifully how easy it really is to understand the gospel that even a child can understand it.
It reminds me of how much I loved teaching Primary a few years back because of the joy, innocence and simple faith of the 11-year old children I taught. They knew the restored gospel was true because of both the feelings they had and the whisperings of the spirit that accompanied our discussions of the gospel in their language.
I know that some of my readers are lawyers, some are philosophers and some are very active apologists of our faith. I know this because I read your blogs and am much impressed by your sound reasoning and logical approach to questions of religion, both doctrinal and practical.
I am not trained in rhetoric, argument or apologetics. I am just your basic, average member of the LDS church who loves his religion and finds great joy in attempting to understand and to practice it better each day of my life. I love the doctrines of salvation and of the restoration.
A common understanding
My blog attracts all kinds of readers: stalwart LDS members of pioneer heritage, enthusiastic recent converts, those who are trying to become more active in the faith, those who are leaving the church and even former members who are very much opposed to the work of the church.
My dialogs with those who are members of the LDS faith or those who are former members all seem to have one thing I can rely on: we are familiar with the idea of the personal testimony and what it means to Mormons as the fundamental basis for our firm commitment to our religion.
A foreign concept to some
But when it comes to dialogs with those who are not of our faith, never have been, and who state that they have no intention of ever becoming LDS, I find myself constantly having to explain how our testimonies color our world and why they are so powerful in driving our daily lives.
I’m beginning to suspect that the ideas of having a testimony, of holding it, feeding it, losing it and regaining it are foreign concepts to my visitors who are not LDS. I wish I could come up with an analogous experience that they would understand so I could compare apples to apples.
Even Ex-Mo’s understand
I mean, even the Ex-Mormons who now mock us and our testimonies know that it is a very basic part of our faith. They know that the whole purpose of Primary, Sunday school, Seminary and just about every meeting we attend is really to strengthen our testimonies of the restored gospel.
They may say they never had one or that they were the victims of mass hypnosis or that they are so over their participation in the church because they got a “real” education when they grew up. But do members of other churches not have a similar experience growing up in their religion?
Too much logic and reason
I’m thinking that everyone has to deal with how they feel about their faith at some time in their life. It can’t all be an intellectual exercise where you learn the doctrines and history, analyze it objectively for reason and then reject every semblance of emotion that may have been involved.
Is discussing religion and understanding theology only about being objective, reasonable and purely logical? How cold and sterile that seems to me. Perhaps avoiding dialog about the subjective feeling experience that makes religion come alive is limited to the male gender.
Feelings, passion and revelation
My most poignant and revelatory prayers are those that occur when my heart is broken and I am experiencing great distress over some trial or disappointment. It is when I am clearly feeling emotional about something that I seem to reach the deepest in my communications with God.
Likewise, some of the most powerful revelations I have received have come in those moments of passionate pleading when I am explaining to the Lord my need to understand a certain part of the gospel and how it applies to my life’s circumstances at that time. Such answers are powerful.
Revelation separate from emotion
However, on every occasion where I knew I was receiving revelation, when I knew my prayer was being answered while yet on my knees, the feelings of distress and discomfort disappeared. What flowed into my soul in those moments was accompanied with peace and deep satisfaction.
Because so much of my testimony has been gained in this manner upon my knees in conjunction with much pleading and asking, I have strong emotional memories attached to the revelation that has come as a result of my prayer. But I do not confuse the emotion with the answers received.
Revelation without distress
Thus, my faith, my testimony and my understanding of God’s love for me are increased with each revelatory experience. They are not as rare as they used to be. If I pay the price in intense and passionate effort, the revelation comes, and I know things that I did not know previously.
My prayers are not always answered while I am still on my knees. And not all my prayers are full of passionate, emotional pleadings. Faith does not need to be expressed in distressed, gut-wrenching importuning. A simple, quiet, yet powerful prayer will also lead to timely answers.
I know what I know
I long ago resolved any doubts about the church, the doctrine or the history. My prayers these days are more about understanding how I can be more effective in sharing the gospel with others. So I feel extremely comfortable in my knowledge and testimony of the basic tenets of my faith.
When discussing my religion with others not of my faith, I easily express that I know certain things when they come up in our dialog. It can be a shock when the other person responds with, “You don’t know what you think you know.” Excuse me? How do you know what I know?
Attempts to disprove
I suspect that such statements don’t come from those who are sincere in wanting to understand my point of view on things. For those who view religion as only logical and always reasonable, my assertion that I know something in my soul has often been challenged with a “prove it!”
When attempting to explain that this knowledge is a part of my testimony and that the knowledge was obtained through revelation, the charge is made that I have not really received knowledge and that my experience is totally subjective and therefore must be discredited and ignored.
Summary and conclusion
If you want an example of what I am trying to explain, go read the dialog in the comments of my essay on The Only True and Living Church. Especially note the comment about “retreating into the subjective bubble of your testimony.” How do you explain a testimony in a logical manner?
A testimony is not emotion, but it is accompanied by strong feelings. It is the result of study and effort to understand, and then confirming that knowledge in prayer. It is revelation and it is real. I wish I understood better how to explain it to those who have never experienced it themselves.