Myth of God’s Changing Mind

Whenever a controversial position is held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, detractors point to what they see as changes made in its history as evidence pressure tactics can work. They believe if there is enough “agitation” from without, with help from within, that doctrines become malleable. All it takes is for the prophet to “get a revelation and God’s mind will change on a dime.” Get the government involved, such as threatening tax exemption, and its a sure thing. Views like this are understandable for non-Mormons who have tentative grasp of Mormon history and doctrine. Members who believe this have no excuse other than blind devotion to personal presumptions. They set themselves up as wiser than the Prophets and Apostles chosen by God to be His representatives. Looking closer at the end of polygamy and Priesthood ban used as examples to prove LDS doctrine can easily be changed, it becomes less obvious there really was much of a difference.

Revelation is the foundation of the Gospel. This is not in dispute. A belief in prophets opens up the possibility of new understanding and the changes that can come with greater knowledge. To study the Doctrine and Covenants is to learn of doctrinal and procedural growth and expansion. Priesthood did not come out of whole cloth, but line upon line as the membership increased requiring new needs. Even up to the late 20th Century Priesthood organization was transformed as one set of positions were discontinued and another developed. Theological changes are not outside the realm of possibility, with questions about the afterlife following a pattern of questioning and then learning more. Damnation to an eternal lake of fire is transformed into a period of punishment and refinement before the final judgement. Heaven has multi-layered meaning with the traditional dichotomies of the soul’s fate a temporary condition. Too many mistake learning more as a sort of repudiation of former beliefs. The two most abused examples don’t prove this notion. Continue reading

Religious Halloween Stories from Scripture

01259_All_Saints_Day_Sanok,_2011Everyone knows that Halloween is a time of spooks, monsters, and witches. What has been lost in the costumed time of begging for candy is the religious foundation of the festival. Some Christians, including Latter-day Saints, have a hard time with this season as they consider it a celebration of evil. There is truth to that, but only because of cultural transformation. It actually has a Christian devotional relationship.

From a William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson article about the holliday roots:

The word “Halloween,” or “Hallowe’en,” dates to about 1745. It’s a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve,” and it denotes the evening before the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day (i.e., “All Saints’ Day”) — a time, in the Catholic calendar, for remembering the dead, particularly saints, martyrs, and departed Christian believers. (It’s akin to the Jewish “Yizkor” prayer and the Hindu period of “Pitru Paksha.”) . . .

All Saints’ Day became a Christian holiday in A.D. 609, but it was originally celebrated on May 13. By the end of the 12th century, all of Europe observed it. Churches rang their bells, and criers dressed in black paraded in the streets, summoning others to pray for the deliverance of the souls in Purgatory. (Act 2, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” recalls the sound of “a beggar at Hallowmas.”) Skulls and skeletons were commonly depicted as reminders of death and the transience of human life. “Soul cakes” were baked and distributed in memory of all christened but departed souls, which suggests one possible origin for the treats given out at Halloween.

In 835, though, Pope Gregory IV changed the date of All Saints or All Hallows to Nov. 1. Some readers will be familiar, in this connection, with the common Hispanic observance of the “Dia de Muertos” or “Day of the Dead.” . . .

Curiously, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his famous “95 Theses” to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg — and, thus, to have launched the Protestant Reformation — on Oct. 31 because he knew that the church would be packed with worshippers on All Hallows’ (or All Saints’) Day the following morning. Hence, Oct. 31 is also celebrated as “Reformation Day.”

In honor of the religious aspects of Halloween, I present Scripture stories that would fit in with the season. They can frighten and enlighten. Perhaps these can be a step in inviting back the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Another option is spending time contemplating the struggles and triumphs of family history before dressing up and celebrating. Continue reading

Mourning With Those Who Mourn, Not Murmur

murmuring-2Every six months a General Conference comes and goes, and along with it the usual gripes from those who are not satisfied. That isn’t only non-Mormons who don’t believe in Prophets and Apostles, but some members of the Church. They will claim that the right words weren’t said, too much was asked of them, or the leadership just doesn’t understand. Whenever it is pointed out that the Lord is in charge and not them or their desires, they make accusations of heartlessness or lack of caring. Invariably they will insist that doing what they ask is a way to, “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” (Mosiah 18:9) whether the requests are deserving or not. It becomes a spiritual extortion by pointing fingers at those who don’t agree with their concerns. Too often they confuse the emotional turmoil of mourning with the selfish sin of murmuring.

As was said on another mourning related discussion, “Mourning with those who mourn is an important Gospel principle, but like any Gospel principle, it can be distorted and used to serve incorrect (should I say “problematic” instead?) ends.” The mixing up of mourning for murmuring is more than a social misplacement of scriptural injunctions. In the past the Lord has become displeased enough that he condemned the whole of Israel for what amounts to ungrateful insolence. Continue reading

10 Great Mormon Blogs Not Getting Noticed

When a Latter-day Saint who has a testimony goes on the Internet it is hard to navigate the good, the not as good, the bad, and the plain evil. Another is the abundance of choices for reading. Aggregators, that gather a collection of blogs, are helpful. Yet, they can’t contain all the blogs that exist. Sometimes a few fly under the radar. Even those contained in lists can be overlooked.

Almost all of the following blogs cannot as of this writing be found on any of the big aggregators such as Mormon Archipelago or Nothing Wavering, unless noted. The meaning of “not getting noticed” is the larger Mormon blogosphere seems to not be talking about or commenting on the blogs, although they can have their own following. My listing of them is because of my opinion they have some great content that M* readers would enjoy. All of them are active as of this month, although they could go inactivate at any time. For the moment they seem stable and deserve to have support.

This Week at Church
One of the more unique blogs out there because he chronicles what he learns during worship service. It doesn’t go very deep into gospel topics, but the notes are still of good quality for pondering.

Little LDS Ideas
A very creative blog for helping out Church lessons. The about page states, “My blog is a place where I go to share all of my little ideas. They’re nothing special, but I love sharing them and I hope you enjoy them.”

A Study of the Book of Mormon
This blog has been around since 1999, and yet very few comments. The insights are worthy of giving it a good read. He says, “I bring to my study this time the experience of a father of five children, a degree in film studies, several years of freelance new media work, and the experience of being a faithfully committed marriage partner.”

The Journal of a Black Mormon Girl
Deeply personal, yet a wonderful read for its poignancy and Faith. She says, ” I want the world to know that I am not ashamed of that which guides me to be a better person and that which leads me to Christ.”

LDS Doctrine
The name may not be different from others that can be found online, but it has great discussions. How this one has been missed from others has to be a matter of wanting to be low key.

We Talk of christ, We Rejoice in Christ
Her profile says, “My purpose in writing is that every time you visit my blog you will read something that strengthens your family, builds your faith, and brings you closer to Christ!” It appears to have more than one contributor, but the writing from them is worthwhile.

Women in the Scriptures
Apparently this is a blog for a published author who writes about women found in the Scriptures. She does have a following of her own, but I never heard of her or the blog until recently. Well worth the visit.

Benjamin the Scribe
*listed on Mormon Archipelago.
Learning the gospel doctrine lessons has never been so in-depth and enlightning. A few commentators are familiar to the bloggernacle, but still not high traffic.

Enigmatic Mirror
Not as prolific or noticed as Dan Peterson’s Sic et Non, but William Hamblin is just as much a legend in Mormon apologetics.

GraceforGrace
*listed on Mormon Archipelago.
One of my favorite blogs out there that has few participants. The only one I have ever seen respectful non-Mormons reply and adding to my appreciation of the blog. He has opinions without sounding opinionated, and clearly his faith is strong.

From “Jesus The Christ” and Beyond

2 - Jesus_the_ChristMany years ago before my mission, as a teenager contemplating going, I read “The Missionary Reference Library” collection of books. Although they increased my understanding and spiritual maturity, only one among them had a concrete lasting impact as a text. That would be Jesus the Christ, a magnum opus of James E. Talmage that was published a century ago this year. I latched on to what he was doing along with what he was saying. His work forever changed the way I studied Jesus Christ and his life and teachings.

The book was more than a theological treatise, with the inclusion of historical research to help understand time and place. Most of the book uses LDS Scripture and prophetic teachings to help interpret the New Testament record. Along with them is added information about 1st Century history and culture. This helps bring Jesus into context instead of allowing for a completely decontextualized amorphous figure. A few non-Mormon sources were used, including Life and Words of Christ by John Cunningham Geikie, Life of Christ by Frederic Farrar, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim, and William Smith’s A Dictionary of the Bible with other lesser Bible commentaries. Ancient works of Josephus and the Talmud were quoted or consulted in lengthy notes at the end of chapters.

Major problems complicated Talmage’s theological and historical study. Much of the modern sources used were already outdated even during his life time. Currently none of them are consulted outside of religious devotional material. Those that he did use were of a particular viewpoint that didn’t engage in other studies (even ones that wouldn’t be harmful to his own thesis). By the time Jesus The Christ was written, what is known as the first quest for the historical Jesus had already ended as did the “quest” idea. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s that historical studies of Jesus would once again be of academic interest. Still, no other major LDS work on Jesus before or after Talmage followed his example until very recently. Even the multi-volume Bruce R. McConkie tome was a wordy re-hash more than imitation. Continue reading