When the Temple Helps: Beyond My Ignorant Self

Walking into and participating in the Temple for the first time can be for anyone a disorienting experience. I was no exception, although there have been a few rare individuals who went in with prior understanding. Most of the LDS prophets are not among them. During a 1956 Mesa, Arizona Temple expansion dedicatory address, Pres. David O. Mckay said with candor:

Do you remember when you first went through the House of the Lord? I do. And I went out disappointed. Just a young man, out of college, anticipating great things when I went to the Temple. I was disappointed and grieved, and I have met hundreds of young men and young women since who had that experience . . . I saw only the mechanics when I first went through the Temple. I did not see the spiritual. I did not see the symbolism of spirituality. Speaking plainly, I saw men, physical state, which offended me . . . We thought we were big enough and with intelligence sufficient to criticize the mechanics of it and we were blind to the symbolism, the message of the spirit. And then that great ordinance, the endowment. The whole thing is simple in the mechanical part of it, but sublime and eternal in its significance.

Those are some powerful words coming from someone who is considered a towering spiritual figure. He obviously got over it and so did I after my first time. It was not without struggle.

Difficulties with Dissonance

First off I had to get over my own expectations of not only what I was used to going to regular Sunday services, but my own self definition. Like many I went to the Temple in preparation for going on a Mission. My parents accompanied me on the trip. Each detail was absorbed and analyzed in the hopes of forming some kind of spiritual impression. The reality was that my intellectual curiosity overshadowed any religious enlightenment. In other words, all I ended up noticing was the mechanics. At the end of the endowment stood me and my parents in strange clothes having no everyday parallel. Thoughts about the accusation of “cult” ran through my confused brain. Even my Baptism for the dead excursions in recent teenage years didn’t compare. The people and place seemed completely out of the ordinary for both my secular and religious life. Continue reading

The Stone in a Hat and the Miracle of Translation

“You find magic wherever you look. sit back and relax. all you need is a book”
– Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

“Oh, Man will fly all right – ho-ho-ho! – just like a rock.”
– Archimedes the Owl from Disney’s Sword in the Stone

seer-stone-joseph-smith-ensign-liahona-october-2015_1512979_inlWhat can I say? I was, apparently, lied to by whoever I can point a finger at as responsible. Artistic renderings, Sunday School lessons, General Conference talks, and of course Joseph Smith himself concealed the real history. The Urim and Thummim was supposed to be the principle means of The Book of Mormon translation, but it turns out a Seer Stone did most of the work. I mean, it was no secret that a stone in a hat was the means of production. What became lost and confusing is how much that became the tool used by Joseph Smith to translate by the Gift and Power of God.

This introduction is partly facetious, but there is some truth to the words. My own early knowledge was based on what critics consider misinformation, although more like simplifications. The article “Joseph the Seer” is not the first time the topic of The Book of Mormon translation tools have been published. During the first decade of correlated magazines, there was a Friend Magazine article and an in depth Ensign publication that might be superior to the most recent. The history is confusing even with the primary documents. All of them have points of convergence. But, taken all together there is no clear picture of the means or process. The only person who would know for sure, Joseph Smith, was vague to the point of near silence. He was far less concerned with how The Book of Mormon was produced and more focused on the fact it was written. The teachings in the book are to be read, pondered, and studied while translation devices are simply tools to be used and discarded.

To increase the problem is the concern expressed in my previous post about the Age of Reason. Despite stories of ghosts, bigfoot, UFOs, and the persistence of astrology still printed in newspapers, miracles of the religious kind are a bridge too far in Western society. Throw in a physical object where its existence, if not the miracle, cannot be refuted and skepticism becomes scorn. Even believers wince at a small, brown, and smooth stone once used to commune with the Divine. Throw in a funny old hat and there seems nowhere else to go but ridicule. What is that you say? Oh, don’t mind my rabbits foot keychain or lucky horseshoe. No one really believes in those kinds of things anyway. Continue reading

Tired of the Age of Reason

Historians define the years when the Western World started to take seriously critical observations the Enlightenment or Age of Reason. From this time came advances in science and more democratic political systems, such as the United State of America. Despite those positives, it also brought the social upheaval of the French and Industrial Revolutions. The mixed impact continues up to present times including the exaggerated idea that only what can be observed by the senses can be true. For a society that elevates reason above the emotions of belief, it doesn’t take much to get an irrational reaction. Push back against the “received wisdom” and see the sparks fly. If there is any proposals that cannot be duplicated or more likely attested to by special authorities, those who believe are considered imbeciles or even mental cases. No one is more derided than a person of religious faith, although certain groups are hated more than others.

Having to accept the new orthodoxy of science and what is defended as facts can becoming suffocating. There needs to be a healthy amount of critical thinking, but the modern version has transformed into hubris and rigidity. Curiosity is now skepticism and neutral observation turned into arrogant triumphalism over supposed ignorance and superstition. Now that the iconoclastic promises of the Enlightenment have more or less been delivered, all that remains is an intellectual uniformity.

Modern thought is an insufferable bore. Skeptics cannot see beyond their own noses, always coming up with unimaginative explanations for things they don’t understand. If rational reason doesn’t work to their advantage then ad hominem “crazy” or “delusional”is used as a mock those who don’t give in to persuasion. Atheists are the quickest to use these tactics by calling any religious person a mental case. Despite popular opinion, religious people in the West are currently much more open minded than others. They have to be in order to survive. Continue reading

LDS General Authorities and Ageism.

With the sorrowful passing of two Apostles, once again the subject of age of the leadership has been brought up. The calling of one Prophet or Apostle to replace another is accompanied by the term gerontocracy. This is the idea that the leadership is much older than the general population. Yes this is true, but the attitude expressed by those reporting it often has a critical tone. This criticism does at times become a mocking accusation that none of them are fit for the position. There is a thinly veiled stereotype of sickly isolated curmudgeon set in their ways.

Reporters and those outside of Mormonism aren’t the only ones who think negatively of the ages. Many critics inside the LDS Church, and especially those who want to see a more lenient or worldly moral and theological change, feel the General Authorities are too old. They argue that the higher ages stifle innovation and perhaps keep revelation to a minimum. Younger leadership, they often argue, would see things differently and more expansive.

A pastime for both the faithful and those who aren’t as orthodox is to guess how many years a General Authority has to live and then who will take their place, Whole charts have been developed to see who is oldest and youngest among them, and then make educated guesses who will make it to the Presidency of the Church. Death of the leadership has become something of an obsession. Continue reading

To Know Our Father in Heaven

Every year there is an outpouring of celebration for Mothers in the LDS Church, and rightly so because of their importance. The next month comes Father’s day that gets mentioned and quickly fades away. To be honest, current American culture sees fathers as almost unnecessary. When there are fathers represented in pop culture, they are sloven and stupid. Many of them are shown as sports fanatics and bad mechanics. Certainly for Mormons with Heavenly Father as the guide there shouldn’t be such bad stereotypes. With his son Jesus Christ as an exemplar, husbands and fathers have a great responsibility not to become what media thinks they are. They should be loving, honest, and protective of women and children.

Many complain that we don’t know anything about Heavenly Mother, and some make up theories and rituals to elevate her. If honesty is important, those who want to “graduate” the female half of Heavenly Parents must acknowledge there isn’t much known about Father in Heaven either. We know as much as we do about Him because Jesus is His representative. Ultimately it is through Jesus Christ that we get near the Father. Time and again Jesus Christ states states only in getting to know him can one know the father, (John 14:9) ” . . . he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?”

When Joseph Smith had what we call the First Vision of Father and Son, Jesus was introduced and then was charged to be the spokesman:

“It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JSH 1:17).

This is similar to when Jesus was first publicly introduced as prophet and teacher to the masses on the day of his Baptism. When John the Baptist took him back out of the water, there as the witness, “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). We are to look toward Jesus Christ to know Heavenly Father. The Gospel writer of St. John continually emphasised this relationship, essentially making both of them a collective along with the Holy Ghost. There is the culmination statement of John 14:6-7 that, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” Every teaching and action by Jesus Christ is in parallel to what Heavenly Father had said or done in the past. Continue reading