“Liberal” and “Orthodox” Views on the Faith of Abraham

AbrahamA while back I did a post called The Faith of Abraham where I discussed the considerable challenges surrounding the story of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice Isaac. I have been in conversation recently with a blogger from Wheat and Tares about this story because it really bothers him — to the point where he has come up with ways to discount it as truly having come from God. As the discussion went on we agreed to ‘take it public’ because its such an interesting topic for discussion. His response to my post is found here. He then posted it on W&T today.

One thing I’ve long believed is that this story largely defines the difference between what it generally means to be “conservative” vs. “liberal” when it comes to religion. Maybe I’m over emphasizing this, but this tends to be a pretty good litmus test. Further, this particular story and the discussion that follows is a fairly straightforward example of why I self-identify as a “conservative” despite being quite literally 25% atheist and only 75% believer. Those that know me know that I believe that liberal theology is a rational non-starter. It doesn’t even make it out the rational gate for me and this is a great example of why.

Summary of Liberal Friend’s Argument

First, let me summarize his argument, though I hope you’ll all go read his full post yourselves. Continue reading

Doctrines of the Temple

This is a third in a series about learning how to get the most out of the Temple.

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When entering the Temple for the first time or returning, it might help to be aware of some important doctrines for better understanding. There is no “different Gospel” to be found inside that hasn’t been discussed and taught in church on Sunday. Those that say the Temple teaches new doctrine kept “secret” until entering either are ignorant on the topics or more likely exaggerating for the sake of emotional manipulation. Similar to any good literature, the content is deep with allusions, metaphors, and patching together of sometimes desperate truths for greater insight.

Because the format of doctrinal presentation is far more ritualized than typical public church activity, it might at first be hard to recognize the familiar. Even the most knowledgeable Mormon might be a little overwhelmed. Those who haven’t spent much time in personal religious study could likely feel like they are drowning. The reason is the “Plan of Salvation” taught over so many years time gets condensed into a tight presentation. The small drip becomes a flood. Try to drink in too much at one time and the mind and spirit could go into system overload. As was said before, don’t expect to understand the whole or that such will ever fully happen in this life.

Regardless of the difficulties in soaking up all that is offered, there are key doctrines that can help pave the way for inspiration and enlightenment. By no means is the following a comprehensive guide for study. In fact, there really isn’t any way to compile such a list as many things learned in the Temple are personal interpretations; like any Scripture study.

Instead of writing out long commentaries as if an expert in each area, the sections will have quotes from LDS Church leaders and Scripture. There are no better words than from the servants of the Lord. This is a quoted selection of essential readings. It is a starting point for those preparing to attend and more reflection for those having already gone. Continue reading

An Insider’s Outside View of Mormon History

In the spirit of describing personal religious turning points, I am presenting this observational essay. At the same time it touches on a few posts with themes about intellectuals and faith.

The Discovery Years

While reading about the LDS history articles in the Ensign, I was reminded of my own studies. When I was young, interest in the subject started because my own personal faith had grown. My house was filled with history books both secular and religious. As a reader, I would try and find anything I could on whatever subject interested me the most.

My first full biography on Joseph Smith was by John Henry Evans, a rather unsophisticated treatment. What intrigued me about the book was less how definitive it was and more how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. Noticing more to the man and the Prophet than the author presented didn’t bother me — it fascinated me. Perhaps it had to do with my understanding of history as storytelling rather than a collection of facts that had to be accounted for to make things true.

My second encounter with Mormon history was brief, and I had already gotten a beginner’s start by reading a few chapters in Joseph Smith’s 6 Volume history. At this point my focus of LDS Church history set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I decided to find another one; and like so many other people picked up Fawn Brodie’s treatment. I read a few chapters at the start and a couple in the middle before reading the rest. Unlike so many people who apparently read her book and become disenchanted, I was unimpressed. As a teenager I could tell where history stopped and her own unfounded biases filled in the gaps. Where Evan’s book was sketchy, this one had been overproduced. Other than a few original for the time newspaper reports, “No Man Knows My History” mostly used the Joseph Smith HIstory volumes and Journal of Discourses. Much of what she writes was discussed in B.H. Roberts History of the LDS Church with a difference of opinion. Reading Hugh Nibley’s criticism about the book was not a discovery, but a realization I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems.

Before graduating High School and leaving my home for college, I read all the historical Ensign articles I could. They contained the most detail on specific topics I had access to at the time. The articles were impressive for someone who didn’t have other treatments to rely on for more information. I lament that such writings in the magazine stopped during the 90s, although one or two good articles came out later. Still, it got me reading more than the outdated books written by a small group of believers. Continue reading

The Mormon Intellectuals’ Trojan Horses

[The Millennial Star is pleased to welcome Jeff G. as a guest blogger with a fantastic post that should be shared and read widely.]

“When the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions…

“Those professors were all corrupt… “they draw near to [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him], they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts [source]

Personal Intro

As many of you in the bloggernacle might remember, about 8 years ago I left the church for intellectual reasons. While the exact arguments for my departure are not terribly important to this particular essay what is important is that I had gradually built up and reinforced several intellectual principles and values to a point where intellectual arguments could undermine my faith. I felt, at the time, that I was doing the right thing in following the arguments where they clearly (or so they seemed to me) led, all the while being upfront, honest and clear about my reasons for leaving. I have since realized, however, that my decision was a mistake which I will unfortunately never be able to take back. Furthermore, I can now see with the relative clarity of hindsight many of the ways in which I subconsciously allowed intellectual values to infect, transform and eventually undermine my faith. My deconversion was similar to a chess match wherein earlier, seemingly innocuous moves are later seen to be crucial stage-setting for a masterful killing stroke. In this essay I wish to expose some of these seemingly innocuous, stage-setting moves – these intellectual Trojan Horses, as I will call them – for what they are. Continue reading

Seeing with an Eye of Faith: Visualize Your Desired Future

A remarkable phrase shows up a number of times in the Book of Mormon. It involves “looking forward” with an “eye of faith” to a desired result in the future. The idea is that if there is something that you sincerely desire, you should use your inner “eye,” or your imagination, and picture yourself as already being there or having what you want.  Through your faith that it is possible, you can begin to see yourself as having already reached your goal.

In the book of Alma 5:15–16, Alma preaches to the people about the goal of being received into heaven when their life on Earth is over.  In order to direct them toward that goal, he asks them if they can imagine how things will be at that future time when they finally get there. As they “look forward with an eye of faith,” what kind of outcome do they see? He asks:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality … to stand before God …?

 16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

What Alma is trying to have his audience do is to visualize their own future in minute detail. They are to imagine being resurrected and raised to stand before God.  They are to imagine themselves hearing the approving voice of the Lord accepting them into heaven — reaching their ultimate goal.  He suggests that if they try to visualize this scene and what they envision is only negative, then perhaps they need to find that balance in their lives so that the way they are living is in alignment with a positive outcome and then exercise their faith so that they are now headed in this more desirable direction.

Continue reading