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 Much of the modern sources used were already outdated even during his life time.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

Trying to Explain the Donald Trump Support

Let me say on the outset that I am a Ted Cruz supporter, and for me Donald Trump is a careful consideration. Another point is that the only time I have ever talked about politics here is for obvious reasons when Romney ran. This break from personal protocal is because many of my fellow bloggers have expressed concerns about Donald Trump on outside venues or some comments. They are flabbergasted why such a man with such an “arrogant demeanor ” and “past RINO” views is liked by so many conservatives. Why is it that no matter what he says, criticism only seems to bolster his popularity for a large part of the Republican electorate. Part of their confusion and fear is because they can’t get past the man and look at the political context.

Some of what he says does have me concerned because he is not very articulate or perfect, but unlike George Bush Jr. he is not boring. For those who are calling Mr. Trump a RINO, they seem to ignore that every single candidate (even Cruz) has been accused of the same. There are degrees for sure, but none are immune from the label. Some like Bush and Kasich are seen as RINOS outright by supporting illegal immigration and common core. Others like Fiorina are seen as too lenient on Islam or supported the bailouts, Huckabee a welfare big government social conservative, Carson for questioning the Second Amendment and advocating some race carding of his own, Rubio for his flip flops especially with illegal immigration, and even Cruz for a vote that he later claimed he was tricked into a yes. Rand Paul doesn’t do so hot either, at times seen as going against his libertarian ideals and endorsing Mitch McConnell. So the voters look at them all and say “he who is without political sin . . . ”

Probably the number one reason Trump is in the lead is because of Jeb Bush. He was supposed to be the anointed one. Frankly, he still could be and that is what frightens so many more than Trump winning the nomination. Bush stands for everything that Trump does not: Career politician, establishment puppet, go-along to get-along weakling, and momentary media darling. Regardless of how much one might believe Trump is just as much a RINO, he is NOT part of the establishment no matter what conspiracy theories exist. Cruz should be the one in his place, but the media and GOP establishment poisoned his well long ago. Yes, even Rand Paul should have been the one in Trump’s place, but he played the game too close to the rules while acting the outsider. Trump became more than an outsider, but an outlaw! He is the middle finger for many who want to tell the GOP and others where to go. Continue reading

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