Friday, April 30, 2004

The Church prospers

President Hinckley tends, generally, to project a very positive outlook regarding the state of the Church and how we are perceived by the world. This was particularly evident around the time of the Olympics, but has been a consistent theme during his presidency.

This seems intended to reassure the Saints, but seems to stand in sharp contrast to quotes such as this one from Brigham Young:

I am satisfied that it will not do for the Lord to make this people popular. Why? Because all hell would want to be in the church. The people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them. Although it is admitted that we are honest, industrious, truthful, virtuous, self-denying, and, as a community, possess every moral excellence, yet we must be looked upon as ignorant and unworthy, and as the offscouring of society, and be hated by the world. What is the reason of this? Christ and Baal can not become friends. When I see this people grow and spread and prosper, I feel that there is more danger than when they are in poverty. Being driven from city to city or into the mountains is nothing compared to the danger of our becoming rich and being hailed by outsiders as a first-class community.

(Journal of Discourses, 12: 272-273.)

Are Brigham Young's and Gordon Hinckley's views reconcilable? Is one of them preferable? What is the view the world has of Mormonism? Does it more closely match the positive message articulated by President Hinckley or the way President Young said it must always be? What is the effect of relative prosperity on the Church in the U.S.?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Book of Mormon Geo Challenge

The current issue of Sunstone has a number of essays on issues dealing with Book of Mormon geography. Brent Metcalfe contributed an essay (PDF) outlining some of the difficulties with the limited geography interpretation. The limited geography interpretation points out the difficulties with the hemispheric interpretation. Trent Stephens explains the difficulties with recent DNA-based criticisms (PDF). Ralph Olsen proposes a Malay setting for the Book of Mormon (PDF). (But in that case, what are we to make of the prophesied Columbus figure, etc.?)

It seems that no matter how you slice it, there are difficulties in trying to place where the Book of Mormon events happened. So here is the Book of Mormon geo challenge: Does the text of the Book of Mormon itself give enough information to know, even generally, where the "promised land" was? Asia? Africa? Malaysia? Mesoamerica? New York? Australia? Greenland? If someone picked up the Book of Mormon without knowing anything about it, without knowing any of the prophetic statements about it or the story of its origin, would they have any idea where it took place?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Lesson resolved

So, this is what I did to resolve the dilemma of my disagreement with the lesson manual: The manual had a story about a young boy who was given the charge to train a horse for farm work. They could accomplish much more together than either of them could separately, but only if the boy was in charge. I emphasized the idea that the body gives us far greater power than we would otherwise have, and that we need to learn to control it, but without couching it in terms of a “war” between body and spirit.

We did go through the passage in Galatians quite thoroughly, and I gave my view that “the flesh” referred to was not the body itself, but the influence mortality (including the body) has on our spirits, causing us to desire “the works of the flesh.” I also used sports analogies: learning to shoot free throws and the discipline involved in practice, and training with weights that impede us or slow us down but simultaneously make us stronger.

Almost everything I taught came from the manual, but I de-emphasized the areas I disagreed with and tried to avoid even bringing up anything that would cause me to point out my disagreement. Was it the right approach? I'm not sure, but I felt good about it, and it felt like a good and effective lesson.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Teaching from the manual

An interesting discussion was started in early March on the Forums, about what to do when you, as a teacher, come across something in the manual that you don't agree with. Specifically, the questions asked were:

Suppose that you are a teacher in Church (whether of Sunday School, Primary, RS, MP or whatever). You are preparing your lesson for next week. In reviewing the lesson manual, you discover that the manual includes statements or assertions that you do not know to be true. What is the best way to handle such a situation?

Does the answer differ if, instead of not knowing something to be true, you actually believe it not to be true?

Do you resign your calling? Teach the lesson but steer around that particular point? Ask to have someone else teach that entire lesson? Decline to respond to questions addressing the point you have an issue with? Teach what the lesson manual says even if you think it to be wrong?

I was faced with precisely this situation a couple of weeks ago as I prepared to teach the deacons quorum. The lesson was on spirituality, which the manual defined in David O. McKay's words: “the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite.” The lesson focused on controlling our bodies.

Some of the phrasing of the manual suggested a struggle between body and spirit for control, especially this quote from Brigham Young:

If the spirit yields to the body, the Devil then has power to overcome the body and spirit of that man, and he loses both.

Recollect … every one of you, that when evil is suggested to you, when it arises in your hearts, it is through the [body].

Problem is, I don't believe it is correct to say that the body and the spirit are struggling against each other for control, though I do believe that the spirit does struggle in trying to control the body. I think the idea of a “war” between spirit and body is carried over into Mormonism from the incorrect view of much of the Christian world that matter is evil. So I had to figure out how to approach this issue. The manual also centered on a scriptural passage, Galatians 5:16-25, using an interpretation I am not sure is correct. It suggested that the “works of the flesh” in this passage were the works of the body, and the “fruits of the Spirit” were the works of our individual spirits in control of our bodies. I think the correct interpretation is that “the flesh” refers to our mortal, fallen condition, and “the Spirit” refers to the Spirit of God, which can lift us out of our fallen state.

A few questions: If you were in my situation (assuming you shared my views), how would you have approached teaching this lesson? Do you think this is an important enough issue even to worry about? Do you think the body and the spirit are at war with each other, vying for control?

(Soon, I'll post what I actually did in teaching the lesson.)

Baptismal interviews

It's been a while since my baptism at age eight, and I don't remember my baptismal interview. My oldest son, Dallin, recently turned eight and will be baptized this Saturday. As I talked to him about his upcoming baptismal interview, I anticipated that the bishop would ask him what baptism meant, why he wanted to be baptized, if he was choosing for himself, if he had a testimony of Jesus, and so forth. So I was quite surprised Sunday after his baptismal interview to hear that the bishop hadn't asked him any of these things. Instead, he asked him what the sacrament bread and water represented, talked to him a little bit about baptism, filled his pocket with candy, and sent him on his way.

Should the bishop be ensuring that eight-year-olds are deciding for themselves to be baptized, that they have a testimony of Jesus, and that they understand what baptism means? Or can he assume that because our family is active and Dallin has been attending primary regularly that he has these things down? Should I have expected something different? A couple of weeks before his interview with the bishop, Dallin had a talk with me in which I asked him those questions about his testimony, the meaning of baptism, and his decision to be baptized. Is that where the primary responsibility really lies: with the parents? If so, what role does the bishop really play in baptisms of children of record?

Monday, April 26, 2004

Orson Hyde on the Kingdom of God

I frequently hear the question, as Kim Siever wonders over at Our Thoughts, “Why is it that children are sealed to parents? What meaning can this have eternally if children are sealed to their own spouses?”

While I don't have a definitive answer, the early Latter-day Saints apparently did. Orson Hyde drew up and published a Diagram of the Kingdom of God, with an accompanying editorial in which he explained that the Kingdom of God is organized hierarchically according to the Patriarchal Order.

I think this kind of idea is acceptable to our modern LDS minds if each branch is considered to be a couple with their own spirit children, but when we start placing the children we have here on earth into sub-branches, it begins to be uncomfortable for us. Why is this the case? Can and should we re-interpret what the sealing of children to parents means, when the Patriarchal Order is so central to LDS temple theology?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Doubt not

Thomas S. Monson, in the priesthood session of October 2000 General Conference, said, “Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other. Cast out doubt. Cultivate faith.”

How does one do this? Are there really people out there who don't doubt? (If so, have they really examined their faith?) How does one stop doubting? “Just believe” doesn't work for me, and even if it did, is it really admirable to just set aside our doubts rather than resolving them? Do all our doubts have to be resolved in order for us to have faith?

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Penrose on God

Richard Bushman, over on Times & Seasons, asked about the classic questions of the nature of God and his power. I commented about a great quote from Charles W. Penrose (who happens to be my great-great-great-grandfather). The quote is too long to post in a comment there, so I'll post the relevant portion here. You can also read the entire discourse, courtesy of (the complete text of the Journal of Discourses is at

But, if God is an individual spirit and dwells in a body, the question will arise, “Is He the Eternal Father?” Yes, He is the Eternal Father. “Is it a fact that He never had a beginning?” In the elementary particles of His organism, He did not. But if He is an organized Being, there must have been a time when that being was organized. This, some one will say, would infer that God had a beginning. This spirit which pervades all things, which is the light and life of all things, by which our heavenly Father operates, by which He is omnipotent, never had a beginning and never will have an end. It is the light of truth; it is the spirit of intelligence. We are told in the revelations of God to us that, "Intelligence of the light of truth never was created, neither indeed can be." And we are told further, that this Spirit, when it is manifest, is God moving in His glory. When we look up to the heavens and behold the starry worlds, which are kingdoms, we behold God moving in His Majesty and in His power. Now, this Spirit always existed; it always operated, but it is not, understood, and cannot be comprehended except through organisms. If you see a living blade of grass you see a manifestation of that Spirit which is called God. If you see an animal of any kind on the face of the earth having life, there is a manifestation of that Spirit. If you see a man you behold its most perfect earthly manifestation. And if you see a glorified man, a man who has passed through the various grades of being, who has overcome all things, who has been raised from the dead, who has been quickened by this spirit in its fullness, there you see manifested, in its perfection, this eternal, beginningless, endless spirit of intelligence.

Such a Being is our Father and our God, and we are following in His footsteps. He has attained to perfection. He has arisen to kingdoms of power. He comprehends all things, because in Him dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead, bodily. He is a perfect manifestation, expression and revelation of this eternal essence, this spirit of eternal, everlasting intelligence or light of truth. It is embodied in His spiritual personality or spiritual organism. This spirit cannot be fully comprehended in our finite state. It quickens all things. As we are told in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, it is:

“The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God, who sitteth upon His throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.-Sec. lxxxviii, p. 13.

That spirit exists wherever there is a particle of material substance; that spirit is round about it, and in it, and through it; but that we may comprehend it, it must be manifested through organisms. The perfection of its manifestation is in the personality of a being called God. That is a person who has passed through all the gradations of being, and who contains within Himself the fullness, manifested and expressed, of this divine spirit which is called God.

Some people may think this is rather a low idea of a Divine Being. But I think it a most exalted one. The person whom I worship I acknowledge as my Father. Through Him I may learn to understand the secrets and mysteries of eternity, those things that never had a beginning and will never have an end. He has ascended above all things after descending below all things. He has fought his way from the depths up to the position He now occupies. He holds it by virtue of His goodness, of His might, of His majesty, of His power. He occupies that position by virtue of being in perfect harmony with all that is right, and true, and beautiful, and glorious and progressive. He is the perfect embodiment and expression of the eternal principles of right. He has won that position by His own exertions, by His own faithfulness, by His own righteousness. Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God in the flesh, but His firstborn in the spirit, has climbed His way up in a similar manner.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Atonement analogies

Steve Evans started a great thread on Atonement analogies over at Times & Seasons. One aspect of the atonement that I have thought quite a bit about that tends to distinguish Mormon approaches to salvation from others is that teaching that salvation is not merely individual, but communal. A few years ago I wrote the following mini-essay focusing on that aspect. Some of my thoughts are similar to greenfrog's comments on the T&S thread.

Mormonism is fairly unique in its emphasis on the communal nature of salvation. We seal husbands and wives to each other, children to parents, the living to the dead (and in past years, living men adopted to other living men). This sealing is the culmination of temple ordinances. In addition, Mormonism emphasizes the concept of Zion: a temporal heavenly community united with the heavenly city.

Mormonism also teaches that “death” is equivalent to “separation”. The “Fall” brought “death” or separation from God; physical death is the separation of spirit and body, etc. The ultimate punishment in the Church is to be separated from the body of the Saints: excommunication.

In Jesus' intercessory prayer in John 17, he prays that his disciples may become one with him and the Father, even as he and the Father are one.

In the temple, men and women are separated until they reach the celestial room. The depiction of the fall of man and his progression through various spheres culminates in a unifying embrace, and that progression and embrace symbolize a (re)unification with Deity.

So, what is it we need to be saved from? Separation, or death, both physical and spiritual. Sin is that which naturally causes separation. Atonement is, quite literally, “at-one-ment”, linguistically, conceptually, and effectively.

The key components of atonement are the willingness of an innocent party to suffer due to the sins of another, forgiveness, and repentance. All these are essential to the concept of atonement. Reconciliation cannot occur if one of the parties is not willing to reach out to the other. The guilty party must repent, and the innocent party must forgive. Sometimes there may be a need for mediation -- and the mediator also provides an important aspect of atonement. Thus, atonement is necessarily a cooperative process. Without repentance, forgiveness is insufficient. Without forgiveness, repentance is likewise insufficient.

Atonement in this sense is by no means unique to Jesus. In fact, he taught that all his followers should drink of the same cup. His life and teachings cannot, in this sense, be separated from atonement. He taught that we should turn the other cheek, walk a mile more than we are compelled, give our cloak as well as our coat when sued, and so forth. He gave examples of forgiveness and mercy and taught that our own judgments would return upon us. (In this light, the teaching that those who do not forgive are guilty of the greater sin makes sense: they are perpetuating and aggravating the existing separation, whereas mercy begets mercy.)

Jesus taught that all of us should become Christs, do his works. When we take upon ourselves his name, we covenant to follow his example.

So, if we are all Christs, what is unique about Jesus? I would suggest that the primary difference is that Jesus is uniquely recognized as the embodiment of God. Thus, we see that God also atones. Without our recognition that God atones for us -- that he is reaching out to us and doing his part to reconcile us again -- we have little motivation to reach out to God. Thus, it is truly through the grace of Christ that we cry, Abba, Father. This is not only a psychological effect; Jesus actually is God atoning for our sins: “the image of the invisible God.”

I agree with Brigham Young's remarks regarding the Deity within us -- we are all part of God and we are all gods. However, for the most part, we do not recognize this. Hence, a visible symbol of God's atonement was sent to provide the ultimate symbol of atonement: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Recognition of this helps us to experience pure love, which brings unity and reconciliation. As we experience this, we develop and/or recognize it within ourselves, and we become more forgiving, less judgmental, more Christlike. We then atone for each other until we have a community of Christs who are perfectly one, who are sealed in a great chain and in eternal family units -- Zion, heaven, unification with God, becoming Gods and becoming God.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

God of Battles

Having recently finished reading Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, I was struck by the many references during General Conference to World War II. Nibley was among the first to land on D-Day and took away from his experiences there a firm pacifism that continued throughout his life. The several General Authorities who referred to (and served during) WWII in Conference used it as an analogy to the spiritual warfare we encounter in the world today; apparently they took away a somewhat different lesson. And then last week I received the current issue of Dialogue, which focuses on Mormon approaches to the issues of war and peace. (I haven't finished reading it yet, but Patrick Mason's essay, “The Possibilities of Mormon Peacebuilding,” is excellent.)

What are we to make of God's involvement in or views on war? It is more comforting to think of God as the Prince of Peace, abhorring violence. But he is also identified as the Lord of Hosts (the “hosts” being the armies of Israel). And this is not merely in ancient scripture, either: in modern revelation, God has also said that he will fight the battles for his people.

Is this a tacit acknowledgment of the limits of D&C 121 -- that persuasion may not always be sufficient for those who are too hardened?

Venturing out...

After much reading and commenting in the Bloggernacle, I decided it was time to create my own blog. Online, I go by Grasshopper, but in the “real world”, I am Christopher Bradford. I was given the nickname “Grasshopper” at summer camp when I was about 12 years old, and decided to use it as my online handle when I began posting at Beliefnet in early 2000. I hope this blog will be a fruitful way to reason on various aspects of Mormonism. (I'll be playing with the formatting somewhat over the next little while until I'm satisfied with how things look...)