Saturday, February 21, 2015

Food for Thought

Mormon Intellectuals—The Question of Conjunctions

By Bryce Christensen 18 Feb 2015

            Coordinating conjunctions—and, but, or, so, yet, for, nor— are mere syntactic connectors. They look like no more than communicative fasteners, just verbal nails and screws that hold together words that carry real weight. Yet they can say a great deal, especially as they come out of the mouths or pens of those who represent themselves as Mormon intellectuals. Consider, for instance, what these intellectuals signal by their choice of conjunction after they make a public declaration of their religious identity. How often have we heard a Mormon intellectual affirm, “I am a Mormon” or “I am a Latter-day Saint,” only to deploy a coordinating conjunction that raises questions, even suspicions, about that affirmation?

            Mormonism—more properly, the faith taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—entails heavy doctrinal truths, and consequently heavy moral and spiritual obligations as well. The person who affirms his or her personal identity as a Mormon or Latter-day Saint is thus acknowledging ties to very sacred declarations about the nature of God, the meaning of life in mortality and hereafter, the source of true ecclesiastical authority, the content and interpretation of Sacred Writ, the origin and destiny of the soul, the nature and eternal duration of marriage and the family. What is more, anyone who self-identifies as a Mormon or Latter-day Saint is acknowledging that he or she has participated in sacred ordinances—baptism by immersion and confirmation by the laying on of hands—conducted by those who hold proper priesthood authority in the Church.

            Given all that intrinsically inheres in a personal affirmation of identity as a Mormon or Latter-day Saint, those familiar with English might reasonably expect the conjunction that follows such an affirmation would be so. I am a Latter-day Saint, so I embrace and affirm the doctrines of the Church. Or, I am a Mormon, so I accept and support Mormon leaders. Or, I am a Latter-day Saint, so I do all I can advance the Church and its sacred mission. Or, I am a Mormon, so I have reason to be deeply grateful for the spiritual guidance that the Church gives me in a confusing world. Or, I am a Mormon, so I defend the Church against its detractors.

            In sentences such as these, the conjunction seems natural, organic, and wholly consistent with the affirmation of self-identity.

            However, with puzzling frequency, when some prominent intellectuals identify themselves as Mormons, they immediately deploy a coordinating conjunction that raises serious questions about that identification. The coordinating conjunction we find some intellectuals opting for immediately after publically identifying themselves as Mormon is definitely not so. Rather, it is but.

            To be sure, for anyone who takes seriously the very high standards that come with membership in the Lord’s Restored Church, choosing to add a but after self-identifying as a Mormon or Latter-day Saint can be not only appropriate but even doctrinally necessary. That is, I am a Mormon, but I acknowledge that my own conduct is not always fully in accord with Church teachings. Or, I am a Latter-day Saint, but my own behavior frequently falls short of Church ideals.

            Deployed in this way, but signals simply the humility and awareness of personal fallibility that Christ enjoined in his parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18: 9-14). No mortal is a sinless embodiment of the truths taught in the Lord’s Restored Church. A but that links an affirmation of Church membership with a humble acknowledgement of personal inadequacy as a Church member simply reflects honest self-scrutiny of the sort that fosters awareness of how much of the spiritual path that the Church has marked out remains to be traversed.

            It is, however, a different kind of but that intellectuals often deploy immediately after identifying themselves as a Mormon or a Latter-day Saint. It is not a but that prefaces self-judgment or self-criticism. Rather, it is a but that introduces self-assertive judgment of the Church, its doctrines, and its leaders. I am a Mormon, but I can hardly endorse the Church’s position on same-sex marriage. Or, I am a Latter-day Saint, but I find the Church’s positions on women dreadfully retrograde. Or, I am a Mormon, but I find Church leaders terribly abusive in their response to dissent. Or, I am a Mormon, but I consider the Church’s concern for doctrinal purity oppressive and stultifying.

            When used in this way, but is clearly not a conjunction that checks self-righteousness. Rather, it looks disturbingly like a but that authorizes self-righteousness, over and against the righteousness called for by the Church. Such a but can even begin to look like a syntactic Rameumptom affording the speaker or writer an opportunity to indulge in some warm self-congratulation on having reached a perspective higher than that of the Church.

            This syntactic elevation, not coincidentally, also affords the exalted speaker or writer the opportunity to look down with condescension on lesser beings who append to their public affirmations of Church membership not a self-elevating but, but rather a self-effacing so. The syntactic elevation of this kind of but is one allowing some pretentious Mormon intellectuals to hold up their doubts, their skepticism, as an attainment of the mind far above the mere faith and convictions of lesser members of the Church.

            No doubt many take pride in using a but after any acknowledgement of Church membership. Such a conjunction, they are sure, signals their intellectual independence, their personal autonomy, their refusal to surrender to the strictures of dogma. A closer look raises doubts. Many of those who are so careful to signal their independence from Church orthodoxy seem almost anxiously intent on protecting a political correctness rooted in a progressive secular orthodoxy.  How willing are such individuals to deploy a but declaring personal independence after identifying themselves as a progressive intellectual. I am a progressive intellectual, but I recognize only marriage between a man and a woman as truly a marriage? Or, I am a progressive intellectual, but I recognize the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as God’s inspired mouthpiece on questions of morality and doctrine? Or, I am a progressive intellectual, but I recognize the Latter-day Saint Church’s position on women and the priesthood as divinely ordained?

            Unless they are utterly blind, progressive intellectuals know that secular progressivism conducts its own rituals of excommunication, its own auto-de-fés. (If you doubt this, ask Brendan Eich, ask Richard Raddon. Former CEO of the Web giant Mozilla, Eich was forced out of his position by gay-rights activists when they learned that he had supported California’s Proposition 8 affirming a traditional heterosexual understanding of marriage. In similar fashion, Raddon was pushed out of his position as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival when his contributions to support Proposition 8 became public.)

            Progressive intellectuals know that if they do not watch their step, they may be cast out of the progressive congregation. They may indeed want listeners and readers to interpret their choice of conjunction after acknowledging Church membership as a token of their valiant personal autonomy. However, it is quite possible to discern something far less laudable, something far less courageous, in their choice of conjunctions. Their choice of conjunctions may be interpreted as the consequence of a tacit but decisive syntactic chain that governs any public acknowledgement of Church membership: I am first and foremost a progressive social thinker, so whenever I acknowledge my identity as a Latter-day Saint, I must immediately qualify that identification lest I in any way jeopardize the personal identity or the social doctrines I actually value most.

            What is the real meaning of a public acknowledgment of Church membership? It depends largely on the conjunction that follows that acknowledgment. Will it be a but signaling supercilious skepticism, or will it be a so reflecting humble but deep devotion?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Keep the Odds in Your Favor

7 gospel lessons from The Hunger Games
from Single-Minded Determination

            Set in a dystopian future, the Hunger Games series have captivated millions through its portrayal of how courage, compassion, and selflessness can endure in the face of heartbreaking cruelty. ...Here are seven ways that lessons from the Hunger Games apply to LDS youth and single adults.

1. You can beat the odds
            “The odds are against me, but I have something in my favor—desire and faith.” – Cliff Cushman, a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.
            We all have our own trials in life and for many LDS single adults, one of the most common challenges is finding their eternal companion. It’s sometimes easy to be discouraged and feel that we have a better chance of winning the Hunger Games compared to finding a spouse. However, discouraged LDS singles can benefit from the example of Katniss.
            One of the defining characteristics of Katniss is that she never gives up. Despite being faced with fierce opposition, her courage, tenacity, and determination give her the strength to defy the odds and win the Hunger Games. Likewise, despite our personal challenges that may cause the odds to be against us, we can also triumph if we persevere and trust in the Lord.

2. Just like Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, we need to let our convictions shine forth to inspire others
            Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. “ – Matthew 5:16
            From the very beginning, Katniss distinguishes herself from the other tributes. Although her grand entrance as the “Girl on Fire” turns heads, what ultimately makes Katniss stand out is how her convictions influence the way she competes in the Hunger Games. In the midst of human brutality, Katniss shows compassion when she sings to her dying ally, Rue, before she buries her with flowers. By refusing to turn on Peeta at the end of the first Hunger Games, Katniss inspires thousands of people through her act of love and defiance.  
            Because Katniss allows her courage, faith, and personal convictions to shine through to the people around her, she becomes the Mockingjay – a symbol of hope to the oppressed people of Panem. As Latter-day Saints, we can follow Katniss’ example through living in a way that allows the light of Christ to shine forth and inspire those around us. If we have the courage to stand for truth and righteousness, like Katniss, we can light a flame for others to follow. 

3. Love is unselfish and requires sacrifice
            “True love is based on personal unselfishness, but our modern world does not seem to understand this.”-Elder Theodore M. Burton
            Throughout the series, Katniss demonstrates an unselfish, Christ-like love for the people she cares about. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games to protect her sister Prim, she shields Gale when he’s being whipped, and during her second Hunger Games, she decides to sacrifice herself to save Peeta. This unselfish love is also demonstrated by Peeta, who tries to persuade Katniss to save herself during their second Hunger Games. After Peeta’s confession, it is only then that Katniss starts to realize her feelings for him. This love demonstrated in the Hunger Games is a stark contrast to the love often demonstrated in our society. 
            Sadly, all too often, the type of so-called love we see is based on personal gratification and selfishness. But that’s not what true love really is – it’s about being unselfish and making personal sacrifices. As demonstrated by Katniss, if we develop this type of love, we can build a relationship strong enough to withstand any trial that threatens to tear us apart from the people we care for.

4. Katniss maintains her standards under pressure
            “I do not believe there is a double standard of morality.” – President James E. Faust
            Throughout the series, Katniss is under a great deal of pressure to compromise her personal standards to survive. In the second Hunger Games, the tyrannical leaders of the Capitol hope that Katniss will compete mercilessly, and by doing so, discredit herself in the eyes of her supporters. Despite their cunning plan, Katniss refuses to play by the rules of someone else’s game.     Although Katniss competes in the Hunger Games, she retains her humanity. She declines teaming up with bloodthirsty Career tributes, never kills anyone in cold blood, and refuses to betray her allies, even when it might be expedient to do so.
            Katniss’ example is relevant to LDS youth and single adults, who are encouraged to maintain high standards in an increasingly wicked world. Because of the pressures we face, we might feel tempted to disregard our standards for the sake of worldly success or personal gratification. But as Katniss demonstrates, we don’t have to compromise who we are and what we stand for in order to win.  

5. Never underestimate the power of your influence
            “One virtuous young woman, led by the spirit, can change the world.” – Sister Elaine Dalton, former General President of the Young Women’s organization.
            When Katniss first volunteered for the Hunger Games, she had no way of knowing how her actions would shape the lives of thousands of people. Ironically, Katniss doesn’t see herself as a role model to anyone – she has a stoic personality and feels that she has a hard time fitting in and making friends. Yet despite her perceived shortcomings, Katniss impresses the Gamemakers, wins the support of sponsors, and inspires thousands of people across the country. The courage, compassion, and humanity that Katniss demonstrates ultimately start a revolution that leads to the downfall of the Capitol.     
            Like Katniss, we may not fully realize how our actions can influence the people around us for good. Although we probably won’t be responsible for starting an uprising, our personal influence should never be underestimated. That’s why it’s important to live each day as a courageous disciple of Christ. Just like Katniss, our actions can bless the lives of others in ways we may not anticipate.

6. Surround yourself with the right type of people
            “Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards.” – From the Strength of Youth
            In the second Hunger Games, Katniss impresses the other tributes with her archery skills, leading half of the tributes to request Katniss as an ally. Although Katniss has a wide selection to choose from, she chooses not to ally with the “cool kids” – the lethal Careers. Instead, Katniss decides to ally herself with people she deems trustworthy. This decision pays off, as throughout the second Hunger Games, her allies make personal sacrifices to protect Katniss and Peeta.
            Often, it can be easy to find ourselves attracted to the wrong type of people simply because they seem cool, popular, or charismatic. However, it’s critical for us to choose friends who are loyal and have our best interests at heart. Katniss survived the Hunger Games because she put her trust in the right people. Likewise, we need to be selective in choosing friends who are trustworthy and will support us in making good decisions.

7. It’s critical to act, rather than to be acted upon
            “As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed.” – Elder David A Bednar 
            Elder Bednar once explained that choosing to act, rather than to be acted upon, means we use our agency to impact our circumstances. We see this clearly demonstrated in the Hunger Games, as despite her personal trials, Katniss refuses to allow herself to be victimized. After her father dies, Katniss takes up hunting to provide for her family. When selected for the second Hunger Games, she does everything she can to prepare herself for the arena. Despite the destruction of District 12, Katniss presses forward through inspiring the rebellion against the Capitol.
            Like Katniss, we need to be equally courageous in using our agency to make good life decisions. We need to keep moving forward, work hard, and be willing to make personal sacrifices to reach our goals. Regardless of your life circumstances, be like Katniss and find a way to win.  

Do you want the (marital) odds to be ever in your favor?  
            In closing, I’d like to encourage my readers to keep working towards the ultimate goal of every LDS single adult – marriage in the House of the Lord. A temple marriage will make your love last throughout the eternities, make you eligible to receive a fullness of blessings, and make it more likely that your marriage will endure the trials and tribulations of life.
            For example, the Ensign reports, “Nontemple marriages are about five times more likely to end in divorce than temple marriages. About 5.4 percent of LDS males who married in the temple were later divorced, and about 6.5 percent of the females. By comparison, some 27.8 percent of nontemple LDS marriages ended in divorce for men, and about 32.7 percent for women.”
            Although a temple marriage is no guarantee you’ll stay married, it certainly makes a big impact on your relationship. It seems that couples who marry in the temple are more committed because they recognize that their marriage can endure throughout eternity. Clearly, if you get married in the temple, it’s safe to say that the odds will be ever in your favor.
            Despite whatever changes or personal sacrifices you may need to make for a temple marriage, don’t give up on this goal. It’s worth fighting for. So as you get out there and look for your eternal companion, may the odds be for time and eternally in your favor.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Jan Says Yes to Elder Argueta (English Captions)

I was very touched by this video. It proved to me yet again the power of PRAYER!! Heavenly Father loves us. All we have to do is stop and prayer. He is just waiting to communicate with us. But first we must ask!

            In a new Flemish TV show entitled Ja Jan, a TV host commits to say "yes" to every question asked of him for 60 days.
            Including when he ran into two Mormon missionaries.
            Episode 4 of the show, which aired on January 26th, follows Jan as he flips a coin leaving his house to determine the direction he'll walk that day. As luck would have it, he drops the coin, which then rolls to a stop on tails--directing him to walk forward instead of to the right.
            As he walks, who should he find but a pair of American missionaries in a nearby square? Noticing that they speak English, he decides to cross over to them and asks, "You come from America? Why are you here?"
            Elder Argueta, the missionary he picks out of the crowd, answers, "Yeah. I'm here to share the gospel with people, share a little bit about Jesus Christ, and also serve people."
            Jan explains that he's making a new TV program where he says "Yes" to everything--and Elder Argueta doesn't let that opportunity slip by. He asks Jan if he can come and share a message with him at a later time. Of course, Jan says "yes." 
            A week later, Jan meets up with the missionaries again, this time to discuss a more in-depth message. 
            At a nearby cafe, the missionaries share a message about Jesus Christ, how His gospel was lost, that it is now restored, and today there is a living prophet on the earth. Overwhelmed by this information, Jan admits, "I have so many questions for you. Wow."
            Elder Argueta invites, "To really understand us, perhaps you can come along with us? Would you like that?"
            As you can predict, Jan's answer is "yes."
            After picking up a white shirt and tie for their "missionary-in-training," the trio sets out to hand out pass-along cards. They encounter some adversity with locals laughing at their message or refusing to talk, but the missionaries stay cheerful through it all. As they work, Jan asks them questions about the Church, its standards, and its teachings. 
            Near the end of their time together, Jan voices, "Can I ask you something that's especially personal to me?" He proceeds to explain that his father died young, a few years prior, from cancer. A little choked up, Jan wonders aloud, "If there's anyone up there, why? Why him?"
            The elders respond, explaining, "Eventually, you will see your father again."
            Hopeful, Jan asks how he can know, and the elders offer to pray with him for a confirmation. 
            After a few minutes of silent prayer, a misty-eyed Jan says, "It feels good to stand still for a moment. To take a moment and to hope. To hope and believe. To deeply believe that there really is something more. I want to believe it so badly. Do you understand? I want to believe."
            Reflecting on his experience, Jan says, "Saying 'yes' to the Mormons, did I gain anything from it? I think so." He goes on to share, "I have realized that I have never taken the time to grieve the death of my father, and thanks to them, together with them, I was able to say good-bye to my dad. And I'm so grateful for that."

Friday, February 13, 2015

O Be Wise: The More Things Change the More Things Stay the Same

What if Nehor and Korihor Had a Blog?
by Maurine Proctor 08 Feb 2015
            The nature of deception is spelled out clearly to us in the arguments of Nehor and Korihor in the Book of Mormon.

            What if Nehor and Korihor had had blogs, created podcasts, collected comments, solicited letters on their behalf, and formed candlelight vigils of their supporters when they were called before Nephite chief judges? What if they had been able to send out press releases to an obliging media? They missed those technological opportunities, but their arguments sounding from the pages of the Book of Mormon seem remarkably similar to today’s assaults upon the Church.
            It is as if Mormon, writing expressly for our times, wanted to arm us for the debates of the day with those “enlightened and emancipated” voices that would swarm the Internet, criticize the Church, its leaders and doctrine, seek to win souls and then complain if their membership was on trial in a church they didn’t believe in.
            Nehor and Korihor were clearly great orators, powerful personalities and very persuasive speakers. They also enjoyed the heady thrill of seeing their arguments land and stick with a good share of the Nephite population.
            Nehor comes bounding on to the scene, energized by the honor and attention brought by his crowd-pleasing doctrine. Though his personal story is short—contained in only a few verses, his philosophies remain, widely influencing society and becoming a major source of division among the Nephites, ultimately igniting the 63 BC wars and fanning the flames that made the people of Ammonihah burn the Saints.
            Nehor did all this by “bearing down against the Church” with a most seductive alternative. If he had a blog he might have written, “I have my complaints” about the Church, and then later said that he got in all this trouble “Just for asking questions”. Of course, like many who say they are “just asking questions”, what Nehor actually did was make a series of assertions that flew right in the face of doctrine, while probably claiming that he was doing it for the people’s own good. He may have claimed that he was saving the anxious and depressed who found the laws of the Church terribly strict.
            He certainly believed that he had a more enlightened idea than God. He might have said something like, if this “strait is the way” doctrine is God’s, “he’s got a lot of explaining to do.”
            Here was his alternative doctrine: “that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice;…and in the end, all men should have eternal life (Alma 1:4).
            That is certainly a very soft and amiable revision of the gospel Alma was teaching. No wonder Nehor was the first to introduce “priestcraft” ,“that every priest and teacher ought to become popular.” You’d get a lot of support with a popular doctrine like that—riches and honor and quotes in the national press. Nehor did, probably becoming the very champion of the dispossessed.
            This idea appeals to those who would like to be able to do whatever they’d want now and still claim all the blessings of eternity later. Preaching repentance has never been popular. Truth telling won’t get you likes on your Facebook page. This idea that “all men shall have eternal life” is a doctrine easy to understand at a quick glance and requires no spiritual or mental exertion.
            Today Nehor, the blogger, would say that the best thing about his doctrine was that it was inclusive. He was all for the groups who are marginalized, implying, of course, that the Church and the God it represents is narrow, and that asserting standards is bigotry. Maybe tomorrow when the Church becomes more progressive and international, it will drop its outmoded doctrines.
            What a sleight of hand that is. It was, after all, the tolerant Nehor who murdered Gideon for maintaining the gospel point of view. This is the fruit of a morally superior position? This is inclusiveness? Beyond that, the idea that Nehor had something on God in inclusiveness is simply a lie.
            It is God who invites all ye that labour and are heavy-laden to come unto him for rest (Matthew 11:28). He wants the gospel preached to “all the world for a witness to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). He was lifted up to draw all people to him (John 12:32). All are called to the work. (Doctrine & Covenants 6:13).
            The difference here is that the Lord seeks equality of opportunity—has even designed an entire program to redeem the dead who have never heard his word. What Nehor insists on is equality of outcome—as if where God dwells is a come-as-you-are party, no sanctification required. Remember Nehor is only teaching his philosophy for our own good.
            As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat, but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. Talk about man creating God in his own image!”


            Korihor was the superbly fluent intellectual, saying “How do ye know of surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things ye do not see.” He is the materialist, denying anything that cannot be measured or perceived by the senses. God is dead and all is permitted.
            If Korihor were blogging today, he would belittle the truth claims of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, he would claim that there is not one shred of evidence that the Book of Mormon came from an ancient document. This is in part because he would be unwilling to accept anything that smacked of angels, gold plates or miracles as being the foolish traditions of your fathers.
            His blog might read, “Can’t we just talk about your foolish doctrines? Can’t we revise your old, repressive sexual morality?”
            “Foolish”, in fact, is a favorite word of Korihor’s. He reminds the believers that their hopes are “foolish” and that they are yoked to “foolish” things. He is superbly arrogant, as if his viewpoint were the only rational and defensible one. As for the believers their naïve acceptance of the gospel was the effect of “a frenzied mind” and “the derangement of your minds.”
            It is surprisingly effective to call people foolish—or any modern variation on that theme. Remember how in Lehi’s dream, the people pointing fingers at the believers from the great and spacious building had a surprisingly powerful effect on those making their way to the tree of life. Many simply crumpled in shame.
            As believers, we may all experience what it is to have ridicule heaped upon us for our views, which have become politically incorrect. Many assume that the religious are less intelligent.
            Kate Kelly, who was excommunicated for her public opposition to the Church in her Ordain Women efforts was just quoted in The Guardian saying, “Sadly, the Mormon faith has become a place that incentivizes the survival of the least fit. Since strict obedience is demanded and harshly enforced, only the least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous people thrive in the Church today.”
            Please be clear that I am not calling Kate Kelly a Korihor, nor would I, but it is the arguments that bear exposing. It’s hard to miss that what she says here is quite similar to the derision heaped upon Church members in Korihor’s train of thought. Those who are believers and love the Church are described in the most unflattering terms. They are, in fact, stupid and inarticulate (or frenzied and deranged). Courage is defined as only those who share her beliefs and act as she would.
            Korihor, too, had something to say about the survival of the fittest. “Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature, therefore every man prospered according to this genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.” (Alma 30:17).
            This is a modern philosophy in the mouth of an ancient man, one that wouldn’t be articulated until decades after the publication of the Book of Mormon. It is the idea of the “survival of the fittest.”
            Korihor was simply the fit and those who didn’t take his approach were the unfit.
            Though he was given a wide berth for blanketing the world with his message and shouting it from the rooftops, he would claim that the Church was silencing him. He would claim that all he wanted was free expression, open and respectful dialogue, and everyone’s comments taken at face value. This he said while belittling believers and leading away the hearts of many.
            This Internet age means we are swamped with ideas that are as old as sand and as corrosive as a salt sea. They will be sold to us appealing to our care for the downtrodden and marginalized—to which we can’t help but emotionally respond. They will suggest that we have been duped into our religious beliefs and that the truly enlightened know better.
            Let us not be fooled. Mormon anticipating our dilemma gave us stunning examples of what this deception looks like and advises us, “Oh be wise.”