Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Meaning of the McLellin Papers

Not much has been said about these new papers. Obviously I haven't read them and don't know if I ever will. Not that I wouldn't, but doubt there would ever be a personal reason to look for the printed collection. What has been said about the papers are of passing interest.

The report by Jennifer Dobern of The Associated Press sums up the issue:

McLellin's claims raise questions about whether Smith was padding the Mormon story as time passed, or whether McLellin was so embittered that he was trying to undermine the church.

The report itself has some incongurities that a close reading exposes. The statement above is related to the comment:

McLellin said he never heard Smith tell of what is now known as his "first vision," the visit by God and Jesus Christ to a young, prayerful Smith in a grove of trees that led to the church's founding in New York state.

McLellin said he also wasn't aware of the angel Moroni, who led Smith to buried gold plates that became the church's foundational text, the Book of Mormon, or the story that John the Baptist had appeared to Smith.

Yet, earlier in the story it reports one of the co-authors as saying, "McLellin's struggle was with Smith and a changing church, not Mormon theology," a rather dubious claim considering the above explanation of what McLellin says. It is apparent that McLellin did have some serious issues with Mormon theology, at least as it developed over the years.

It still leaves something to think about, considering the implications of his criticism. As an isolated statement I would fully believe McLellin had never heard the "First Vision" story, as it wasn't that important at the start of Mormonism. A closer look at what we do have shows it was considered more of a personal rather than organization Vision. Before Joseph Smith wrote it down as part of a more complete history, it was mostly known from diary enteries and personal interviews. It was even consistant with a typical, but still contraversial, "born again" religious experience.

The more problamatic statements really have to do with the Angel Moroni and John the Baptist. These also bring McLellin's version of early Mormonism to question. It can be argued that Joseph Smith's pre-Book of Mormon religious discussion didn't mention an Angel. What cannot easily be refuted is that he did teach about the Angel Moroni at the time The Book of Mormon was published. Even his critics recognized by that time there was the story of an angel delivering the plates.

As for not aware of the John the Baptist story? Again possible, as the development of the Priesthood is to this day far from completely understood. Putting down the history back in Joseph Smith's day was not like keeping a blog. Still, it is hard to believe that he wasn't told any of this considering his position in the Church. There were other members who both remained in the higher leadership positions and those who left the church whose writings seem to refute McLellin's version of events.

Most of the problems I have with the idea that Joseph Smith "developed founding stories" is that Mormonism can't be understood without them. That doesn't neccesarily count with the First Vision, but it does a lot of other teachings. For instance, how do you explain the Book of Mormon if you don't mention Moroni (or at least an angel)? The three witnesses of the Book of Mormon are very specific about an angelic ministry. Same goes for the priesthood and baptism, since angelic deliverance of the Priesthood and Authority are clearly taught early on in the journals and history of the time. Again, critics of the LDS Church witness specifically these things were taught even if the details don't mention angels by name. It was all very scandalous and brought persecutions and condemnation.

Without reading the material by McLellin, it is hard to understand what he says was taught from the start. A simple declaration of what wasn't taught needs to have an alternative explanation for what is known. Where, for instance, did McLellin believe the authority he was given as an Apostle come from? It might be McLellin is correct that he wasn't taught some things and was increasingly disturbed as he learned the particulars of the faith. He was not with the LDS Church leading up to its development and left before much of the revelatory innovations. In the end, the papers will do more as a snapshot of McLellin than early LDS history.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Theology of Mormon "Nice"

Many commentators have stated recently that Mormons have weird beliefs, but they are nice people. At least one said that, compared to other religious people, Mormons they have known were mostly nice with fewer "Jerks" to be found. This may be high compliments, but there is something behind the words that hasn't been properly evaluated. It begs the question of why Mormons, if this is indeed the case, are nice to a fault that some have even found spooky.

It can be frustrating to hear such good praise and yet at the same time have deeply held beliefs dismissed. There seems to be a disconnect in commentator's minds between behavior and theology. At least there is consistency with those who say that Mormon theology is bad and therefore Mormons are bad people. The good news is those who have a distorted view of Mormonism aren't taken seriously by the open-minded who actually know Mormons as more than a headline.

How Mormons behave and treat others is not merely a social construct. It doesn't spring from nowhere. There are very specific beliefs and theological concepts that shape the Mormon community. Understanding those can bridge a gap that many ignore or simply dismiss as unrelated.

Probably the most important starting point is that Mormons believe every human, no matter who, is a Child of God. The scriptures seem to indicate this is probably less literal than some Mormons believe, but more literal than other religions teach. The idea is clearest in Ephesians 3:15 and 4:6 where it reads first:

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named

followed by:

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

This family bond goes beyond membership in the LDS Church, but the whole human race. That includes Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians and whoever else ever lived on the Earth. Because of this, there is a special obligation to treat others with kindness and respect. Even those Mormons disagree with have an importance for the fact they exist. The Book of Mormon in Mosiah 2: 17 states,"And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." That makes relationships far more important than immediate friends or family members. The ties that bind, bind us all together.

Looking even farther back in time, so far as Mormon theology, each individual is more than a mere creation. They are an eternal element:

29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

As Doctrine and Covenants 93: 29-30 indicates, humans are free to choose good or evil because they are separate from each other. There can be no forcing of the wills onto other people, and therefore Mormons tend to be passive aggressive when challenged. Each person is considered unique. Not just because God created them, but from the knowledge they are part of the primordial universe.

Much has been made about Satan as the brother of Jesus. Those who have paid attention understand Mormons believe everyone is related, no matter how good or bad they are. A reporter had a short explanation when she wrote:

Mormon theology holds that the savior and the devil are both sons of God. Therefore, an official church website explains, "Jesus was Lucifer's older brother." But as former Mormon Bishop Scott Gordon points out, the faith also holds that all human beings are sons of God, which would make everyone a sibling of Christ (and of the devil). Mormons believe that Lucifer was not born evil but turned into a power-hungry glory-seeker. He opposed God's plan for mankind and was cast out of heaven.

There is no inherent evilness to the human soul. It is true that "The Fall" brought about the moral corruption of natural man. Yet, even The Fall is not considered the great tragedy that many other Christians teach. Adam and Eve's taking of the forbidden fruit was part of the process to help shape personality for better or worse, according to individual choices. The 13 Articles of Faith of the LDS Church states, "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." Even when mistakes are made, there is value in evaluating what went wrong and making corrections and repenting.

All of this is made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Continuing with the Articles of Faith, "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost." From this is learned that Faith is more than a recognition, but an action from that recognition. It is also a constant irritation to those who believe "right belief" is all that matters, and behavior (called by some "works") is meaningless.

It is true that "works" can become superficial in evaluating an individual. There are hypocrites who act according to what is expected of them rather than out of real convictions. However, it is equally as true that "works" are at least a starting point in evaluating a person or organization. Jesus in Matt. 7:16-21 was clear on the subject:

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

For a Mormon, faith and works are inseparable. You can't truly have one without the other and still be spiritually whole. You can have faith, but it won't do you or the world any good without the works. You can have works, but that doesn't mean ultimately you can be saved. On the other hand, doing good works will probably save a person faster than having faith and doing wrong or evil. 2 Nephi 9:25-27 makes that implication:

25 Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him. . .

27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!

Repentance is essential to understanding Mormon behavior. Because there was a Fall, there was also an Atonement made by Jesus Christ. That Atonement will in the end wipe out both sin and death, but not before the purposes of mortality have finished. One of the main reasons for mortal life is to develop our true selves. What we become in mortality will reflect our state in the Eternities. This isn't because of some malice of God, but out of a sense of justice. No wrong can go unpunished. However, mistakes do happen and a way must exist that allows for mercy. Alma 34:15, 32-33 reads:

15 And thus he [Jesus Christ] shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. . .

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

One of my favorite quotes comes from movie The Gladiator when the character of the title says, "what we do here will echo into eternity." For that reason Mormons who live by their religion are careful how they behave, talk, and sometimes even dress. Earthly consequences can sometimes be avoided, but there is no escaping ourselves. This also relates to the Mormon belief in more than one "Heaven" where a variety of personality types will find a place to live. The closer to the ideals of God a human gets, the closer to God they will end up. Only those who openly and with full knowledge rebel against God, such as Satan and his angels, will have no salvation. Therefore, even the worst sinner among humans is considered worthy of some kind of respect, even if nothing more than sorrow.

This is especially the case when talking about one of the least understood doctrines of the LDS Church; becoming gods. Although reserved for the most devout and believing of Mormons, it is within all human's capabilities to achieve divine stature. The sentiment is expressed in Romans 8:16-17 that, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."

At GetReligion.Org, a person called gfe explains, in response to a non-Mormon description of the LDS belief:

However, I’ve never before heard the term “ultimate deification” either, and most Mormons wouldn’t even use the term “deification” (although they might know what it means). The word of choice in LDS circles is “exaltation.” I think the idea of becoming godlike is as good a definition as any.

The teaching on exactly what that entails isn’t all that clear (although there’s plenty of speculation). Most of the clearest doctrines about it are Biblical, actually, with concepts such as becoming partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), being holy and perfect as God is holy and perfect, and becoming joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). All these scriptural passages point to the idea of being godlike, although Mormons take the idea farther and perhaps more literally than other Christians do.

There is no Usurpation of God by gaining the divine nature, as He remains the Divine devotion of our Worship. What God gains is influence, or as the Bible might put it Thrones and Principalities. And what do Mormon’s mean by becoming like God?

It doesn’t mean getting your own world to rule or any such nonsense cooked up by enemies of LDS theology who put more importance in things that Mormons don’t stress. The most it means is arguably gaining the role of Divine Parents, or at the least moral perfection. There is no pride associated with the concept as that would be counter to the divine. It is gaining the attributes of God: mercy, justice, hope, charity, faith, knowledge, and above all love. The only way to gain that is to practice it in the here and now of mortality. Such attention to behavior out of faith in the Gospel leads to treating others decently. Too bad people are open enough to recognize the "good behavior" of Mormons, and not open enough to want to understand the motivation comes from those wacky beliefs.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The JFK "Mormon" Speech

It has been said that Romney gave a speech similar to what JFK did a generation ago. What has not been reported is that JFK actually gave a speech in front of and mentioning Mormons soon after that one. Politics aside, I think that JFK was the greatest presidential speaker since Lincoln with no equal until Reagan. The address was in Salt Lake City at the Mormon Tabernacle, September 26, 1963.

Senator Moss, my old colleague in the United States Senate, your distinguished Senator Moss, President McKay, Mr. Brown, Secretary Udall, Governor, Mr. Rawlings, ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate your welcome, and I am very proud to be back in this historic building and have an opportunity to say a few words on some matters which concern me as President, and I hope concern you as citizens. The fact is, I take strength and hope in seeing this monument, hearing its story retold by Ted Moss, and recalling how this State was built, and what it started with, and what it has now.

Of all the stories of American pioneers and settlers, none is more inspiring than the Mormon trail. The qualities of the founders of this community are the qualities that we seek in America, the qualities which we like to feel this country has, courage, patience, faith, self-reliance, perseverance, and, above all, an unflagging determination to see the right prevail.

I came on this trip to see the United States, and I can assure you that there is nothing more encouraging for any of us who work in Washington than to have a chance to fly across this United States, and drive through it, and see what a great country it is, and come to understand somewhat better how this country has been able for so many years to carry so many burdens in so many parts of the world.

The primary reason for my trip was conservation, and I include in conservation first our human resources and then our natural resources, and I think this State can take perhaps its greatest pride and its greatest satisfaction for what it has done, not in the field of the conservation and the development of natural resources, but what you have done to educate your children. This State has a higher percentage per capita of population of its boys and girls who finish high school and then go to college.

Of all the waste in the United States in the 1960's, none is worse than to have 8 or 9 million boys and girls who will drop out, statistics tell us, drop out of school before they have finished, come into the labor market unprepared at the very time when machines are taking the place of men and women - 9 million of them. We have a large minority of our population who have not even finished the sixth grade, and here in this richest of all countries, the country which spreads the doctrine of freedom and hope around the globe, we permit our most valuable resource, our young people, their talents to be wasted by leaving their schools.

So I think we have to save them. I think we have to insist that our children be educated to the limit of their talents, not just in your State, or in Massachusetts, but all over the United States. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who developed the Northwest Ordinance, which put so much emphasis on education - Thomas Jefferson once said that any nation which expected to be ignorant and free, hopes for what never was and never will be. So I hope we can conserve this resource.

The other is the natural resource of our country, particularly the land west of the 100th parallel, where the rain comes 15 or 20 inches a year. This State knows that the control of water is the secret of the development of the West, and whether we use it for power, or for irrigation, or for whatever purpose, no drop of water west of the 100th parallel should flow to the ocean without being used. And to do that requires the dedicated commitment of the people of the States of the West, working with the people of all the United States who have such an important equity in the richness of this part of the country. So that we must do also.

As Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot did it in years past, we must do it in the 1960's and 1970's. We will triple the population of this country in the short space of 60 or 70 years, and we want those who come after us to have the same rich inheritance that we find now in the United States. This is the reason for the trip, but it is not what I wanted to speak about tonight.

I want to speak about the responsibility that I feel the United States has not in this country, but abroad, and I see the closest interrelationship between the strength of the United States here at home and the strength of the United States around the world. There is one great natural development here in the United States which has had in its own way a greater effect upon the position and influence and prestige of the United States, almost, than any other act we have done. Do you know what it is? It is the Tennessee Valley. Nearly every leader of every new emerging country that comes to the United States wants to go to New York, to Washington, and the Tennessee Valley, because they want to see what we were able to do with the most poverty-ridden section of the United States in the short space of 30 years, by the wise management of our resources.

What happens here in this country affects the security of the United States and the cause of freedom around the globe. If this is a strong, vital, and vigorous society, the cause of freedom will be strong and vital and vigorous.

I know that many of you in this State and other States sometimes wonder where we are going and why the United States should be so involved in so many affairs, in so many countries all around the globe. If our task on occasion seems hopeless, if we despair of ever working our will on the other 94 percent of the world population, then let us remember that the Mormons of a century ago were a persecuted and prosecuted minority, harried from place to place, the victims of violence and occasionally murder, while today, in the short space of 100 years, their faith and works are known and respected the world around, and their voices heard in the highest councils of this country.

As the Mormons succeeded, so America can succeed, if we will not give up or turn back. I realize that the burdens are heavy and I realize that there is a great temptation to urge that we relinquish them, that we have enough to do here in the United States, and we should not be so busy around the globe. The fact of the matter is that we, this generation of Americans, are the first generation of our country ever to be involved in affairs around the globe. From the beginning of this country, from the days of Washington, until the Second World War, this country lived an isolated existence. Through most of our history we were an unaligned country, an uncommitted nation, a neutralist nation. We were by statute as well as by desire. We had believed that we could live behind our two oceans in safety and prosperity in a comfortable distance from the rest of the world.

The end of isolation consequently meant a wrench with the very lifeblood, the very spine, of the Nation. Yet, as time passed, we came to see that the end of isolation was not such a terrible error or evil after all. We came to see that it was the inevitable result of growth, the economic growth, the military growth, and the cultural growth of the United States. No nation so powerful and so dynamic and as rich as our own could hope to live in isolation from other nations, especially at a time when science and technology was making the world so small.

It took Brigham Young and his followers 108 days to go from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. It takes 30 minutes for a missile to go from one continent to another. We did not seek to become a world power. This position was thrust upon us by events. But we became one just the same, and I am proud that we did.

I can well understand the attraction of those earlier days. Each one of us has moments of longing for the past, but two world wars have clearly shown us, try as we may, that we cannot turn our back on the world outside. If we do, we jeopardize our economic well-being, we jeopardize our political stability, we jeopardize our physical safety.

To turn away now is to abandon the world to those whose ambition is to destroy a free society. To yield these burdens up after having carried them for more than 20 years is to surrender the freedom of our country inevitably, for without the United States, the chances of freedom surviving, let alone prevailing around the globe, are nonexistent.

Americans have come a long way in accepting in a short time the necessity of world involvement, but the strain of this involvement remains and we find it all over the country. I see it in the letters that come to my desk every day. We find ourselves entangled with apparently unanswerable problems in unpronounceable places. We discover that our enemy in one decade is our ally the next. We find ourselves committed to governments whose actions we cannot often approve, assisting societies with principles very different from our own.

The burdens of maintaining an immense military establishment with one million Americans serving outside our frontiers, of financing a far-flung program of development assistance, of conducting a complex and baffling diplomacy, all weigh heavily upon us and cause some to counsel retreat. The world is full of contradiction and confusion, and our policy seems to have lost the black and white clarity of simpler times when we remembered the Maine and went to war.

It is little wonder, then, in this confusion, we look back to the old days with nostalgia. It is little wonder that there is a desire in the country to go back to the time when our Nation lived alone. It is little wonder that we increasingly want an end to entangling alliances, an end to all help to foreign countries, a cessation of diplomatic relations with countries or states whose principles we dislike, that we get the United Nations out of the United States, and the United States out of the United Nations, and that we retreat to our own hemisphere, or even within our own boundaries, to take refuge behind a wall of force.

This is an understandable effort to recover an old feeling of simplicity, yet in world affairs, as in all other aspects of our lives, the days of the quiet past are gone forever. Science and technology are irreversible. We cannot return to the day of the sailing schooner or the covered wagon, even if we wished. And if this Nation is to survive and succeed in the real world of today, we must acknowledge the realities of the world; and it is those realities that I mention now.

We must first of all recognize that we cannot remake the world simply by our own command. When we cannot even bring all of our own people into full citizenship without acts of violence, we can understand how much harder it is to control events beyond our borders.

Every nation has its own traditions, its own values, its own aspirations. Our assistance from time to time can help other nations preserve their independence and advance their growth, but we cannot remake them in our own image. We cannot enact their laws, nor can we operate their governments or dictate our policies.

Second, we must recognize that every nation determines its policies in terms of its own interests. "No nation," George Washington wrote, "is to be trusted farther than it is bound by its interest; and no prudent statesman or politician will depart from it." National interest is more powerful than ideology, and the recent developments within the Communist empire show this very clearly. Friendship, as Palmerston said, may rise or wane, but interests endure.

The United States has rightly determined, in the years since 1945 under three different administrations, that our interest, our national security, the interest of the United States of America, is best served by preserving and protecting a world of diversity in which no one power or no one combination of powers can threaten the security of the United States. The reason that we moved so far into the world was our fear that at the end of the war, and particularly when China became Communist, that Japan and Germany would collapse, and these two countries which had so long served as a barrier to the Soviet advance, and the Russian advance before that, would open up a wave of conquest of all of Europe and all of Asia, and then the balance of power turning against us we would finally be isolated and ultimately destroyed. That is what we have been engaged in for 18 years, to prevent that happening, to prevent any one monolithic power having sufficient force to destroy the United States.

For that reason we support the alliances in Latin America; for that reason we support NATO to protect the security of Western Europe; for that reason we joined SEATO to protect the security of Asia - so that neither Russia nor China could control Europe and Asia, and if they could not control Europe and Asia, then our security was assured. This is what we have been involved in doing. And however dangerous and hazardous it may be, and however close it may take us to the brink on occasion, which it has, and however tired we may get of our involvements with these governments so far away, we have one simple central theme of American foreign policy which all of us must recognize, because it is a policy which we must continue to follow, and that is to support the independence of nations so that one bloc cannot gain sufficient power to finally overcome us. There is no mistaking the vital interest of the United States in what goes on around the world. Therefore, accepting what George Washington said here, I realize that what George Washington said about no intangling alliances has been ended by science and technology and danger.

And third, we must recognize that foreign policy in the modern world does not lend itself to easy, simple black and white solution. If we were to have diplomatic relations only with those countries whose principles we approved of, we would have relations with very few countries in a very short time. If we were to withdraw our assistance from all governments who are run differently from our own, we would relinquish half the world immediately to our adversaries. If we were to treat foreign policy as merely a medium for delivering self-righteous sermons to supposedly inferior people, we would give up all thought of world influence or world leadership.

For the purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation; it is to shape real events in a real world. We cannot adopt a policy which says that if something does not happen, or others do not do exactly what we wish, we will return to "Fortress America." That is the policy in this changing world of retreat, not of strength.

More important, to adopt a black or white, all or nothing policy subordinates our interest to our irritations. Its actual consequences would be fatal to our security. If we were to resign from the United Nations. break off with all countries of whom we disapprove, end foreign aid and assistance to those countries in an attempt to keep them free, call for the resumption of atmospheric nuclear testing, and turn our back on the rest of mankind, we would not only be abandoning America's influence in the world, we would be inviting a Communist expansion which every Communist power would so greatly welcome. And all of the effort of so many Americans for 18 years would be gone with the wind. Our policy under those conditions, in this dangerous world, would not have much deterrent effect in a world where nations determined to be free could no longer count on the United States.

Such a policy of retreat would be folly if we had our backs to the wall. It is surely even greater folly at a time when more realistic, more responsible, more affirmative policies have wrought such spectacular results. For the most striking thing about our world in 1963 is the extent to which the tide of history has begun to flow in the direction of freedom. To renounce the world of freedom now, to abandon those who share our commitment, and retire into lonely and not so splendid isolation, would be to give communism the one hope which, in this twilight of disappointment for them, might repair their divisions and rekindle their hope.

For after some gains in the fifties the Communist offensive, which claimed to be riding the tide of historic inevitability, has been thwarted and turned back in recent months. Indeed, the whole theory of historical inevitability, the belief that all roads must lead to communism, sooner or later, has been shattered by the determination of those who believe that men and nations will pursue a variety of roads, that each nation will evolve according to its own traditions and its own aspirations, and that the world of the future will have room for a diversity of economic systems, political creeds, religious faiths, united by the respect for others, and loyalty to a world order.

Those forces of diversity which served Mr. Washington's national interest - those forces of diversity are in the ascendancy today, even within the Communist empire itself. And our policy at this point should be to give the forces of diversity, as opposed to the forces of uniformity, which our adversaries espouse, every chance, every possible support. That is why our assistance program, so much maligned, of assisting countries to maintain their freedom, I believe, is important.

This country has seen all of the hardship and the grief that has come to us by the loss of one country in this hemisphere, Cuba. How many other countries must be lost if the United States decides to end the programs that are helping these people, who are getting poorer every year, who have none of the resources of this great country, who look to us for help, but on the other hand in cases look to the Communists for example?

That is why I think this program is important. It is a means of assisting those who want to be free, and in the final analysis it serves the United States in a very real sense. That is why the United Nations is important, not because it can solve all these problems in this imperfect world, but it does give us a means, in those great moments of crisis, and in the last a 2½ years we have had at least three, when the Soviet Union and the United States were almost face to face on a collision course - it does give us a means of providing, as it has in the Congo, as it now is on the border of the Yemen, as it most recently was in a report of the United Nations at Malaysia - it does give a means to mobilize the opinion of the world to prevent an atomic disaster which would destroy us all wherever we might live.

That is why the test ban treaty is important as a first step, perhaps to be disappointed, perhaps to find ourselves ultimately set back, but at least in 1963 the United States committed itself, and the Senate of the United States, by an overwhelming vote, to one chance to end the radiation and the possibilities of burning.

It may be, as I said, that we may fail, but anyone who bothers to look at the true destructive power of the atom today and what we and the Soviet Union could do to each other and the world in an hour and in a day, and to Western Europe - I passed over yesterday the Little Big Horn where General Custer was slain, a massacre which has lived in history, 400 or 500 men. We are talking about 300 million men and women in 24 hours.

I think it is wise to take a first step to lessen the possibility of that happening. And that is why our diplomacy is important. For the forces making for diversity are to be found everywhere where people are, even within the Communist empire, and it is our obligation to encourage those forces wherever they may be found. Hard and discouraging questions remain in Vietnam, in Cuba, in Laos, the Congo, all around the globe. The ordeal of the emerging nations has just begun. The control of nuclear weapons is still incomplete. The areas of potential friction, the chances of collision, still exist.

But in every one of these areas the position of the United States, I believe, is happier and safer when history is going for us rather than when it is going against us. And we have history going for us today, but history is what men make it. The future is what men make it.

We cannot fulfill our vision and our commitment and our interest in a free and diverse future without unceasing vigilance, devotion, and, most of all, perseverance, a willingness to stay with it, a willingness to do with fatigue, a willingness not to accept easy answers, but instead, to maintain the burden, as the people of this State have done for 100 years, and as the United States must do the rest of this century until finally we live in a peaceful world.

Therefore, I think this country will continue its commitments to support the world of freedom, for as we discharge that commitment we are heeding the command which Brigham Young heard from the Lord more than a century ago, the command he conveyed to his followers, "Go as pioneers . . . to a land of peace."

Thank you.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Insider's Outside View of Mormon History

The Discovery Years

While reading about the LDS history articles in the Ensign, I was reminded of my own studies. When I was young my 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 than how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. That there was 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 purely facts that had to be included or something was missing.

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. Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I had decided to find another one. As with so many people, that would be Fawn Brodie's treatment. At this point my focus of LDS Church history was set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. I read a few chapters, a few at the start and a couple in the middle. Unlike so many people who apparently read her treatment 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. 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 were the most 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 there was one or two good articles that came out of that era. Still, it got me reading more than the simple works produced by a small group of believers.

A Larger Reading

Once I got into college my reading material grew larger and more robust. For once I read articles by people who were either not members of the LDS Church or dealing with subjects you wouldn't find in Church productions. Again, my faith didn't falter as so many people have said theirs did when they read this kind of material. Instead, my understanding of Joseph Smith and Mormonism expanded. I enjoyed both the more devotional treatments and the more scholarly approaches. They weren't at odds most of the time for me, as much as complimentary. Those I disagreed with, well, I disagreed with.

Let me put it this way. You don't reject addition and subtraction because you learn about algebra and physics. For me it was the same way with LDS Church history. I didn't lose faith because I learned something more difficult to comprehend than what I started with. If anything, those people who were blatantly anti-LDS were easy to detect because they ignored other interpretations and critical contexts. That is one reason I have a hard time believing LDS Church history is damaging to a member's testimony unless they are looking for a reason. I am just as upset by those who reject the history because it doesn't fit their pre-conceived notions.

One example of how perceptions can be more important than the history is my encounter with reading the book by Dan Vogel on Joseph Smith and American Indians. It was an exciting study of how Indians were treated and represented right before and during Joseph Smith's time. I could see the struggles to come to grips with a group of people that were mysterious and culturally different. My reaction after reading the book was, most surprising to myself now, how merciful God was for presenting the Mormons with a true understanding of the spiritual history of the Amerindians, especially at a time it was so important to the people. My "misreading" of the book would shatter with later events.

Lines Have Been Drawn

My mixing up of believer with unbeliever would come to an end a few years after the first discoveries. Perhaps the beginning of the end starts with Mark Hoffman long before the LDS History "crisis" after his conviction of murder and fraud. It is said that he damaged the perception of Mormonism for several years. That seems to be a simplistic understanding of his influence. What he did was expose a certain kind of historian of Mormonism; a group of wolves in sheep clothing. His "discoveries" were so fantastic and followed a certain perception, that those who held to those views were quick to grab hold. Of course, there was the famous anti-Mormons who claimed from the start they were fake and used that as proof they were somehow better historians. The truth is more probable that they knew the forgeries were going to expose their own theories and those they relied on to tighter scrutiny. And, it did just that.

It was soon after I had gotten really deep into the study of LDS Church history and Doctrine that I ran into a crossroad. I remember reading an op-ed in a Mormon history periodical about how the Mormon leadership should leave the historians alone because they were doing some good and causing no harm. At the time I hadn't been paying attention to what some historians were doing as much as what they were writing. That isn't always the same thing. Because of that, for a brief period I was mildly on the side of the historians. They were bringing some wonderful history to light that deepened Mormonism as far as I was concerned. I had started to understand things more than worry about them. Where the historians were asking questions I had been, with other studies, having those questions answered. The flirtation with "rebellion" was not long lived.

With one book, "The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture," my positive vision of a more open Mormon history came crashing down. It was my Rosetta Stone for what was actually going on between the LDS leadership and a small set of Mormon historians. I recognized a few names - particularly the main editor - but the voice was all wrong. This was a call to war. Total and complete skepticism and anamosity to the faith was out in the open such as would not be seen until the Jesus Seminar.

Going back and reading the previous studies was often frustratingly depressing. Some say that the LDS Church and CES religious educators are to blame for silencing better scholarship. Although a plausible argument, they weren't completely wrong in their assessments of where intellectuals were going. The famous words of Richard Bushman about keeping faithful and staying scholarly were never headed by either group. Lines had been drawn by both sides with each feeding on the other.

Soon after discovering the real agenda behind the secular studies those voices became loud and strident. They were vindictive, skeptical to a fault, self-righteously positive of themselves, and unapologetically faithless. The study of Mormonism had been replaced by political statements. Any calls of "objectivity" were pathetic (but successful) attempts at sympathy. They had betrayed any honest inquiry with calls for revolution. Instead of helping to change Mormons, they sought to change Mormonism. That is the responsibility of Prophets and Apostles, and many knew enough about that to seek usurpation of power by ridicule and accusing the leadership. By the time of the excommunications, it was no surprise what happened.

The Slow Resurrection

Those who talk of "inoculation" against the more difficult parts of Mormon history and doctrine seem to ignore the opportunity was lost years ago. The group who is often seen as intellectual martyrs helped bring those conditions found today. Others such as Richard L. Bushman, Thomas Alexander, Davis Bitton, Grant Underwood, Dean C. Jessee, and Milton V. Backman Jr were long forgotten. What they wrote was often less sensational and too faithful for those who sought absolute abolition of God and Revelation.

The problem with Mormon history is not, as its critics and the exed-bunch apologists believe, that it has a history. Rather, as recent scholars Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens have shown, it is how the history is approached. I believe strongly that typical Latter-day Saints can appreciate and not be scandalized by the more complex past. However, that can only happen if the history is presented in a way that is (I won’t say the obnoxious and horribly false “objectively”) less critical and more informational. Those who oppose such an approach can call it apologia. Fine enough, but all history is apologia. All arguments made are only the creation of the scholars putting often desperate material together in a cohesive presentation.

I look forward to the renewed emphasis on the history of Mormonism in the Ensign. It is ironic that those involved in presenting history earlier in the Ensign contributed to its end. Now, I hope that LDS History can return to what it was in the “golden years” before the ignoble rebellion of a few. Critics and skeptics have a role, but not as the supreme voices going unchallenged.