Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Word of Wisdom Vindicated . . . Again

Part of the Word of Wisdom dealing with alcohol consumption was supposed to have been put into question by studies. Every few months, it seemed, a new study would come out stating that moderate drinking of wine or dark beer helped with this or that health concern. Not so fast, says another study, because there can be more harm than good:

Experts with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association say that though these studies do show some benefits to moderate drinking, the health risks from alcohol consumption far outweigh the potential rewards.

The reason for the warning is that it may prevent some kinds of cancers and heart problems, but it can cause other cancers:

Drinking any alcohol at all is known to increase your risk for contracting a number of types of cancer, said Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology for the American Cancer Society. These include cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon/rectum and breast.

It also causes, as has been known, liver damage. However, all the benefits that do exist can be had by fresh fruits and vegetables:

For example, people can get resveratrol -- the antioxidant found in red wine that's believed to provide most of the drink's health benefits -- from drinking grape juice just as well as from drinking wine, Mieres said.

Those who have produced the study seem to be trying to have it both ways, extolling drinking in moderation even when they claim that is harmful. As for the moderation, having one drink or two drinks a day is the recommended. Known patterns of drinking don't follow that very well. Other studies have shown that binge drinking, especially for the young, or having more than the above recommended glasses a day is far more likely.

Caution is still recommended with this study. Reports on doctors' and scientists' findings have a habit of discovering competing studies. For the moment, the health prescription from the Lord seems safe enough to continue following.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

About Mormon Tears

Many times, usually during testimony meeting, a member of the LDS Church will cry while talking about life and the gospel. The message is clear; they are experiencing a spiritual moment. What is not as clear is if the tears are genuine. Most of the time they are, but sometimes its hard to tell. Sincerity isn't the issue, but there can be a question of necessity.

One of the most famous "crying Mormon" is Glenn Beck, the controversial Conservative pundit. He is known to shed a tear either about his testimony or topics about the U.S. Constitution. Next to him in recognition of tear soaked words is Elder Richard G. Scott Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He is often like Pa in Little House on the Prairie; each time you hear him there is going to be tears by the end.

There is much that could be said about the article on Glenn Beck, but there is one paragraph that seems wrong:

Beck’s oft-ridiculed penchant for punctuating his tirades with tears is the hallmark of a distinctly Mormon mode of masculinity. As sociologist David Knowlton has written, “Mormonism praises the man who is able to shed tears as a manifestation of spirituality.” Crying and choking up are understood by Mormons as manifestations of the Holy Spirit. For men at every rank of Mormon culture and visibility, appropriately-timed displays of tender emotion are displays of power.

This sounds more like feminist self-indulgence not based on everyday facts. Besides Elder Scott as mentioned above, very few leaders of the Church cry often. The Mormons who are most likely to cry and choke up are the Women, particularly younger ones. Worst offenders are those who get up on the podium and shed tears the moment they start talking. Once you get to know a congregation it isn't hard to predict who will tear up every time they reach the podium. Personally, instead of sharing in their spiritual experience it can be annoying. My own encounters with the Spirit can make me smile.

It isn't to say that crying when you feel spiritual, or what is known as "the gift of tears" in other traditions, is to be avoided. The most famous shedding of tears was when Jesus wept (John 11:35) at the grave of Lazarus because of the sadness of his friends. More tears were shed by him as the Christ looking over the Nephites and Lamanites. However, there should be judicious use and careful examination of the sincerity involved. Powerful moments of spiritual expression can be made less by overdone presentations. Don't cry if you don't feel it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Dan Brown and Mormonism

Author Dan Brown has confused and scandalized Christians with some of his work. His most ferocious attacks have been against the Roman Catholic Church, with special emphasis on the exploits of the little known Opus Dia order. Critics describe his writings as clumsy, filled with poor grammar and overused cliches, and lacking historical accuracy. Despite all this, his books are best sellers and two were made into Hollywood movies. Another side of the success is that what scandalizes Christians resonates with Mormon fans.

Brigham Young University is going to release a seven-part documentary about the life of Jesus Christ. "Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God" was produced in response to a PBS documentary that explored the "historical" Jesus. It may not have any ties to Dan Brown, but BYU professor of church history and doctrine Richard Holzapfel said in the 15 minute preview that interest in Mormon views about Christ increased after the author's publications became popular. Before that, he said, revealing you were a Mormon would shut down any discussions.

The reason for this change in attitudes and Mormon interest in Dan Brown's writings is the ideas he presents. When his first book "The Da Vinci Code" came out, it talked about how Jesus was married and had children. For a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this wasn't unheard of. One of the most outspoken early leaders of the LDS Church, Apostle Orson Hyde, insisted, "Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error." Elder Hyde said at another time, "Before the Savior died, he looked upon his own natural children, as we look upon ours; he saw his seed, and immediately afterwards he was cut off from the earth; but who shall declare his generation? They had no father to hold them in honorable remembrance; they passed into the shades of obscurity, never to be exposed to mortal eye as the seed of the blessed one." Other early LDS leaders known to have expressed these beliefs include Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Apostle Heber C. Kimball, Apostle Jedediah M. Grant, and Apostle Orson Pratt.

The highly regarded book "Jesus the Christ" by Apostle James E. Talmage and other LDS Apostles since have not made these conclusions. Following generations have almost forgotten the teachings of a few in earlier days. The marriage and family of Jesus has become Mormon folklore doctrines.

At first Mormons were worried that Dan Brown's latest book would feature the LDS Church in a bad light, much like he did the Roman Catholic Church. Mostly this was because he visited Salt Lake City and was going to write about Free Masonry. LDS history and temple ritual have ties to Free Masonry that some critics find worthy of contempt. There was relief when "The Lost Symbol" turned out to hardly mention Mormonism other than in a few minor paragraphs.

More intriguing was once again Dan Brown had touched on subject matters closer to Mormonism than traditional Christianity. Bryce Haymond of the blog "Temple Study" wrote about the different subjects in the book that Mormons could relate to as part of their own beliefs. These include spirits as "intelligence," spirit matter, ancient mystery initiations, and the plurality of God. The central theme of the book is theosis, or the potential of men to become god-like. The painting The Apotheosis of Washington is used as a point of reference. Haymond states, "Theosis, or deification, has always been a sticking point with critics of the LDS Church. To these seemingly erudite scholars, a belief in theosis is likely the most heretical and blasphemous doctrine Mormonism could have possibly come up with – the idea that fallen and sinful man could rise to the stature of our God in heaven."

A few Mormons have questioned if he got some of his ideas while in Salt Lake City. How closely "The Lost Symbol" touches on Mormon theology could make for an intellectual conspiracy theory. Blog respondent Clark, in a post at Mormon Mentality said, "It does make one wonder what he was researching in the Church archives if Mormonism is so minor." Maybe it is time for Mormonism to once again focus on its unique characteristics; all courtesy of a second rate writer with a popular following.