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.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How Romney's "Mormon Speech" Could Be Handled

There was a humorous article in the Deseret News about what Mitt’s “Mormon Question” response would be like. I thought only a few comments were funny, including:

Why is this press conference starting 10 minutes late?

It was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. MST — Mormon Standard Time. MST is about 10 minutes later than the rest of the world. Most BYU football fans, for instance, have never heard "The Star Spangled Banner."

Can you discuss the widespread rumor that Mormon men are subjected to horrible violence and unspeakable ugliness regularly in the Mormon culture?

I'm not here to talk about church ball. Not in front of the women anyway. Next question.

Do Mormons still drive wagons on the roads?

Please, that's the Amish gig! We do like vans and Suburbans, though — aka the Mormon Cadillac.

As a long shot, how do you ever expect to move to the White House?

The Elders Quorum.

Following after these comments, I thought to add my own Q&A all in good fun:

Why do you make such unfunny jokes about Polygamy?

My wife asked me that the other night. My response was that the best way to bring up a serious topic is with humor, but I am no comedian. She then told me no kidding.

Some would say if you become President that you would take orders from Salt Lake City. Is that true?

Look, my wife’s cooking is good, but not that good. Besides, we eat out most of the time. As for the real answer to your question, getting a member of the church to do anything is like herding cats. I’m not sure why I would be any different.

Did you avoid the draft by going on a mission?

Luckily I brought some warm clothes because some of the apartments we lived in were real dives. Serving a mission was no picnic. We were Americans . . . in France.

Will you have a lot of Mormons on your staff?

Not as many as JFK, Eisenhower, or Reagan. I served my time as Bishop and Stake President and am ready for a change.

You were an ecclesiastical leader in the Mormon Church. What did you do during that time?

When I wasn’t helping people out, I was taking a nap on the podium. When I was speaking, the congregation was taking a nap.

Why don’t you talk about Mormon theology more?

See my answer to the above question.

How will your Mormonism influence you as President of the United States?

There will be longer meetings. Sunday and Monday will be days off. State funerals will have lots of casserole served. Other than that, business as usual.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Democrats Buttering Up Mormons

In my continued look at Mormons and politics this month, I thought I would point out a small trend. Some Democrats have been looking at the "Mormon Question" in editorials and trying to sound rather appauled at how Romney has been treated. The real confusion is the insistance that they would never ever vote for him, but . . . his religion should be off limits to deciding to vote for him. Now, these statements have not come from any of the main Democratic operatives of the Presidential contenders. Thinking of why these Democrats would be sounding so respectful of Mitt and his religion, it might be a coup if those presidential Democratic contenders were to follow the examples. I think the real reasoning behind the Democrat's editorials (although I do think they are sincere in feelings if not in agenda) is to shave off a few Mormon votes from the Republicans.

One example comes from Democrat Martin Frost about Romney falling victim to voter descrimination because of his religion. Of course, "descrimination" is a catch-phrase in Democratic circles for those who need government (particularly Democrat) protection. He states:

As a Democrat, I wouldn’t vote for Romney in the general election if he is nominated by the Republican Party. But I’ll be damned if I can understand why he should be disqualified from seeking his party’s nomination because of his religion. This makes no logical sense in the world’s greatest democracy in the 21st century.

One of the reasons that this makes so little sense to me is that I have spent most of my adult life in the most religiously tolerant major city in the South -- Dallas, Texas.

Dallas, with a Jewish population of only about 35,000 out of more than one million residents, has been served by three Jewish mayors (Adlene Harrison, Annette Strauss and Laura Miller), numerous Jewish members of the City Council, two Jewish state representatives (Steve Wolens and Alvin Granoff) and a Jewish Congressman (myself).

Additionally, Dallas produced the first Jewish chairman of the Democratic National Committee (Bob Strauss) and the neighboring county to the north (Collin County) has been represented by a Jewish state senator (Florence Shapiro) for many years. All this has occurred in the last 30 years.

First, I think he overestimates the inclusive nature of Dallas, even by his own references. To be Jewish in the U.S. has been "mainstream" even by Evangelical Christian standards. They may think of them as lost, but not without hope or some sort of blessing from God as a "former" chosen people. What would really be impressive is if there were members of the Hindu, Muslim, or any other religion that were put in important politial and social positions.

What is really impressive, at least by Mormon standards, is his argument about the Mormon's place in U.S. society:

The answer that many people give is that Mormonism is a cult, not a religion. If that is so, then why do we permit Mormons who have served in our military to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery? . . .

Mormons pay taxes, can wear the uniform of our county, and can die for our country. There are Mormon members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. And yet significant numbers of voters believe they are not qualified to serve as president.

His argument shouldn't be refuted. It is a good and true one that I think should be heard. What I am looking at is the reason for such a "bold" declaration, particularly on Fox News. Anyone who knows the perception of that news channel knows exactly who he is trying to talk to; Convervatives. And Mormons are known as Conservatives, so they would be part of his audience. What he is doing, I think, is no so much talking to Evangelical Christians as he is Mormons. He is basically saying, I am a Democrat who is not voting Republican and yet I am more "enlightened and tolerant" than those large numbers of Mormons are voting with. This wasn't something I had thought possible until I read another article that sounded almost exactly the same.

In an op-ed article for The Carmi Times, another Democrat talks about the "Mormon Question" in relation to Romney and voters. He adds at the end, just to be clear:

I'm a Democrat and I'll be picking from among Hillary, Barack, John and the others when I step into the voting booth Feb. 5. And even if I were a Republican, I'm not at all sure that Romney would be my man.

What he has to say about Mormons comes right from the playbook if there was one that exists. There is the JFK and the Jewish reference:

And then, in 1960, we did the once unimaginable and elected a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy.

Since then we've further expanded our horizons. Millions voted in 2004 for an Orthodox Jew (Joe Lieberman) for vice president.

Again, Leiberman was a Democrat and second Evangelical Christians hold high regards if only in memorium for Jews because of (rather than inspite of) religious theology. He then goes on about the many respected and important people in the U.S. who are Mormons. Half way down, after he makes the list and confronts those who just don't know much about Mormons, the true group of his disagreements becomes evident:

Reason No. 2: Fear. A lot of evangelical Protestants believe that if Romney were elected president, the Mormon church would grow by leaps and bounds--at the expense of their own denominations. And, to be fair, many of them also believe that Mormons aren't Christians (despite the name of their church and their fervent claims to the contrary), and that people who convert to the LDS church are headed for Hell.

Are they right? Make that judgment on your own, if you care to.

But would a Mormon president open the floodgates of conversions to the LDS church? I don't think so. Ask yourself: Have the United Methodists blossomed under George W. Bush? Did Bill Clinton attract new Baptists in droves? Would you convert to another religion just because the president espoused that faith? . . .

Would a Mormon president do what the church president out in Salt Lake told him to do? Did Kennedy follow the pope's orders? Come on.

There isn't any concrete proof of a political move by the Democrats that they are courting Mormon votes. So far becaue of the minimal number of Mormons and the concentrated geography of membership it isn't a group that would spark much interest to court. However, it would seem that Democrats could make inroads if they were to adopt the stance of these two commentators and talk up the "protected minority" status they like to tout.

Not that I would vote Democrat because the party still doesn't hold to my political beliefs. That, perhaps, is the greatest hurdle that would need to be crossed. It isn't insurmountable with other Mormons. All it would take is a more libertarian (and less Liberal) position and greater religious (not dogmatic, anti- or a-religious) focus. Taken together, the Democrats have a good hand to criple the Republican party in the West if they play it right. Again, not that I would want that. Rather, I would just like to see rhetoric turn to action and conservatism become more a political (and generic relgious) than theological movement.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And People think Mormons Claim Orders from God

The only reason I am including this story about Huckabee is because of how Mormons would be treated if any leaders did the same, and what it would mean for Mormons (and others who are considered non-Christian) if he was elected President. My patience for the Religious Right, as stated in my other post, is wearing thin. At this point, if Romney doesn't win then I hope Gilliani does even if I don't consider him Conservative. Either one of those will either shrink the exclusive bigotry of a group that I support the moral values of or break the influence of the increasingly theocratic voters in a political party I belong.

Here are some important graphs:

IRVING, Texas — New Beginnings church hasn’t endorsed anybody in the 2008 presidential race, but God probably has, pastor Larry Huch said Sunday.

The Almighty, who chose a Goliath-slayer to reign over Israel years ago, apparently has selected an Arkansan to rule over the United States, the Irving pastor repeatedly told his congregation as Mike Huckabee stood nearby.

Huch, saying he believes he has a word from God for the Republican hopeful, quoted a Scripture passage from 1 Samuel that ends with the Lord declaring: “Arise and anoint [David to lead the nation ] for this is the one.”

The crowd, some of them wearing yarmulkes, cheered noisily after Huch’s declaration, and they later stretched their hands toward Huckabee as they prayed for campaignseason favor from heaven.

“I believe that Sen. Huckabee is the David that you’ve brought in to be a head over this nation’s house,” Huch said, misstating Huckabee’s political rank. “And Father, I ask for the blessing on him, on his family, on their campaign, that you will keep them safe, you will give them wisdom, that you will give him favor, for he is giving you all the praise and all the glory.”

A more level headed, but still problematic, blog run by Evangelical Christians contemplated about this article:

1. Can you imagine the brouhaha if this had happened to Gov. Romney in an LDS church?
2. Does this violate the IRS tax codes, to have a pastor lay hands on a candidate and declare that God has anointed him to win the election... at church? Just curious and my resident attorney is away.

In case anyone thinks that Huckabee is just going on for the ride, remember he is a Baptist Preacher himself. That isn't a layman's calling that means mere membership responsibilities. Not only that, but he has preached in a church recently while running for U.S. President. What he said is both typical and questionable:

For Christians, Huckabee suggested, defeat need not ever be final.

“All things work together for good — not for everybody in the world — but for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. That’s a unique privilege for those who put their faith in Christ,” he told the 10 a. m. worship crowd, paraphrasing Romans 8: 28.

Then Huckabee compared the future to an Arkansas Razorbacks basketball victory — tape-delayed and rebroadcast, but with the outcome never in doubt.

He compared that broadcast to the end times outlined in the book of Revelation, the apocalyptic final book in the New Testament. “Cheat just a little bit, and just go read the back of the book, because guess what ? In the end, we do win this thing.”

“Whatever the score is late in the fourth quarter, hang on, because when the final whistle blows, Jesus is Lord and that’s what matters.”

He even got in a shot at Romney, with God behind it:

With news cameras clicking and television crews beaming his image onto Jumbotron-style screens, Huckabee compared the Christian’s life to a bobsled race. “God has plans for the curves ahead. God plans for us to succeed — not fail.”

Quoting the late singer Ethel Waters, Huckabee added, “God don’t sponsor no flops.”

This man really disturbes me. The only good news is that if he does win the Republican nomination, something I don't believe will happen, he would most certainly lose. It is amazing that people are talking all about Romney's Mormonism that has proven to be of little political practical value. Here is someone who is unquestionably using his religion as a political asset. He is even invoking God beyond the relatively generic term for a higher power that others of a different faith can share.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Open Note to Christian Conservatives

There was a time when I thought that Evangelical Christians and Mormons were in a position to work together. That was in the mutual respect for shared moral views as upheld in the majority Republican Party voters. Both fought for a less secular society and more respect for traditional families, personal property, the sanctity of the unborn, and other similar issues. For at least ten years things were looking promising. Currently there is a need to band together to fight for those values as they are in danger of getting lost after a liberal Democrat take over of Washington. However, the regrouping that should be happening has been stopped by theological arguments that should not be part of a political discussion.

I used to believe that the warnings by the left that the Religious Right wanted to create a Theocracy in the United States similar to Islamic states was unfounded. When there was talk of a "Christian Nation" it was always my assumption that simply meant a nation that respected the "Judeo-Christian" past and values of its founding citizens and ideals. Never did I believe it meant making laws or only accepting for citizenship those that support a specific religious creed or dogma. That is totally against the founding principles of the Constitution.

Recently I have wondered if the left was not horribly correct. Now, I still believe that a liberal is as much against Mormonism as any Evangelical Christian who holds to their Jesus doctrines. The difference is that the liberal would not vote for the Mormon for political reasons and not purely theological ones. They might say that Mormons have stranger beliefs than any other religion, but at least they are usually consistant in saying all religions are suspect.

However, the Evangelical Christian is very picky with who they show displeasure against. Many would not vote for a Mormon no matter what. Although there are some instances when Mormons have been equally as questionable in voting by association when they are the majority, it would be unthinkable from a national perspective. They would not only lose, but have no one to vote for in national elections. There are those who point to the fact that Romney is getting support from some high profile Evangelical Christian leaders as an argument for Religious Right pragmatism. That is nice for him. However, the support is so back handed and laced with so many theological strings that it pretty much disqualifies the support. It reaks of opportunistic theocratic aspirations and self-justifications.

One example includes the following:

"I told him, you cannot equate Mormonism with Christianity; you cannot say, `I am a Christian just like you,' said Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, which is scheduled to hold the first primary among the Southern states. `If he does that, every Baptist preacher in the South is going to have to go to the pulpit on Sunday and explain the differences.''

Another comment tries to be far less direct, but still misunderstands or doesn't care about the Mormon feelings on the matter:

Richard Land said he sees Mormonism "as another faith in the same sense that I would look upon Islam as another faith. I think the fairest and most charitable way to define Mormonism would be to call it the fourth Abrahamic religion — Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third, and Mormonism being the fourth. And Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam."

I have heard often times by Romney Evangelical Christian supporters the reasoning that they can support him, because God can just as easily lead nations with unbelievers. The examples they use would obviously make a Mormon cringe:

"Or have we come to the point where evangelicals will only vote for people they consider Christians? I hope not, for nothing in the Bible says that people have to be born again Christians before they can be governmental authorities who are used greatly by God to advance his purposes. God used Pharaoh, King of Egypt, to raise Joseph to a position of authority over the whole country, so he could save his people from famine (Genesis 41:37-57). God used Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to protect and raise up Daniel and his Jewish friends to positions of high authority over Babylon (Daniel 2:46-49). God used Cyrus, King of Persia, to restore the Jewish exiles to their homeland (Isaiah 45:16; Ezra 1:1-4), and used Darius, King of Persia, to protect the Jewish people as they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:1-12). God used Ahashuerus, King of Persia, to raise up Esther as Queen and to give Mordecai high authority and honor in his kingdom (Esther 6:10-11; 8:1-2, 7-15). In the New Testament age, God used the peace enforced by the secular Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, to enable the early Christians to travel freely and spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

Here in the United States, God used not only Founding Fathers who were strong Christians, but also Deists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to build the foundation of our nation."

Romney may not respond because he is not, as he has said many times before, runnning as the Mormon President. However, most Mormons would agree with the statement made by Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, "The fact that we are Christians is non-negotiable." There are those who question why allowing for more inclusiveness and less theological "purity" is important. Some would even say it benefits the Mormons with too much "legitamacy" as if they don't already have that in the United States. The question and the statement says it all. Evangelical Christians must decide if they want a theocratic nation or democratic one; they can't have both.

No matter how much support a Mormon gets from Evangelical Christians politically, if they don't stop publically spouting theological disagreements then they will lose all political influence. When these statements are made outside of a Church then it no longer is a theological consideration. It becomes a political statement with very specific consiquences for both groups. The Mormons are a strong force in the Republican Party, as the consistantly conservative Utah and Idaho members of Congress and Senate illustrate. As much as the "religious war" is a product of liberal media looking for a wedge between conservatives, it is not entirely without fuel.

As the Religous Right gave advice to Mitt Romney about his religion, I think they should get some advice for themselves. If they want to continue to be politically relevant they should become more tolerant of other's religion. They should stop theologically attacking those who hold political and moral allegiances. If they don't then they could find themselves standing alone. The Mormons have changed political affiliations in the past because of how they were viewed and treated by those who should have been with them, and grumblings have already started to do it again. Not only that, but there are other groups who have expressed concerns about what the Religious Right have done to the Republican Party and conservatism in general. You don't have to agree to be agreeable. A qualified endorsement can come across as no endorsement at all even if the person endorsed has graciously accepted.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Interview with Ken Jennings by an Atheist

Just thought this would be of interest to the blogernacle. As a Republican and supporter of Mitt Romney I have to disagree with his politics, but most everything else seems right on to me.

Hemant: You’re a Mormon, but I’ve rarely heard you say much about your faith outside of its name. Do you ever talk about your faith publicly?

Ken: I’m always happy to talk about Mormonism when it comes up — Alex Trebek and I discussed topics like tithing and Mormon dietary taboos (cigarettes, booze) on-air, and many interviewers since have been oddly interested in the possible connections between faith and game show success. I think I only seem reticent about my faith when you compare me to a certain kind of bumper-sticker Christian, full of proselytizing zeal. I love my religion and am always happy to share it, but it’s also very personal to me, and I don’t know that trotting it out incongruously in secular situations is always appropriate (or, from a conversion perspective, very effective). Mostly, I’m just happy for the chance to shatter any remaining stereotypes of Mormons as insular weirdos. So I try to pick my spots and appreciate it when others do the same.

Hemant: You’ve said in interviews that a six-month mission trip you took in college strengthened your faith. What was it about the trip that changed your life?

Ken: It’s actually a two-year mission that young LDS guys serve — I was in Madrid, Spain from 2003 to 2005. Missionaries help out with local congregations and perform community service, but the bulk of their day is spent looking for and teaching people who are interested in hearing more about the Mormon church. Almost any Mormon who’s served a mission will talk for hours on end about what a formative, landmark experience it was in their lives. A lot of that is just timing and circumstance: you’re 19 years old, you’re far from home, you’re living an incredibly demanding lifestyle (missionaries work upwards of twelve hours a day, six days a week, and even their non-working hours are tightly regimented for study, chores, etc.). But there’s more to it than that.

For believing people — even very devout ones — religion tends, by necessity, to be a sidelight in our lives. We talk a good game, but we still spend much more time and effort on our careers, family, even hobbies than God gets. It was eye-opening to actually be able to put my money where my mouth was, for a change, and think about spiritual things full time, and act accordingly. That kind of focus really shows you the power can religion have in someone’s life — my life, as well as the changes for good I saw in a lot of the people we taught. A lot of atheists probably assume that a dramatic increase in religious devotion leads inevitably to fanaticism, but believe me, there’s an enormous potential for good in that kind of focus as well. I lived a completely distraction-free, self-examined life for two years, considering nothing but Life’s Big Questions. Those medieval monastic orders were on to something.

Hemant: Have you ever doubted your Mormonism? If so, how did you deal with that?

Ken: I think doubt is an essential part of faith. I don’t like the absolute conviction of a lot of religious people, even when it doesn’t lead them to blow up buildings or whatever. Mormons like to say “I know…” rather than “I believe…” when they testify of their faith, and I know they mean well, but the formulation rankles. It sounds complacent. Ah well, you know. That’s all sorted out, then.

I feel like a livelier, stronger faith is the kind you have to fight for regularly. The man with a sick child in Mark chapter 9 said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” I feel the same way a lot of the time. My faith isn’t just the one I happened to be spoon-fed as a child. By this time, it’s based on a lot of very real life experiences — times when I feel the principles and organization of my church brought me closer to the divine. But it’s a chaotic world out there, and sometimes you have to fight to remember those experiences amid all the other distractions.

Hemant: How do you reconcile your faith with your knowledge of science where there is contradiction between them?

Ken: This is an easier question for a Mormon than it is, perhaps, for an Evangelical: there’s no specific LDS doctrine on issues like evolution, so none of that has ever been problematic for me. Brigham Young taught the early Latter-day Saints that “Mormonism embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical.” As a result, there’s an open-minded, questing, Enlightenment spirit to the Mormon pursuit of truth that I’ve always liked.

Science has been known to be wrong about scientific questions, but it certainly has a much better track record than organized religion does in deciding scientific questions, so I prefer to keep the two magisteria non-overlapping. I also don’t like it when the maple syrup from my pancakes gets on my sausage at breakfast.

Hemant: Outside of your church (which was tithed, correct?), where did you donate some of your winnings?

Ken: Yes, a tenth of my winnings was tithed to my church, but I’d like that to be just the beginning of the good I do with the money, not the end of it. It’s nice now to be able to write a generous check when some worthy cause pops up, Katrina or a friend’s fun run or a public radio pledge drive, and not have to worry about whether I can still pay the bills that month. But I’ll confess that I’m still paralyzed by indecision when it comes to the bulk of the money. I’d like to do one big, substantive thing rather than ladling it out piecemeal, but it’s hard to know where it would do the most good. So for now, I mostly dither.

Hemant: A lot of religious parents raise their children in “the family faith.” Most atheist parents (perhaps in response) prefer teaching kids how to think, not what to think. How are you raising your kids Dylan and Caitlin?

(Quick note: In this question, I meant to ask Ken what his thoughts were on the idea of teaching critical thinking instead of simply believe-it-because-we-said-so religion. In the process, I came off sounding rather douchebaggish. Ken rightly called me out on it with his answer.)

Ken: Wow, if there an emoticon for self-back-patting, you forgot to use it there. This question, with its imagined crazy religious brainwasher parent and its benevolent, tolerant atheist one, doesn’t strike me as very accurate. You’ll be shocked to hear that even religious people would like their kids to know how to think, and I’m sure a Hitchens-style atheist would be just as unhappy to see a child convert as any believer would be to have a child “fall away” from the faith. I would like to see my kids’ lives blessed by their religion in the same way that mine was. We take them to church with us. They’re four and one years old, respectively. Should we open the Yellow Pages to “Churches” every Sunday morning and have them throw a dart?

That said, of course our love for our kids — or anyone else — isn’t contingent on them sharing our religion, no matter what path they choose. But, in the meantime, my wife and I are going to give them a head-start in the only tradition that we know from personal experience has brought us greater truth and happiness.

Hemant: Do you think Mormons ever get an unfair rap from society? Is there any stereotype in particular that annoys you?

Ken: I almost don’t know where to begin here. Until recently, I thought the LDS Church had pretty effectively mainstreamed itself over the last fifty years. Being Mormon made you an interesting oddity at a dinner party — like being a raw-foodie, or a unicyclist, or a Canadian — but it didn’t elicit any lip-curling scorn. Then Mitt Romney decided to run for president, and now I can’t go a week without reading a clueless blog post or Sunday-paper think piece in which it’s 1850 and apparently Mormons are sinister, secretive outsiders. Thanks Mitt!

Dear mainstream media: there are twelve million Mormons in the world today. The majority aren’t Utah-based Osmond clones. In fact, the majority don’t even live in the US anymore. We are not a monolith. The clueless stereotypes (Mormons are chin-bearded polygamists) are as useless now as the slightly more clued-in ones (Mormons are teeth-grindingly wholesome, whitebread, green-Jell-O-eating suburbanites with eight kids apiece). I myself do not have a chin-beard or any multiple wives (though if they actually looked like Ginnifer Goodwin on Big Love, I could maybe be persuaded). I don’t have eight kids. I don’t own a single pitchfork. I’m not (by my own estimation here, of course) a complete moron, a close-minded nutjob, or a humorless tool. I’m not a Republican. I enjoy high culture and pop culture alike. Mormons are regular folks, just like anybody else, not a spooky cult in any way.

Atheists, you should be the ones taking the lead in ending the Mormon-bashing! After all, LDS doctrine may seem kooky to you guys, but at least you don’t think it’s heretical. You should be the first to realize that the founding LDS narrative — Joseph Smith, an angel, golden plates, etc. — isn’t any more or less sensible than the origins of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It just doesn’t have a few millennia of distance to give it the patina of authority.

Hemant: What trivia don’t atheists know about the Book of Mormon?

Ken: I don’t think non-Mormons know much of anything about the Book of Mormon, so this is a pretty wide field. How about: the word “Deseret,” the Mormons’ 1849 name for their proposed western state, doesn’t derive from the word “desert” at all. It appears in the Book of Mormon, where it’s translated as “honeybee.”

Hemant: Do you only stay in Marriott hotels?

Ken: I’m so ecumenical, I’ll stay anyplace with free wi-fi. No matter what kind of godless heathen owns the joint.

Hemant: On your last episode of Jeopardy!, Did you throw the final question *wink wink nudge nudge*?

Ken: Yes. I was so sick of a job where I was making $60K+ an hour that I decided to abruptly quit. That’s exactly right.

Hemant: Is Marie Osmond going to win Dancing with the Stars?

Ken: I hope not. I’m a Jennie Garth or Mark Cuban guy myself.

Hemant: How was the writing of your new book compared to the work you did for Brainiac?

Ken: Brainiac was a tremendously challenging narrative book (at least for a clueless novice author like me), since I was trying to interweave my own TV experience with a look at American trivia culture as well as ask bigger-picture questions about what the trivia urge says about the way our brains work. It was a juggling act. I figured the Trivia Almanac would be a breeze by comparison — just write a lot of trivia questions, right? — and a way to get out of my system all the trivia I accumulated writing Brainiac. But then the scope of the almanac sort of crept out of control: I ended up having to write nine thousand trivia questions in about six months. I think it’s the largest U.S. collection of trivia questions ever released in any form.

Suffice it say, I’m pretty much done with trivia now. As aversion therapy, it totally worked.

Hemant: Mitt Romney. Your thoughts?

Ken: He’s not my favorite candidate — not even my favorite Republican candidate — and as I said above, his run has made it a media open-season on Mormons. But all the hype about a Romney win putting the Oval Office under the thumb of a shadowy Mormon hierarchy is ignorant fear-mongering of the kind that should have gone out with JFK in 1960. Mitt’s certainly the best-looking candidate, though, you have to admit. John Edwards? Are you kidding? That guy looks like John Ritter. Mitt is a hottie.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Preliminary Look at Joseph Smith Manual

As has already been commented on, the next Priesthood/Relief Society LDS manual will be the life and teachings of Joseph Smith. In fact, it will be used the next two years. I can agree with a quote from the link that "this is a good book," but I disagree that, "this is the best manual to be released by correlation." Some things that will be mentioned are to be commended. Others, by the very nature of the manual's teaching style, are problematic. For the record, the problems don't have to do with its approach to history.

Each chapter in the book starts out with an historical event from the life of Joseph Smith. That is nothing new compared to the others that have been published. The difference is that, unlike the others where the lessons drive the life events, the life events introduce the lesson topics. In some ways the manual is as much a biography of the Prophet as it is gospel doctrine. Most of the chapters follow the same outline as "The Life and Ministry of Joseph Smith," an introductory chapter. There are some time jumping in the vignettes, but mostly they follow chronologically. Those who want an unvarnished "inoculation leaning" history are going to be disappointed. It is purely of a religious and mostly traditional viewpoint. The manual sums up the narrative focus:

Through Joseph Smith, the choice seer of the latter days, the doctrines and saving ordinances of the gospel were revealed, and the true Church of Jesus Christ was once again established on the earth. The testimonies of ancient and modern prophets join together to proclaim that Joseph Smith was the instrument through whom God restored the fullness of the gospel for the blessing of “the whole human family, from eternity to eternity.”4

Chapter 47: “Praise to the Man”: Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), 541–57

Considering the purpose of all the manuals as religious devotional material, such need for scholarly purity seems unwarranted. They have been for church doctrine and not history class.

There are some interesting historical highlights nonetheless. Probably the best addition to a church wide introduction is the explanation and use of source material. Unlike the person in the link (Tom), I wouldn't call it "transparency" as much as good professionalism. To be honest, it has the hallmark of someone familiar with Rough Stone Rolling as much as the new Joseph Smith papers project. It is too bad that the link at doesn't include the appendix, because it contains a fascinating look at how the (Documentary) History of the Church was compiled. None of that new to myself, but probably not to many members. It also reinforced for me the need for an updated version that reexamines and uses the original source material, including new notes. The last one to edit what we have now is B.H. Roberts who sometimes contributed myths about the material.

Probably the single most interesting detail is the almost repetitive comment about the First Vision. It clearly states:

"4. Joseph Smith—History 1:5, 7–13. On several occasions the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote or dictated detailed accounts of the First Vision. Quotations in this chapter are from the First Vision account first published in 1842 in “History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons, Mar. 15, 1842, pp. 726–28; Apr. 1, 1842, pp. 748–49; and later included in the Pearl of Great Price and published in the History of the Church, vol. 1, pp. 1–8. This is the official scriptural account. The Prophet Joseph Smith prepared this account in 1838 and 1839 with the help of his scribes."

“Chapter 1: The First Vision: The Father and the Son Appear to Joseph Smith,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), 26–35

This acknowledgement continues with a chapter entirely devoted to the Wentworth Letter, "It is an original account by Joseph Smith testifying of his sacred call from God, his visions, and his ministry and teachings. It recounts the rise and growth of the Church and the persecutions of the Saints." (“Chapter 38: The Wentworth Letter,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), 435–47). By and large the letter has become a de-facto scriptural account of LDS Church history second only to the 6 volume History. There could be a time when the section in the Pearl of Great Price with the 13 Articles of Faith could be replaced with the entire letter.

Just one final note on a detail that was included that usually draws specific meanings. The time when Joseph Smith refused liquor during a painful leg operation has often been used as a lesson on the Word of Wisdom. Regardless, such a connection has been ignored and replaced with parent and child trust. The manual states, "Refusing liquor to dull the pain and relying only on his father’s reassuring embrace, Joseph bravely endured as the surgeon bored into and chipped away part of his leg bone." (“The Life and Ministry of Joseph Smith,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), xxii–25). Again, this seems the influence of Rough Stone Rolling that ignores the same popular interpretation and focuses on character.

The largest problem is the text itself. Strangely, it is the combination of the relatively rich use of resources and its teaching method that hurts the overall reading material. Like all the Teaching of the Presidents manuals, the chapters are a patchwork of quoted sermons. What sets this apart from the others is the often short quotes that make reading it difficult. There are some longer paragraphs, but sometimes all that exists is a string of one or two sentences connected only by theme. A brief one sentence introductory sentence offset by italics often tries to make up for lack of context. Although this is partly because of the nature of the source material of Joseph Smith's sermons, that doesn't explain all the difficulty. Similar to the DHJS, this has reinforced my thoughts that there needs to be an updated Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that compiles more extensive source material.

In conclusion, there are two points that can be observed. The LDS Church Curriculum Development department is more open to tiny scholarly trends. This is mostly in relation to source use and citation, but does cross into a few historical treatments. What is not going away any time soon is the traditional devotional nature of what the LDS Church publishes. This is only natural. It is a religious institution trying to bring souls to Christ and not a scholarly research group looking for peer review.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The "Mormon Transhumanist" Problem

There is a strange little group who call themselves Mormon Transhumanist Association that believe in the enhancement of humanity through technology. It isn't just increasing what we are able to do with technology, but changing the human body. One explanation of the movement from wikipedia is:

Transhumanism (sometimes symbolized by >H or H+) is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to enhance human mental and physical abilities and aptitudes, and ameliorate what it regards as undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition, such as stupidity, suffering, disease, aging and involuntary death. Transhumanist thinkers study the possibilities and consequences of developing and using human enhancement techniques and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Possible dangers, as well as benefits, of powerful new technologies that might radically change the conditions of human life are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.

Although the first known use of the term "transhumanism" dates from 1957, the contemporary meaning is a product of the 1980s, when a group of scientists, artists, and futurists based in the United States began to organize what has since grown into the transhumanist movement. Transhumanist thinkers postulate that human beings will eventually be transformed into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman."

A small group of Mormons see this as compatible with the teachings and even mission of the LDS Church. They state as affirmaiton:

(1) We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.

(2) We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.

(3) We feel a duty to use science and technology according to wisdom and inspiration, to identify and prepare for risks and responsibilities associated with future advances, and to persuade others to do likewise.

Despite the good natured introduction of science and technology into Mormon theological understanding of salvation, the movement is flawed. They say they, "seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals," in hopes of enabling God's will. Transhumanism is seen as part of the means to achieve the, "transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end." All noble ideas, but lacking theological grounds.

From Joseph Smith Jr. to the current leadership of the Church, there has been only one way to exaltation and eternal life. It is through Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Human technology cannot and never will achieve what this group has stated. It is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel.

From the Book of Mormon in Mormon chap. 9:12-13 we learn:

12 Behold, he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.

13 And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal band of death, which death is a temporal death.

Nephi in Second Nephi chap. 25:20 is no less insistant:

20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.

There is no mention of technology enhancements. In every instance the way to salvation is through Faith in Jesus Christ, and only through the Atonement. Interesting enough, there is no mention of this in any of the statements made by those who claim to be part of the Transhumanist movement. The Bible is, of course, just as specific on the topic. Paul states, in First Corinthians, as part of his sermon about the Resurrection:

49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all asleep, but we shall all be changed,

52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Again, there is no slow enhancement of the human body from biotechnological advances. In this description, it is almost an instant transformation at the time of the judgement. When Joseph Smith and others talk about, ". . . going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead . . . (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 346-347), it is a spiritual development. A person must change the inner, and not the outer, self in order to reach perfection. And that is only because of the Grace of God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ available to all.

None of this has questioned the moral implications of biotechnological enhancements. That is an open discussion at this point. Science can and does have a positive value in Mormon metaphysics, often with critics confusing it with materialism. Sadly, it would seem some Mormons are making that mistaken connection as well. The danger is in losing our humanity (the God-like attributes of love, charity, and faith) in the quest for a perfection reserved for the eternities after death. What such physical changes as proposed does to us as spiritual individuals is more important than what it does to our bodies. The resurrection will take care of that later. I am afraid that the Mormon Transhumanists are selling Salvation for bread and pottage of lentiles (Gen. 25: 34) made out of silicon.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Must Read News About Mormons

Here are three of the best news reports about Mormons so far. Two of them are from religious publications and one of them is outside of the United States. What makes them stand out is the amount of accuracy and unbiased information. They treat Mormonism as more than stereotypes. Most importantly, they are insightful and show some respect for the subject. All of these have some connection to Romney's run for U.S. President, as that has sparked the interest of the Press far more than it should.

It still follows too closely to the set paradigms set by other news sources, but Mitt Romney: proudly, quietly Mormon in The Christian Science Monitor personalizes where others have caricatured. Some of the noteworthy paragraphs include:

For three years, from 1982 to 1985, Mr. Romney served as the bishop, or lay pastor, at his church in Belmont, Mass. After that, he served nine years as "stake" president, overseeing about a dozen Boston-area parishes. But it was his time as bishop that gave him the most contact with everyday churchgoers. . .

He says the experience taught him that, despite the sea of happy faces he saw each week at church, everybody faces hardships. That lesson is just as vibrant for him now, as a presidential candidate, traveling the country and addressing crowds.

This could be the only time an LDS Church position was discussed rather than simply mentioned. A Bishop, Stake President, and even the President of the LDS Church are real people who are dealing with real people in the real world. Most of the other news reports have ignored that; and do that even with the leadership of other religions. Another worthy quote is:

But even in that answer, in mentioning Jesus Christ, Romney is treading on sensitive territory. Many Protestants and Roman Catholics do not recognize Mormons as Christian because the church does not adhere to the common view of the Holy Trinity. The Mormon Church, instead, sees God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost as three separate beings – God and Jesus having human form – who collectively make up the Godhead.

This is wonderful. It mentions the specific reasons that other denominations don't believe Mormons are Christians. Any observant reader can realize from this it is a matter of "orthodoxy" that others would find inter-religious bickering. And, best of all, it does not mention the completely false notion that Mormons believe God and Jesus Christ have flesh and blood bodies. Rather, it states the more accurate statement that Mormons believe they have human form that constitute a "Godhead" governing body. Still not a complete statement, but closer to the actual beliefs.

The rest of the news report is mostly about Romney, but touches on the more personal religious life of a Mormon through him. Politics of Romney aside, it is a well rounded report. The other news report Ahead of 'September Dawn,' Mormon Church revisits dark period is equally as well written and fair, not editorializing on any particular side of the story. So far, that makes two better than any other newspaper, including the ones in Utah.

The second read is A Mormon Goes West: The German Apostle that at least recognizes the stereotypes are not a complete picture. It still comes off as slightly condescending toward relgion in general, but has a couple profound statements despite itself. Among the best quotes from the piece are:

And why shouldn't he be doing well? His church now comprises 120,000 members in Japan, he reports, and the number is rising -- not just in Japan but worldwide, from Mexico to Brazil, from Asia to Africa.

This presents a picture of the LDS Church that really is global. Other news reports have said it almost as an afterthought, if they mention it at all. What the article says about the leadership is interesting:

The Mormons take that literally: They view their apostles as prophets in the Biblical sense, as mouthpieces of God, just like in the New Testament. The reference to "Latter-day Saints" in the church's name signifies that its saints are direct successors to Jesus Christ.

Nothing about how other Christians don't believe Mormons belong. They just state how Mormons see themselves. If only that were more common than quoting non-Mormons on what Mormons believe, instead of asking a Latter-day Saint who should know better than others. The insightful examination of leadership authority continues:

Every apostle is a prophet with divine inspiration; each of them is in direct contact with God. But just to be safe, none of them is allowed to turn his own private inspirations into commandments for all the faithful. The 12 can only answer theological questions collectively.

Yes, this is great research. It was much different with Joseph Smith, but a condition that American newspapers don't seem to understand or care about mentioning. That is why the old idea that one leader of the LDS Church can have a new revelation without repercussions is unfounded. There is one thing correct that others get wrong:

the secrecy with which it shrouds the rites celebrated in its temples

It might seem slight, but they point out the "secrecy" is in the rites. Most newspapers talk as if Mormons have everything as a secret. As has been said before, the doctrines are open for anyone who actually takes the time to do research.

There are some things that are completely wrong:

To them, God is a flesh-and-blood being -- married of course.

As was mentioned, this is everywhere and yet is mistaken at best. Then there is:

But the Mormon Church is a church in motion. They are strong believers, and they seek expansion rather than an intensification of their piety.

I'm not even sure that makes sense. At any rate, it is hard to reconcile to a religion that believes in becoming perfect as individuals through faith in Christ.

However, it would be nice if reporters would keep in mind:

There is nothing sophisticated or even intellectual about their faith. Mormons don't strive to harmonize faith and reason, like the pope, any more than they try to develop a theodicy, or a justification of God in the face of worldly misery, like entire armies of theologians from other faiths.

A pinch of Plato (all humans are spiritual beings even prior to birth) plus the Christian Sermon on the Mount and the capricious self-admiration of the first Mormon, Joseph Smith, who said that an angel had appeared to him and led him to a stone case with "golden plates" and ancient characters, which he was able to read using "prophet's spectacles" -- that's all the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expects the faithful to cope with.

The Mormons want their teachings to be that simple, which is why they don't have an elitist body of priests to develop elaborate interpretations of their faith. Theirs is a lay church.

The writer is laying it on a bit too thick, but at least the spirit of the description is on target. It would be nice if other reporters would consider that Mormonism has its complications, but the doctrines are not developed with sophisticated reasoning. It is, after all, a lay church where doctrines are as likely to be populist constructs than dogma.

Finally, there is A Mormon president? The LDS difference from The Christian Century that looks realistically at the political ramifications of Mormon doctrine and personality. For once it is thoughtful more than mere drive-by speculative. It is hard to find any particular quotes when the whole thing is worthy of reading. Some of the most important include:

But even if Romney were to explain his religious beliefs at length, I doubt that most people would feel more at ease. It is hard to imagine that anything Romney says on the subject would be taken at face value by the many Americans already predisposed to be suspicious of the LDS Church.

Regardless of the intention of the writer, I like how this puts the problem on the shoulders of American's with this attitude rather than Romney or the Mormons simply because others are ignorant or fearful.

Variety among Mormons is as common as in many other Christian traditions . . .
The LDS Church itself is only one of dozens of diverse Mormon groups that claim the Book of Mormon as authoritative. Although all share a common core of teachings, the groups range from some that could pass as Unitarian to the polygamist sect led by fundamentalist Warren Jeffs. The LDS Church, by far the largest Mormon communion, falls somewhere between these extremes.

There isn't much else to say. The first step to breaking stereotypes is to recognize there are always differences. And that is what happens with the whole of the article. Basically, what the writer states is that what outsiders have thought about Mormons is more complicated and different in actual practice and insider interpretation. Read this one and find your own good quotes.