Sunday, December 21, 2008

Have a Killers Christmas

Here is a small collection of seasonal songs from a band I discovered this year and really like.

The first song is from The Killers about Santa Clause when you are on the naughty list.

Then there is a song about presents and a sled:

A different kind of Christmas song from The Killers and Elton John.

Finally, "Tranquillize" just because it is such a cool song:


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Scriptural References to the Family Proclamation

Here are some scriptural references to "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" that I have gathered in study of the document. This is in no way comprehensive considering the possible inclusions and interpretations. I have tried to find the most relevant passages and avoid repetitions. The full text can be found by clicking on the post title.

. . . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . .
Article of Faith (AofF) 6, Eph. 2:19-22

. . . marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God . . .
Mark 10:6-9

. . . image of God.
Gen. 1:27

. . . each has a divine nature and destiny.
Romans 8:15-17

. . . heir of eternal life.
Abraham 3:24-26

. . . families to be united eternally.
Malachi 4:5-6, Doc.& Cov. 110:16; 128:9-11; 132:19

. . . replenish the Earth remains in force.
Gen. 1:28, 1 Nephi 17:36

. . . lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
Ex. 20:14, Heb. 13:4, Doc & Cov. 132:18-19

We affirm the sanctity of life . . . in God's eternal plan.
Ex. 20:13, Doc.&Cov. 42:18, Matt. 5:21-24

Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness . . .
Duet. 4:9-10, Doc.&Cov. 83:4-5, Prov. 22:6, 1 Tim. 5:8

. . . mothers and fathers - will be held accountable . . .
Mark 10:13-16, Doc.&Cov. 68:25-28

Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.
Gen. 2:24-25, Matt. 19:4-6, Doc.&Cov. 49:15-17; 130:1-2

Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved . . .
Psalms 127:3-5, 2 Nephi 2:22-25; 25:26

Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on the principles of faith, prayer . . .
Gal. 5:22-23, AofF 4, 13

. . . fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
Gen. 3:16-20, Prov. 29:15, Col. 3:21, Alma 56:47-48, 1 Tim. 3:4-5, 1 Peter 3:7, Eph. 5:22-33

Extended families should lend support . . .
John 19: 26-27, Doc.&Cov. 75:24

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity . . .
Jacob 2:28-29, Matt. 18:6,10

. . . disintegration of the family will bring . . . calamities foretold . . .
Doc.&Cov. 1:12-18, 2 Tim. 3:1-9

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere . . .
1 Tim 2:1-2, Doc.&Cov. 98:9-10; 134:1

. . . strengthen the family as the fundimental unit of society.
Abraham 1:2-3, Acts 17:28-29

If anyone has other scriptures that clarify and support the proclamation, of course add to the comments. This is the most important revelation since the granting of the Priesthood to all worthy males. It might even be of a class worthy of comparison to Joseph F. Smith's Doc.&Cov. 138 of Christ's visit to the spirits of the dead.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boycott Mormon Utah . . . Please!

Now that Prop 8 has passed, those who are against it have started to show their true colors. With such radical protests aimed at the LDS Church, there is unintended consiquences that will help and not hurt Mormons. I hope they continue to attack Mormons (politically and not physically) because they are doing themselves some real harm in the long-run. As someone who is against "gay-marriage" that isn't a bad thing.

Probably the least effective is the boycott of Utah. I would hope that they go through with the boycott because it will help the conservative culture living there. What they plan on boycotting is not exactly liked by Mormons anyway. From an Associated Press article:

He is calling for skiers to choose any state but Utah and for Hollywood actors and directors to pull out of the Sundance Film Festival. Other bloggers and readers have responded to his call.

"There's a movement afoot and large donors are involved who are very interested in organizing a campaign, because I do not believe in frivolous boycotts," said Aravosis, who has helped organize boycotts against "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger's television show, Microsoft and Ford over gay rights issues.

"The main focus is going to be going after the Utah brand," he said. "At this point, honestly, we're going to destroy the Utah brand. It is a hate state."

Probably one of the best things to happen is if Hollywood actors and directors pull out of the Sundance Film Festival. It was instituted partly to antagonize the nearby conservative Mormon population. Seeing the festival go away or at least dramatically decrease would be a cultural sigh of relief. The secondary place that would be effected is Park City, another culturally isolated town. Conservative Mormons might think it is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn't want to buy a house. Salt Lake City is still considered Mormon, but that distinction is become less true. Large as it is, the City has continued to become distinct from the rest of the state. Only its size and history has kept it tied to the surrounding culture.

Calls to find other places to ski might be the most problematic, but even that is not going to destroy much of Utah economy. There are so many locals and fellow Mormons from other states that like to ski that a dramatic shift in visitors will be negligable. After all, not everyone is from California and not everyone who is not Mormon agrees with the "gay-marriage" protestors. The positives are that fewer "gay-marriage" supporters and Californians will visit, to the pleasure of the conservatives and many locals.

The most lasting economic campaign would be to boycott developing or moving businesses to Utah. A few places might get hit, but Salt Lake City would take the brunt of the actions. Not that conservative Mormons would mind much. It is the influx of so many non-Mormons because of big business that have brought Salt Lake City into conflict with the State's cultural majority. Gutting the economy of the capital city would go a long way to bringing it more in line politically.

Probably the most important development to all this protesting is a more positive acceptance by the conservative religious. They are starting to open their eyes to what is happening to Mormons, and starting to come to a defense:

Pastor Chris Clark of the East Claremont Baptist Church in California said, "Unfortunately, I know in the wake of the Prop. 8 passage, the Mormon Church has been targeted, unfairly so."

Clark says the coalition includes Roman Catholic bishops, Evangelical Christians and secular groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Liberty Council.

There are those who will hate Mormons no matter what, but that can change for some. At least two Catholic Bishops have expressed outrage at the treatment of Mormons. A few prominant Protestants involved with Prop 8 have also shown support and thankfulness. Even Mike Huckubee stated on Fox his belief that Mormons had every right to participate. Coming from him that is praise.

In the end the idea that this has been a PR disaster for the LDS Church depends on what you mean by disaster. Mormons have gained respect from the conservative community that they otherwise would not have had. Those they have angered never really liked Mormons and have now found an excuse to voice what they have only hinted at before. The more they yell, then the more sympathy will be generated toward those more disposed to conservative and traditional marriage. The U.S. membership might not go up, and in fact shrink because of the increased secularization of the nation, but the LDS Church gained influence in circles that were previously closed. The negatives for liberal leaning might seem huge, but the positives for conservative leaning is worth the fight.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dealing With "Hidden" Mormonism

Mormons who say they have just "discovered" Mormon history and doctrine after years of membership just don't make any sense. Perhaps a couple decades ago that might have been a possibility, but even then not likely. Some say that the LDS Church hides its history and doctrines, but that is innacurate. At worst it chooses what it presents like any religion or organization seeking to have a voice. That doesn't mean things are hidden; just slanted or emphasized.

There are some approaches to LDS history and doctrine at Dave's Mormon Inquiry that absolutely represents my own faith and knowledge journey. He lists those as:

The "what's the rest of the story?" approach. Most accounts are either abbreviated, selective, or influenced by a writer's personal agenda. Before freaking out, do more reading from a variety of authors.

The "adjust my opinions and convictions" approach. Yes, new facts are a fine basis for updating your inherited stock of opinions about life and all that. What better way to expand your understanding of human nature and institutions than reading history? A scaled-down-to-reality sense of what human institutions, including the LDS Church, can actually achieve is one of the benefits of reading history.

The "I'm a little bit smarter now" approach. I'm puzzled at why so many people who first read up on LDS history (at 20 or 25) leap to the conclusion that they've been lied to all these years. Right, try teaching history to LDS teenagers. Or adults. In a world filled with books and websites, you can start learning all you want to know about LDS history the day you get interested. If you do, give yourself a pat on the back and keep reading.

Each of these I subscribe to in my own reading throughout the years. The polygamy issue has perhaps been the most problematic, but hardly missing. There were repsonses to the RLDS (now Community of Christ) that dealt specifically with Joseph Smith having plural wives. The Doctrine and Covenants still contains a section that directly relates to Joseph Smith's revelation on the subject, as critics continue to point out. I love the quote from Kirk Douglas at the same blog above:

"I grew up, went to college, but my Judaism stayed stuck in a 14-year-old boy's Hebrew school book. It has been pointed out to me that no rational adult would make a business decision based on what they knew when they were 14. You wouldn't decide who to marry based on what you knew about love and relationships when you were 14. But lots of us seem satisfied to dismiss religion based on what we learned at 14, and I was one of those that stupid."

That is exactly what happened to me with polygamy, to continue the example. I first learned of the practice and doctrine around the age of 13 from a non-member friend. I didn't believe it. However, when I did discover the truth during my readings of "orthodox" books I wasn't shocked. It was there in black and white. To this day hearing grown men and women say they just discovered the same information just doesn't make any sense to me. When I was a child I thought as a child, but I didn't have to grow up to find the information.

I must say that I am amused by the idea of "hidden" things. I knew a lot about those things before I went on my mission just from reading LDS Church produced material. Other readings were either different (mostly antagonistic) opinions on the same history and doctrines, or the filling in of details.

Maybe it has to do with the hunger effect. when a person is seriously malnourished it can kill them to eat a feast. From what I understand most who lose their faith over what they read all of a sudden discover all these "hidden" teachings and historical information. Those who have continually read the scriptures and other material starting out young stay strong, or lose the faith in a different way.

Another curiosity is that for all the "hidden" information, it is interesting that the bulk of the knowledge comes from LDS produced writings. For example, other than a few original newspaper sources, Brodie's "No Man Knows My History" mostly uses The Joseph Smith History and Journal of Discourses. Aside from that, much of what she talks about can be found in B.H. Robert's Comprehensive History of the Church from a different perspective. Now, if you go to blatant anti-LDS works, they are a compendium of quotes (badly edited and way out of context) from LDS sources. To paraphrase Scully from the X-Files, "the [information] is there. You just have to know where to look."

Here are my own "must read" books to read before going on a mission. Warning: these are not easy to digest in one sitting lesson manuals. It might take a year or more with one grouping. This list also contains some books that came out later that if existed before my mission I would have read:

The Book of Mormon, New Testament, Pearl of Great Price, selected Old Testament, and selected Doctrine and Covenants.

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith

Discourses of Brigham Young, edited by John A. Widtsoe.

Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage.

Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage.

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard L. Bushman.

Brigham Young: American Moses, by Leonard J. Arrington.

Answers to Gospel Questions: The Classic Collection in One Volume
by Joseph Fielding Smith.

Selections, particularly the prophets and well known persons and sermons, from Journal of Discourses, edited by George Watt.

Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by B.H. Roberts.

By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, by Terryl L. Givens.

The Latter-day Saint Experience In America, by Terryl L. Givens.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard.

Just about anything by Hugh Nibley (probably more of a personal taste). I admit he, more than any other author, shaped my approach to Mormonism.

Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, by Hugh Nibley and David J. Whittaker.

Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, by Hugh Nibley, edited by Don E. Norton.

An Approach to the Book of Mormon, by Hugh Nibley.

Mormonism and Early Christianity, by Hugh Nibley.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why Mormon/Evangelical Dialogue is Problematic

The idea that Mormons can have a constructive dialogue with Evangelical Christians doesn't seem practical. Both hold so strongly to what they believe and are so serious about getting others to believe it that a bloodless catfight is the best that can be hoped. However, I think that Evangelical Christians must change ten times more than Mormons in order to have a real discussion. That isn't to say it is impossible, but it is improbable.

Probably the most important change that must take place is mutual respect. It is true that both consider the other as wrong, but there is an added problem that E.C. considers Mormons as contemptible. Despite a few instances where E.C. and Mormons get along, those most able to influence the wider population are spiteful. As one self described former E.C. Anti-Mormon put it:

People who support the counter-cult ministry would probably interject at this point that their intention has never been to culture that kind of behavior. I would reply that their intentions mean very little, it’s their results that matter, and I was one of their results whether they like it or not. I’ve heard the talk that goes on when evangelical anti-Mormons think Latter-day Saints aren’t in the room, the sneering and the condescension. You cannot spend major parts of your life thinking and preaching that the followers of a competing religion are deceived, blind and going to hell without looking down on them in some form, and condescension easily breeds hate and ridicule.

I do think that Mormon's should take to heart her comment:

For example, when one of the missionaries was explaining why I needed to be baptized in their church, I objected, “But I’ve already been baptized. Why should I do it again?” His flippant response: “You didn’t get baptized, you went swimming.” It did not sit well with me to have someone belittle what I considered sacred, but even more unsettling was the logic behind that statement. When all is said and done, the LDS church teaches that evangelical Christianity is inadequate, evangelicals do not have the Holy Spirit, and evangelical baptisms are worthless no matter how sincere the intentions behind them.

On the other hand, the E.C. needs to realize that, yes Mormons do believe differently than they do about authority and salvation. That is something that Mormons understand all too well or should if they don't. Many Catholics and Protestants are no different in this matter among each other. That is what defines religions, even very closely related faiths. The answer to that is breathing room by actual discussions about the very nature of authority and salvation. To attack is to stop the discussion dead.

It doesn't help that E.C.s constantly accuse Mormons of lying about their history and beliefs, while Mormons consider the E.C. criticisms lies. There is some truth in both perspectives. The problem is that with Mormons it is usually about either difference of opinion about what the history and beliefs mean or ignorance. With E.C. it is often conscious dismissives that come off as real lies. While some Mormons might ignore their own history or doctrine (and that isn't much different from many religious people and organizations), E.C.s often ignore what Mormons think. Again, from that excellent blog post:

I began to notice something about the evangelical counter-cult ministry which bothered me immensely: the evangelicals were not responding to the LDS fiskings of their arguments, they just kept peddling the same material as if it was the final word on the subject and no one had refuted it.

In order for a good dialogue to happen, ground rules of each side must be understood. That is where the breaking point is reached in even well intentioned discussions. That is the problem that Gerald R. McDermott had at First Things, even if he did better than others have. He made assumptions about Mormonism and it's Scriptures by superficial readings and lack of looking beyond his own pre-conceptions. As I have said in another of my posts:

The first and most damaging fallacies are the lack of contextual and definitional examinations. Some of the logical problems are based on lack of explaining related subjects that help to answer some of the questions posed. Other logical problems are based on assumptions held by the presenter that Mormons don't hold themselves. Both of these are very common anti-Mormon tactics. Probably the most hypocritical is when a detractor states (with some truth I might add) that Mormons use Protestant and Catholic words and notions, yet mean something different. Then, they turn around and criticize Mormonism from the definitions that Mormons don't hold as if the first statement didn't exist. A very switch and bait tactic that is employed with such ease . . .

The most important thing to remember is dropping the "to hate is to love" rhetoric. It is hard to reconcile the idea that there is some kind of love and honesty in your heart when the only words out of your mouth are negatives. Start by dropping the "cult" accusation if you really want to talk with a Mormon on equal terms. When "How Wide the Divide" came out, the loudest and most numerous responses from the "other half" was condemnation and blaspheme. The very act of even trying to talk with Mormons was a sin. What is interesting is that while Mormons are trying to cozy up to them, they are becoming less liked because they are becoming less likeable and are proud of that.

Also, as Bruce D. Porter said, "To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate—unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different—but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue." You can say Mormons believe in a different concept of Jesus as Christ, but to say they believe in a different Jesus is not only offensive, it is illogical. He lived unless you believe he didn't. Mormons may not be considered fellow or orthodox Christians, but they are still Christians.

I would like to have a discussion with Evangelicals as they hold important similarities, but it starts with both sides letting down a few defensive positions. More than anything I would like to be understood on my own terms and expect E.C.s want to be as well. Perhaps it starts with accepting each other as humans first and Mormons and Evangelicals second.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Evangelical/Mormon Dialogue Blunder

Evangelicals just can't get their arguments past preconceptions and horrible mis-readings. It doesn't matter how sincere they are in trying to defend positions while trying to be fair. It is one reason I don't believe dialogue is possible. They don't want to listen and learn, just argue. Mormons have the same problem, but most are too busy trying to explain themselves to attack others. I find that Gerald R. McDermott starts out well, recognizing both that Mormons believe in Grace and critical Christians believe in Works. From most arguments I have seen, this is one of the triad reasoning that some contend the "non-Christian" status of Mormons. He then continues by using the other two standard bearers of the Trinity concept and extra-Biblical exclusion to make the case. The problem is that the arguments are full of so many misrepresentations I think it brings his exegesis and research abilities into question.

Mormons do not believe Jesus was always God

I am not sure exactly what this means. Even if taken at face value for his meaning, the whole paragraph comes off incoherent. A better case would be to say that Mormons believe Jesus was always Divine, but never more than the Son of God. He has never been considered by Mormons as God the Highest. It can't be said Jesus has never been considered God the Father, as there are some instances in the Book of Mormon that he was given that status. In fact, later on in his argument McDermott brings up that idea as a way to prove Mormon inconsistencies or at least theological developments of the Godhead. As usual, perhaps because of his evangelical background, he simplifies what is a complication in order to score points.

Again, he has a great start with, "It is indeed, for it purports to give us another history of what Jesus said and did—not one to replace the Jesus of the gospels but to supplement that record." However, like the quote above, he becomes incoherent in the argument trying to shoehorn what he believes in with what Mormons believe and comes out sounding ignorant. If he would have left off with that sentence and then simply stated, but other Christians don't believe in the Book of Mormon, then the argument would at least make sense. Instead he goes off where such an argument has been weak for at least the last 150 years (from the start if you count Catholics). Other Christians in the first-century, even if you call them heretical, kept other writings as Scripture that Protestants have dismissed.

His main thesis is that the Bible is a collection of witnesses where the Book of Mormon has only a witness of itself. That is all fine for a simplistic interpretation of history and Biblical textualism. The problem is it too quickly dismisses the lengthy scholarly questions of authorship and authentic testimonials. Strangely enough, it is the multiplicity of testimonials mixed with inconsistencies in the texts that put the Bible to question for some. His idea that "the testimonies we have to the Palestinian Jesus date from the same century as [the Bible] Jesus," is not universally accepted. Even if taken as true, there is a huge question of what part of that century. No matter how much the testimonies of the New Testament matters, there is still no original texts in existence.

Besides, the Book of Mormon is considered a testimony of the Bible and Jesus Christ. It is to be a "Fourth Gospel" rather than a separate textual entity. To create a separation where one doesn't exist is to reject the purpose of its existence to bolster (and not take over) the Biblical testimony. Even if it purports to be ancient, it is considered a "Modern" Scripture for a reason; to warn us today that the prophets and prophecy of yesterday are still of relevance. There are, of course, other purposes of the Book of Mormon. All of them have been ignored and rejected by the simplistic world view of McDermott who can't see past his limited preconceptions enough to make an argument reaching beyond his own self-congratulatory audience.

Third, there are inconsistencies between the Palestinian Jesus and the American Jesus. For example, while the American Jesus promises the land of America to the new Israel as a “new Jerusalem” (3 Nephi 20:22, Ether 13:3), the Palestinian Jesus speaks only of a kingdom of God that is open to people of every land. His promise to the meek is that “they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). His apostles write that Jesus’ followers still seek a country (Heb. 11:14) and “should be the heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). People will bring into the New Jerusalem “the glory and honor” not of a single nation but of all the “nations” (Rev. 21:26). So the Palestinian Jesus seems to think of the coming Kingdom as a worldwide phenomenon not limited to one geographical part of the earth, while the American Jesus is fixated on America.

I quote the whole paragraph above because those who honestly understand the Book of Mormon and Mormonism quickly recognize the lack of research it had to take to come to that conclusion. If anything, the Book of Mormon is rather universalist in its declarations of worldwide salvation and Kingdom building. One only has to read the First Book of Nephi to see the interplay between the American Continent and the world. Just like Jerusalem for the Bible, America is a center place where the gospel spreads to other lands. Many times the Book of Mormon hints at or right out says that there are promised lands all over the place for different people. The heavy use of Isaiah quotes are to teach how widespread and important having promised lands are to making the whole Earth a Kingdom in the final days. Although not directly related to what is said in the Book of Mormon, he ignores Joseph Smith saying the Kingdom of God will fill North and South America, and indeed the Whole World. All of this is ironic considering the current argument of many Evangelical Christians that America is a Christian nation in much the same way that Palestine is a Jewish land.

His "other discrepancies" are that Jesus in the Book of Mormon praises the faith of the twelve in the America's, but criticizes the faith of the Twelve he chose in Palestine. Also, that he didn't allow anyone in Palestine to remain alive (I disagree with his interpretation of John 21:23. I take it to mean that Jesus didn’t say if John would not die, but that it is none of your business to know if he will live), but does that with three American disciples. I don't find these a discrepancy as much as a difference in time and place. In other words, because Jesus might have said or did something different in one place than in another, that makes the Book of Mormon a discrepancy. He simply dismisses the idea that those in the Americas were more faithful and righteous than those in Palestine and therefore more worthy of greater blessings. That is a discrepancy from McDermott’s early assertion that Jesus taught the universality of the Kingdom of God. Ironically it begs the question of Jesus the Christ as an historical figure. The idea is basically if it didn't happen in the Bible then it didn't happen.

I am going to leave the rest of the criticism to Summa Theologica that covers exactly what Mormons believe about Jesus and God. The comment section is also worth reading. The article is well enough done and in-depth that anything I would write would be a poor substitute.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jesus and the Mormon Concept of Grace

There is a topic over at "First Things" that discusses yet again if Mormons are Christian. Despite the fact that the discussion is old and never ending, I was impressed with Bruce D. Porter's response to the question. Normally I don't like long postings of articles that you can read somewhere else. Reading it one place is not going to change what was written originally. However, I liked this well enough to quote most of it:

Latter-day Saints revere the Bible as the word of God and the scriptural foundation of Christianity. We generally interpret it in quite literal terms, although allowing that some passages may use figurative, allegorical, or symbolic language. Our most criticized departure from mainstream Christianity is our acceptance of another work, the Book of Mormon, as the divinely revealed word of God. We regard it as holy writ: equal to the Bible in authority, a second witness of Christ’s divine mission, and a compilation of inspired writings that enlighten and clarify many biblical teachings. Latter-day Saints also count in the canon a slim two volumes of revelations and tenets revealed by Jesus to the prophet Joseph Smith: the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

A vital aspect of Latter-day Saint theology—and its most obvious difference from traditional Christianity—is the belief that Jesus Christ is an individual being, separate from God the Father in corporeality and substance. Mormons do not accept the phrase in the Nicene Creed that describes the Father and Son as being “of one substance,” nor do we accept subsequent creeds by ecumenical councils that sought to clarify the nature of the Trinity in language describing them as one indivisible spiritual being. The Book of Mormon refers in several passages to God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost as “one God,” but Latter-day Saints understand this to mean they are one in mind, purpose, will, and intention. Their unity is the same unity of which Christ spoke in his high-priestly prayer following the Last Supper: that his disciples may “be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). Hence, Latter-day Saints rarely use the term Trinity, but prefer the title Godhead to refer to the three divine beings who govern our universe in perfect oneness.

Joseph Smith, whose first heavenly vision was of two personages, the Father and the Son, offered the following revelation regarding the members of the Godhead: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22). Mormons believe that Adam and Eve prior to the Fall were created in the tangible image of God the Father, and that Christ when he came to earth was, as the apostle Paul wrote, “the express image” of the Father. We interpret this to mean that he appeared physically like the Father, not only that he exemplified the Father’s spiritual attributes.

God’s divine, embodied being is the center, not the limit of his power. We believe that a tangible glory or light “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne . . . who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:11–13). By means of this spirit, God’s power and influence are present at every point of time and space.

We believe that, prior to his mortal life, Jesus was a divine personage of spirit who partook of the fullness of Godliness but was unembodied. At the moment of his resurrection he assumed an immortal, incorruptible, eternal, and glorified body like that of the Father. He thus became the “first fruits” of a universal resurrection that will eventually encompass the whole of humankind. Mormons believe in the literal resurrection of Christ’s physical body: As the savior declared to his disciples in the account of Luke, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). We believe that he will never lay down this body—or, in other words, that after his ascension he was not, nor ever will be, subsumed into a non-corporeal divine essence known as the Trinity. Rather, he is at the literal right hand of the Father, and the martyr Stephen saw two beings, not one, when he looked up and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

We believe that Christ was the Creator of the earth, under the direction of the Father, and that even before the earth was formed he had been anointed individually to the sacred mission of serving as the redeemer of all God’s children on earth. As John writes, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him” (John 1:10). In a modern revelation found in the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ speaks of his pre-mortal divinity: “Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made” (D&C 38:1).

This verse introduces a Mormon doctrine not generally taught in Christianity—that Christ was the great I AM who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and revealed himself to the prophets throughout the Old Testament. Latter-day Saints believe that from the time of the earth’s creation Jesus Christ was its anointed Lord, who under the direction of the Father acted as an intermediary between God and man. He revealed his Word and law to the prophets, whose sacred mission was to testify to him.
The words of those prophets were fulfilled with the birth of the messiah in Bethlehem as the only-begotten son of God the Father. Latter-day Saints affirm the reality of the virgin birth. We do not worship Mary, nor pray to her, but we revere her as the mother of our Lord, a woman blessed above all others. Our beliefs regarding the savior’s mortal life are based on a literal reading of the biblical texts. We believe he lived a perfect and utterly sinless life; that the accounts of his miracles, all of them, are literal; that he organized his Church and delegated authority to his apostles to administer it after his ascension. We believe that he suffered in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, that he died for the sins of mankind on the cross, and that he was resurrected on the third day.

Despite these beliefs, many critics of Mormonism charge that we do not believe in salvation by grace. Early in the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Lehi gives a lengthy discourse on the subject of Christ’s atonement that underscores the centrality of his grace in human salvation: “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (2 Nephi 6–7). Then the prophet declares, “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:5–8). Another Book of Mormon prophet, Amulek, explains Christ’s sacrifice as the means by which “mercy can satisfy the demands of justice,” and he sees mankind as irretrievably lost without it: “This is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:16).

Latter-day Saints regard a lengthy sermon by the prophet-king Benjamin to be among the most powerful discourses on Christ’s mission found in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 2-5). I can find hardly a word in it that I think any orthodox Catholic or Protestant would find objectionable, with the possible exception of his teaching that infants and little children are made innocent by the atonement of Christ (and therefore, as elaborated later in the Book of Mormon, do not require baptism). Many of King Benjamin’s statements are classically Christian in formulation. He emphasizes the nothingness of man before God, his fallen nature, and his dependence upon the grace of Christ for salvation: “And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17).

Why, then, is there a perception among so many Christians of other faiths that Mormons do not believe in grace or in salvation through Christ? One reason may be that the moment Latter-day Saints cite the Book of Mormon as evidence of their Christian faith, animosity arises against the possibility that there could be any canon of Scripture beyond the Holy Bible. The issue then quickly descends into whether or not the Book of Mormon could possibly be an authentic ancient record. If attention were paid to the text itself rather than to theories of its authorship, we would at least have a dialogue focused what Mormons actually believe.

Another reason may be that critics sometimes take passages from the Book of Mormon out of context. There is also a common misperception that Latter-day Saints believe in salvation by works. It is true that, for example, many prophets in the Book of Mormon fervently admonish their people to repent and keep the commandments of God if they want to be saved. Taken out of context, they may appear to be claiming that salvation comes by works. But the prophets are saying simply what Christ said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The Book of Mormon itself denounces speaks of “dead works” and proclaims “the deadness of the law” and it teaches plainly that only the blood of Christ can atone for sin. Mormons regard good works as a manifestation of faith in Christ, not as a way of earning salvation.

I think the next paragraph undermines the statement that Mormons don't believe works save. True enough in a philosophically sophisticated understanding of the interplay between Grace and Works in Mormonism. The problem is that works are vital to salvation, even if grace makes them of any value. I think that those who believe in Faith alone really don't believe that anyway, considering how often they argue for morality. If Faith because of grace is all you need then those who believe it should be amoral. To continue:

Nonetheless, salvation in our view is not obtained without effort on the part of the sinner. “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” (Matt. 7:21). Grace requires a price to be paid and that price is the heart of the sinner. We believe that an individual obtains salvation by receiving Christ as the redeemer and exercising faith in him. Receiving Christ entails turning to him: repenting with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and striving, however imperfectly, to do his will. We also believe that the ordinances of baptism by immersion and confirmation by the laying on hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost are essential to salvation. For us, baptism is the making of a covenant with God to remember Christ and do his will; it is the symbolic death of the sinner (his burial in water) and his rising to a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4). The gift of the Holy Ghost gives followers of Christ guidance and strength to walk his path throughout life. Some theologies regard these ordinances as “works” and therefore unnecessary or even undesirable. We regard them as integral to God’s plan for our salvation.

The most riveting and crucial drama in human history took place in Jerusalem from the hours of Christ’s Passion in Gethsemane to his death by crucifixion at Calvary. One unique teaching of Mormonism regarding Christ’s atonement is that his suffering for human sin took place both in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha. We do not see his agony in Gethsemane as a preliminary struggle to accept the will of the Father that he sacrifice his life. Rather, we believe it was an integral part of his ransom for sin.

Sin has many consequences, but the universal penalty for all sin is the withdrawal in some measure from the sinner of the spirit of God, that light “which giveth life to all things” (D&C 88:13). No ordinary mortal could survive the withdrawal of God’s spirit in its entirety. But the messiah was able to endure in Gethsemane the total withdrawal of the Father’s Spirit by virtue of his singular status as the Son of the Almighty. In this manner he suffered vicariously for the sins of all humankind. King Benjamin prophesied: “behold blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7).

Our emphasis on the significance of Gethsemane in no way diminishes the vital importance of his Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as a ransom for the sins of fallen humanity. The atonement began when Christ entered Gethsemane and said, “My soul is extremely sorrowful,” and it ended on the cross when he pronounced its fulfillment, “it is finished,” and voluntarily yielded his life. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants teach plainly and repeatedly that Christ was crucified as a free-will offering for the sins of the world. Christ’s crucifixion was an offering of his flesh and blood for sin, an offering of his physical life, an offering of his whole being, all he could possibly give, as he “poured out his soul unto death” (Isa. 53:12). We believe that his suffering at Golgotha entailed not only the excruciating agony of crucifixion, but also, as at Gethsemane, a withdrawal of the Father’s Spirit that led Christ to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In our eschatology, Latter-day Saints believe that Christ will come again to the earth and that his second coming will take place, as prophesied by Zechariah and promised to his disciples, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. He will come in glory and power and will reign personally on the earth during a millennial Sabbath of a thousand years. We also believe that at the end of the millennium a last judgment will take place and that Jesus Christ himself will stand as the judge of all mankind, each individual soul having to enter in by him: the door or gate to heaven. In the words of Jacob, brother of Nephi: “The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name” (2 Nephi 9:41).

Are Mormons Christian? By self-definition and self-identity, unquestionably so. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that it is a Christian-faith denomination, a body of believers who worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and who witness that salvation is possible only by his atoning blood and grace. By the simple dictionary definition of a Christian as one who believes in or worships Jesus Christ, the case is compelling. To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate—unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different—but blanket assertions that we are not Christian are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue.

The next blog entry will critique Gerald R. McDermott's response. I found it myopic and ignorant; hardly better than a typical anti-Mormon screed. He probably would have done better to read Douglas Davies than the slim self-guidance readings of a few Mormon sources. Even the Book of Mormon is great, but not self contained as far as theological understanding.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Suggestions for "Ensign" Improvement

Readers of the LDS Church magazine Ensign are asked to take a survey for some feedback. Over the years I have enjoyed the magazine, but can see places where it could improve. After taking the time to respond in a short essay section I decided to expand my ideas. Not that I believe anyone from the magazine will listen to what I have to say among the many others who read and took the survey. Still, there is always that hope and a need to express my thoughts.

In the early 20th Century B. H. Roberts wrote a series of articles for a newspaper detailing the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even today the collected Comprehensive Church History remains the best of its kind. More recently BYU has published regional studies about such places as New York State, Missouri, Illinois, the Western United States, and England. Taking both of these as templates, it would be great for the Ensign to do a 24-month series dedicated to an outline of important Church history events. Other articles about people and places could supplement the main narrative. Like the recent Mountain Meadows Massacre and some articles in the magazine's past, they can be written by professional writers and historians. It could go a long way toward educating the Saints about their own faith in a non-threatening venue; something some have said has been lack.

One of the most exciting developments has been classic writings and sermons reprinted. These have included Joseph Smith's Wentworth Letter and Wilford Woodruff's talk on the priesthood. It seems to have been dropped, but this should continue and expand beyond expected inclusions. Many sermons in the Journal of Discourses, devalued more than it needed, should be reintroduced to a new generation. There has also been important writings in old Utah newspapers and other places. These sources are rich in teachings and doctrines that remain valuable. There can be a focus on the prophets whose words still contain power and conviction.

It would be nice to hear from the more famous LDS Church members. The younger generation needs better role models and those who have achieved success and recognition are good starting points. Of course, those included would also be recognized as faithful members in good standing. Stephanie Meyer of "Twilight" fame wrote a touching article about helping strangers that got positive notice. Certainly there could be just as good stories from former Gov. Romney and Nevada Senator Reid. Gladys Knight, among other talented Mormon singers and songwriters, could talk about how music can touch the spirit. I have been impressed the few times I have heard former 49ers QB talk at a fireside, impressed with his testimony and hidden intelligence. Those of note don't even need to be recognized by anyone in the continental United States, although popular or well known in other places.

In theory the LDS Church is international, although still far short of getting called a World Religion. Short studies about different areas of the world with Saints living there have been highlighted. This needs to expand into including articles written by those same people living in diverse places. How wonderful it would be to hear from a mother in Kenya, A Relief Society president in Egypt, a Bishop in Tonga, or Sunday School teacher in England. An international focus must become an integral part of the magazine if it is to fully support the mission of the LDS Church and be more relevant to all its members. Mormonism has grown all over the globe, and the magazine should reflect that fact.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Answers to Mormon Logic Problems

While checking out the blog world as I do, I ran into a discussion of what a "Born-again" Christian considered Mormon logical dilemmas. Without going into the absurd notion that any religion is logical, there are some essential logical problems with the logical dilemmas. The first and most damaging fallacies are the lack of contextual and definitional examinations. Some of the logical problems are based on lack of explaining related subjects that help to answer some of the questions posed. Other logical problems are based on assumptions held by the presenter that Mormons don't hold themselves. Both of these are very common anti-Mormon tactics. Probably the most hypocritical is when a detractor states (with some truth I might add) that Mormons use Protestant and Catholic words and notions, yet mean something different. Then, they turn around and criticize Mormonism from the definitions that Mormons don't hold as if the first statement didn't exist. A very switch and bait tactic that is employed with such ease by the following supposed logical dilemmas that turn out to be strawmen.

The reason I wanted to answer these particular accusations was because of how pedestrian they are. The arguments show up constantly, and I might add have been answered many times over; if you agree with the answers or not. I just thought it would be a good excuse to answer these on my own blog for those who might be curious what a "Mormon" thinks on the issues. To answer on the blog with the questions is futile, but the response should be somewhere.

First and foremost, Joseph Smith (I love the whole "Joe" thing as a classic dismissive) never said "As man is God was,,, as God is man may become," as claimed by the critic. Don't get me wrong, I am perfectly willing to accept that the concept came from Joseph Smith made prominent by a famous speech near the end of his life. To get the facts correct, however, the formulation was presented by the Prophet Lorenzo Snow decades after Joseph Smith died. Its general meaning has been argued and discussed within Mormonism almost from the time it was made.

"If God was once a man,,, where did man come from?"

Most of the criticism is based on the supposition that the statement is about Physical Creation. He lists three problems that to a Mormon aren't problems. Besides the question of if Mormonism has room for Creationism, Evolution, or Panspermia (I believe all three are not theologically exclusive of each), what the statement is talking about is Spiritual existence. Mormons often use the term "intelligence" to express the primordial spiritual existence far removed from physical formations. Where did "man come from" is not easy to answer, but not in the way the critic seems to think. "Man" has always been Man and therefore never came from anywhere. Just as God was never "Created," "Man" was never created. At least not until the spiritual and the physical were "organized" by God from existing material. I will get into the complications of that in another paragraph.

I have to quote the next criticism because it is so full of misunderstanding and even, interesting enough, *denial* of one of the most criticized beliefs Mormons hold:

If man became a God before there was a God,,, why do we need a God or the Mormon teaching about becoming Gods to actually become a God. Doesn’t that imply that eventually all men should have or will become Gods? Or is the Mormon position that only one man evolved into a God and then said no other man could become a God unless he followed his rules and then he started the Mormon church and laid out all the does’ and don’ts about how to become a God?

Hard to know where to start with this one. This can be answered by the Mormon belief that God has a Father and His Father probably had a God, and down the line. How close this comes to "folk-belief" is unknown. It depends on some interpretations of both Scripture and teachings of Joseph Smith that aren't clear. It might very well have started with our God, but that still doesn't cause logical problems as expressed by the critic. He could have simply followed the path of Jesus who became Man in order to become the God of Salvation. Interesting enough, we are commanded to follow after Jesus who followed after his Father.

We need a God because without God there would have been no "organization" and therefore we would have remained in the state of primordial spiritual intelligence. We could not form ourselves. In the same way, we could not form our physical bodies without God and we cannot be saved or progress without Jesus. Yes, this is all complicated and could be put into a theological dissertation; but that is the point. The critic simplifies where it isn't so simple and then jumbles or ignores other Mormon teachings. I could go into explaining the last question posed by the paragraph, but that would be biting off more than this one blog post is meant to chew.

Can’t you see the logical dilemma of Mormonism by initially saying that there is only one God and that he is unchangeable,,,,, and then going on to say that God was once a man?

I suppose one could say, and Mormons often do, the same thing about Jesus Christ. If Jesus is God, then did He not change when he became physical? However, Mormons mean something entirely different. Change is about the individual and not about the spiritual or physical. God has always been God, just as anyone has always been themselves. Ice and steam, for instance, are still water in its non-liquid state. That should be something a Trinitarian should understand. Of course, that brings up the question of what "God" means or who can be labeled with that? Jesus seems at one point to have exclaimed that every person is a God and therefore it isn't a mockery for him to claim the title.

A related part of this is that Mormons believe that there is just One God, and that would be The Father. Any other gods that exist are not of immediate influence or personal devotion. Now, Mormons are not Trinitarians in the classical sense, so there needs farther clarification. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost who exists numerically independently from each other. However, they act within the authority of God the Father so intimately that they essentially become One God. It has been said that Mormons are Social Trinitarians, and that comes as close to accurate as possible.

Finally, the argument "If the Book of Mormon is the 'most correct book on earth,' Why has it been changed so many times?" is a mis-interpretation of a statement reported to have been made by Joseph Smith. I say "reported" because it was recorded by someone rather than actually written down by Joseph Smith. To be fair, that is how almost all of what we have about Joseph Smith's teachings came about. But, I digress. The assumption made is that "The most correct book on earth" means its textual presentation. For a Christian that believes in the infallibility of the text of the Bible that is a "logical" interpretation of the saying, but it is wrong! Here is what Joseph Smith is reported to have said:

"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

In context what Joseph Smith is saying is that the Book of Mormon is the most correct in its teachings that any other book. It is possible that there could be an argument that the textual purity is what he meant, but it would be hard to prove. Joseph Smith made editorial corrections while he was alive without feeling compelled to explain why the changes *could* be made. Most important is that the Book of Mormon expresses adamantly that it is NOT perfect and is probably filled with mistakes. It condemns anyone who finds fault with the Book of Mormon because of the human frailty it exhibits. It laments the insufficiencies of the language and the writing. At one point it states an original source is better that what was put in the Book of Mormon, but couldn't be used because of space limitations or lack of corresponding ways of communication. It actually turns out to be a fascinating examination of Scriptural development (for those who don’t believe in Biblical infallibility or sufficiency). At most Joseph Smith could be accused of hyperbole rather than obfuscation.

The Mormon dilemmas are the critics, and not generally Mormons. They cannot conceive of concepts different from their own and therefore don't try. That isn't to say there aren't logical problems in Mormonism. Some of my answers did open up that there are, but not the ones the critics usually use as a weapon. That is because the dilemmas of Mormonism often can be non-consequential or are shared by many Christians or other religions. This particular critic's ignorance and blind dogmatism is showing, although it borders on sincere rather than pretended.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why I Supported Mormon Archipelago . . . Sort Of

Over at Sixteen Small Stones there has been a discussion of what is wrong with Mormon Archipelago that has a few people upset. It made some upset enough to excommunicate the blogger from participation. Frankly, much of what was said by the blogger I have always wanted to say. That isn't to say there aren't things I disagree with or that I couldn't say more.

One of the biggest problems with MA is the leadership. J. Max W. puts it this way:

According to one source, the issue of whether my blog should be de-listed was not discussed by the group of bloggers who are supposedly in charge of the portal. It wasn’t even presented for discussion. He found out that it had been removed from me. Apparently blogs are often added and removed without consulting the founders of the portal. As far as I can gather, additions and removals are made nearly unilaterally by two or three individuals with very little oversight.

The leadership is often to be commended. Like any group effort, there are choices that must be made that aren't easy. Over the few years there have been contentions and scandals that created more than minor changes to the portal. Despite the often good job, the most visible bad note is the lack of transparency. There are questions I doubt very few people can answer. Who is in charge of the MA portal? How are decisions made? What is the mission and the rules? What recourse exists if someone feels discriminated?

Questions like the above might explain some of the acrimony that can exist between its own members. I constantly worried, although far less now that there are more Mormon themed portals, that my own blog would be de-listed. Of course, if I don't post then I de-list myself. There are so many good blogs that simply fell off the radar because of the choice made by those who maintained them.

Probably the criticism made by J. Max W. that I most disagree with is the idea that MA, "Behind the stated purpose of the portal, to create a convenient LDS Blog portal, was the motivating purpose of driving traffic toward their own specific blogs. So while convenient general promotion was a partial motivation, the site was essentially a vehicle for self promotion." It isn't that I don't agree with him, but that it isn’t necessarily negative. From the very first when I "petitioned" to have "Straight and Narrow" listed it was for promotional purposes. My stated goal was to counter some of what I saw as non-orthodox blogs, but my purpose to be listed was to get readers. I understood completely what would happen if I was placed within a group that already existed. Not that I have been that popular, but I have been read. To be honest, I was stunned that I did get listed - particularly when my stated reasoning for writing was orthodox antagonist.

Because I was added to the MA portal I can't agree that there is a particular anti-authoritarian or anti-orthodox Mormon slant to the portal. In fact, over the few years I have been witness to an increased acceptance of pro-authoritarian orthodox Mormon blogs. If there is anything to the idea that Pro-AO Mormon blogs don't have as much prestige it is because they tend to live and die quickly. Why that is I don't understand. Perhaps it is because Pro-AO Mormons are more engaged in living than discussion. It could also be because remaining an active Pro-AO Mormon in the Internet jungle is harder. I know there are times, such as recently, when I started re-evaluating the purpose and price for continuation. (My answer now is the same as always; I am a writer and therefore I must.)

There is, however, part of J. Max W.'s argument that has partial truth. It is one voiced by many an orthodox blogger that time and again gets ignored or rejected. The majority of the MA participants (leading figures included) and powerhouse blogs stifle free expression by the Pro-AO Mormons. Oh, they might not be banned per-say, but they are mocked and castigated on a regular basis. Do that enough and there is a self-selecting process. You don't need to be kicked out to be out. On the other hand, Pro-AO Mormons often are banned by individual powerhouse blogs. Now the MA shouldn't force the individual and collective blogs to allow anyone to post. I am not shy to click the garbage can (I like to think I do so when the comments are personal attacks, too far off subject, or completely negative criticism). However, they should be aware of the message sent by its members and participants. Just because you say you are or are not something, doesn't mean actions don’t create stereotypes.

It is for my uncomfortable relationship with the MA that I am glad that NothingWavering exists. My hope is that I can finally feel accepted rather than tolerated by getting included. As for those who question what J. Max W. means by "mainstream and orthodox LDS," your sincerity is thin. Too many know exactly what that means. Whole blogs have been dedicated to the negative reaction to the group the designation implies. Blog comments are constantly about the "Us vs. the rest of the Church leadership/membership" battles. Then to suddenly claim not to know what "mainstream and orthodox LDS" defines is disingenuous. On the other hand, I don't blame the MA as much as individuals for creating such a climate; although there are far too many.

Finally out of the blue, I miss The Blogger of Jared as a place to hang out with like-minded people. Too many contributors had a life at the same time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Response to Richard Bushman II: Great and Terrible Questions

Before I start discussing other criticism, I just want to put some questions out into the open that have been bothering me. Twice in his talk he mentioned, both in history and in his personal experience, the viewpoint that there is something missing in Mormonism. He mentions that in 1893 there was a parliament of religion that rejected inclusion of the Mormons on the grounds they were not a religion. Later in the talk, he mentions scholarly friends say it is an empty religion. Perhaps it is because I am a believing Mormon, but I just don’t understand this attitude. Historically it reminds me of what the Romans said of the Christians before Constantine’s era. For whatever reason they were considered by the pagans as atheist. Both of these viewpoints seem to focus on some very specific, rigid, and unarticulated definitions. Considering the historical and present attitudes toward one believing group or another, the most important question becomes what is a religion?

That is what Bushman ultimately grapples with in the talk, and doesn’t seem to succeed in confronting. Instead of castigating the bigots for their narrow mindedness, he puts too much on the shoulders of the Mormons. For me, that is ultimately the biggest reason the talk is largely problematic.

A good starting point might be where he says, “We too have our revelations and they’re the very secret of our energy. And yet they’re also the secret that the opposition uses as the basis of things. . . They’re considered unscientific; impossible. We live in that age of science and Enlightenment where angels are impossible.” Mormons must come to accept that we live in a time of unbelief – even among believers. That is our burden. It is also our message, accepted or not. The Heavens are open and truth can be found beyond the bounds of science or long ago history. Currently my thinking is that Mormonism came along when and where it did because of the trajectory of history. The 18th Century was the point where the “Enlightenment” finally overtook the era of Faith, fallen or not. Although not rejecting the Enlightenment ideals of truth through observable facts, Mormons have a duty to remind the world that God lives, Angels continue to administer to mortals, and mighty Miracles have not ended.

In answer to Bushman’s question, how are we going to deal with the problem of respect and misunderstanding? The answer, I believe, is by not giving in to a need to answer the question. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to explain Mormonism to others. Missionary work demands that we do. Rather, it means that we should not give in to the temptation to change our personal identity to better fit in with others. He says he understands this and says “We have to make the problem of Mormonism a problem they have to handle,” but seems to side more with Mormons having to handle it.

I suppose bringing up Mormonism’s Christianity is the best way to explain the situation. He says:

And of course that basic apostasy/restoration doctrine sets Mormons apart from everybody else, the whole world is wrong except Mormons. But on the other hand when they tell us we’re not Christians or not another denomination like everybody else we get all upset and start whining about it. . . We use this category of the restored Church but that is hopeless for any other person because saying “we are the restored Church” says “every other church is not restored and is wrong,” and has to be, in effect, nullified by the restoration of this Church. So we don’t apply a useful label to ourselves for people who are not going to become Mormons; they want to understand us in a way that does justice to us. But we don’t give them a label they can use.

That is simply wrong. Mormonism does give a label that is useable. It is called Restored Christianity. The problem is that others refuse to use that label either because of prejudice, ignorance, or wanting a more politically correct term. Assuming that another label would be more prudent to use then it would be Mormon Christians, just like there are Catholic Christians, Protestant Christians, and Gnostic Christians. That last one is the best example of why it is simply wrong to disassociate Mormons with Christianity and try to use “another Abrahamic religion” for good measure.

Historically those who could be labeled “Christian” during the first couple centuries of the religion’s development were a much more diverse group. As the book “Lost Christinities” by Bart D. Ehrman explains, there was a time when the controversies that surround the Christian faith were monumental and fundamental. Because one set of Christians won a battle that lasted for two centuries doesn’t mean they can co-opt the label. As Gov. Romney said, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of Mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history.” That is perhaps why I disagree with not giving the label “Mormon” to others who believe in Joseph Smith as a founding prophet. It is wrong considering the great effort to be accepted as Christians even if of a different variety.

His Temple discussion is among his better observations. He acknowledges that the secretive part of our sacred space is always going to be a problem for those who consider secrecy a sign of sin and threat. What to do about it is be more open in our general discussion, without resorting to specifics. As Bushman said, “Mormons are wrong to say that the Mormon temple is ‘sacred, not secret.’ It is secret.” He doesn’t say it completely, although he expands on the idea in the same paragraph, but the Temple is secret because it is sacred. That is something that Mormons should articulate.

Still, the Masons had a short history of serious prejudice against them that seemed to quickly fade into the corners of conspiracy theorists that aren’t taken seriously. How the same can happen with Mormons is hard to say. It isn’t as if the Masons now treat what they do as something to share with the world. Maybe it is because they aren’t a group that aggressively sends missionaries. Instead, they privately invite others to join as friends and acquaintances. Not to dismiss the absolute need for missionaries, but members of the LDS Church might learn something from that.

Bringing this full circle, Bushman states Mormons should do more to answer the question:

What is the meaning of Mormonism; its humanistic meaning? What does it mean? Tell us about the meaning and purpose of life. How does it cope with the great conundrums that are part of human existence?

I think before these questions can be answered, there has to be a discussion about what is a religion. Does religion have to have particular answers to questions to be considered relevant? That is, I think, the difficulty that Helen Whitney had when asking the question of Mormons what they have to offer to the world. I think that, “she talked to all sorts of Mormon scholars in many, many situations, and none of us could give her an answer that was persuasive and won her heart,” was her problem if this is actually a correct observation. The answer to the question is, as Hugh Nibley has said and Bushman points out, the nature of human existence.

What does Mormonism have to offer? I would say the idea that the Heavens are open for more than the then and there, but the here and now! Bushman is troubled that Mormons ignore atheists. The problem is that the message of the Book of Mormon and Mormonism is for those who already have a belief in God. Those who don’t can’t even start to approach God and find out the mysteries of Heaven. That, I think, might be why the Helen Whitney’s and parliament of religions of the world question the religious nature of Mormonism. They don’t understand that the story is the moral and the meaning.

How to explain the religious importance of a concrete God to a world of myth and metaphor is the greatest challenge.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Response to Richard Bushman Part I: Foolishness

I have great respect for Richard Bushman. His first book "Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism" was an inspiration. Later articles and his book length biography of Joseph Smith cemented him as a personal intellectual hero. The Pew Forum interview was pure genious. Because of this, it came as a shock that I disagreed with much of his latest talk given at Weber State University about intellectual prospects for Mormonism.

Perhaps it has to do with my own conclusions I have made after the failed attempt by Gov. Romney to secure the Republican nomination for U.S. President. There was viciousness from media, religionists, secularists and the general public that made me rethink Mormonism's place in the world. The most potent observation is that perhaps Mormonism doesn't have a place in the world; at least beyond its own peculiarities. That is where what Richard Bushman's views in this talk and my own part company.

“how can an educated person like yourself believe all those things?” [audience laughter] So it had been a trap that this clever man had sneakily snared me with. Well, my answer was this: all the revealed religions are based on miracles. Christianity has its resurrection, Judaism has the parting of the Red Sea and the visit of God on Mount Sinai, and Islam has Mohammed being carried by Gabriel in the night to Jerusalem for a vision. And those revelations, those miracles, are always the most controversial but the most powerful part of the religion because they represent the moment when God intervenes into the world. And it gives immense momentum to people that think that they are in touch with the divine. But at the same time they are always contested simply because they are so miraculous and fabulous. And that’s simply the state with Mormonism.

I partly agree with this answer and his continuation of this theme. Where I disagree is the idea that familiarity comes from age. This is not completely true because there are any number of new religions that exist that don't get half the scorn toward followers. What really bothers people is numbers mixed with differences. That might even be where the hatred and fear of Mormonism (the question of legitimacy) comes from. The history of religion isn't about missionary work, but about the spread of religion by violence. No major religion has grown without fear and violence as a tool. Any talk of Mormonism becoming a real religious movement gives over to that unspoken knowledge.

Christianity never had the respect and numbers until Constantine made it a National Faith backed by the military. He fought under the banner of the cross and forced others to choose the faith or death. Islam was not much different although Christians pretend otherwise. Like Constantine before him, Muhummad's faith grew in numbers and territory by military conquest. Those who followed them both continued missionary work with the sword and political power. Protestants continued this way of growth as governments picked up official religious positions and wars were fought about the true faith of the fathers.

That is one of the reasons I don't believe Mormonism will ever be a World Religion, although it is an International Church. Despite the fears of anti-Mormons, the religion doesn't have a violent tendancy involved in its growth. Any violence in Mormon thought and history is related to self preservation. There was a fear, real and imagined, that it was the Mormons that would be wiped out. Besides, the scriptures indicate that Mormonism will be wide spread, but ultimately hardly worth mentioning. As Nephi says in 1 Nephi 14:

11 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.

12 And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.

Nephi continues to say that violence against the Saints and others keep the numbers small. Knowledge and education can change people's minds. War changes the views and direction of civilization.

Bushman next argues that getting to know Mormons will change people's minds about the religion. He states:

What is really important is for people who are so skeptical to meet sane, wise, effective, balanced individuals who can do all the things that are required in the world and do them well and still have in their heads somewhere a belief that an angel appeared to Joseph Smith; that there were gold plates. That assurance that those apparently extreme beliefs can have a place in a very ordinary, good person is what is going to have more effect in taking the edge off of the fabulous side of Mormonism than anything else.

Yet, his own observations before this goes completely against the conclusion:

And he said the peculiar thing about the Mormons is the extreme normalcy of the people and the extreme oddity of their beliefs. This split is so evident to him, and I’ve had scholarly friends who have made the same comment, “a wonderful community, but an empty religion” is the phrase that one of them used. Well, we have thought that because we are accepted and admired as a people, now speaking for my people, the Mormons, that our religious claims were equally respectable. And these last few years have shown that we were wrong.

There is not going to be a respect for Mormonism, and that is something that must be accepted. No amount of intellectual or theological discussion is going to change the minds of the vast majority of theologins and intellectuals. Those are the two groups he indicates are the most intrenched in their negative views. At this point I believe all his arguments about trying to fit Mormonism into a broader intellectual respectability fail. If you can't get them to take you seriously, as he continually states will not happen, then why argue how to get them to take you seriously? I wonder if Richard Bushman is making a joke with this or if he doesn't realize the paradox? He doesn't seem to indicate a realization of the paradox, but he does say perhaps Mormons should take their religion as a joke.

I am reminded of what Paul said in 1 Corinth. 1:18 when talking about the Jews and Greeks views of the Gospel, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." Mormonism is not going to be respected by large numbers of people. It will be a small and insignificant religion until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Spreading the Gospel with missionary work is both important and a commandment. However, it is time Mormons should stop trying to get in the good graces of others and start living on their own terms. Of course, as Bushman said, we need to decide what those terms are.

Part II will be criticism of what Bushman said those terms should be. That includes his thoughts Temple sacred secrecy and the Mormon label of Christian. His paradoxes continue when he tries too hard to accomidate while trying to explain how they are not accomidations.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Big Bang and Mormon Creation

Much of the discussion of creation has been focused on Evolution, but there is another scientific theory that is important to examine. Within the last twenty years scientists have theorized that everything came from a "Big Bang" when a fist sized blob of mass and energy exploded. From that explosion came the Universe filled with uncountable particles and energy.

For Mormonism, the theory causes as many theological problems as it does supports them. The biggest of the problems is that some Traditional Christians have used it to support their own ideas of the creation at odds with the LDS view:

Some interpretations of the Big Bang theory go beyond science, and some purport to explain the cause of the Big Bang itself (first cause). These views have been criticized by some naturalist philosophers as being modern creation myths. Some people believe that the Big Bang theory is inconsistent with traditional views of creation such as that in Genesis, for example, while others, like astronomer and old Earth creationist Hugh Ross, believe that the Big Bang theory lends support to the idea of creation ex nihilo ("out of nothing").[2]

A number of Christian and traditional Jewish sources have accepted the Big Bang as a possible description of the origin of the universe, interpreting it to allow for a philosophical first cause.[citation needed] Pope Pius XII was an enthusiastic proponent of the Big Bang even before the theory was scientifically well-established,[3][4] and consequently the Roman Catholic Church has been a prominent advocate for the idea that creation ex nihilo can be interpreted as consistent with the Big Bang. This view is shared by many religious Jews in all branches of rabbinic Judaism.

Mormonism's creation theology is opposed to both "first cause" and especially "ex nihilo" because there is nothing that has been made that didn't already exist. Matter and energy are eternal, although the materials have changed. Even if the Big Bang resembles more traditional theology, it doesn't completely support either first cause or ex nihilo. The definitions of both are not the same as what the theory explains. First Cause has not been about the creation where the theory postulates a singular event, but about the Creator. Just as problematic is that ex nihilo is "out of nothing" where the theory can only work if there exists something. In fact, a lot of something has to exist that is packed into an extremely heavy glob of energy.

The problem for Mormonism is that the Big Bang doesn't seem to fit the cosmological theology, vague as the descriptions. The theology is broken down into two main parts. First is the nature of any existant substances as eternal and always existant. Joseph Smith as qouted in "Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith" pg 205, states:

"The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end - cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place."

He rejected that there was a beggining and end to both matter and, in the next sentence, principals. Nothing that is was never. With the Big Bang, everything had a start with that one singular event. No scientist has given a theory why the glob existed in the first place. That is perhaps where theologins have filled in "the gap" by using it to prove their own teachings.

The second part of Mormon creation theology is the cyclic nature of creation. Whatever was used and discarded would become part of another creation for the use of man and God to His Glory. Nothing goes to waste or simply disappears. The Scriptures explain:

37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
Moses 1:37-38

Although the relative nature of time must be considered, the Big Bang does not represent in its present theory a typical cyclical creation. It starts with a point in time when there was an explosion that started the formation of the Universe. That isn't to say that a cyclical creation hasn't been postulated with the theory. Some scientists believe the Universe has expanded and is going to contract back into what it was before the Big Bang. The cyclical "germ" is possible. Joseph Smith seems to have rejected any single event and put the two ideas of the eternal existance and cyclical nature of matter together. The creation was a combination of both:

Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos - chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.
(STPJS, pg. 395)

There isn't time to explore all Mormon cosmological theology that might be relevant to the discussion. One of those is the infamous star Kolob that has been erronously interpreted to mean the Throne of God, a planet, or the center of the Universe. Each reading seems to indicate a far more symbolic rather than literal place. It is a time-keeper rather than a map location. This is brought up to demostrate how much conjecture comes into interpreting the creation. Definitions are sometimes forced without consideration of other possible meanings or recognition of vagaries.

It is hard to reconcile, although not impossible, what modern revelation has taught about the Universal creation and the Big Bang theory. When a Mormon tries, they end up doing the same thing traditionalist Christians do; redefine definitions to fit the paradigm. It is a theory that has been largely ignored in Mormon creation discussion, but has very distinct implications. Perhaps its relative distance from the creation of the Earth and the Garden of Eden has made it less interesting. Right now it seems immune to a vigorous argument for its rejection or acceptance; while at the same time remains an elephant in the theological room.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Misadventures of Mormon Academia

This isn't about FARMS, Dialogue, Brigham Young University, or any other Mormon specific educational organizations. It is about the rash of Universities that are taking up Mormon studies and holding a few classes. The verdict is still out how successful the studies will be, but the promise is covered in a few shadows.

The first major hurdle is finding a purpose behind the University studies. There is a saying that the purpose of a University education is for the education itself. Most who stand by that conclusion either are full-time educators and humanities students. Those who seek a practical education find University education as a means to an end of making a living. Mormon studies falls specifically in the category of impractical knowledge for knowledge sake. I suppose it falls into the category of Feminist and Black History studies. They are nice for political and self-awareness reasons, but few can get a job by graduating in the subjects.

An example of the lack of usefulness for Mormon studies is Michael D. Quinn who had two strikes against him. His books were highly praised, but were filled with controversial conclusions that cost him broad readership from the audience that cared. Frankly, he would have done better with them if he would have thrown out all sense of scholarship and become purely anti-Mormon. His second problem had a relationship to the first, as he had nowhere else to go with his studies. Having been made a darling with a very minor demographic, he could do no more than write his books. There were no Mormon seminaries that could get him a job as a preacher. There were no Universities that had a need for a Mormon studies professor other than the one that was run by the LDS Church that he had upset.

All the truly successful Mormon writers and academics had other wider interests. Some of the more critical academics who focused on Mormonism were amateurs who held other jobs. Another set were professors who taught other subjects, such as Richard Bushman who was a professor of early American history. Those most invested in Mormonism taught at Mormon institutions, but what they wrote was often more devotional than academic. This has become increasingly the normal expectation. It is hard to know if this is because of Brigham Young University, an unfortunate unintended trend, or the questionable Deseret Books editorial board.

Enter the new fashion of Mormon Studies and Chairs in a few academic circles beyond Mormon central. There is an excitement in the air among some Mormons and particularly those who have been following writings on the subject. As one narrative puts it:

The formation of Mormon Studies Chairs at Utah State University and Claremont Graduate School with similar programs in the works at other institutions of higher learning suggests an affirmative answer to this query [of a place for academic Mormon studies]. I think it is obvious that our intellectual predecessors have worked long and hard to make this possible, and consequently we should be grateful. The formation of chairs, along with other movements in the media and politics, mark a new era in the scholarly study of Mormonism, as universities “scramble” to create classes in Mormonism.

At first glance this makes sense with the list of developments. What has not been reported is that once Romney left the spotlight so did Mormonism in the media. What used to be daily stories of Mormons, Romney as a Mormon, and sometimes Mormon history and theology has disappeared. What remains is the usual suspects of the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News. Mormons have by and large fallen off the map again. Then again, that is typical of the news on most subjects. If it isn't immediate (or in the East or California) then it isn't news. The vultures have eaten the hanging flesh and gone to other kills.

Mormon studies haven’t even been able to get off the ground for more than a passing interest. It is great that Universities have taken up some classes, but those who are participating put the positive development into question. It is more like creating a pre-school for a few unruly children who want to finger paint:

Are the Chairs important developments? Absolutely. And Richard L. Bushman and Philip L. Barlow — who were chosen as the first chairs — are both top-notch scholars who produce excellent work both inside and outside of Mormon studies.

The problem is that they are both active, believing members of the LDS church and they both would be welcomed with open arms at BYU — which is where all of the other professors of Mormons Studies, with the exception of a couple professors at Graceland University — are employed. As long as Mormon Studies professorships require an LDS temple recommend, it’s not really at the Academic Table. Sure, everyone’s having Thanksgiving in the same room, but a special kiddie table has been set up for the Mormons.

Mormon studies will not arrive until there are top-notch non-Mormon professors and chairs included in the discussions. Believe it or not the worry isn't that non-Mormons would teach anti-Mormonism, but that they wouldn't understand the texts or history beyond the narrow stereotypes. The Mormons involved with the academic movement might be imperfectly yoked to the religion, but as participants probably better understand Mormon culture. Perhaps by teaching from the inside a few non-Mormons will gain a more rigorous understanding of the often misunderstood religion and peoples. That is a start, but depends on if the adventure can get off the ground.

Perhaps a stept would be teaching from books and articles on Mormonism written by non-Mormon academics. There are a few really good treatments from this group, rare as the choices. They could be used both to compare the responses by Mormons and also as a start to widen the dialogue and viewpoints. That is a list that will be discussed next time.

No matter what at this point, Mormon studies are in danger of dying before getting off the ground.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Mormons are Viewed by "Other" Religions

The word "Other" was deliberately put in quotes in the title. It seems the only viewpoint noticed by Mormons or the news is from Christians of various denominations. Nowhere has there been news stories about how Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or even Wiccans view Mormonsism. Why this is especially important is the "Mormons are weird" theme that dominated the media. And where does that perception seem to always come from? Christians and atheists. There were a few Jewish perspectives that questioned the Mormon practice of Baptism for the Dead, but ultimately were uncomfortable putting a label on the faith's history and doctrine.

What this seems to say is the media has a myopic vision of the world. It also seems to say that Mormons have an equally myopic vision of the world as they care so much about what newspapers and pundits have to say. Finally, and with the most controversy, it says that the United States is in fact a Christian Nation. That goes for European Civilization as representative of the kinds of stories coming out of those nations. Muslims don't always get treated any different in newspapers where views about Mulsims dominate more than Muslim views. Stories about other religions (despite the number of Hindus around the world for example) are near non-existant.

Religious freedom in the United States might be a tentative fact, but religious diversity is not a reality. It is disengenious to look at Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and etc. and claim religious diversity exists. When Mormons, who consider themselves Christian, are often ridiculed and excluded by the larger religious pluralities then there is serious questions that need answers. If anything, Mormons need to reach out more to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and even Wiccans as a show of solidarity against a tide of monism disguised as pluralism.

The day Mormonism no longer cares what other Christians think of them is the day it might truely become a World Religion in worldview. Breaking out of the Western American mindset will be difficult. Much of its leadership still comes from Utah and Idaho, with pockets of South and Central America. It will be interesting to see the reaction of other religions outside the Christian tradition if Mormonism grows beyond its roots. Will the "weird" label remain? What will criticism from other religious traditions be like? Will compliments of "nice people" be replaced or more likely co-exist with something else? I really want to know how other "Others" see Mormonism, because the United States is less of a melting pot than it would like to pretend. Mostly it comes from a personal curiosity about finding new topics rather than argue the same old stereotypical throwbacks.

I'm bored with Christianity. Bring me something new and interesting to discuss. :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Mormon Obama Mania will End

I admit that I jumped on the vote for Obama to get back at the GOP (especially Evangelical Christian) bandwagon. This has Mormon Democrats and liberals giddy. However, there are some serious cracks in this floor that will ultimately prove Mormons will walk a path most taken. In the end, ideology will trump anger and revenge. The realization came from reading more than one blog that stated reasons Mormons should vote for Obama. My conclusion was there weren't reasons enough.

For those interested, you can read this Obama mania here, and here, and here to get an idea of what is going on. It sounds plausable enough until you read behind the words. There are still some serious issues that divide mostly conservative Mormons from Democrats and especially liberals.

My first clue to the lack of support Obama will get from Mormons is in the wildly positive Behive Standard Weekly. It starts out persuasive enough. It talks about the Mormon and Evangelical split that occured and the anger of Mormons that one of their own wasn't supported enough. Even worse, the less than hidden anti-Mormon attacks that even the MSM, perhaps as a victory dance, talks a lot about. There is an open pledge by some that they will vote for Obama to remind the Republicans that they can't do without them.

The second half was a huge reminder of why this isn't going to happen. It states, "If Obama moved a small step towards the middle, he could also persuade Mormon right-wingers that he is their candidate as well." Some things are less a step to the middle than an obfuscation or re-working of words and terminology. Others are so seriously different from what Obama's liberalism is right now that the change would be a "flip-flop" that would make powerful Democrats angry. For instance:

Allowing the states to make their respective choices allows the fight to be made at the local level as long as he would support the notion of avoiding one state from having to recognize the more liberal policies of states that might expand rights to their respective gay communities

and then:

On the issue of taxes, simply a pledge that he would allow the markets to work themselves out and not attempt to recreate the "Great Society" policies of the past would easily calm the concerns of Mormon conservatives.

followed by:

Assurances that he would counsel with his generals in making a wise choice on how and when to pull out would not offend many if it was measured and did not waive a white flag of defeat.

It sounds like from these few suggestions is that Mormons would vote for Obama if he was to become Republican. Much of what the quotes above represent is Republican conservative ideals that Obama has proven in the past he doesn't support. The chink in the mail is a voting record that the conservative Mormons would reject:

In the Senate, Obama's liberal voting record belies the centrist themes he strikes on the stump.

The liberal lobbying group Americans for Democratic Action gives Obama a 100 percent voting rating - 5 points to the left of Sen. Ted Kennedy, who gets a 95 percent grade.

Obama backed a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, supported international funding for groups that provide abortion, and opposed reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

And a Congressional Quarterly review found Obama has a near-perfect partisan voting record, casting his lot with the Democratic Party line 97 percent of the time - higher than Clinton and dead even with Sen. John Kerry (Mass.).

Among some of his votes that would have Mormons look again, he:

*Voted against extending the Bush tax cuts on capital gains and dividends.

*Voted against the bankruptcy abuse bill.

*Voted against confirmation of Sam Alito AND John Roberts as chief justice.

*Opposed any bans on partial birth abortions.

*Voted against prohibition of state funding for abortions.

*Voted no on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions.

*Opposed prisoners paying court costs for frivolous lawsuits against the state.

*Voted against having school boards install software on public computers accessible to minors to block sexually explicit material.

*Voted no on paying down federal debt by rating programs' effectiveness.

*Opposed constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.

*Voted yes on factoring global warming into federal project planning.

*Voted no on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

And the list goes on. Now, these are among the most liberal stances. However, they are still ones that are important to conservatives, and many Mormons. A more comprehensive list shows what he has said on topics and not just his voting record. A second look by Mormons at Obama will prove the end of the mania for the man. As one person said, they might think he is a nice guy and could be friends depsite disagreements, but they wouldn't want him as President.

And so in conclusion I predict that Obama will not get Utah or a large portion of the Mormon vote. That will reluctantly go to John McCain who at least has a conservative record on some things, no matter what he did on others. At most what will happen is a lower than normal Mormon voting turn out. There might even be a minor Romney write in that gets one percent of the votes. Sorry Mormon Democrats, but you have to do better than photo-op and point out how awful the other team has treated the religion. That is a discussion for a later time.