Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mormons and Extraterrestrials

It has been reported that Mormons may be the strongest religious believers in Extraterrestrials[pdf] according to a recent survey. Of course, this doesn't include New Wave or UFO religions that have Aliens as a core doctrine. Scientology cannot exist without the idea of alien life at least having existed at one time. However, Mormonism focuses on the more traditional (although with unorthodox views) of G-d, Satan, Jesus, and Angels. The existence of Aliens doesn't form any central teachings or rituals; but it is strongly present.

There were 39 Mormons, 1 by paper and the rest by e-mail, out of 1325 people who responded. It asked various questions about belief in life on other worlds, but mostly if discovery of such life would be damaging to faith. As reported in a New Scientist article, few believe E.T. would damage their own faith, but a larger percent believe that wouldn't be the case for others.

To be fair, there wasn't that much difference between the respondents as to their personal position on discovery of aliens and crisis of faith. All of them had strong numbers in the belief they would not have a major crisis. Mainline Protestants were virtually tied with Mormons, although using the mainline label poses difficulties in interpretation. Even the lowest number among the faithful was above 80 percent in the belief discovery of alien life wouldn't be harmful. Buddhists were the highest in those who didn't believe the discovery of E.T.s would undercut what they believe.

It is when asked about the official doctrines that the numbers become less even. Although still above half for all faiths, only Buddhist respondents had higher numbers than Mormons when asked if the faith tradition itself would be challenged. The survey singled out Mormons in particular as a religion that could survive discovery of alien life on other planets. It reported:

Note how high Mormons score. Many Mormon respondents added comments to the effect that belief in ETI is already a part of Mormon doctrine. "My religion (LDS, Mormon) already believes in extra-terrestrials."

A greater disparity exists between Mormons and other religions when asked if Extraterrestrials would have sharp conflict of beliefs and practices compared to humans on Earth. Almost 30 percent more Mormons than other respondents disagreed that there would be significant differences. It didn't go without notice by those who gave the survey who wondered if incorporation of ETI in doctrine contributed to the responses.

Where does this positive acceptance of life on other world's come from? It is a combination of new revelations and doctrinal speculation. Mormonism can be seen as more than a religion based on a single planet called Earth. It extends The Gospel to both the Cosmic and the Eternal of existence. Critics might see this as "science fiction" rather than religion, but that is no worse than the "fantasy" of pure paranormal or metaphysical belief systems. Mormonism can often be science friendly and rather modern in theory.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stay Away From Lawyers

A quote from my last blog entry continued to linger in my mind. I did a little more research on other scriptures related to 1 Corinthians 6, where the Saints are admonished not to go to secular law one with another. The conclusion seems to be that lawyers are unrighteous and judges at best a necessary evil. Ideally the Saints should be taking care of legal matters within the faith.

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians, the Saints are told they will "judge the World" and "judge angels," and therefore should be able to handle the smallest legal details. Instead of taking on this responsibility, "brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers." Such reliance on judgment outside the faith is seen as both shameful and spiritually problematic.

It might seem silly and rather insular to keep from going to court to wrong grievances, but I believe it is the key to understanding how to love our enemies. One of the hardest admonitions of Christ is that we should love our enemies and not go after them. Part of this is not understanding exactly what he meant. Of course we shouldn't fight, seek revenge, or otherwise hate those who do us wrong. However, I think a closer reading of his examples in the sermon, along with other scriptures, leads to an even more radical interpretation. In Luke 6: 27-31 he states:

27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.
30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise

Considering other scripture's bleak look at lawyers and the legal system, it might be not taking our enemies to court is part of showing love. If we do seek justice then we might find something less satisfying to the conclusion. As verse 39 says, "Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?" The search for justice ends up as retribution. The outcome is no better than an eye for an eye that makes both participants blind.

More than one story in the Book of Mormon demonstrates the destructive nature of lawyers and judges. They hold the power over the people and too often decide the fates of others. During the mission of Alma, he ran into the lawyer class as he tried to teach them the gospel. They found him in contempt of both the law and their profession. In some ways rightly so, as he said, "And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges." (Alma 10:27). What he mostly condemned was the unethical practice of "ambulance chasing" as it would be called today, and more. Alma 11: 20 says:

Now, it was for the sole purpose to get again, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek.

This system of paying lawyers was set up by the righteous King Mosiah, but they were seeking profit unchecked. In the end the goal was to find a way to get Alma and Amulek to shut up, put in jail, or worse. This would not be the first time the lives of prophets had been endangered by lawyers. When Jesus finished up reproaching scribes and Pharisees for their legalities, a lawyer recognized his profession was also questioned. After all, they were the ones that often interpreted and made judgments according the laws. Jesus reply in Luke 11 was, "Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them." They are the ones that built up the cases making it possible to sentence prophets to death. More than that, "for ye [lawyers] lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers." They don't do any of the hard work, but simply place the work on other shoulders. Worse, they make it difficult for the judged to get from under the law. I don't believe Jesus was talking about those found guilty of serious crimes; although that can always be a possibility. At any rate, lawyers lived an easy life while making it hard for others to do the same.

What kind of law and judgment does Christ want from his Saints? It isn't based on adversarial opposition. One side should not be going against another to prove some kind of case. That creates contention that has been announced as of the devil. In Doctrine and Covenants 58: 19-23, it reads:

19 For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land.
20 Let no man think he is ruler; but let God rule him that judgeth, according to the counsel of his own will, or, in other words, him that counseleth or sitteth upon the judgment seat.
21 Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.
22 Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet.
23 Behold, the laws which ye have received from my hand are the laws of the church, and in this light ye shall hold them forth. Behold, here is wisdom.

In the book of Exodus 18:20-22, the Lord explains:

20 And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
22 And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.

Today's litigious culture is spiritually toxic. Going to court for every little grievance has produced too many laws and unscrupulous lawyers ready to stoke hatred and animosity. This isn't to say that we should allow laws to be broken, but the Saints should be slow to seek justice. Too many times the reasoning ends up retribution rather than set things right. The purpose for law in mortality, as the Lord has revealed, is not to prosecute and defend. It is for finding truth and helping those in the wrong to repent. How can modern Saints under the hand of secular government achieve those goals? It is not an easy question to answer.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Will Not, I'm Mormon

Reading the many blog posts I do during the week, I came across answers to some strange questions. Often it seems that those who don't know Mormons, and some who do, have this idea that the faith has too many rules and regulations. Most importantly is that somehow the religion is different from all the others in the approach to ethics and commandments. Some have said there are over 100 commandments that Mormons must follow. There is some truth to these opinions because the Western World has changed over the years. What is expected of people today is far less than what was taught before the social revolutions back a generation. Yet, understanding the required behaviors for a believing Mormon isn't that hard.

The first recognition is that Mormons are not Eastern Quakers or Catholic Nuns and Monks. It is taught that a person should live in the world, but not of the world. That means participating in life; going to work, getting married, going to school, raising children, etc. Life is not about a cloistered existence. That leaves a lot of room for what a Mormon can do in this world. As one blog said about living the standards, "There may be lots of rules and guidelines but these aren't rocket science. Its simple things like get enough sleep, wear appropriate clothing. If you ask me.... Being Mormon is easy. The world is hard!"

What are the Mormon standards they are asked to live with as a believer? It starts with a basic list that can be found in the Bible of all places. In the book of Exodus Chapter 20 the list includes:

1 And God spake all these words, saying,
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

At the very least this list is the most basic of guidelines to be followed. In case any of the above was missed in the first reading, these 10 Commandments are also in the Book of Mormon where it is asked why those who teach it don't follow them.

There are another set of ethical standards that are said to be harder to follow, but no less familiar to those who know the Bible. Its called the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain,
depending on what version is used. It is standards of behavior outlined by the mortal Jesus to a gathered multitude.

Over the years there have been some guidance given the leadership of the Church to its members. Some of this can best be explored in For the Strength of Youth pamphlets. A few unusual suggestions might be "Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable." Still other unusual suggestions could include, "When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you," and "Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. If girls or women desire to have their ears pierced, they are encouraged to wear only one pair of modest earrings." It must be emphasized that the above doesn't automatically assume a sin has been committed (pornography might be the exception), much as trying to avoid them.

Biblical Prophets and Apostles have been just as concerned with strict avoidance of sin. Paul's letters are filled with advice, suggestions, and commandments that sound like a laundry list of do and don't. From 1 Corinthians is the admonition:

7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus does break down the commandments into two basic components Of "love the Lord thy God," and "love thy neighbour as thyself." Those who are fulfilling the spirit of the Commandments or Law must have these as the basis for behavior. Following the Lord is built on Faith and Repentance.

Probably what singles out Mormons more than anything, besides dressing standards sometimes, is the health standards known as Word of Wisdom. At the minimum we are commanded not to drink alcohol and coffee, smoke, or do drugs. Technically, none of these are considered sins although they will keep a person out of sacred Mormon Temples. That is not a light restriction to be sure and can stop spiritual growth. However, a person who does these things won't be considered worthy of damnation just for doing them. It is a lot more complicated than an if/then eternal perspective. Too many times Mormons forget this fact and make improper judgments. Even so, our bodies are to be treated as temples of God.

Ultimately it isn't about "I can't, I'm Mormon", but following the 10 Commandments, Jesus' Sermons, and avoiding the sins as described in Scriptures. It is about not following after every trend of the world. It is about making a choice based on faith. Those who think Mormonism is strict must honestly come to the conclusion that what is taught in the Bible is no longer respected. There really is nothing new, only the old spelled out in new ways. Mormons are different only in so far as the social moral compass has been forgotten or regressed.