Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Annen Juledag

In much of Scandinavia today is known as Annen Juledag in Norwegian and Swedish (also spelled Anden Juledag in Danish). Literally it means "Second Christmas" (Annen = second and Juledag = Yule day or Christmas Day). The day is usually marked by joyful singing, dancing about the house in a line holding hands and eating lots of food with friends and family.

Most Churches will have a second worship service today in addition to the normal Christmas service, but that is in Scandinavia where snow and cold weather is normal. Where I live in North Carolina the moment a flake is seen the city shuts down and everyone prepares for the Apocalypse. Accordingly when we woke up this morning and saw this:

We knew that we would shortly get an email telling us about Church being canceled, and we did and it was.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"The mistake of attributing the extraordinary intellectual development of this period to the Protestant Reformation"

[Editor's note: This is an essay from The Student Handbook of British and American Literature by The Rev. O. L. Jenkins, A.M., S.S., late president of St. Charles's College, Ellicott City, Md. Edited by a Member of the Society of St. Sulpice. A note before the preface states, "Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1885, by P. P. Denis, President of St. Charles's College, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C."]

The Mistake of Attributing the Extraordinary Intellectual Development of This Period to the Protestant Reformation

What we understand by the modern English period is all that interval of time which extends from the middle of Queen Elizabeth's reign to our own day. Doubtless more books have been produced than at any preceding period, elementary knowledge has spread more extensively among the masses, physical sciences have reached a wonderful development, criticism and philology have entered a new career, the novel and the newspaper have grown to be the daily food of the million. But it is right to conclude from these facts that the so-called Protestant Reformation originated this movement, and thus opened to mankind an era of unheard of progress in civilization and science?* [Footnote: "The times which shine with the greatest splendor in literary history are not always those to which the human mind is most indebted.....The first fruits which are reaped under a bad system often spring from seed sown under a good one." Macaulay, Essay on Machiavelli] Or rather, was not the intellectual activity of Europe already aroused and even fairly started with a promise of great progress before the sixteenth century, and did not that activity receive from the religious and political commotion of the Reformation a sudden check, from which it has recovered only to grow wild, and follow, to a great extent, devious and deceitful ways? We do not mean to enter here upon a full discussion of this vast subject, but merely to throw in a few remarks, corroborated in most instances by Protestant authorities, concerning the actual influence of the Reformation upon the principal elements of human progress, as literature in general, fine arts, philosophy, social order, liberty bother civil and religious; and then briefly state what we understand to be the real causes of the wider spread of letters in modern times.

1. Literature in General.--Erasmus, who was contemporary with the early reformers, and certainly no blind approver of the old state of things, gives his testimony that the Reformation was fatal to all wholesome intellectual progress, and he laments bitterly that wherever Lutheranism reigns, literature perishes. In one of his letters, speaking of the Evangelicals of his day, he tells us that to them is due the fact that polite letters are neglected and forgotten: "languent, fugiunt, jacent, intereunt bonae litterae." [Hallam's Lit. of Europe, vol. i, p. 189.] "The most striking effect," says Hallam, "of the first preaching of the Reformation was that it appealed to the ignorant....It is probable that both the principles of the great founder of the Reformation, and the natural tendency of so intense an application to theological controversy, checked, for a time, the progress of philological and philosophical literature on this side of the Alps." [Ibid., p. 192.] Thomas Arnold, in his work entitled Chaucer to Wordsworth, thus characterizes the English reformers: "The official reformers, if one may so call them,--Henry VIII. and his agents, and the council of Edward VI.,--did positive injury to education and literature for the time, by the rapacity which led them to destroy the monasteries for the sake of their lands. Many good monastic schools thus ceased to exist, and education throughout the country seems to have been at the lowest possible ebb about the middle of the century. The sincere reformers, who afterwards developed in the great Puritan party, were disposed to look upon human learning, as something useless, if not dangerous; upon art, as a profane waste of time; and generally upon all mental exertion which was not directed to the great business of securing one's salvation, as so much labor thrown away." [Pp. 52 and 53.] In his History of English Literature, the same writer lays the charge in question upon the reformers generally, and Luther in particular, as being the originator of the fanatic movement against human learning. [P. 106] "By the regulations of the Star Chamber, in 1585, no press was allowed to be used out of London, except one at Oxford and another at Cambridge. Thus every check was imposed on literature, and it seems unreasonable to dispute that they had some efficacy in restraining its progress." [Hallam's Lit. pp. 413 and 414]

2. Fine Arts.--The effect of the Reformation on the fine arts was pernicious, not only by the destruction of existing specimens of architecture, sculpture, and painting; but by diverting art itself from its original and natural destination. The Reformation viewed as superstition the pomp of divine worship, as objects of idolatry the masterpieces of art. Its tendency was to degrade taste by repudiating its models; to introduce a dry, cold, captious formality, in lieu of the elevating, soul-inspiring service of the old Catholic cathedrals.* [When Dean, afterwards Bishop, Berkley offered an organ as a gift to the town of Berkley in Massachusetts, the selectmen of the town were not prepared to harbor so dangerous a guest; and, voting that 'an organ is an instrument of the devil for the entrapping of men's souls, they declined the offer.' Duckinck's Cyc., vol. i., p. 166.] "The Reformation favorable to the fine arts!" exclaims Archbishop Spalding, "as well might you assert that a conflagration is beneficial to a city which it consumes. Wherever the Reformation appeared, it pillaged, defaced, often burnt churches and monasteries; it broke up and destroyed statues and paintings, and it often burnt whole libraries." [History of the Reformation, vol. i., ch. 15.] In the British Parliament during the Protectorate, so deep was the fanaticism of the times, that "serious propositions were made to paint all the churches black, in order to typify the gloom and corruption that reigned within them."

3. Philosophy.--A few remarks concerning the influence of Protestantism on philosophy, are made necessary from the close relation in which that branch of learning stands to literature. The vehicle through which the results of philosophical investigation are conveyed to the people at large, is literature; and, reciprocally, the speculations of philosophy are modified by the ideas current in literature. What, then, have been the effects of the Reformation on philosophy?

The fundamental principle of the Reformation--private judgement or the rejection of authority in religious matters--sweeps away all the mysteries of the Christian faith, since, being above human reason, they cannot be comprehended by human reason. Hence Rationalism must be substituted for Christianity, and a pagan literature must be ultimately the inevitable consequence. In fact, those among Protestants who followed out their principle, were led to drive away God and the soul from their philosophy, and rush madly into the gross errors of materialism. To substantiate what we say, we need only recall the names of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Hobbes, Blount, Toland, Shaftesbury, Woolston, and Bolingbroke. The French philosophism of the last century emanated from this school; and the French infidels, headed by Voltaire, were at first mere echoes of their English masters. It is also a fact worthy of notice that Voltaire, who cherished so intense a hatred of Christianity, has generally found great favor with Protestants. At times, indeed, reactionary movements have been set on foot to turn the tide of infidelity; but, as long as the principle remains, such movements will be failures. To-day the fatal doctrines continue to produce the self-same consequences in the skeptical, anti-Christian spirit that strives more and more to assert its supremacy, even in such quarters as the once so conservative University of Oxford. Darwin, Spencer, Tyndal, Huxley, Matthew Arnold, are the leading representatives of that spirit. The effects of such a philosophy upon literature have been to deprive it of the highest source of inspiration, the Christian spirit; to throw a cloud of doubts over the best-ascertained facts of history; and finally to replace Christian by pagan ideals and heroes. Such in fact, to a great extent, is our contemporary literature; such is it, at least, in its most popular form, the all-pervading novel.

4. Social Order.--It cannot be denied, that peace and order, in the State, are among the essential conditions to the progress of civilization and the prosperity of literature. The best guarantee of peace and order, is found in a spirit of obedience on the part of the governed, and a spirit of justice on the part of the government. Now Protestantism stands opposed to this twofold spirit. Its very origin was a protest, a revolt against the highest authority on earth; its essential principle, a sanction to arbitrary rule and despotism; and hence its effect was gradually to undermine the basis of social order. Germany, the cradle of Protestantism, was frightfully mutilated by the devastating scourge of religious wars. The ferment of revolt, extending wherever the Reformation prevailed, was everywhere a cause of commotion and strife. During two entire centuries, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland, were writhing with anarchy. France was reduced to the verge of ruin by the same religious dissensions. For two-thirds of the sixteenth century, England groaned under religious persecutions and the most brutal despotism; and, during the greater part of the seventeenth; she was a pry to civil wars and the fanaticism of sectarians. Hallam considers that the excitement of a revolutionary spirit was a consequence of the new doctrines, and adds: "A more immediate effect of overthrowing the ancient system was the growth of fanaticism, to which, in its worst shape, the Antinomian* [Antinomian (αντι, against, and νομος, law) signifies the error which denies the obligation of the moral law, under the Christian dispensation. Luther said that we might sin a thousand times a day and not mind it, provided we had faith in Christ, i. e., faith that His merits are greater than our iniquities.] extravagances of Luther yielded too great encouragement." [Lit. of Europe, vol. i., p. 187, Harper's Edit.] "A political and spiritual despotism such as that of Henry VIII. and of Cromwell, would have been impossible but for the Reformation." [Fred. Schlegel.] It is a startling fact, that, in every Protestant kingdom of continental Europe, absolute monarchy, in its most consolidated and despotic form, dates precisely from the period of the Reformation.

5. Civil and Religious Liberty.--Those who look upon Protestantism as inseparable from public liberty, do not agree with Hallam and Guizot, neither of whom can be accused of any want of sympathy for the Reformation. According to the former, "It is one of the fallacious views of the Reformation, to fancy that it sprung from any notions of political liberty, in such a sense as we attach to the word." [Lit. of Europe, vol. i., p. 187] "In Germany," says the latter, "far from demanding political liberty, the Reformation has accepted, I should not like to say political servitude, but the absence of liberty." [Hist. Gen. de la Civil., Lect. 12.]

With regard to religious liberty, let us hear Hallam again: "The adherents of the Church of Rome have never failed to cast two reproaches on those who left them: one, that the reform was brought about by intemperate and calumnious abuse, by outrages of an excited populace, or by the tyranny of princes; the other, that after stimulating the most ignorant to reject the authority of the Church, it instantly withdrew this liberty of judgement, and devoted all who presumed to swerve from the line drawn by law, to virulent obloquy, or sometimes to bonds and death. These reproaches, it may be a shame for us to own, 'can be uttered and cannot be refuted.'" [Lit. of Europe, vol. i., p. 200.] In what age or country has religious liberty ever been more systematically, more steadily, and more thoroughly trampled upon, than it was in the case of Catholics in England, Ireland, and Scotland, from the time of Elizabeth to the Catholic Emancipation in 1829? In our own country, the early history of Virginia and New England is little more than a record of doctrinal disputations, the bitter fruits of religious intolerance.

From the facts just enumerated, the following conclusion forces itself upon us: that the Reformation was rather a retrograde than a progressive movement in the interests of civilization and science; and that, if literature had developed so extensively in modern times, it is not in consequence, but in spite of the Reformation. The various elements of modern progress, carefully gathered together for centuries, had already produced great results, and the impulse was given for still greater, when the Reformation entangled the human mind in wild controversies, and estranged it from the Church only to lead it beak gradually to paganism. This false direction given to the mind, of which we see still the unhappy consequence, belongs to the Reformation; whilst the life and brilliancy that characterize this epoch are due, as we shall show, to causes far different.

Real Causes of Human Progress and Literary Improvement in the Modern Period

Among these causes, we place in the first rank the Catholic Church. She it was that saved the world from utter barbarism, when the hordes of the North were settling over the ruins of the old pagan civilization. She it was that converted and civilized, one after another, all the nations of Europe. It was her zeal for intellectual pursuits that led to the foundation of numerous schools, and those famous universities, which, for depth of teaching and the number of students, have never been equalled. When the new civilization was threatened by the fanaticism of Islam, it was her pontiffs that first sounded the alarm, and united in one common cause the rival claims of European princes. Indeed, from Urban II. to St. Pius V, and from St. Pius V. to Clement XI., the popes never relented their efforts till the Mahometan power was first crippled at Lepanto, and its aggressive spirit finally broken under the walls of Belgrade (1717).

The Crusades not only repelled the enemy of civilization, but proved beneficial at home, by dissolving the feudal system, ridding Europe of many a petty despot, stimulating commerce, and eliciting a spirit of industry, enterprise, and invention.

The decline of the feudal system and the abolition of slavery, by introducing a large body of men into the rank of citizens, contributed not a little to the general development of human resources. Under feudalism, the mass of the people, under the appellation of serfs, were bought and sold with the soil to which they were attached; but now their condition was gradually improved by the influence of the Church, until the system disappeared altogether from European society.

As regards slavery, "the spirit of the Christian religion," says Bancroft, "would, before the discovery of America, have led to the entire abolition of the slave-trade, but for the hostility between the Christian Church and the followers of Mahomet. In the twelfth century, Pope Alexander III., true to the spirit of his office, . . . had written that 'Nature having made no slaves, all men have an equal right to liberty.' It was the clergy that had broken up the Christian slave-markets at Bristol and Hamburg, at Lyons and at Rome." * [Hist. of the U. S., Vol. i., pp. 163 and 165, 1st edition.]

Another important element of human progress, also the work of the Church, were the elevation of the female character, and the restoration of women to her proper station in society. The Church, from the first, taught the barbarian to treat women not as a slave, but a companion. The mother, whose duties in the training of her children were so laborious and weighty, forgot her troubles in the joy of possessing the undivided affection of her spouse. She became the sovereign of the domestic circle, the ornament, and refiner of society.

A more immediate cause of the progress of letters in Western Europe, must be traced to the advent in Italy and elsewhere, of many learned Greeks, together with the munificent patronage held out by the Houses of  Medici, of Este, of Gonzaga, and especially by the Popes. Greek manuscripts were collected at great expense, and buildings erected to preserve these treasures and the monuments of art that survived the ravages of the barbarians. As early as the middle of the fifteenth century, the Vatican Library, enriched, if not founded, by Pope Nicholas V., possessed now fewer than 5000 volumes, many of which were of the greatest value. This zeal for letters and the general revival created a galaxy of geniuses in the golden age of Leo X., very properly styled the second Augustan age of Roman literature, when

'A Raphael painted, and a Vida sung.'

Elsewhere also, as in Spain, in Portugal, and in France, three countries where the Reformation did not succeed in implanting itself, there was a general outburst of enthusiasm for letters, which, indeed, might have been fatal to Christian ideas but for the directing hand of the Church.

Finally, what contributed most of all to the development of literature in modern times, was that wonderful invention of the art of printing, the authors of which, according to the more common opinion of learned men, were Faust, Schæffer, and Gutenberg, at Metz, about the year 1440. Printing by hand was known long before, even as far back as the tenth century, but was of little advantage, owing to the slowness of the process and the scarcity of paper. The invention of the printing press, at a time when paper had become cheaper and more common, afforded unprecedented facilities for the prosecution of literary studies. Before the close of the fifteenth century, it is said that 10,000 editions of works, of which the classics formed a considerable number, were printed in Europe. Of these works, Italy had the honor of publishing nearly one-half; while a very small number, (not exceeding one hundred and fifty), were printed in England. of the Vulgate, Hallam mentions ninety-one editions, and of Virgil, ninety-five. We find 291 editions of the writings of Cicero. These numbers, it must be remembered, relate not to single volumes; but to whole editions of the works, varying from 225 to 550 copies, or more, for each edition. If we take the latter number as the basis of our calculation, and apply it to the works of Cicero alone, the result is that above 160,000 copies of the writings of this elegant author were brought into circulation during the last quarter of the fifteenth century.

In England, the example set by William Caxton, who first introduced the press there in 1477, was eagerly followed by others. Not only the classic works of Roman and Grecian genius, but the popular writings of modern Italy and France, were translated and widely circulated. Thus a taste for general reading and information was excited and fostered in all classes of society. The language itself soon felt the benefit of the new impulse, and was enriched by a great variety of words drawn from the ancient and modern tongues. Better models of thought and style were introduced; and the quaint untutored phraseology of our earliest authors, yielded to the more correct diction and polished periods of subsequent writers. Yet this movement was considerably retarded by the religious commotions of the kingdom, during the reigns of Henry VIII. and his two successors. When the nation had become more indifferent to the old worship, and the general quiet was left undisturbed by the patient endurance of Catholics under a relentless and bloody persecution, then England was able to enjoy the golden age of her literature.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Glories within Glories

This post assumes a knowledge of LDS theology as I will not explain in depth the ideas behind what I am talking about.

In Joseph Smith's vision of the three degrees of glory found in D&C Section 76 he talks about the celestial, the terrestrial and telestial glories, giving a description of those who will go there and what blessings they will have. While this section is largely our only source in scripture for understanding the three degrees of glory, D&C Section 131 also has a brief statement about the "celestial glory". All it includes is four verses stating:
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
It is from this first verse that we get the idea that the celestial glory is further divided into three more levels or degrees. The first revelation (section 76) was received in 1832 and the second one was received in 1843, thus it is assumed that the second revelation (section 131) was received as a small addendum to the doctrine given in 1832. In other words, the fact that there were three levels within the celestial kingdom was something that was missed by Joseph Smith in the original vision that was added on later (in about 1843) to flesh-out our understanding of the celestial kingdom. At least that was the conventional wisdom being taught in seminary.

Today there is a common phrase in the church about "the highest level of the celestial kingdom". This phrase is common enough that most members can at least repeat it and say something about it, mainly they heard it from so-and-so that ______(fill in the blank, with appropriate reference to general authority, prophet, book, scripture, rumor, myth, mormon musical etc.).

My thought is that in the original vision seen by Joseph Smith he never mentioned anything remotely alluding to separate levels within the celestial kingdom. As a matter of fact there is language contained in section 76 that would imply that there is no sub-dividing levels within the celestial kingdom. For example verses 92-96 state:
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;
95 And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.
96 And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one.
As we read in verse 95, those who partake of celestial glory are "equal in power, and in might, and in dominion". It seems to me that that would preclude there being any levels or distinctions between people in the celestial kingdom. If we look at what is said about the other kingdoms the only place we find subdivisions or distinctions within the kingdom is in the telestial kingdom where, "as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world" (v. 98). This difference is distinctly absent from the other kingdoms. So if it is the case that the people in the celestial kingdom are "equal in power, and in might, and in dominion" then it would be illogical for there to be three levels or degrees within the celestial kingdom.

But if we return to section 131 we have the statement in the first verse which clearly states that "In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees". This would seem to be a contradiction from the complete lack of levels within the celestial kingdom from section 76. But if we think about it we should consider the phrase "celestial glory" and how it is being used, or specifically how Joseph Smith used it. In our modern times members of the church would be picky about the use of the word celestial to only mean those things pertaining to the celestial kingdom (i.e. the highest kingdom as explained in section 76). I do not think that at the time Joseph Smith was as particular with his words as we are today. That is, he was not working with the definition that we have built up around the word "celestial". It is most likely that when he used the phrase "celestial glory" in the context of section 131 he simply meant anything that was part of our post-mortal experience.

Thus the three degrees referred to in section 131 are not referring to three previously undisclosed levels of glory within the glory of the celestial kingdom, but in fact refer to the three known kingdoms of glory, what we call the celestial, the terrestrial and the telestial. If we consider it like this then we have less contradictions to explain in the scriptures. As a final parting note, there is even a short Wikipedia stub about the separation degrees within the celestial kingdom. As the source they cite section 131 and then reference section 132 verses 16 and 17 to explain the two unexplained levels within the celestial kingdom. But if we take a look at these two verses we read:
16 Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.
These verses are used as support for the subdivisions inside the celestial kingdom in order to explain what happens to the people in the other two levels, i.e. those not exalted to the highest level. They are made "ministering servants" to those who are exalted to "the highest level", but they are still part of the celestial kingdom, according to this interpretation. The problem with this is that in verse 17 it specifically states that these "ministering servants" "are not gods", which again goes directly contrary to what we find in section 76 which states (verse 58), "Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God" referring to those who receive celestial glory. Thus we have another contradiction between sections 132 and 76, but only if we assume that the "ministering servants" referred to in 132 are part of the celestial kingdom and make up the two lower levels of the celestial kingdom. But if we take the idea that there are no levels within the celestial kingdom and that the only distinctions come from the three main degrees of glory then we no longer have this contradiction and the "ministering servants" are clearly members of a different or lower kingdom and do not partake of the fullness given to those of celestial glory.

Of course all this hinges on the fact that Joseph Smith may not have been using the phrase "celestial glory" in the same way that we are accustomed to use it now, which I think is much more likely than the contradictions that arise from assuming that there are multiple levels within the celestial kingdom, where all are "equal in power, and in might, and in dominion" and all are "gods, even the sons of God".

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First Snowfall of Winter

This past weekend we had our first snowfall of the winter. It was light, about 1 inch, but for North Carolina (at least the piedmont region) this is a lot of snow. It basically shut down the city because here people don't know how to drive when it snows. I got a few good pictures of the snow before it all melted. On a side note, we finally had to turn on our heater for the first time this season.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fall Leaves

I remember when I was growing up my elementary school teachers always had activities where we would draw pictures with brightly colored leaves on the trees during fall. Also the teachers would decorate their rooms with bright oranges, reds and yellows with leaves made out of construction paper. During this time our red, yellow and orange crayons would get most of their use. So I grew up learning all about the brightly colored leaves on the trees during the fall, and thinking about how that's what fall was like. The only problem was that I grew up in Arizona and in Arizona the leaves on the trees don't change color (much). About the closest it got was the leaves on the pecan trees in my front yard would turn slightly yellow before most of them just turned brown and fell off. A few other trees would also turn a slight color, but most would just turn brown and fall off. I never really saw real fall leaves, like the ones I always drew in my classes.

It was not until I moved to North Carolina that I finally saw the fall leaves I had been drawing every year in elementary school. It was only then that I finally understood what I had been drawing for all those years.

Monday, November 22, 2010

An explanation of the problem with "The Kolob Theorem"

[Update 2/13/11: I have significantly rewritten my critique of The Kolob Theorem. My first review of the book was perhaps a little too harsh and short on details. Hopefully my second post will be better at informing anyone who reads this of the fundamental problems with The Kolob Theorem.]

[Update 9/10/12: I answer some general questions about this review and also common comments that I have read about The Kolob Theorem in a new post "Revisiting the Kolob Theorem".]

[Update 9/10/13: Because people have asked I made a post that deals with specific scientific problems. I only managed to get through the first 9 pages before I gave up. There were way to many problems. Read that post by following this link.]

Previously I had written a post entitled The Problem with "The Kolob Theorem", and in revisiting the topic I thought that I should expound on why I think The Kolob Theorem to be problematic. This post is intended to replace my previous review of The Kolob Theorem, but I will leave the other post up for anyone who cares to read it, but I will say that I wrote it in one of my less charitable moments. This post will hopefully be a little less harsh, but more instructive of why The Kolob Theorem presents a problem in LDS theology. For reference, I have recently been reading the book Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology by Erich Robert Paul, which has prompted me to recast my critique of The Kolob Theorem in a different light.

The first time I encountered The Kolob Theorem I was at my wife's grandparents house. Someone had loaned my wife's grandmother the book and I saw it sitting on a table and was intrigued by the title and wanted to know what it was about. I only took a quick glance through the book but it was enough to make my skin crawl. There were in fact two reasons for my seemingly severe negative reaction to the book. The first was that there were critical scientific errors in the book that effectively invalidated the whole argument, and the second was that I realized that most people would be unaware of these critical errors and thereby base their understanding of scripture on a foundation of incorrect science.

What made this second reason so problematic was that as an astronomer I would most likely be asked about it (and I was) and I would have to very carefully and politely explain that while the science was extremely off base the religious aspect of the book was not. In other words, I realized that whenever I would be asked about this book I would be faced with the dilemma of having to state quite clearly that the book was wrong, and do so without destroying someone's faith in the scriptures or causing the person to also reject all of science in the process. Essentially the dilemma is that on the one hand I want to emphasize the problems and misconceptions that went into the theorem, without causing people to react and go to the other extreme of rejecting everything that went into the theorem including both the science in general and the specifics of the revelations. This dilemma is much more difficult to deal with than people realize, and it also comes up more frequently than most people are aware of. Perhaps I am just a little more sensitive to this problem due to my being an astronomer, and therefore I become the local "go-to guy" to resolve these issues and thus I have to deal with things like this on a semi-frequent basis.

The Kolob Theorem is part of group of theological writings that are called natural theology. Strictly speaking, natural theology denotes a fundamental approach to theology as opposed to a specific theology. Thus natural theology is not confined to any one religion or church. The main trust of natural theology is to verify one's religion using arguments from the prevailing scientific theories and observations of the day. It is in effect an attempt to argue that one's religion is true based on the latest and greatest theories in science. This is problematic because if the latest and greatest theories are shown to be wrong then that automatically calls into question the theology and religion of the natural theologian.

Dr. Hilton's book is a prime example of the process, and problems, of natural theology. Starting with some basic astronomy, he moves on to make a theological argument about where God lives and where the three degrees of glory are located. As Erich Robert Paul pointed out in his book on Mormon cosmology, Joseph Smith never attempted to reconcile the knowledge of astronomy from the Book of Abraham, or the three degrees of glory with any contemporary astronomical observations. Thus Dr. Hilton is attempting what Joseph Smith never attempted. This may be very commendable and courageous, or more likely it may prove to be premature and problematic. To consider why this is problematic we need to consider other failed attempts at natural theology.

In the middle ages there was a type of world map called a T-O map that was common in the religious books at the time.
A reconstruction of a T-O map. Image from Wikipedia. Usually the map is represented with Asia (east) on top.
The purpose of the T-O map is to show the general layout of the world and how it reflects Christian theology. These maps were made to show how certain Christian doctrines are symbolically part of the world. The world is laid out in such a way that the cross of Christ is evident, with Jerusalem at the center (the cross being formed by the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile and the Don rivers). There was more symbolism in the O of the ocean surrounding the land (the complete, eternal circle of God, and water from the water and the blood). While the map may have been useful to teach certain religious doctrines, it is not very accurate when compared to an actual map of the world.
The T-O map superimposed on a modern map. Image from Wikipedia.
The way Dr. Hilton attempts to show the location and structure of the three degrees of glory only makes sense when using a very simplified map of the galaxy. Much in the same way that the T-O map of the world is only theologically useful when you assume a very simplified structure to the world. While the T-O map may be theologically instructive, it is rather useless as an actual map that may be used to get from point A to point B.

The end result is that the theological argument gets based on a very simplified, and very inaccurate, map of the world. The same happens with The Kolob Theorem. Dr. Hilton uses an excessively over simplified "map" of a galaxy to make a theological argument. The end effect of the theorem is to place the veracity of the revealed word, the scriptures, on a specific scientific theory or observation. To a natural theologian this is the desired result, but this has the unintended result of making revelation depend on something that may not be true, or that may change as our understanding changes. This is precisely the problem that plagues The Kolob Theorem.

For example, Dr. Hilton includes a quote from a famous astronomer, Fred Hoyle, to back up part of his theorem. The quote, found on page 25 of the book, comes from 1955 and at the time it expressed the current understanding of how stars formed in galaxies. But our understanding of astronomy has changed since then and parts of the view as expressed in Fred Hoyle's quote no longer reflects our understanding of star formation.

By basing part of his argument on a specific scientific theory, or insight, Dr. Hilton does himself a disservice because he places the interpretation and veracity of revealed scripture on something that can and will most likely change as we gain greater understanding of how the universe works. He is in effect setting himself up, and setting up his faith and by extension, the faith of others, to be disproven when the next largest telescope gets built and we find out more about the universe. That is, for me, a very problematic result to his theory. I would not want members of the Church to base their faith, testimony, or understanding of the scriptures on something that is already demonstratively false and will become more so as we gain new insights into the universe though our astronomical observations.

So in his attempt to make the latest and greatest astronomical observations into something "faith promoting", Dr. Hilton enters the realm of natural theology which "opens up a whole new can of worms" which may be more troublesome than Dr. Hilton realizes. Because the current astronomical observations are just that, current, they will grow old and become yesterday's observations and then last century's observations, and all the theories that they produced will have changed. This does not mean that we should reject all astronomical observations and untrue, unimportant or insignificant, but rather we should resist the temptation to base our faith on something that has proven throughout history to change. There should be a better foundation to our faith than the latest and greatest theories of science.

Also as a final note, I realize that many people are impressed with this book mostly because they have never considered the implications of what is written in the Book of Abraham and in the Doctrine and Covenants. Many of the positive comments posted on about the book are from people that say that the book "opened their eyes" or "made them think about their religion in a different way" and how it made "the plan of salvation more real". While I can't argue with their own personal feelings (and if the book did prompt them to investigate the scriptures more, then good I'm all for that), I do wish to temper their enthusiasm with the realization that to base our theology, faith and religion on something like The Kolob Theorem will ultimately result in a challenge to our faith and will not be "faith promoting" in the end. The truth of God is more amazing than anything that you will find in The Kolob Theorem.

[Want to read some more? Try the comments below and also my new post "Revisiting the Kolob Theorem".]

Place Holder Title

Probably the biggest problem with The Kolob Theorem by Dr. Lynn M. Hilton is that it is impossible to fully explain in a single blog post why it is wrong. The worst part is that it is written so that it sounds semi-official and it deals with a subject that few people understand, but many people are familiar with, namely Astronomy. This creates a problem because while the author is writing about things that many people have heard about (i.e. stars, the milky way, and black holes etc.) he is making assertions or assumptions about how galaxies, stars and black holes work that most people cannot verify, let alone understand. And it is precisely these assumptions that contain the problem with The Kolob Theorem.

Dr. Hilton is in effect using a Wikipedia understanding of galaxies as the basis of The Kolob Theorem, which means he is writing about things that many people have heard about in 8th grade science class, newspaper articles, magazines and word of mouth. This means that the words he is using (i.e. stars, dust lanes, color (this is an important one), Milky Way, black hole) are words that people have heard and have a colloquial understanding of the definition the words. The problem with this is that it creates a false sense of understanding and an inflated perception of the truthfulness of what he is saying. He does this by having the minor facts correct (yes, the center of the galaxy is in the direction of Sagittarius) but the overall, and arguably more critical facts, he gets wrong, very wrong (such as interpreting the colors in pictures of the Andromeda Galaxy).

The most annoying part of this is that it makes it impossible for someone like me to explain why it is wrong. The only reason why I can read Dr. Hilton's book and immediately recognize what is wrong with it is because I have been studying physics and astronomy for many years. I already have one degree in physics and will have my second within a few months. This means that it has taken me 7+ years of college to get to the level where I can read The Kolob Theorem and immediately recognize it as factually misguided. So don't expect me to be able to explain everything, or even a small part, of what is wrong with The Kolob Theorem in a single blog post. If someone wants to understand exactly what is wrong with The Kolob Theorem, perhaps the easiest way is to get a degree in astronomy (or physics will do) and then it will be easier to understand what is wrong with the theorem, at least from a scientific standpoint.

I have reservations about saying that because my readers my think that I am expressing an elitist view of things, and that I am saying that those who have not "paid the price" should not be allowed to express their views. I sincerely think that this is not the case. I definitely value the opinion and views of experts, while at the same time acknowledging their fallibility as humans, and recognize that in some aspects we have a limited understanding, but this does not in anyway lessen or invalidate my criticism of The Kolob Theorem. What makes Dr. Hilton's book so wrong is that he gives the impression that he is giving an accurate and authoritative view of astronomy when in fact he is not. His many quotes from astronomers, such as Fred Hoyle, give the impression that the astronomy aspect of the book is "correct" and authoritative. As an example of why this is a false impression, taking Fred Hoyle's quote from page 25 of the book, the quote comes from 1955 and at the time it expressed the current understanding of how stars formed in galaxies. But our understanding of astronomy has changed since then and parts of the view as expressed in Fred Hoyle's quote no longer reflects our understanding of star formation. To someone who is not familiar with the field of astronomy, like Dr. Hilton, this important point would be missed. And even by saying this I do not mean that everything Fred Hoyle said is now considered incorrect, just parts of it, and to explain which parts would take an entire blog post.

In the end the thing that kills The Kolob Theorem, from a purely scientific standpoint, is that while Dr. Hilton mixes in a lot of correct factual information, which can easily be verified by consulting any standard undergraduate astronomy textbook, with either outdated, or flat-out incorrect ideas of galactic structure and star formation. Part of this is due to the fact that of the sources used by Dr. Hilton the most recent astronomy source was published in 1982. A lot has changed in astronomy since then. If Dr. Hilton wants some reliable books to learn about galactic dynamics and structure, I would suggest Binney and Tremaine and Binney and Merrifield (two different books) along with Carroll and Ostlie to start. That would get a basic understanding of galaxies and astronomy which would greatly alter the way he views the subject and would show why his theory suffers from so many intractable errors.

As a final note, my assessment of The Kolob Theorem only touches on the astronomical aspects of the theory and in no way addresses the religious aspect. The only errors and failings I have talked about deal with Dr. Hilton's use or understanding of astronomy and not anything dealing with religion or religious interpretation. My purpose in writing this is to point out, to put it bluntly, that his understanding of astronomy is severely lacking and that his use of so much factual astronomical information hides the gaping errors in his reasoning that obfuscate the problems to the point that only someone who has spent several years in research astronomy (and not astronomy as a hobby) could see the failings in his theory. None of the reviews I could find online were written by anyone who had any serious training in astronomy and thus could not comment on the veracity (or lack there of) of the science being presented.

PS: If anyone has any specific questions regarding the astronomy found in Dr. Hilton's book, feel free to contact me or leave a comment with your question and I will try my best to explain it. I realize that that is a rather open ended request for questions so you can also ask me list a few of the specific errors I found particularly egregious in his book. I just won't take the time unless someone actually wants to know.

PPS: To just throw out two things that are problematic; Dr. Hilton's basic concept of galactic structure as shown on page 46 is incorrect (by the way, the Milky Way is probably a barred spiral). And galactic structure is a lot more complex than Dr. Hilton puts forth. This includes: dwarf galaxies, ultra compact dwarfs, barred spirals, ellipticals, mergers, galactic cores etc.

[Original comments]

Cartesian: "I am not a Mormon and I have not heard about this book, but for the galaxies, it seems that it is possible to think that there are different stages in the life of a spiral galaxy and that the different types are these different stages."

EDL: "Admitting at the outset that I am neither a physicist nor an astronomer (I am a Ph.D. psychologist), I nevertheless feel compelled to share two observations that came to mind as I read your critique of Dr. Hilton's book, a book which I have found extremely thought-provoking in terms of its attempt to reconcile the scriptural and astrophysical bases for past and future changes in the earth's state and its orbit within the galaxy. My first observation is this: in graduate school, one quickly learns that there are two ways to gain scholarly recognition---(a) put forth a new theory or paradigm; or (b) disprove an existing theory or paradigm. While both (a) and (b) are essential in the ongoing scientific process, (a) usually requires much more time, effort, and persistence, comparable to that of constructing a building---shovel by shovel, board by board, brick by brick. On the other hand, (b) largely consists of pointing out flaws in the brickwork or the notion that newer materials should have been utilized, etc. Such seems to be the case in your criticism of Hilton's "building." If you truly believe you don't have sufficient blog space to provide a definitive or adequate critique---but just enough space to flash your credentials---then perhaps you should remedy this deficiency in a future blog (or series of blogs if necessary). Otherwise, you are committing a condescending, self-serving injustice: you are discouraging potential readers from discovering a paradigm which, though imperfect, provides the single most cogent attempt thus far for reconciling astrophysics with the references in ancient and modern scripture regarding past and future changes in the earth's state and orbit. 
My second observation is this: what your Hilton critique focuses on, contrasted with what it ignores, is comparable to the city slicker who walks into the Sistine Chapel and proceeds to exclaim, "Just look at these dusty, pitted floors!"---totally oblivious to the breath-taking expanse overhead. While you continue gazing at the floors, I (and many others) will continue gazing at the ceiling. 

Ed Lauritsen"

quantumleap42: "Ed thanks for your comment.

Perhaps I should clarify a few things about what I wrote. Using your building example, my criticisms of Dr. Hilton's book are not merely a cosmetic critique of the building, i.e. I am not concerned about the color or lay of the bricks, but I was expressing my concern of what I saw as a fundamental flaw to the entire argument. At the risk of over extending your analogy (something which is very dangerous) the "dusty, pitted floors" that I am commenting on is an observation of the unstable state of the foundation, which if it were to fail would obviously nullify any grandeur and beauty that the ceiling has to offer.

I would not have offered such a strong criticism if it were not for the fact that I viewed the problems with Dr. Hilton's astronomy to be singularly detrimental to his overall theory. Again I should emphasize that my criticisms are of his presentation of astronomy and have nothing to do with his explanation of our theology. The fatal error comes where he tries to support the theology using astronomy. In my opinion the religious writings of Joseph Smith can stand on their own, and I whole heartedly accept them as truth. So do not mistake any criticism of the astronomy for a criticism of the spiritual.

I strongly commend Dr. Hilton for his courage in attempting to reconcile astronomical understanding with spiritual understanding, but I also wish to point out that it is dangerous to mix true revelation with thinly supported and not well understood scientific understanding. The reason why I was so strident in my criticism was that I did not want anyone to base their testimony or even their understanding of true things (revelation) on an argument that cannot be supported by any scientific consensus. While The Kolob Theorem is certainly "thought-provoking" the danger lies in the direction the thoughts take afterwards.

Because of the great growth of our astronomical understanding I was well aware that at some point the issue of what has been revealed by Joseph Smith would have to be reconciled to what we know through science, but unless the conversation is started in the right direction it will ultimately lead to nowhere. Thus while I am glad that someone started the conversation and wrote "The Kolob Theorem" I am concerned that unless someone pointed out that there were problems with the astronomy then the conversation would continue on in the wrong direction creating problems later on. So my comments should be considered a course correction, and a warning, and not as a desire to kill the conversation."

quantumleap42: "I would also like to add that the reason why I did not try to explain everything that is wrong with the astronomy is because, as I pointed out in the post, I could only understand what was wrong after having taken 7+ years of physics and astronomy classes. That knowledge is surely not something that could be condensed down to a few blog posts, a series of posts, or even a series of blogs. If Dr. Hilton were willing I would like to help him and get him pointed in the right direction with regards to the astronomy. It is much more desirable that this discussion be directed in the correct direction than it is to be ended."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Going Blind

No I am not going blind, but that laser shot that I took in my right eye as an undergrad didn't help any, but that's a different story. What I am talking about is going blind by looking at the sun. While this is not something I regularly do, or even do at all, it is something that happens occasionally to most people. Most people when they look at the sun they have a natural reflex that causes them to blink and to look away. This natural reflex usually prevents any major or long lasting damage to the retina. But occasionally people will look at the sun for extended periods of time and not realize that they are permanently damaging their eyes. Usually they do this when there is something interesting in front of the sun, such as a cloud, a planet or the moon. Sometimes with sufficient protection people can look directly at the sun and observe these interesting phenomena, but without adequate protection these short periods of solar investigation can cause serious or permanent damage.

It is for this reason that whenever there is a solar eclipse we are always advised to not look directly at the sun. When I was young I specifically remember two solar eclipses where I was very sternly warned not to look at the sun because I would go blind almost instantly. According to my siblings and classmates this danger was so severe that if we even looked anywhere in the general direction of the sky we would all be smitten with instant and permanent blindness. I distinctly remember walking through a grove of aspen trees during a family reunion being very conscious of the sky and mindful of the damage to my eyes if I so much as raised my eyes to even see the blue of the sky during the partial eclipse. Such was the power of the sun's rays during an eclipse (or so I thought) that even to see the blue sky was taboo.

I also remember a second experience where we all got out of class to go see the eclipse. Well, actually we didn't see the eclipse because we were all instructed in no uncertain terms that we were not to raise our eyes to the sky. Any young child who was so unfortunate to even see the blue of the sky would be instantly smitten with blindness, or worse, expelled. We had to use pin holes through paper to resolve images of the disk of the sun partially covered by the moon, and that was how we "saw" the eclipse. For the fortunate few who thought to bring very "special" sun glasses ($5 at Walmart) they could, for a very short time look directly at the sun, but for the rest of us unworthy folk we had to be content with our rudimentary pinhole cameras and look at the tiny images of the partially eclipsed sun.

Of course this was all overkill, because I would not have gone blind by looking at the sky, or even in the general direction of the sun, but I definitely would have if I had stopped to look at the sun for any extended period of time, which may have been significantly easier considering I had something interesting to look at, namely the eclipsing moon. But back then in my mind it was oh so very dangerous to even see the sky. For the more critical minded of us the obvious question was, "If we can look at the sun, even for an instant, and not have any permanent damage, why would it be more dangerous to look at the sun when it was being partially blocked?" A good question, to which the ready response was usually something like, "Because during an eclipse the corona of the sun glows brighter. Brighter even than normal, and brighter even than the whole sun normally does." This is of course hogwash, but so many of us believed it because we knew that under no conditions were we to look at the sun. To do so would bring about instant blindness, or so we were told. So we went on creating any number of "logical" reasons for why could not look at the sky, let alone the sun during an eclipse.

No matter how intelligent or informed the reasons seemed at the time, in retrospect they were all very foolish because they were all justifications for things we did not yet understand. For me and my classmates, our reasoning was sound, we could not look at the sun during the eclipse because corona was brighter, or the atmosphere made the part of the sun that was still visible brighter, or the light bent around the moon making the light from the sun more concentrated, or there were more UV rays during an eclipse because of the corona/atmosphere/moon/monkeys etc. In our minds it was all true and perfectly reasonable. What we failed to realize was the obvious answer, we were children and we didn't have a lot of common sense. Our teachers didn't want to have to deal with making sure that each child only looked at the sun for no more than one or two seconds, so they put the fear of God into us and told us not to look at the sun, or even to look at the sky. Can you imagine herding 30 kids (aged 9 and 10) outside and then making sure none of them were sitting there frying their eyes because they didn't have enough common sense to look away from the very, very interesting partial eclipse?

So of course they told us not to look at the sun, not because it would cause us INSTANT blindness, as many of my classmates kept insisting, or because the corona was especially bright during an eclipse, but because even though part of the sun was blocked by the moon, the rest of it was still just as bright and could easily damage our eyes. Normally us children would not sit there and stare at the sun, but suddenly we had a very good, and a very interesting reason to forget common sense, if we ever had any, and stare directly at the sun. What our teachers and parents were trying to protect us from was not the INSTANT blindness caused by the vast number of reasons we could think of, but rather the inevitable blindness that would result from too much curiosity and not enough common sense.

Perhaps if I had been older when I saw my first two eclipses then I might have had a different experience. Perhaps I may have seen through the clever arguments of my peers to see that they were just an ephemeral attempt to justify the hard-and-fast rule of "Do not look at the sun." If I had been the rebellious type I might have justified looking at the sun because the reasons my peers gave for not looking were unfounded and untrue. But this would have put me, or rather my eyes, in jeopardy because even if the reasons for not looking at the sun were entirely untrue, the fact remains that looking at the sun, especially when it is the object of curiosity such as during an eclipse, can be especially dangerous. This is not because of any increase in the amount of light but because I would override my natural instinct to look away and would slowly and steadily end up going blind.

Explanation:Now in writing this I could just leave it at that and I will have made my point, but because I always like to clarify what I write, I will continue writing and explain why I wanted to write about going blind by looking at the sun. My little story that I told about (not) seeing an eclipse is an analogy for morality. At times we are given rules to follow and they are hard-and-fast rules with little leeway. For those of us who are spiritually immature we may not understand why we are given these rules and we may even try to come up with some explanation as to why we should follow these rules, things like, "You'll be struck by lightning if God sees you!" or "The Devil will come and get you!" or "You'll be cursed with misfortune for the rest of your life." Most of these reasons rely on the assumption that anyone who breaks the rules will be instantly smitten with punishment and misfortune.

But there are those who hear these arguments and still "look at the sun" and break the rules. When no lightning bold is forthcoming they assume that the reason for the rule is silly and pointless and promptly assume that they can proceed to break every single rule and get away with it. What they fail to realize is that there was a reason for the rule, it just was not the simplified and instant reasons often given as justification. The true reason being to prevent very real and very permanent damage to ourselves or our souls. The instant lightning flash reasons for keeping the rules, aren't always the real reasons to keep the rules (sometimes the lightning does strike, but not always).

As in the case with the eclipse it is true that looking at the eclipse can cause blindness, it may not be the instant blindness like I was lead to believe in as a kid, but it will still be blindness just the same. Thus it is with the rules of God, if we break them we may not be smitten instantly or the Devil may not jump out from behind the next bush and drag us down to hell, but those who violate God's rules will be smitten (not necessarily by God, but in most cases by their own sins) and the Devil will come for their souls.

The most common result from breaking the laws of God is to be smitten with spiritual blindness and to be left to oneself to fend against the things of the world. And eventually those who do not progress and keep the commandments will lose that which they have. This is the meaning behind my story of "going blind".

Facebook is mocking me

About once a year I get a slew of emails from Facebook telling me that so and so has just written on my wall wishing me a happy birthday. This year I had about 12 emails in one day where normally I average about one every other week. So I figured that I should actually go check out my Facebook page (Yes! I do have one!). I thanked everyone for wishing me a happy birthday and confirmed the 12 or so friend requests that I managed to stack up over the past few months. I looked at what a few of my friends were up to, "liked" a video that my dad had posted and then went on my merry way, until I got another email from Facebook. I thought at first that it was someone who had noticed my recent posts or something and was commenting back. So I opened up the email and this is what I read:
First off, I have no idea who "Erika" is since I don't have ANY Facebook friends named "Erika" so why would I want to say "Hi!" to someone I don't even know after being absent from Facebook for about a year (since about my last birthday). And secondly, does Facebook really have to rub it in that I'm not using their product? I mean, I am well aware of the fact that I just went onto Facebook after about a year's absence, do they really need to tell me that obvious fact. It's like getting a letter from your hair-stylist after you go see them for the first time in a year. It's like Facebook is a needy, overly dependent "friend" who goes into a deep depression every time I leave for more than a few minutes. I mean, get a life...ok so maybe a computer program can't do that, which is why it keeps sending me desperate emails trying to get me to come see it. If I keep this up Facebook will start sounding more like an old, troublesome girlfriend...which I really don't know that much about, anyway, moving on...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oberá District Disbanded

A number of years ago when I was serving a Mission for the LDS church I served for a few months in the city of Oberá, Misiones in Argentina. It was a very beautiful city and I really enjoyed my time there. I was sent there along with five other missionaries to help fix the district of Oberá. Normally a district will have several branches (congregations), even as many as 10 or 12, but when we got there the Oberá district (which encompassed more than just the city of Oberá) had only one branch meeting in Oberá and one group (a unit smaller than a branch) meeting in a township just outside of Oberá. Officially there were ~2400 members on the membership list for the entire district of Oberá in more than 10 towns and villages, but there were only a consistent number of about 60 people attending each week in the branch and about 10 more in the group meeting. This is an activity rate of about 3%, compared to the normal activity rate in other areas of my mission which ranged from 20% to 50%.

At the time I was sent there there were only two missionaries there but they brought the total to six for the special assignment of trying to find every member officially listed on the membership roll and determine if they still wanted to be a member of the Church. They gave us the membership records of everyone in the district and told us to go find them.

I was amazed at the number of people that we actually found, but there were also some terrible addresses that were a nightmare to find. The city of Oberá was a hodgepodge of random streets and even more random addresses. While part of the city was very well layed out, there were others that were not. On top of that there were sections of the city that were orderly with very disorderly sections inbetween, and sometimes the orderly sections had grown to the point where they were now overlapping, thus creating disorder out of their individual order (by this I mean that there were neigborhoods that were layed out in a very nice grid pattern, but the different grid patters did not line up so when they met there was a mess of cross and diagonal and crooked streets). To give you an idea here is a screenshot from Google Maps of part of the city:
Imagine walking those streets without a map and trying to figure out how they worked, using only your mental map of where you have been. On top of that each organized neighborhood had its own numbering system which did not use a city wide reference but used an internal reference. For example, if we were on Avenida San Martín and the numbers on the houses were in the 400's then we could walk for 100 meters and cross over into the next barrio, and while technically we were still on San Martín the numbers would now be in the 100's. In some cases the postal service took it upon itself to redo the numbering system, but as they were reissuing house numbers in some neighborhoods they got partway through the neighborhood and stopped before all the houses got new numbers. There was one street we were on that started off numbering in the 100's. We went to the next block at it went to the 200's. The next block was the 300's but partway through the fourth block the numbers went back to the 100's, but only on one side of the street about halfway up the block. We wandered up and down the street for a few minuets noticing that some of the houses we had passed had some odd or random numbers. We eventually clapped at a random house and asked the lady of the house how the numbers worked. She explained that a few years previously the post office had been renumbering the houses but they never finished. She then directed us to the correct house that we were looking for.

Another time we were looking for a house numbering somewhere in the low 100's. We got to the end of the street and we began to walk down it looking at the numbers. They started at about 200 and went down from there. When we got to about where the house should have been there was no house, just a deep ravine with a stream at the bottom. We continued on thinking that it must be on the other side. When we got to the other side of the stream the next house number was lower than the one we were looking for but we kept walking anyway. Pretty soon the numbers went below 100 until it got to about 76 where the numbers began to rise again all the way to the 170's and then proceeded to fall again until finally we got to the right house (number 113 I think, right between 89, on the up number side, and 103 on the down number side). We talked to the people there and commented on the numbers they explained to us in a very matter of fact way that they used to live up by the ravine but a number of years ago they moved and when they did they took the house number with them, as if that were the logical and natural thing to do. It seems like many people on that street did the same thing.

Finally the six missionaries got fed up with the addresses and streets so we went to the municipality and asked the people working there if they had a map of the city. They did not have a map to give us but they did have a large map on their wall that they maintained to show things like utilities and power lines. That day we were looking for a particular street that no one had ever heard of. We asked the municipal workers about the street and they had never heard about it, nor had it on their map. We continued our investigation and went to the local tourist visitor center. Remarkably they had a map. It was not complete but it would do. We also asked them about the mysterious road that we were trying to find. They had not heard about it. This continued one day until we were talking to a member in the branch who had actually heard of the street we were looking for. He said his mother and some other members of his family lived on it. He then proceeded to explain where it was and we realized that we had actually been there. Many times. We had actually walked down the street we were looking for about 20 or 30 times already. The reason why it did not show up on any maps was because it was not an official street, but the odd thing was that it was a very well established street, just not official. We went there and talked to people that lived there and found out that they had been living there for about 20 years. In other words this street had been in use and had well established houses on it (with power!) for about 20 years and the municipality had never known of its existence! Below I have marked the "non-existent" street in red and marked some of the recognized and "official" streets in green around it.
It was quite the adventure to try and find all these people, but there were some remarkable stories where we in a random neighborhood and we stopped at a random house and it turned out that just the person we were looking for happened to be there (as in the person that was literally next on our list to find). Officially their address was in another part of the city, but they just happened to be visiting there that day and had been wondering how to get in touch with the missionaries because they were thinking about coming back to church, but didn't know how. There were many, many of these stories that we had.

After walking the city for months we had finally taken about 500 people off the membership lists. That was just in the city of Oberá where we had ~1600 members on the membership rolls. So overall I actually decreased the total membership of the church on my mission, quite significantly actually. When I got to Oberá they were talking about disbanding the district and having it become part of the Stake in Posadas. Apparently last year they finally did it and now they have officially disbanded the district. Somehow I'm not surprised. The branch in Oberá will continue, and they have a beautiful chapel now, but it will be some time before there is another district there again.

Here is Oberá on Google Maps if you want to explore.

View Larger Map

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Allison Bowers (1999-2010)

This week my niece tragically died in an accident. She was hit by a car while riding her bike. It is one of those things that you hope never happens, and you pray you never have to live through, but when it does we learn what is truly important, and learn to love a little more.

This is a picture that I took of Allison back in 2006 when we were hunting for geodes in Utah. It was around Thanksgiving and it was rather cold out. You may notice the rocks sitting on top of the frozen water. It was cold and windy, but Allison had a warm smile.

I took this picture when I was in Arizona for a birthday party for Allison's sister Johanna in 2005. The one thing that stood out to me even then was her warm smile. It was contagious, and still is.

My sisters and brother have also expressed their feelings on our loss:

Consider the Lilies


This Journey

Florida Family Times

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Neither Shall the Covenant of My Peace be Removed"

As you walk into the Provo Temple there in the entryway is a large mural of Christ teaching the woman at the well. Most people who enter the temple don't stop to look at it and perhaps even less read the plaque underneath explaining where it came from. The brief story told on the plaque is that it was originally placed in a chapel but when the building got old and was about to be torn down they removed the mural and placed it in the Provo Temple. Even though I had seen the mural many times I had never stopped to consider it until one day a friend of mine commented about it after reading the plaque underneath the mural explaining where it came from. He said that what impressed him about the mural was not the mural itself but that someone had gone through so much trouble to preserve it. What made the mural so important was not that it was a particularly spectacular mural but that the person who had carved it had done it for the Lord and had dedicated his efforts to making it for God. My friend observed that the reason why the mural was preserved was not because God was interested in preserving the mural because it was a work of art, but because the mural was given to Him, and because it was given to Him it became His and He would preserve and keep what was His.

The insight that my friend had was that God will keep and preserve those things that are His, because they are His, and that included more than just murals and buildings. As I thought about this I thought about the covenants that we make as members of the Church and how we covenant with God to keep His commandments and to obey His Law, and in return he will make us His. That may seem like a simple thing but when we consider it that is a very significant thing. When we make covenants to God that we will obey His Law and keep His commandments then in return He will own us, keep us, and preserve us. The strength of this sealing is something beyond our comprehension. This is a sealing and a power that stretches beyond death and hell to preserve those that are owned by the Lord. It is a covenant that He will not lightly abandon. Those that make this covenant will be brought back to the presence of God because they are His and he will not let them go. They will be brought back, in life or death, to the One who owns them.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God." (D&C 132:26)
This does absolve them of their responsibilities, nor does it give them a free pass, but God will preserve that which is His, and He will not let them go. But what about those who have not yet made this covenant? What about the children who die before they can be sealed by this power? Or those children who reject the message of the gospel and do not continue in the faith? When a man and a woman are sealed by the covenant, that power covers those who belong to the parents, the children. They too shall be brought back by the power of the covenant, either in life or in death and they shall not be lost. This is the power of the covenant and the sealing that is given to those who faithfully make and keep this covenant.
"For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee." (3 Nephi 22:10)
Though all things shall fail, this covenant will not fail nor be removed, for the Lord is merciful and will keep that which is His.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Elder Oaks: "Two Lines of Comunication"

I am embedding the video of Elder Oaks' talk from the last conference. Below the video I will include some of my comments about what I thought was important.

The breakdown of his talk is very simple. There are two lines of communication between us and God. One is through personal revelation, while the other is through priesthood authority. Both are essential for receiving revelation from God and neither one can function without the other.

In regards to personal revelation Elder Oaks stated,
"This personal line of communication with our Heavenly Father through His Holy Spirit is the source of our testimony of truth, of our knowledge, and of our personal guidance from a loving Heavenly Father. It is an essential feature of His marvelous gospel plan, which allows each one of His children to receive a personal witness of its truth."
If we are to learn the doctrine of salvation it is not sufficient to listen to and to memorize or accept blindly the teachings of those in authority in the Church, because the personal line of communication is the source of our testimony of truth and of our knowledge of eternal doctrine. But lest we think that this is an unrestrained endorsement of the "priesthood of all believers" he cautions us that, "in its fulness the personal line does not function independent of the priesthood line." and that, "we cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line."

So while it is necessary for each individual to discover for themselves the truth and to learn the doctrine through the direct, personal line of communication from God, this line of communication does not function properly if we are separated from the priesthood line of communication.

Elder Oaks explains that unlike the personal line which has no "mortal mediator" the priesthood line, "has the additional and necessary intermediaries of our Savior, Jesus Christ; His Church; and His appointed leaders." This means that in order for the priesthood line to function there must be "mediators" through which the revelation is communicated. This means that no one can function independently in the priesthood line because the purpose of the priesthood line is to organize the Church and to allow the ordinances to be performed. As he put it,
"The priesthood line is the channel by which God has spoken to His children through the scriptures in times past. And it is this line through which He currently speaks through the teachings and counsel of living prophets and apostles and other inspired leaders. This is the way we receive the required ordinances. This is the way we receive calls to service in His Church. His Church is the way and His priesthood is the power through which we are privileged to participate in those cooperative activities that are essential to accomplishing the Lord’s work. These include preaching the gospel, building temples and chapels, and helping the poor."
So while we may learn and understand the doctrine through the personal line of communication, it is through the priesthood line that we first receive the doctrine. The priesthood line is also necessary for the performance of ordinances as they are things that, by definition, we cannot perform on ourselves.

One of the potential problems that Elder Oaks pointed out was that there are those who think that they can rely solely on the personal line of communication and disregard the priesthood line.
"Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line, they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders."
This way of thinking leads these people to criticize the leaders of the Church because in their view the Church leaders "just don't get it", or to say things like "the leadership has no special claim to inspiration or revelation" which is another way of saying, "I don't need the influence of priesthood authority". The end result is to separate the individual from the priesthood line of communication where spiritually they will wither and die (as Jesus put it, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." (see John 15:4-6)).

This way of thinking also leads individuals to assert that, "the church has gone off course and is not on the track it was meant to be." In saying this they fail to recognize that God uses the Church and the priesthood in the Church to direct its course. So to assert that the Church as a whole, or even just the Church leaders as a whole, have gone astray is to assert that God is not directing His Church and that the priesthood line of communication has become corrupted, all the while not questioning the clarity of their personal line of communication. This does not mean that all things that come from Church leaders are perfect and infallible, but because the priesthood line of communication is the method through which God disseminates his word, then it is in His best interest (i.e. our interest) to keep those channels free and clear of corruption. But as a check we have the personal line of communication. Thus we whole heartedly reject the notion of blind faith. Blindly accepting the direction and teachings of our leaders is to forget the personal line of communication which goes contrary to the very teachings being given by our priesthood leaders.

As Elder Oaks put it,
"We must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life. If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line, individualism erases the importance of divine authority. If personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers. The children of God need both lines to achieve their eternal destiny. The restored gospel teaches both, and the restored Church provides both."