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."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

President Packer's Talk and the Free Will Debate

I wasn't going to comment on this because so many other people have already commented on it, but as I was reading a short news story about President Packer's talk from the last General Conference and I noticed an interesting connection to the free will debate. In a nutshell the question is whether or not those with homosexual tendencies have free will in the matter. Because if they have no free will in the matter then moral responsibility cannot be assigned to it. If we take a look at President Packer's talk we can see that it is full of assertions affirming the reality of our free will. Quoting Lehi President Packer stated, "Lehi taught that men are free and must be “free . . . to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day.”(2 Nephi 2:26)"

He continued, "There is something very liberating when an individual determines of his or her own free will to be obedient to our Father and our God and expresses that willingness to Him in prayer." And also he stated, "Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural."

These statements are an affirmation that we are free to act for ourselves, and because we are free to act, our actions can be assigned moral value, which means we are morally accountable for our actions. It is interesting to note that nowhere in President Packer's talk does he imply that having or feeling a temptation is a sin (i.e. meaning it is not morally wrong to have the temptation or tendency), but only when we act on the temptation or give in to our tendencies then we have done something wrong which requires us to repent (change).

Responding to President Packer's talk the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement that stated in part, "I hope you will...acknowledge the scientific truth: sexual orientation cannot be changed, nor should it be." Essentially this statement asserts that sexual orientation is not determined by our choices and thus is outside the purview of free will. Because of this we cannot assign moral value to sexual orientation.

In contrast Church spokesman Michael Otterson mentioned in a statement in response to the Human Rights Campaign that, "It’s not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation." and that, "None of us is limited by our feelings or inclinations. Ultimately, we are free to act for ourselves." This takes the stance that while someone's inclinations, or temptations in religious language, are outside the realm of free will and thus have no moral value, but the actions we choose in response to these inclinations do have moral value.

Thus we have an interesting question here. How much are those with homosexual tendencies free to choose their inclinations and/or actions? If we are to consider this question we must separate the tendencies or temptations from the actual actions which must be considered independent from the inclinations, at least for now. We must consider in which aspects we are free and thus determine to what can be assigned moral value, and then determine the moral value. So we have at least four possibilities:
  1. The inclinations are determined (no free will). The actions are also determined (no free will).
  2. The inclinations are determined (no free will). The actions are not determined (free will).
  3. The inclinations are not determined (free will). The actions are not determined (free will).
  4. The inclinations are semi-determined (partial free will). The actions are not determined (free will).
It is interesting to note that the stance taken by the Human Rights Campaign is slightly interesting in that they assert that there is no free will with respect to the inclinations but do not consider or even speculate whether or not people are free to choose to act on those inclinations. It is taken as a given that because the people have the inclinations it is irrelevant what they choose to do with them, either to act on them or not (though it could be argued that they assert that it is a moral wrong not to act on the inclinations). So while they can be classed as holding to either (1) or (2) they avoid the question of whether or not we have free will in choosing our actions despite the fact that our inclinations are preset and are wholly determined. Thus it is difficult to put them in either category.

In contrast President Packer expressed a belief that inclinations are semi-determined meaning people can have the inclinations but they can change. Even with tendencies that seem inborn and immovable he says can change. "Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations....The priesthood has the power to unlock the influence of our habits, even to unchain from addiction, however tight the grip. It can heal over the scars of past mistakes." This can be understood as having partial free will in terms of our inclinations. We may have the inclinations and they may be inborn, or seem that way, but they can over time, be overcome. It is interesting to note that to have these inclinations are not a sin (as the quote from Michael Otterson shows) but as President Packer is pointing out, to fail to try to rectify those tendencies, let alone act on them, is a sin. And this is the crux of the disagreement between the Church (specifically President Packer) and those who promote homosexuality. The Church believes, and President Packer taught, that the inclinations that people have can change over time, and it is desirable to change them. This means that where the Church assigns negative moral value to the acts associated with homosexuality (while maintaining neutral moral value for the inclinations), those who disagree with the Church wish to assign positive moral value to homosexual acts. This is interesting because once we assign moral value to something (either good or bad) then we must assume that there was free will involved in the act, thereby disproving (1) above, or at least the second half. Because if we assume any moral value, good or bad, then there must be a choice, which is expressly denied by those who promote homosexuality.

So let me sum up. The Church's stance is that people are free to act for themselves and that their actions are not determined by biology, temptations, inclinations, or habit. But the Church acknowledges that some people may have inclinations that they cannot control or did not choose (while carefully not saying anything about the source of these inclinations), the Church keeps the inclinations (temptations) separate from the actions of those who are tempted. It is not a sin to have the temptations (inclinations), but it is a sin to act on them and break the law of chastity. In his talk President Packer asserted that these tendencies can change over time, and with the help of the priesthood, just as any other addiction or bad habit can be overcome. Thus while we have full free will with respect to our actions, our inclinations (temptations) cannot be chosen and thus fall outside the realm of free will, at least in the short term. Over time, desires, habits and what tempts us can change, which means that we have some free will when it comes to our desires, inclinations and temptations, just not enough to stop them immediately, unlike our actions. Any thing that can be subject to our wills is open to moral evaluation and thus can have either positive or negative moral merit. The Church states that homosexual actions, or any sexual activity outside of marriage, is wrong in that it promotes a negative moral environment and damages our spiritual sensitivity.

On the other hand, those who are reacting angrily to President Packer hold that there is no choice involved in their "orientation" and that to imply otherwise is a severe moral wrong (to see what I mean, recently a government bureaucrat was severely criticized by activists and forced to apologize because she implied that being homosexual was a "lifestyle choice"(emphasis added)).  Interestingly, even though they are so adamant that there is no choice in their "orientation", they do not even address the question of whether or not free will applies to their actions. To ask the question would elicit an angry response, because if they are free to choose their action, even if they cannot chose their inclinations, then moral value can be attached to their actions, and until now there are very few philosophies that would place positive moral value on such actions. Thus they are in a very tenuous philosophical position, because on the one hand they have to insist that there is no choice involved, but they have to deal with the fact that somewhere a choice must be made to participate in that "lifestyle".

So while the Church separates, and insists on separating the inclination (temptation) from the actions taken, those who reacted angrily to President Packer, focus solely on the immutability of their orientation or identity and refuse to consider whether or not they are free in their actions and whether or not their orientation or identity really is immutable.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Reason for the Fed

I randomly came across this today when I Googled "How does the Fed work". From the "How Stuff Works" site:
"There were even times when banks didn't have enough money to honor withdrawals by customers. Imagine going to the bank to withdraw money from your savings account and being told you couldn't because they didn't have your money! Before the Fed was created, banks were collapsing and the economy swung wildly from one extreme to the next. The faith Americans had in the banking system was not very strong. This is why the Fed was created."
Yep! Aaaaaand the Fed certainly fixed all that. Banks always keep enough money on hand to honor deposits, large numbers of banks no longer fail, the economy never swings wildly from one extreme to the other, aaaand Americans have great faith in the banking system. Yep! The Fed sure fixed all that.......

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"If only 10% is true...": One thing to consider when presented with a host of arguments

This post grew out of my thoughts that I had when I was reading a post on the Mormanity blog. In the post the author, Jeff Lindsay, shares an experience that he had where someone he knew was struggling with her testimony about whether or not the Church was true. At one point she pointed to an anti-Mormon book and asked the question, "Even if only 10% of that book is true, that's enough to prove the Church is false." Jeff then went on to explain in the post the fallacy of quantity versus quality. Which is, mistaking the fact that there are a lot of arguments for the fact that the arguments are not valid. He explained that one of the common themes of anti-Mormon literature is they always present a host of arguments, most of which can very easily be debunked, in the hope that people will be overwhelmed by the seer volume of arguments rather than being convinced by the quality, or the veracity of the arguments. In other words, they want to convince people by using a lot of words, and are not concerned about whether or not the words are correct.

As I was reading the post I started thinking about how I would respond in that situation. One of the points that Jeff mentioned was that in some cases there are so many arguments against the church that it would be a full time job to respond to all of them. Some of the arguments can easily be discounted as they are quite silly, but there are others that take more thought and more research to explain. And then there are others that are not disputes about certain events, or even the interpretation of certain events, but are theological disagreements that are not so easily settled through argument and may require other means before they are settled. But in some cases when we are presented with a very large number of arguments then there has to be some way to sort through the large volume of arguments to determine if the arguments are of sufficient quality to even consider. So in the case when we are confronted with such a large number of arguments we must look at the sources and determine if the sources of the arguments are trustworthy. This approach is especially helpful if we are confronted with a number of arguments that we would have a difficult time answering, explaining, or even understanding.

If we take the case mentioned by Jeff and are confronted with a whole host of arguments where we would have a hard time determining their truthfulness, we can see that many of the arguments are rather disingenuous, but the question is whether or not that "10%" might exist that will disprove our beliefs. So if we take that number, 10%, as a starting point, we can say that if we are presented with a host of arguments and most of them are rather poor quality, then we say that at most 10% of the arguments may have merit. This is to say that at least 90% of the arguments presented by the source are complete bunk. Thus if we are presented with a host of anti-Mormon arguments, for example, and we can readily discern that about 90% (+/- 10%) are of questionable quality, then before we ask about whether or not we should proceed and investigate the remaining 10% we must first ask the question, "If our source is of such questionable trustworthiness that he has no problem making his case where at least 90% of his arguments are untrue, then why should we believe the other 10%?" If our source for these arguments is willing to give us a host of arguments where the vast majority of them are questionable, then what does that say about his intentions? Surely they are not honorable. You would think that if he were so intent on convincing us of the "truth" of his position and of the falsity of ours, then you would expect him to present arguments that have been checked for their validity and soundness. The presence of a lot of false arguments casts serious doubts as to his devotion to the "truth" of the matter.

If we look at it in this light then we see that the burden of proof has shifted from us to our source of anti-Mormon literature. It becomes necessary for him to produce a coherent and rational argument, and we do not have the duty to respond to all of his arguments, or even to consider them. If our source is willing to throw out any and every argument he can think of, even if it is easily falsifiable, then if we are to take him seriously then he must first attempt to show some minimum commitment to using valid and sound arguments. If not then there is not much reason to listen to what he has to say.

I should point out that while this method works for most of the anti-Mormon material out there, there are some that do not fall victim to the fallacy of quantity over quality, but those tend to be more rational and open to a reasonable dialogue.