A Stream of Consciousness

At this point in my public life, I’m a sort of vague unassuming lds member. I’ve found that church is a miserable slog through a hell; as the years pass I’ve come to accept Robert Smith’s (of Upward Thought) assessment that the church does more harm than good due to pervasive false traditions. Despite the fatigue I experience through the lds church, I continue to attend. I don’t make ripples because I’ve found it a completely fruitless effort.

I recall an incident that shaped me deeply. During my first year at BYU, I came to the conclusion that the church was not true. I was angry. Tangibly so. One time I was arguing with my mother about some things that Boyd K. Packer said. My final point was basically, “Why can’t Boyd K. Packer just be wrong on this point?” It was frustrating to be arguing with a brick wall – one that placed the scriptures in a subordinate position to tradition. My mother made it clear after my statement that she didn’t want to discuss it any further and the phone call ended.

I felt isolated at BYU. At that moment I felt isolated from my own blood – my family. I realized I was alone. I didn’t just feel alone, I was alone. Emotion and pain consumed me in the seconds after the call ended. I had a total emotional breakdown. I was living in a dorm setting at the time and I quickly scurried to the public restroom as I held back tears. I didn’t want my roommate or anyone to see me so I locked myself in a bathroom stall and cried. It was a pathetic scene. I hate reliving it in writing.

I did come out of that stall comforted. I learned that my reliance had to be on Jesus and “no other name under heaven” (Acts 4:12).

Most other interactions in the church have been similar negative experiences, though not as dramatic. I argue from a fundamentally different perspective than the church accepts as authoritative. The best way I’ve found to articulate the idea is to use a tree as a model: The lds church (an some others) view truth as the fruit of the tree of authority. I believe that authority is the fruit of the tree of truth. The lds church assumes if something stems from proper authority it is true. I assume that things that whatever is authoritative is derived from truth. “Between us . . . there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:26).

My perspective is a difficult one, by what criteria do we discern truth without an “authority”? The other perspective has an answer to that question, therefore it is satisfying to many. I see why it is appealing to adopt; it solves my dilemma and frequent source of pain – searching for truth.

So where is the truth tree?

All this reminds me of an interesting little quote from Joseph Smith: “Had I inspiration, revelation, and lungs to communicate what my soul has contemplated in times past, there is not a soul in this congregation but would go to their homes and shut their mouths in everlasting silence on religion till they had learned something.” (13 Aug 1843)

Apparently, Joseph Smith didn’t think his congregation had learned anything. Also, he seems to indicate that this “learning” was not something that could be communicated person-to-person. It was not obtained in a church, nor a general conference, but at home in silence.

I really ought to learn something about religion. And maybe I should abandon this little stupid blog and seclude myself to monastic vows of silence on religion.

Recently, I’ve become somewhat infatuated with Jordan Peterson. I was watching a video recently where he said something that comes as close to an articulated truth as men can conjure up in language. I jotted it down:

Straighten out what you can straighten out and stop saying things that make you feel weak.”

Over the last eight years (particularly through a crash course of necessity at BYU) I learned to stop saying things that make me feel weak. However, because of that same dogmatic environment I never learned to replace that speaking untruths with truths. I’ve confined myself to “silence on religion“. I can tactfully avoid saying things I disagree with and dance around with my words. I know the church is imperceptive to my lack of affirmation of basic lds doctrines. I was able to serve a 2 year mission and never say any form of “I know Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God”.

It reminds me of a discussion with a religion professor at BYU, where she talked about how she had to speak the language of her department in graduate school to please them. Her school assumed that there was nothing “true” about the New Testament and treated it through that lens. Her personal opinions and beliefs were divorced from the things she spoke or wrote.

She learned to satisfy their biases. I have done likewise within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Over the last 6 months I have seriously considered giving up on the lds church. I’ve been convinced for a while (say 2013) that I would one day leave. While serving my mission, I had a dream where I was in a church trial for my beliefs. I was excommunicated. I interpreted this as the spirit of prophecy and it brought me peace. No directive has come through inspiration to distance myself from the church. As such I don’t feel at liberty to leave or remove my name from the records of the church. Jesus lived 30 years in a corrupt religious environment and did not make waves until his time had come. But I am tired of waiting.

A few days ago, I was out with the missionaries teaching. Of the three “teachers” I was constantly trying to direct the conversation into the scriptures while the others sort of parroted general mormon doctrines. I don’t much care whether anyone joins the lds church, but my presence is interpreted as supporting the church program. Maybe my “silence” is just as bad as “speaking untruths”, it certainly makes me feel weak.

I remember the frustrations that I felt as a missionary and would like to ease the burdens of the lds missionaries, though we have different yokes. If I were to leave the lds church, I’d be left with no outlet for charity. There is no one in my area who shares my views, who I could fellowship with. In my circumstances leaving doesn’t seem to be a productive route. Like Adam in the garden, I am confused at seemingly contrary directives; I grow restless and desire to take things into my own hands and eat fruit out of season.

Would that the Lord send direction. Maybe I missed it. That thought crosses my mind frequently. I am not who, what, where I could be in some alternate world. I feel like one of my alternate selves stumbled on better choices and has entered the rest of the Lord. But he isn’t me. And for some reason, I am not him. And that “some reason” would be good to know.

Jesus is Lord.

I Am not.

I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me. (Alma 29:3)

A teaching of an angel

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.” (Alma 40)

I have found that we generally distrust this verse, Alma, and the angel that taught this to Alma. I remember this being a point of contention between me and my instructors at the MTC. From their point of view, I should not teach that as soon as we die we are taken home to God, because the presidents of the church have basically said that isn’t right. Take for example Joseph Fielding Smith:

These words of Alma [Alma 40:11–14] as I understand them, do not intend to convey the thought that all spirits go back into the presence of God for an assignment to a place of peace or a place of punishment and before him receive their individual sentence. ‘Taken home to God,’ [compare Ecclesiastes 12:7] simply means that their mortal existence has come to an end, and they have returned to the world of spirits, where they are assigned to a place according to their works with the just or with the unjust, there to await the resurrection.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 2:85).

From my point of view, I had received a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon and should therefore honor God by accepting the doctrines taught in the book. To this day, I still cannot understand the rational behind why Joseph Fielding Smith rejected the teachings of this angel recorded in the Book of Mormon. He gives no real explanation (such as a revelation to counter Alma’s). The verse in Ecclesiastes he uses to support is argument actually supports Alma and the angel, if you bother looking it up.

I think it would be best to accept teachings from angels recorded in the Book of Mormon. I trust they are more intimately aware of the logistics of soul-traveling than mortals.

“Consider [Christ] a man”?

From Benjamin in the Book of Mormon:

For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men. And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.


William Dafoe as Jesus in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988)
The question we should ask ourselves is if it is wrong to consider Christ a man? Benjamin implies that this was an error of Jesus’ contemporaries. Should we reject the idea that Christ was a man? If the Lord dwells in a tabernacle of clay, is that enough to make him a man? If not what constitutes a man? What constitutes a God?

Turning Hearts

The Old Testament ends on a cryptic note. Nephi/Moroni adapted the prophecy with some changes:

“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be burn as stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up for they that come shall burn them, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

In the adapted prophecy, the fathers no longer “turn to the children.” The work is exclusively confined to the children. The fathers, that our hearts must turn to, are those that received promises. I won’t claim to know what it means to “turn hearts.” But the identity of the fathers seems important to establish. I can see three potential readings.

1. The fathers as biological, direct ancestors.

The prophecy requires that the fathers have received promises (from God, I presume). For a traditional lds reading to be correct, it means that just about every one of our immediate ancestors received promises from God. Perhaps they received these promises prior to the foundation of the world. Or have received them after death, promising deliverance from their captivity.

In this reading, our hearts turn with pity to our damned fathers. In a letter, Joseph Smith seemed to interpret the prophesy this way and suggested baptism for the dead as a the mechanism to accomplish of turning our hearts:

the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other–and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time.” (D&C 128:18).

There are additional quotes from Joseph Smith that give credibility to the tradition lds interpretation.

2. The fathers as the patriarchs of scriptures.

This is an interpretation championed recently by a certain someone. If we were looking for fathers that received promises from God, then the scriptures seem to point to individuals such as Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Lehi, and Nephi. We have a clear record that promises were made to these fathers.

One of the intentions of the Book of Mormon “is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever” (Title Page). There is adequate evidence that covenants and promises of the Lord are synonymous.

There is also evidence that Joseph Smith taught this:

Now for Elijah: the spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers, and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the Kingdom of God on the Earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God, even unto the sealing of the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven . . .

I wish you to understand this subject for it is important and if you will receive it this is the spirit of Elijah: that we redeem our dead and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven . . .

The doctrine or sealing power of Elijah is as follows: if you have power to seal on earth and in heaven, then we should be crafty. The first thing you do – go and seal on earth your sons and daughters unto yourself, and yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory.” (10 March 1844, Wilford Woodruff journal).

Joseph Smith doesn’t discount our dead “fathers” as unimportant, but emphasizes that the fathers we need a connection to are in heaven and in eternal glory. This comes two years (1844) after the earlier letter (D&C 128; 1842) and may reflect added light on the subject. Light which, unfortunately, seems lost in lds discourse. If the fathers are in heaven currently, it is likely that they were the saints raised with Christ in the resurrection (Matthew 27:52).

3. The fathers as the Jews.

This may seem like a less likely interpretation, but I think it is worth exploring. In 1833, the following prophecy was given. It has been left unfulfilled, so it will be interesting to see how it will play out, considering the church no longer has a School of the Prophets (besides BYU, of course).

That thereby they [either the First Presidency or School of the Prophets] may be perfected in their ministry for the salvation of Zion, and of the nations of Israel, and of the Gentiles, as many as will believe; that through your [Joseph Smith] administration they may receive the word, and through their [First Presidency or School of the Prophets] administration the word may go forth unto the ends of the earth, unto the Gentiles first, and then, behold, and lo, they [the Gentiles] shall turn unto the Jews.” (D&C 90:9)

It is possible that the Gentiles turning to the Jews, is a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. Paul used the Old Testament analogy of the grafted branches to help early Genitle Christians understand their relationship to the house of Israel in Romans 11:

Hath God cast away his people? God forbid . . . God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew . . . For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches . . . Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee . . . For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

Jacob/Israel, as a people, have received a covenant or promise from the Lord. We are grafted into that house, so in a very real sense they are fathers who our hearts will (and must) turn to. “The Gentiles who have care for the house of Israel . . . realize and know from whence their blessings come.” (Mormon 5:10)

Conclusion

It may well be that there are three levels of interpreting Malachi’s prophecy. Those levels do not need to be mutually exclusive. I would order them this way:

1. Our hearts must turn with sympathy to our fathers in captivity, who may have received the promise of deliverance from the bondage of spirit prison. They have been cut down with neither root nor branch. We must seek to recover them.
2. Our hearts must turn with appreciation to the Jews/the House of Israel, who have received a promise of restoration and deliverance. We must be grafted into that tree.
2. Our hearts must turn with desire to receive the same blessings as the fathers in eternal glory. They are the roots of the tree which God has planted. We need to recognize their primal importance in the family of God.

Problem With Justice

Ghandi’s famous quote channels truth. It should makes us uncomfortable with a western/Christian tradition. He implies God established a law (through Moses) that would/could lead to blindness (or harm, more broadly).

Of course, after you’ve lost an “eye”, Justice sounds good.

But Justice is a cruel cycle. It cycles back and forth, inflicting harm for harm, as we loose perspective along the way. It’s ultimate end would bring everything back to zero.

Mercy breaks the cycle.

The law requireth the life of him who hath murdered.

Therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice.

And then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood.

Then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.

And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice.

And that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.

And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice:

To bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.  

And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety.

While he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice.

Therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.