Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Holy Ghost Personified

Of course the title of this post is an intentional misnomer since the Holy Ghost is, in fact, a person. As Mormons, we believe that the Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead, and is a person of spirit, usually referred to as a "personage", presumably because the word "person" might imply a physical body. But we rarely speak of the Holy Ghost as a person. Rather, we almost always talk of the Holy Ghost in terms of the "power of the Holy Ghost" or the "Gift of the Holy Ghost". The Bible Dictionary entry on the Holy Ghost hardly even mentions that he is a person. Recently I have been pondering why we don't at least sometimes speak of the Holy Ghost in the same way we speak of Jesus--as a person.

This is understandable when we consider that we know virtually nothing about the Holy Ghost as a person. We know some things about the Father, and much more about Jesus. But any history of the Holy Ghost as a person is absent from scripture, and I haven't been able to find any substantial statements from church leaders on the subject either (perhaps some LDS history buff can correct me).

Perhaps the history of the Holy Ghost as a person is not important for us to know. It is important that we understand a little about the character of God, since we pray to him, for example. It is also important that we understand Jesus as a person, since we strive to be like him and rely on the atonement, an act he performed as a person. Perhaps the Holy Ghost is only important to us because of his current mission, not anything to do with his personage.

That explanation is good enough for me, but the curious side of me still wonders what his story is. Did he volunteer for his role in the plan of salvation, like Jesus did? Did we know him in the pre-mortal life? What is he like as a person, beyond his role as the Comforter and a teacher of truth? I'm not expecting any answers to these questions, of course, but I'm just a little surprised that more people aren't asking them.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Faith Subverting Rumors

Every extended family has one: the person that forwards you the email with a "faith promoting story." I received one such email this morning relating the story of a construction worker who worked on the Nauvoo temple.

According to the story, as the statue of the angel Moroni was being hoisted to the top of the temple, a shaft of light shone down from heaven upon the statue. According to the story it was September 22nd, the anniversary of when Joseph Smith took the gold plates from the hillside.

Now if that doesn't give you a warm feeling inside, I don't know what will. Oh wait, maybe that's just heartburn.

The story seamed off to me so I did some research (my main motivation being to have some fun with this particular family member), and found a web cam that was taking a picture once every minute of the construction of the temple. Surely this camera would show the "shaft of light", right? Well no--there's no light. Of course, it's possible that the shaft appeared for only a short time and the web cam just didn't catch it. Ok, I'll give you that. But the other thing the picture from the web cam shows is a large crowd of people watching as the statue was raised. I searched online but couldn't find any other account of anyone else seeing the shaft of light.

Also, the statue was placed on September 21st, not 22nd. This wouldn't be important except for the story was detailed on why the 22nd was significant. The 21st is important in Mormon history also, and is related to the angel Moroni, but it was not when Joseph Smith received the plates. (But since it is also an important date, I suppose it's possible the author of the story was just confusing the dates).

To me it seams very likely that the light in the first picture is an over-exposed reflection from the metal cord holding the statue, or else someone who is mildly familiar with Photoshop was having some fun.

I proudly emailed back to this family member. Again, my intent was just to have some fun. But then my wife called me a "party pooper" and I felt bad. But pondering on whether I really should have rained on the parade, I realized that these sorts of things really could be harmful.

If someone who is trying to establish a true testimony were to stumble across this, they might use it to buttress their faith. Then what happens months or years later when they find out that it might not be true?

So the lesson is clear: If you're going to spread faith promoting rumors, at least make sure they are not easily proven false. I prefer my faith promoting rumors unverifiable, thank you!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Political Smorgasbord

This morning I voted for McCain. Then, as I was driving to a company-sponsored political forum/rally featuring Jim Doyle, governor of Wisconsin and an Obama supporter, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio (who hates both McCain and Obama).

As I realized this I fully expected my brain to explode because of the politically contradictory inputs it was receiving. But I lived to tell the tale. Either I'm exceptionally politically tolerant, or else I'm just an exceptionally confused individual.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Book of Mormon and the Free Market

Shortly after Christ taught the people of the Americas in the first century, The Book of Mormon says "And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor."

I'm a believer in the free market system. An important aspect of the free market is that people are motivated to be productive both by the dream of being rich, and the fear of being poor. Therefore, rich people and poor people are essential to the free market system.

But we must be careful to not assume that because roses come with thorns, thorns are good. Economic inequality is a necessary evil of the free market system. In general, people who work hard will be richer than those that don't, but this is not necessarily true at an individual level, which clearly isn't fair. If there were a way to eliminate this inequality, but still motivate people to contribute to society, that clearly that would be better.

So the question is, how did the people in the Book of Mormon achieve this state? I think this is an important question. The motivation is clear: they were wholly converted to the gospel and loved God and their neighbors. But motivation alone doesn't accomplish things. So the question remains, how did they do it? Here are some possible answers:

1) The government imposed laws that required a fair distribution of wealth. This is what some might call "The Welfare State".

2) The church instituted policies that facilitated a fair distribution of wealth.

3) The people voluntarily made sure the poor were taken care of to the point were they where no longer poor. Anyone who acquired wealth would immediately distribute it to those who were in need.

Some Mormons support funding various social programs on the basis that we, as followers of Christ, should help those less fortunate than ourselves. I wonder if people with such a view believe that The Book of Mormon people achieved a state of economic equality the same way.

On the other hand, some Mormons might assume it was entirely voluntary and personally-driven on the basis that the text does not mention government or church programs. However, just because it doesn't mention them doesn't mean they didn't exist. Mormon is summarizing several hundred years of history here.

So I'm left to wonder why Mormon included this and left out the means by which it was accomplished. Perhaps the means is not all that important. Perhaps it is the motivation--the pure love of Christ--that is important. Still, knowing the means would be very useful right now as I try to figure out who I'm going to vote for this Tuesday. I guess I'll actually have to think about it for myself.

Monday, February 11, 2008

If I Didn't Have Kids

I thought of doing this post this morning, but now this post at Times and Seasons is making me feel guilty for it. But I hope it's understood that I don't mean to judge anyone else, nor to deepen the wounds of the suffering. This is just about my own personal experience.

It's amazing how different my life would be with no kids. If I didn't have kids:

1) I could spend more effort at work and be great at it and make lots of money. My wife could work as well, so we could buy a bigger house with lots of rooms that would sit empty.

2) I would spend more quality time with my wife and we would be 100% devoted to each other. Over time we would know everything about each other, and then suddenly have nothing to talk about.

3) I could follow my dream of becoming a singer-songwriter and become rich and famous (maybe), but I wouldn't have anyone to dance when I make up songs, no matter how bad they are.

4) I could exercise every day and really get it shape so I could live a long life, and then spend my older years with no one to visit me.

5) I'd never have to deal with teaching my kids how to make good choices, sometimes fruitlessly, and probably I wouldn't learn how to make good choices in the process.

6) I would get a lot more sleep and... well, I'd be less tired. Sorry, there's no bright side to that one.

Yes, my life would be a lot different without kids. If only I could choose it all over again, I would.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

News Flash: Church is Optional

The high today is 1 degree, with a wind chill of a bazilion below and decreased visibility due to blowing snow. My wife and I made the decision at 7am: We're not going to church today.

At 8am we received the official phone call we were half-expecting, except the message was not quite what we expected: "Church is optional. Use your own discretion."

My first reaction: "Was it ever mandatory? Were we ever not supposed to use our own discretion?"

At least my wife and I got to have a good laugh this morning.