Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's Either True or It Is Not

President James E. Faust: "The gospel as restored by Joseph Smith is either true or it is not."

To me, this statement is both obvious and profound. As a missionary, the most frustrating thing was not those who rejected the message. It was not those who would not allow us to clarify misconceptions before judging. The most frustrating thing was meeting people who agreed that Joseph's story might be true, but just didn't care. They didn't feel it was worth the effort to find out.

This attitude never made sense to me. Given the gravity of Joseph's claims, it seems to me to be a matter of eternal significance to investigate whether they are true or not. Of course, we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, so ultimately the knowledge of whether Mormonism is true must come from God. However, the vast majority of those who are not Mormons would not say that they have received a witness from God that it is not true. Rather, they have just not found it worth investigating. Certainly I can understand this; I have not felt it necessary to seriously investigate Islam, for example. But those who don't feel Mormonism is worth investigating must at least reconcile with themselves some of the compelling evidences.

Those evidences include the three and eight witnesses, the acceptance of his family (who can con his own mother and father?), supernatural events witnessed by many, and many evidences from the Book of Mormon itself. In the last category, the most recent one that has come to my intention is Jacob 5, and how accurate it is in describing ancient horticulture.

Of course, evidence is not proof. Calling these things evidence is not the same as saying they prove Mormonism to be true. It is possible to find evidence for things that aren't true. And certainly anti-Mormons would counter with their own list of things they feel Mormons must reconcile, which organizations like FAIR attempt to do. And there are likely some questions that might remain unanswered.

But I believe it is valid, even with those questions unanswered, to ask then how we are to explain the evidences of Mormonism's truth. Both sides can argue that the beliefs of the opposite side are improbable, but that does not exempt either side from offering a more probable explanation.

If I had more time, and didn't fear being misunderstood, I think it would be interesting to write a book describing the most probably explanation for Mormonism, assuming Joseph's story is not true. But my book would not just cherry-pick the most supportive facts, but would attempt to explain all of the difficult questions. The result, I believe, would be a story at least equally as improbable as Joseph's. I hereby give my permission to anyone to steal my idea, and you will have a least one customer.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Limits of Parental Rights

No, this is not another post about the FLDS situation. There are plenty of those already, including my own. It's true that the issue I want to discuss was brought to my mind because of the FLDS situation, but it really is a much broader issue: parental rights.

Generally I'm a supporter of protecting parental rights, but everyone must admit that there are limits. Clearly, no one has the right to inflict abuse of any kind on children. Child neglect also warrants intervention. But the FLDS situation has raised our awareness to some shades of gray that our society is struggling to come to terms with.

I don't know if the number of children who have been victims of abuse or gross neglect in the FLDS compound is 0 or 400. I'll leave that for the court to decide based on the evidence, and I hope that they make the right decisions in each individual case. But the media isn't satisfied to report on the evidence (whether real or imagined) and allegations of abuse. In addition, they have launched into a full-scale assault on their lifestyle. The implication of many media commentators, and talk show hosts such as Dr. Phil, is that even without specific abuse, the compound is destructive to children, and therefore the removal of the children is justified. This is based on the opinion, which I agree with, that the world-view and culture of the FLDS are misguided and socially destructive.

Now I've already focused too much on the FLDS in this post. As I said, I want to talk about a broader issue. To bring this closer to home to the mainstream LDS church, to which I belong, let's consider this quote from The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

Mainstream LDS accept this as truth. But the feminist movement would generally disagree. They would see this statement as old-fashioned, discriminatory, and destructive. They might even go so far as to say that it is irresponsible to teach such a distorted world-view to children. Why should women feel any guilt for making the same decisions that men often make: to work instead of staying home with family? This view that used to be limited to extreme feminists is now generally accepted by our society. The distinction between the roles of men and women is diminishing, and is likely to continue to diminish as times goes on, causing the position of the church to become even more radical.

So how long will it be before they come for our children? How long will it be before Dr. Phil interviews an ex-LDS about what life is like growing up believing that women have the primary responsibility to nurture children, and the audience gasps. After all, says Dr. Phil, parents at least need to have a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Perhaps I'm being too sensational, but I hope you get my point. Here's the question: Where do we draw the line? How wrong is too wrong to be parents? How many lies do you need to tell your children about the world before you become an unfit parent? And who gets to decide if what you are saying is lie or truth?

In short, where do the rights of parents end?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Obama: Misspeaking My Vote Away

It's not often that I get away from this blog's LDS theme. I do have opinions about things other than Mormon issues, but I try to keep this blog pure from them. However, occasionally I can't restrain myself. This is one of those times.

Let me be clear that there never was much chance I would vote for Obama. I try to keep my mind open, but in reality I've been leaning toward McCain since Romney dropped out. But it's fair to say I'm a lot less likely to vote for Obama than I was a week ago.

Why? Was it the "bitter" comment? Partially, although it wasn't so much the "bitter" as the "cling". I think the fact that most of the debate focused on the word "bitter" was the result of successful spin from Obama's campaign. I don't object to the word "bitter;" I object to "cling."

But that's not even the worst of what Obama has said this week. In the most recent democratic debate, Obama said something that should have set off a firestorm in the media, but instead the media coverage has decided to debate the debate.

So since apparently almost everyone in the media missed it, I'll summarize what he said:

Obama will raise capital gains taxes, even if it means less tax revenue!

Why? He went on to explain that he would do so to restore fairness to our tax system. So there you have it. If you need more explanation of why this is insane, please read this article which I came across while I was trying to figure out if I really heard what I thought I heard.

Also, leaving the door open to raising this tax, as well as considering raising the limit on the Social Security payroll tax, directly contradicts his promise to not raise taxes on those making less than $250,000.

Perhaps this is just another instance of misspeaking, and honestly I hope so. Speaking of misspeaking, I've been thinking about using the following line for my next performance review with my boss:

Boss: You're performance has been unacceptable lately. You really need to step it up.

Me: Oh yeah! Well you stink! I mean seriously, you really do. I should be your boss!

Boss: Wow. Well, in that case, you're fired.

Me: Oh, in that case, I just misspoke. What I meant to say is, you're right. I'll try harder and promise my performance will improve.

How do you think that would go over?

While I'm wildly off-theme, let me give you my predictions for the next 4 years: Obama will become the president. I think that's pretty obvious at this point. Even though polls with him vs. McCain are pretty even, once Obama wins the nomination, democrats will rally, and there are just too many of them to give McCain a chance. As it becomes clearer that Obama will become president, the stock market will go down, but of course Obama will successfully blame this on Bush, and not on the expectation of anti-business policies Obama has put forth. So Obama will raise taxes, as he promised, which will cause the economy to continue downward (again, Bush's fault), and increase the need for social welfare, which he will provide and claim to be the hero of the poor. If we're lucky, it won't take the people more than 4 years to figure out that it's all a scam, and Mitt Romney will be elected as President in 2012. But please Romney, grow a spine and oppose ethanol subsidies. You are too smart to really believe it's a good idea.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Obligation to Our Fathers?

Who said this?

"I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs."

If you follow politics, you probably know that this was Mitt Romney is his faith speech.

His phrasing makes me uncomfortable. Do we, as Mormons or people of any faith, have any obligation to remain in the same church as our ancestors? Are we not being true to them if we convert? Aren't we to seek out truth wherever it leads us?

Thankfully, I don't think Mitt's sentiment is endorsed by the church. From President Uchtdorf's conference talk:

"I remember when I was a young man, one Sunday I noticed a new family in our meetinghouse—a young mother with two daughters. It wasn’t long before the three were baptized and became members of the Church.

"I know the story of their conversion intimately because the oldest daughter’s name was Harriet, and later she would become my wife.

"Harriet’s mother, Carmen, had recently lost her husband, and during a period of introspection, she became interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After studying the doctrines, Carmen and her daughters knew the Church was true and made plans for baptism.

"When Carmen told her mother about this decision, however, her mother was devastated. 'How can you be so unfaithful to the faith of your fathers?' she asked.

"Carmen’s mother was not the only one who objected. Carmen’s strong-willed sister, Lisa, was every bit as troubled by the news. Perhaps troubled is too soft a word. She was very angry.

"Lisa said that she would find those young missionaries and tell them just how wrong they were. She marched to the chapel and found the missionaries, and, you guessed it, Lisa was baptized too."

This story (and the rest of this talk) makes clear that honoring the faith of our fathers does not obligate us to stick with it. Pretending that it does cheapens the definition of faith, in my opinion.

(For those of you wondering, don't worry, I'm not considering leaving the faith.:))

Monday, April 14, 2008

Boycott China? How About Texas

Let me be clear that I don't support polygamy. However, I do find it hypocritical that in our society it is political incorrect to oppose gay marriage, yet it is still acceptable to ostracize a polygamist family composed of consenting adults.

But even though I believe polygamy is wrong, I want to voice my opposition to what is happening in Texas. The latest news is that over 400 children have been separated from their mothers on the grounds that children are not allowed to stay with their parents when abuse is suspected. My question: Where is the evidence that each of the 400 children have been abused? I say prosecute the abusers, but leave the rest alone.

The blog Messenger and Advocate has been following this issue. It's certainly possible that things the women are saying aren't true, and that some of what we are hearing on M&A is one sided. There is certainly reason to believe there may be some manipulation going on. But as long as there is no specific evidence of abuse, that doesn't matter. Even if the women are lying, if there is no proof, Texas has no right to take the children.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Problem with Mormon Celebrities

Steve Young. Donny Osmond. Gladys Knight. Mitt Romney. David Archuleta. Brooke White.

What do they all have in common? If you're a Mormon and don't live in a cave, you probably know the answer: They are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We know it, and are proud of our own. I'm reminded of the once popular Adam Sandler song, "Chanukah", which proudly and humorously lists famous people who are Jewish. We even have a web site devoted to famous Mormons.

Admit it. You get a sense of satisfaction when you hear about someone who is famous and Mormon, or when you hear about someone you know is Mormon becoming successful and well known. This is perfectly natural. The smaller the group you belong to, the more likely you are to have the "one-of-our-own" mentality. But why do we care so much?

Is it because if there's a Mormon who is liked by a lot people, that makes us more normal? Does it somehow validate the Mormon position? Does it show that our lifestyle is superior since we produce such great people? Of course consciously we would reject these justifications. Surely the success or failure of a few Mormons should not reflect on the entire population in general, should it? Yet, subconsciously, somehow it does.

But what's the harm? Mormons have historically been a small group, and as any small group it is understandable that we should be proud of our own who have become successful. However, the membership of the LDS church has now grown to over 13 million. Our membership is large and diverse. As the membership grows, it becomes more dangerous to allow a few members to be put up on a pedestal. To illustrate this, let's look at a few examples:

I think it's safe to say that Mormons in general were rooting for Mitt Romney. I was myself, but I tried very hard to make sure my support was because I thought he was the best candidate, not because he was Mormon. Although I think I was pretty successful at it, I can't deny that it does appear that many Mormons supported him who perhaps would not if he was not a Mormon. The fact that Utah supported him so strongly proves this, I believe. It's pretty hard to argue with the fact that he would not have gotten such a landslide victory there if he had not been Mormon. We are proud of him.

But what would happen if it came out that he had been involved in some illegal business transaction, or marital infidelity. Don't get me wrong, from what I know of him I wouldn't expect it, but really I know very little about his personal life. I'm not trying to judge. In fact, that's exactly the point: We shouldn't judge too harshly, but we also should be too quick to judge favorably about someone we don't know much about. So if it came out that he had done something unflattering, how would Mormons look, considering we supported him in such numbers?

Another example is Gladys Knight. Some Mormons love to bring her up, especially when talking about race issues within the church. Does her membership somehow prove that race is not an issue in Mormon culture and that we have put our past behind us? Of course it doesn't prove that, but sometimes we act as if it does. So what would happen if Sister Knight decided she didn't want to be a Mormon anymore? Since some have used her name as an argument that the Mormon culture accepts all races equally, would her rejecting Mormonism mean that we have a race problem? We have given her way too much power in the realm of public opinion on Mormonism.

Today, the big names are David Archuleta and Brooke White, who have made the top seven on American Idol. From what I can tell, they are good people. But I know very little about them other than that they are Mormon, sing well, and their families clap for them vigorously. Do I secretly root for them? At some level, yes. I'm not immune. But what happens if it comes out that one of them has done something that most Mormons would consider out-of-line with what we believe, or if they do something like that in the future? Do I want my church represented to the world by two people who I know very little about? Of course I'm not suggesting they should quit, but the question is how we include their Mormonism in their frame of success.

The answer goes back to what our leaders have been telling us for years: Let's be good neighbors. Let's take care of our families, be good employees, and be honest and caring of others. Of course we should do this regardless of whether others recognize it, but it also happens to be the best way to improve the image of Mormonism. Pinning our hopes on celebrities is a short cut, and as my wife will tell you, short cuts sometimes don't get us to where we intend.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Complainer Culture

During my lunch break today I went to get my hair cut. I go to the place because they are quick and cheap, and don't usually try to make small talk, which I hate. This time, though, the lady felt the need to engage.

"I can't believe it snowed last night. This week has been all rain and snow. Can you believe it?" She said. I realized that she was just trying to be friendly, but she actually seemed upset about it. For the record, it didn't snow where I was, but apparently a few flakes fell somewhere nearby].

What I thought: "Yeah, that's called weather."

I returned to work and a co-workers walks into my cube: "Man, I'm so busy. My boss asked me to look into these two issues and now I'm stuck on them, and I'm going on some business trips over the next few weekends." Note: both the trips and the issues were voluntary.

What I thought: "Have you considered saying No?"

And then it hit me: complaining is part of our culture. We complain about everything. When it's winter it's too cold. When it's summer it's hot. When it's spring it's too rainy. You can always complain about work, whether you are too busy or don't have enough to do. It seems that complaining has become the way that we communicate.

Then I think about the successful people I know: Stephen Covey, President Monson, and others who are successful in various ways. It's interesting that they don't complain much, at least about insignificant things. Perhaps there is a correlation.

Of course some things are worth complaining about, and I don't pretend that I don'tdo my fair share. But today was a time for me to reflect and wonder if my life could be more rewarding with less complaining (from me, that is).

Is this one more way that I should be "in the world, but not of the world?"

Elder Oaks Reads My Blog

Or else great minds think alike. Some quotes from my favorite conference talk:

"Knowledge of outside temperature can be verified by scientific proof. Knowledge that we love our spouse is personal and subjective. While not capable of scientific proof, it is still important. The idea that all important knowledge is based on scientific evidence is simply untrue."

"When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods."

"We all act upon or give obedience to knowledge. Whether in science or religion, our obedience is not blind when we act upon knowledge suited to the subject of our action. A scientist receives and acts upon a trusted certification of the content or conditions of a particular experiment. In matters of religion, a believer’s source of knowledge is spiritual, but the principle is the same. In the case of Latter-day Saints, when the Holy Ghost gives our souls a witness of the truth of the restored gospel and the calling of a modern prophet, our choice to follow those teachings is not blind obedience."

Amen, Brother... err, I mean... Elder.

His entire talk can be found on

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Is President Monson a Chicken? (Or an Egg?)

In this morning's session of conference, President Monson mentioned that he was called to be a bishop at the age of 22. I knew he had served in a lot of positions at early ages, but this still surprised me. He was also called as a counselor in a stake presidency at 27, a mission president at around 32, and an apostle at age 36.

This made we wonder: Was President Monson called to such positions at such early ages because he is such a great man, or is he a great man because of his unique opportunities of service and leadership?

Perhaps it is some of both.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Unite Against Jay Leno

Jay Leno made a joke about homosexuals without malice. People are outraged. Leno apologizes.

Note to self: Next time a comedian makes a joke about Mormons, get angry. Demand an apology. Man, I've been such a pushover. All this time, I thought laughing or changing the channel were appropriate responses.

Wanted: Infantsitter

At my work we have online classifieds where people post questions and advertisements. Browsing this morning, I found this one (quoting from memory):

"Anyone interested in babysitting an infant? My wife is expecting soon, and will be returning to work after 8 weeks. We had someone lined up but that fell through."

Something about this concerned me. I've posted about the stay-at-home vs. two-income household issue before, but let me reiterate that I try not to judge the decisions of individual families. The point of that post was to show how the common argument (that changes in our economic world have forced families into needing two incomes) is bogus as an explanation for the general trend. Certainly, though, there are individual circumstances that might necessitate two earners, or personal reasons that make being a stay-at-home parent not preferable.

I've been following a post on this issue at The Simple Dollar. Although the post and several of the comments are somewhat advocating daycare for children, I think some of the points they make are valid. I especially appreciate that the post advocates finding the best childcare possible.

All that is well and good, but is fishing for random people on the intranet classifieds crossing the line? Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions or judging too harshly, but I would hope few would ever consider placing their 8-week-old infant in the care of an unqualified stranger all day, every day. If I'm wrong, then the state of our society is worse than I thought.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

green2: My New Blog

I've started a new blog called green2 to discuss free-market environmentalism. Come join me in trying to figure out a way to save our planet.

I hope this new venture won't take me away too much from posting here, for all of my loyal readers. Yes, both of them.:)