Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why I Try Hard Not to Label People

Every personality test I've ever taken has put me right smack dab in the middle of the extremes for which they were testing - balanced in the middle of all the options. I have been told that I defy stereotypes - and that drives some people nuts. They think they have me figured out, and then I hit them with an opinion that they don't expect and have a hard time reconciling with the other opinions I've shared with them. I live a VERY "conservative" life - the classic, stereotypical Mormon in every observable way - including my callings; many of my political beliefs, however, are quite moderate - and some of them are extremely liberal. (You should hear some of the discussions I have about gay rights and abortion. They're downright funny if you look at them as an exercise in understanding and shattering expectations.)

It can be frustrating to fight others' efforts to find a label that fits me, but, personally, I like
"perplexing". *grin*

This is the biggest reason I try so hard not to label others. Rather, I try to remember that each person really is an individual - even those who generally espouse a party line and appear to be the easiest to stereotype.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Importance of Learning and Speaking Other People's Spiritual-Religious Languages

After I left the classroom as a teacher, I took a job in educational publishing sales. I was used to talking with people of high academic achievement, and I liked to challenge my students, so I was inclined to speak the same way in my new sales position. After all, I was selling to educators, philanthropic executive directors and political leaders.

My first Regional Manager (a friend and fellow member) told me something that changed the way I interacted with my contacts - and influenced how I approached talks in church. He said:

Quit talking at a level that threatens your audience. Very few people like to have to concentrate to know what you are saying. Speak their language.

The same is true in church. If the congregation has to focus energy simply on understanding the words you are using, or if they don't understand those words, they will not have energy left to contemplate what you are saying - or to hear the Spirit whisper something directly to them. If you can't explain a concept to a 12-year-old, you probably don't understand it fully - and your talk will have no impact on those who hear the words but not the message.

There is a much broader application with the concept of speaking their language, as well. Often, when we interact with people of different religions or denominations, there is misunderstanding and rejection in instances where we are saying essentially or even exactly the same thing - simply because we are not speaking the same language. We often use the same words to mean different things - like "faith", "salvation", "grace", "works", etc. On the other hand, within these exact same conversations, we often use different words to mean the same things - and, due to the words we use which have different meanings "in their language", we end up assuming a difference of opinion and/or belief when none actually exists.

Even when speaking the same language, it is possible to speak different languages. It's important to take the time to learn other people's spiritual-religious languages and speak to them in those languages.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Being a Father Got in the Way of Blogging Last Night and Today

Taking my oldest three daughters back to our former stake so they could spend a week with friends put me on the road from 6:00PM-2:00AM yesterday - then again from 5:30AM-1:20PM today getting back home for my assignment tomorrow.

Fatigue and soreness preventing me from thinking and writing more right now.

Sorry, no resolutions post this week. New resolution next month.

Priorities, I know. I'll get them straightened out again. LOL

Friday, June 25, 2010

Learning from Other Religious Texts

I can choose to read a Zen Buddhist text, and thus potentially open myself to that world-view and the richness of that perspective that can strengthen my testimony of Mormonism, or I can forgo that experience, trusting my own experiences which confirm LDS points of view but rob myself of the insight I received from the Buddhist text.

I'm not saying one approach is always right and the other is always wrong. I'm just saying that the outcome depends more on the attitude and perspective I take into the study than the actual text being studied.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Certain About Uncertainty - Uncertain About Certainty

I believe strongly in both certainty and uncertainty - in the need for both in each individual life. I hope I can explain succinctly, since that’s not my default - as you all know.

My favorite definition of faith is the one that combines “the substance of things hoped for” with the motivation to pursue those unseen things. Next, as I’ve said here before, I believe that life is about becoming, not just understanding - and that becoming trumps understanding if only one must be pursued. So, I see a need for balance in this discussion of certainty vs. uncertainty.

In practical terms, this means I believe in the certainty of hope that motivates me to move forward and “plant and nurture the seed” - believing that if I do so I will understand more fully and gain more certainty. However, the real problem occurs when certainty closes off any desire to continue to learn more - about a particular concept or about all concepts.

Without a measurable degree of certainty, growth just won’t occur - since time will be spent “trying to understand better” rather than “trying to live better”. Personally, I would rather try something and learn at a very practical level by my success OR failure than not try something and never learn except in theory.

In summary, I want to be more and more certain of the details about which I care deeply, even if I never am certain of everything. I just don’t think there is time in this life to learn enough to be certain of everything - and I think that is a central concept of the Restoration. Think about continuing revelation in that light: Protestantism essentially said, “We know enough to get what we want;” Joseph Smith said, “I don’t, and you don’t know enough to get what I want.”

Finally, it bothers me greatly when someone says with certainty that I can't know something with certainty. *grin*

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is the Mormon Church a Cult? ("Lord, Is It I?")

I saw a very generic question a while ago that I have seen over and over and over again in my life: "Is the Mormon Church a cult?"

My response was immediate and almost thoughtless, since I have had years to construct a simple answer:

No, the LDS Church is not a cult - except when "cult" is defined very broadly. When that is done, EVERY religious denomination is a cult.

It really is that simple.

Someone I respect greatly took issue with my answer. He was correct, and his response is the best answer I've ever read as to the question of whether the LDS Church is a cult:

While mainstream journalists and news sources don't tend to refer to the Mormon Church as a cult, I am not comfortable that we try to close the discussion with a clear "no" (about any religion). That disenfranchises some sincere people with real grievances (in their individual experiences).

I think "cult" is personal and local. Your LDS experience may be "culty". Mine may not be. Or vice versa.

As with most things, I feel it's best to leave the question open-ended, and perhaps unanswered.

"What is culty about my religion?"

"What can I do better (not to contribute to an atmosphere of cultiness)?"

"Lord, is it I?"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Not Being Easily Provoked Does Not Mean Never Being Provoked

So far this month, my New Year's Resolution posts have focused on what it means to be provoked, how easy it is to be provoked and how easy it is to be provoked toward God. However, in looking at the aspect of charity that Paul encapsulates as being "not easily provoked", I think it is important to consider what this does NOT say about provocation(s) and charity.

1) This statement assumes that provocation will occur - and it will do so in ways that will cause improper reaction to occur easily.

As I said two weeks ago, provocation is not something I have to seek in order to become stronger as a result of finding it. In fact, I think it is obvious upon initial consideration that seeking or causing provocation is opposed to everything else related to charity - and it also is opposed to the characteristics listed in the Sermon on the Mount as leading to being blessed by their acquisition and internalization. Therefore, it is important to point out that my effort to be less easily provoked CANNOT be accomplished by seeking provocation. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

2) This phrase does not label provocation as universally bad.

One of the definitions of "provoke" is:

to incite or stimulate to action; to give rise to, induce or bring about


When looked at fully, provocation is not a bad thing - in and of itself, in isolation. Often, we talk of being provoked by something in such a way that we are inspired to do good, to uplift, to support a good cause, to reach outside our natural comfort zone, etc. Many of the most powerful social reforms in history, for example, came about as a direct result of someone being provoked by a disturbing event or situation. Conditions in the meat packing industry caused provocation within individuals who led the effort to enact badly needed quality control regulations for food; exposure to sweat shops provoked the establishment of child labor laws; confusion and anxiety over religion provoked a young man to a grove of trees to pray; repentance is understood to rely on provocation, whether internal or external.

3) How we react to provocation is more important than the nature of the provocation itself.

Perhaps the best indicator of charity is not even "how" we react, but "how quickly" we react. As I mentioned in the first post this month, it is not that we "react" automatically to provocation - but that, instead, we take the time to "act" in the face of provocation. In this sense, it is more important that we not be "EASILY" provoked - not that we be "NOT" provoked. I dare say that this injunction will not excuse overly-quick action in the face of provocation - that doing the right things too quickly is not only possible but can cause terrible consequences and be the wrong thing in the long run. That is worth a post all on its own.

4) The exact same objective provocation might not require the exact same action in each instance.

I believe, upon reflection, most people can understand that not every situation that includes provocation - even provocation that is objectively equal - should result in the exact same action. After all, the heart of our legal system is that there can be mitigating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration in order for any of various responses to be correct, just, fair, appropriate, etc. The objective provocation might be someone being killed - but the mitigating circumstances might be so different that one person is excused without punishment of any kind, while another person might be sentenced to death. Similarly, when dealing with personal affront, insult, harm, anxiety or conflict one person who is the catalyst might be forgiven quite easily - while another person who says or does the exact same thing might be condemned harshly. Much of this depends on the provoker, but much of it depends on the timing.

5) Taking a breath and counting to ten are common approaches to avoiding acting in haste - and, as important as practices like that are, they are not utilized fully simply to avoid acting.

As I said, sometimes provocation requires action - not just letting time pass and allowing the reason for the provocation to remain unaddressed.

In light of the focus of this resolution, the key appears to be the ability to "take into consideration" the whole picture (or as close to the whole picture as is possible) and to act accordingly - which takes a degree of self-control, analysis and, most importantly, time.

Again, the command does not say, "Be not provoked
." Rather, it says, "Be not easily provoked."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gender Roles As Mortal Compromise

Any woman who has been through the temple and remains true to the covenants she accepts therein is clothed in the priesthood throughout the rest of her life.

Also, that happens prior to what we commonly term "the endowment". Thus, only those who "accept and receive the Priesthood" can be endowed with the understanding and power of God. Phrased a bit differently, it would be accurate to say that all those who accept and receive the Priesthood in this manner can be endowed thusly.

The Church in the fullness of its own ideal world is not sexist.

The relationship between Adam and Eve prior to the Fall is one of complete equality; the difference after the Fall is a compromise adapted to the lone and dreary world. The woman was given the primary responsibility to oversee the fulfillment of the first commandment in a way that would bring glory to God (nurturing the children they would bear); the man was given the primary responsibility to make sure that could happen (protecting and providing for his wife and children).

The temple recognizes the mortal compromise in what it asks of women (what is required of them to live in the lone and dreary world and multiply), but it is critical to realize that it is phrased in exactly that way - asking those who are equal up to that point (and in the temple) to accept a "role" when they "enter" (and return to) the lone and dreary world - when they leave their "symbolic immortality" and return to their everyday "mortality". The promise is that such a compromise will not last forever - that once they leave mortality the original relationship will be restored and they will live together as Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses - united equally as one.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our Children Need the Holy Ghost Desperately

I have a friend who questioned whether or not his daughter possibly could understand baptism well enough at age eight to make an informed choice. The following was my response to him:

"In this day and age, young girls need the gift of the Holy Ghost desperately, and they need it at an earlier age every decade I've lived. That doesn't address an exact age, but if you postpone it too long out of your own insecurities or concerns, you will be handicapping her in a very real way."

"Teach her why baptism is important symbolically; teach her the covenants she will be making at baptism; teach her the reality of the gift of the Holy Ghost; teach her that you will respect her agency and intelligence and desire; don't project your own concerns on her if she doesn't share them. Whatever she decides, even if you feel it is not entirely her choice, honor her by honoring her decision. Be her father."

"I have no right to tell you what you should do with your daughter. That's between you, your wife and your daughter. I simply repeat:

One of the truest gifts anyone in the church can have is the gift of the Holy Ghost and an upbringing that will help her or him understand its reality."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Baptism for the Dead: The Great Proof of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

The Biblical background:

In I Corinthians 15, Paul gave his great dissertation on the resurrection. He began by reiterating what he had taught about the resurrection of Jesus and what the saints in Corinth had accepted when they believed and were baptized, focusing on the witnesses who testified of that resurrection – including himself (vs. 1-11). It is important to note that these were Christians to whom he addressed this topic – that they had expressed belief in the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ (Messiah). This discourse did not attempt to convince them of the resurrection; it attempted to teach those who already believed in the resurrection something deeper that they did not understand at that point.

In vs. 12-17, Paul made it clear that those who testified of Jesus based their claims of uniqueness on the reality of “the resurrection of the dead”. Verse 14, especially, is plain and clear. In summary, "No resurrection; no Christ; faith is vain."

Paul then shifted focus in vs. 18-19, by bringing in all who are “fallen asleep in Christ” – those who died believing in Him. Verses 20-23 expand that discussion by stating unequivocally that everyone who has ever lived are resurrected through the resurrection of Jesus – verse 22 being the most explicit. (”As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”) Verses 24-28 are a description of Christ’s rule AFTER all are resurrected. Then, in verse 29, Paul puts a capstone on his dissertation thus far, by asking two rhetorical questions:

“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”

In the context of the entire chapter, it is clear that this is a rhetorical question designed to impress upon the early saints of Corinth that the practice of baptisms for the dead was the single most powerful example or proof of the fact that the claim in verse 22 was literal and truly, universally applicable – that ALL truly will be made alive in Christ through an actual resurrection.

If you re-word verse 29 into more modern conversational language, again, keeping in mind the argument of the entire chapter, it might read thus:

“If the dead are not resurrected, what are we doing by baptizing people for them? Why are people baptized for the dead, if that has no practical effect - if those dead, in fact, are not made alive in Christ?”

I have heard other interpretations of that verse that claim baptism for the dead was not an approved practice of the early Church, but not one of them makes sense in the context of the entire chapter - not in the context of actual history, where the practice was so common it had to be banned by council vote over 300 years later.

So, we believe that all people who have ever lived will be resurrected. We also believe that baptism has been commanded of all people who have ever lived as a symbol of their acceptance of God’s Christ/Messiah. (I personally believe in an exception for those prior to the birth of Jesus who were circumcised in token of their acceptance of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but that’s not revealed, so it’s a personal opinion.) This means that we accept Paul’s rhetorical question - and its applicable inversion:

“Else what shall they do who have died and will rise in Christ, if the commandment is to be baptized but they have not had that chance in this mortal life? Why would we not baptize for the dead?”

We baptize for the dead in order to prove our belief that the Atonement of Jesus truly does cover all of God's children, just as Paul taught the saints in Corinth.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Not Being Easily Provoked toward God

In my New Year's Resolution post last week, I mentioned that being not easily provoked entails more than just being angry. It includes not acting in the heat of any negative emotion - or not reacting in kind to negative actions of others. I focused primarily on those situations where someone else does something that affects me negatively - and on not reacting likewise in response. I mentioned specifically that the hardest situations in which to avoid being provoked are those that are completely unexpected. That probably is obvious, but . . .

This week has brought something else to my attention - something about which I hinted near the end of my post last week. In that post, I said:

I don't have to pursue them; they will find me completely on their own.


I have come to realize clearly this week that there is more to not being easily provoked than responding to the actions of people directly explicitly at me. As I said last week, things happen naturally in mortality that aren't "planned" in any way - things that are negative and can cause someone "to react in anger, rage, exasperation, vexation or resentment". (to be easily provoked) I have known this, as it is obvious when considered, but focusing on this aspect of charity this week has brought these instances into very sharp relief for me.

I have found that it is even harder sometimes not to react to "life" when it is naturally difficult than to "people" when they act in a hurtful manner. This probably is because people are tangible and easily identified, while "life" is ambiguous and intangible. When someone is hurt by "life", often the only way to personify or embody the hurt is to blame God. In these situations, when hurt needs an outlet (someone to blame), God is an easy target. This is true especially if someone views God as a micro-manager - someone / something that controls all events of one's life (or, at least, those that seem important).

What struck me is that those who view God as responsible directly for all the good things in their lives can have a very difficult time not holding God responsible for the bad things in their lives - at least when those bad things appear to be unexplainable. Sometimes, this actually can result in a "positive" conclusion (like when someone dies and those left behind conclude that "God must have needed her more than we do"), but if such a conclusion is not available readily or comforting the natural "anger, rage, exasperation, vexation or resentment" that would be directed toward a tangible target can be re-directed at God - and the more "tangible" one sees God, the more likely he might be to transfer negative emotions in such a manner.

I honestly have no idea why this stood out so clearly to me this week, but it is what I "learned". I simply hope it helps someone in some way.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mormon Reincarnation and Universalism

I am a universalist in the Biblical sense of "as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22) I don't see how any believing Christian can address that verse (or the entire chapter of 1 Cor. 15, actually) without being "universalist" in that way - since "all who die in Adam" means "all who ever have lived". In Mormon terms, that means I believe all who ever have lived (minus very few Sons of Perdition, who are the exception that proves the rule) will be "saved" and receive a degree of glory.

I also am universalist in that I believe exaltation is "available" for all - and I am "more universalist" than many other Mormons in that I believe we will be shocked in the end at the percentages that make up the various kingdoms. Frankly, I don't preach reincarnation, since it's not part of the Christian paradigm, but I see a "reincarnative process" in our theology that is missing completely from the rest of Christianity - that informs how we are universalist at heart.

At the very least, we teach of 5-6 distinct states of being - and one more if I am allowed to define creatively.

1) Intelligence (no idea, really, what that means);

2) pre-mortal spirit (no idea, really, what that means other than "created" by exalted parents - or what process was used in that creation);

3) Mortal human (a combination of "immortal" spirit and mortal body);

4) post-mortal spirit (a pre-mortal spirit with more memories); [*grin*]

5) post-resurrection being (which might or might not be "separated" [sorry for the pun] from);

6) post-judgment, "glorified" being (assigned to a kingdom overseen by a God [Father, Son or Holy Ghost].

7) The 7th stage would be Heavenly Parent.

It is noteworthy that the first SIX stages are universal in our theology. The only one that is not universalist in every way is #7 - Heavenly Parent. It also is instructive to note that those who accuse Mormons of being arrogant exclusionists almost "universally" are less universalist than we are. That is one of the most ironic aspects of religious debate I can imagine - and it influences my frustration with conversations with others about temple ordinances. Those discussions generally are couched in terms of the exclusionary arrogance such ordinances illuminate, when, in fact, they are the practical core of our universalism.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Modern Mormon Dance Standards Dilemma

We were at a (Mormon) wedding reception last year (Ohio), and a young woman and her fiance were there. We joked about not having to use a Book of Mormon to measure dancing proximity, and she shot back the following without missing a beat:

“We use the Book of Mormon on DVD.”

Thanks for the laugh, Adrienne - but what should I tell my daughters who are not engaged? *grin*

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Church and the Gospel as a Jigsaw Puzzle

I believe that the Church and the Gospel can be described as the process of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The border pieces are the "principles of the Gospel", while the internal pieces are unique "doctrines/teachings/current understanding" - which makes the outline malleable enough to be a 9-piece children's puzzle or a 5000-piece, double-sided mountain snow scene that is almost impossible to complete - all dependent on the need and vision of the individual believer. I believe this perspective of establishing understanding within a principle-controlled frame allows us to create whatever puzzles work for us (whatever constitutes our best understanding and perception at any given time), while allowing for further expansion as new principles are identified and assimilated.

Furthermore, I believe puzzles can be right or correct or even "true" without being "perfect" (whole, complete, fully developed). If I am working on the river, and you are working on the mountainside, and someone else is working on the sky - each of our work can be right and correct and true, without any of them being perfect (fully developed). Each might be "perfect in its sphere" (which is a fascinating concept, in and of itself, and deserving of attention separately), but if one's vision can expand to recognize a vaster sphere . . . (kind of like the closing scene in Men in Black, where the world is seen as a marble in the hands of unknown aliens)

In order to be totally clear, this is not religious relativism. I believe what makes The LDS Church unique is the sheer breadth and depth of its outline - the unending potential within a nearly limitless puzzle - the real and practical atoning power it unmasks. I believe the difference between that fundamental framework and its counterparts among other denominations is the heart of the statement, "their creeds were an abomination in his sight" - since those creeds serve to limit the potential scope of the outline and replace an ever-expanding framework with clearly defined boundaries. The creeds make the infinite finite - and that is a real shame.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Faith v. Works Is Such a Stupid Argument

A long conversation with an evangelical - Geoff B. (The Millennial Star)

The comments particularly are excellent.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Power of Jesus as Brother

I think perhaps the greatest abomination of the apostasy was the distortion of the duality of Jesus' nature - the denial that He was fully God but also fully human. "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent," (John 17:3) goes way beyond knowing about Him, but it also does include knowing about Him.

My wife's favorite part of the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 4, specifically because it gives us a glimpse into the self-critical nature of a prophet that we rarely see. It makes Nephi more than a caricature; it makes him fully human. One of the things that makes Isaiah's description of the future Lord so compelling is that it shows His trials and pains and suffering; it makes Him more fully human. "Knowing" Jesus in this sense - allowing Him to be fully human in ALL ways except the actual commission of sin - opens up the possibility of such a deeper, more personal connection than knowing Him "only as God" ever can.

That's perhaps the biggest irony of the Restoration - that it emphasizes the way to have the deepest, most personal relationship with Jesus imaginable (ironically, outside of actual marriage) - that of "brother". Ideally, we know our siblings' faults and weaknesses but love them anyway. By removing all weaknesses and natural tendencies and temptations and spiritual growth, we literally create a chasm we can't cross - a creature we can't approximate - a Savior we can't truly know. Other religions preach the need for a personal relationship with deity, but they erase the principles that allow such a relationship actually to exist. There really is a chasm between their God and them, but it's a chasm of their own digging.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Charity Is Not Easily Provoked

My resolution this month is to be less easily provoked, taken from 1 Corinathians 13:5.

This resolution appears to be very straight-forward. To provoke means:

to anger, enrage, exasperate, vex or cause resentment

Therefore, to be provoked means:

to react in anger, rage, exasperation, vexation or resentment


Perhaps the only thing that jumps out at me immediately from this definition is that charity not being easily provoked includes much more than just "being angry". In fact, unlike the previous characteristics in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and the Sermon on the Mount, it doesn't appear to be about "being" at the most fundamental level. Rather, it is about "doing" - or, more precisely, "reacting". It occurs when someone or something (e.g., a situation) acts in a way that bothers me and I react in a way that is responsive to my being upset at that person or situation.

Even more inportantly, it also includes what we naturally might consider to be less harsh reactions than hate, anger or rage - since exasperation, vexation and resentment also are included. With that in mind, 2 Nephi 2:14 says:

And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.


What I take from this is quite elemental, but it is not something I have considered previously:

If I am to be less easily provoked at the end of this month than I am at this moment, I will need to choose my actions consciously and intentionally ("act") in ALL situations and avoid allowing myself to act without thought and intention when I feel a negative emotion reaction ("being acted upon") - especially at those times when that negative emotion is particularly strong.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, I do not need to seek for these experiences. They happen regularly simply as a result of mortality. I don't have to pursue them; they will find me completely on their own - and it is when they are unexpected that my growth or lack thereof will be manifested.

This resolution appears to be related closely to the characteristic of peacemaking in the Seromon on the Mount - and I will be reviewing the posts I wrote about peace as I continue to consider this month's resolution. Perhaps the "being" simply is developing and maintaining internal peace and calm, even amid the storms of life.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Deeper Look at the Word of Wisdom as Merciful Meekness

I'm not sure if there is a way for someone who is "physiologically weak" and susceptible to addictive substances to transcend that particular weakness and "become strong" - in the sense that they could indulge and NOT become addicted. I'm not aware of any research that shows such an ability. In fact, the heart of AA is the conscious recognition that the alcoholic, in fact, is still an alcoholic - is still weak - even if he never drinks again. Therefore, the strong giving up something of very minor consequence for them to provide critical assistance to others who will need it until the day they die is something that exemplifies the heart of the Gospel, imo.

Phrased another way, there is ONLY one way that there can be full fellowship of the Saints in this particular discussion - and that is abstinence for all. Think about it, focusing on alcohol:

If alcohol was present at Church functions, those who need to avoid it in order to remain free from their addictive tendencies simply could not afford to attend. Any non-drinking alcoholics among the membership would be excluded from those activities - and for what? It would be for nothing but "my right to drink" - placing that right to drink above the potential harm to others either by exposure to the alcohol or the removal of full fellowship with the Saints. In the hierarchy of abominations, putting my own desire to have a beer or a glass of wine over another's need to avoid it is the height of selfishness.

There is an argument to be made for "private indulgence" vs. "public abstinence". That is a compelling distinction, but, if anything, it only highlights the classification of those who "can handle it" and those who are "weak". Furthermore, it encourages those who are weak to try to live a double life - drinkers in private but abstainers in public. Ask anyone who has lived with a drinking, private alcoholic about how they feel about that situation, and perhaps 100% will tell you it's worse than a public alcoholic - since it gives that person the facade of public respectability, which makes it harder for those who regularly are hurt by the private alcoholism to seek and get help.

The difference here is that I don't see this as principally "legalism". I see it principally as "merciful meekness". It is merciful, because it is a decision to not risk potential harm to another when that harm is in one's power to cause; it is meekness, because it is rooted in kindly generosity - which means giving something to someone else out of kindness and concern that need not be given.

Some people speak of "the weak becoming strong", but they never consider that the real challenge might just be to those who are naturally strong where addictive substances are concerned BUT weak in compassion and self-sacrifice. Which is more important to develop in order to become more Christ-like: the ability to drink responsibly or the ability to serve others through an active expression of self-sacrifice - even if that self-sacrifice is by giving up something (alcohol) that is a tiny little thing in the grand scheme of things?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Those Who Are Strong Enough to Avoid Addiction Are Strong Enough to Abstain

The core of the Word of Wisdom, according to the revelation itself, is the avoidance of addiction peddlers. D&C 89:4 makes this clear - and D&C 89:3 is probably the most overlooked, profound verse in the entire D&C. It says that the Word of Wisdom is NOT the ideal "law" - that, rather, it is "adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints."

When people claim that the Word of Wisdom cannot be revelation from God because it prohibits substances that are good for us when used in moderation, I always point out that such information is irrelevant to the actual wording of the Word of Wisdom itself. What is best for most is NOT the standard articulated in the revelation; what needs to be followed by the "weakest of all saints who are or can be called saints" is the standard. What does this mean?

There are saints who cannot handle any consumption of alcohol or use of tobacco (or other drugs) without becoming addicted. There are "conspiring men" who recognize this and spend millions of dollars trying to get these people hooked. Furthermore, there often is no way to know where your individual limit is until you cross it, and sometimes that simply is too late once you've crossed your own "addiction line". I know way too many people who think they are social drinkers but have moved past that quite clearly, and I know way too many people who got hooked on cigarettes or chewing tobacco after their very first use.

One more point - and this one is something that almost never gets discussed:

If you really are strong enough not to get hooked, you are strong enough to choose not to partake. If someone can't give up alcohol or tobacco or coffee - if he has to justify continued use by citing physical health generalities, there might be more "addiction" going on than he realizes - meaning he might not be as strong as he thinks.

I agree that the rest of the Word of Wisdom probably is a general health standard influenced by the understanding of the time, but the part that has survived in our modern emphasis is the "eternal" aspect - the avoidance of addictions that subject our will to "conspiring men" and weaken our ability to give our will to God. If God explicitly says, "This is not the ideal, but it's what I want my saints to live" - and if it initially wasn't enforced as a commandment (as stated in the revelation) but was changed later (I think) because the influence of those "conspiring men" grew and those in the Church had time to adjust to it - and if it now is a requirement for temple attendance (I think) because "conspiring men" are finding more and more and more ways to addict people and influence their acts and decisions - I can understand and accept that without any difficulty.

Fwiw, as someone who has come to realize he is prone to a bit of obsession and "addiction", I appreciate being raised with the Word of Wisdom and never having to go through the Hell of ditching an addiction. I appreciate being able to take hundreds of dollars a month that some of my friends spend on alcohol and tobacco (enriching already rich, conspiring men) and, instead, spend it on good things of my own choosing - like charitable causes and avoidance of consumer debt (another addiction of conspiring men - interesting how one feeds the other). I appreciate growing up in a culture that did not glamorize alcohol and tobacco use, keeping that type of temptation away from me in my most impressionable years.

I've seen the impact conspiring men have had on our society. It is enormous and absolutely appalling. I will NEVER criticize the Word of Wisdom, even if it does include outdated health statements - especially since the Church no longer stresses, emphasizes or even teaches them actively. For me, that's just another indication that our leaders are inspired to emphasize what still is relevant for our day and move beyond what is not.