Friday, November 29, 2013

Eternal Life / The Atonement: The Caterpillar and the Butterfly

In my last post, I talked about why most Christians reject the power of the Atonement.  In this post, I want to give an example of why it is so easy for good, believing, sincere Christians to do so - by focusing on what "faith" means on a practical level.  

Consider caterpillars and butterflies: 

It would take no faith whatsoever for a caterpillar to be changed into a butterfly. It's simply a natural process.

However, if no caterpillar ever had seen another caterpillar "die" and "rise again" as a butterfly (recognizing it for what it was), it would take GREAT faith for that caterpillar to believe she literally, actually could become a butterfly. A butterfly could say to her:

"I used to look like you. I lived as one of you. Look at me now. You can become like me and live as I live - and all you have to do is what I tell you must be done to live long enough to experience the metamorphosis" - 

and it would take "abiding" faith (faith that lasts despite and through "things not seen") to believe the butterfly.

The words of Jesus during his ministry constituted, at the most basic level, his promise of what could be - while his words after his resurrection and the words of his early disciples and apostles constituted their testimony of what had been for Jesus and may be for us. Their admonitions and pronouncements about what we have to do constitute the directions of our own "eternal manual" (what will produce the promised metamorphosis) - and they boil down to one simple (but not easy) statement:

"Have hope in the "substance" of what I've taught, and use my life and teachings as the "evidence" of the things that can't be seen."

In other words:

"Have abiding faith that I can make the impossible come true - and trust me enough to do what I tell you must be done, even though you are naturally inclined to believe it can't have any merit or effect."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Meetings Can Be Bad, Mediocre, Good, Better or Best: Prioritization Is Important

I have a friend who is serving in a Bishopric.  We were talking about how easy it is to let meetings multiply to the extent that they become overwhelming - and about how both of us have heard some people say we ought to eliminate Sunday School and use the extra hour to do service or hold the "extra" meetings we tend to schedule.  He said the following, and I want to comment on it here:

The rule for me is sometimes to do what it takes to maintain sanity and a healthy family, even if it means having to skip meetings. There are other meetings that bishopric members are supposed to attend that don't add much value in my opinion or that are more of nice to do if possible.

I agree totally.

I don't believe in attending every single meeting possible just because the meetings have been scheduled, and I and my family have skipped lots of meetings and gatherings that others consider to be important or even mandatory over the years. I believe in being active in the Church, but I also believe in prioritizing meetings and eliminating, consolidating or shortening so many others. When it comes to meetings, I believe in good, better, best - and we ought to eliminate some meetings that are good (and, in too many cases, not even good) for things that are better and best.

In terms of our meetings, I think Sunday School actually can be a better thing, at least, and even a best thing, in some wards. I know I don't want the teenagers in my ward to miss the Sunday School class I teach, and I don't want our leadership to miss the Gospel Doctrine class being taught by a wonderful teacher. I understand that experiences in different wards and branches vary in quality and impact, so I understand it's much easier for me to say that in a ward in which Sunday School instruction generally is excellent, but that's an issue that needs to be considered before anyone talks of eliminating Sunday School. Seriously, eliminating Sunday School for many members would eliminate the only chance they have to "study the Gospel with the Saints" - and that opportunity to learn from each other is important to me, especially when it comes to new converts and the youth.

I hear some people complain that the Church doesn't do enough to teach everything it could possibly teach about the scriptures and its own history and that it needs to do a better job of teaching these things to the youth, but eliminating Sunday School literally would reduce the available time significantly to do that. For new converts and youth who are the only members in the families and have no support at home, that's a very significant change - and not a good one.

I understand that callings can get in the way of life in negative ways, but eliminating the only meeting in the Church that is designed as a communal study opportunity isn't the way I would approach the issue. I would eliminate so many others things, instead - and, ironically, Elder Packer, of all people, has said the same thing numerous times over the years. (and he's not the only one)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Most Christians Reject the Power of the Atonement because They Lack Real Faith

The following are questions about faith I was asked once - and the answers I gave: 

"So what I was asking is this: If the first gift of the atonement is eternal life, and it is given to all, do I need faith in Christ for it?"

The first gift of the atonement isn't "eternal life". It's salvation from physical death (an actual, real, physical resurrection of some sort) - or, as we term it, immortality. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (It's indisputable, imo, that the resurrection was seen by the early saints as literally physical, especially given the description of Jesus' appearance in Luke 24.)

"If I must qualify for eternal life, why do I need faith in Christ for that?"

I believe the numerous admonitions of Jesus himself and of his early apostles saying that there is more to everlasting life than mere immortality is THE central theme in the Bible. We could be vegetative and still be immortal. What the Bible teaches is that we not only will be resurrected (be physically immortal), but that we also may become "eternal" ("at one" with God). This principle is what constitutes the "New" Testament - by which the "Old" Covenant of collective servant-hood was replaced by the "New" Covenant of personal "heir-ship". The verses and passages that teach this change are almost innumerable in the New Testament, so I won't quote them in this post - but they just are brutally difficult for most people to accept.

The idea of true "at-one-ment" is counter-intuitive to most mortals, since we know we naturally are separated from God by a bridge we simply are unable to cross on our own. Because it is so blatantly counter-intuitive, it takes REAL, DEEP, ABIDING faith in the teacher of it (Jesus) and those who taught it after his death (Peter, James, John, Paul and others) to accept it.

Thus, it takes no faith to receive the free gift of immortality - unless one counts the pre-mortal decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior (and I do count that decision), but it takes "abiding" faith to believe the unbelievable.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ultimately, People Are More Alike than Different

For the past few years, my mother has been sending her kids lots of written stuff she has accumulated over the years. She recently sent the following poem, and I thought I would share it with here. I preserved the ALL CAPS, because I just don't have the energy to fix it. 










Monday, November 25, 2013

The Parable of the Oasis: Faith, Works, Grace, Love, Atonement, etc. Are Not Distinctly Separate Principles

The Parable of the Oasis

There was once a man dying of thirst in the desert. He had sought for water but had not found any. Just as he was about to give up, lie down and perish, someone found him.

“See here,” said his discoverer. “On the other side of this hill is an oasis, where you may revive and refresh yourself!”

“I fear I am too weak,” replied the man. “I have been out in the desert too long. I no longer have enough strength to climb the hill, even to save my life.”

“Then lean on me,” said the other, “and I will bring you over the hill to the fountains of water on the other side.”

Then man pulled himself to his feet, and leaning upon his guide, struggled over the hill to the oasis on the other side. There, he revived himself from the springs of clear water, and his life was saved.

What saved the man?


The words of his benefactor?

Following the counsel to cross to the other side of the hill?

His own effort in struggling to his feet and persevering in crossing the hill?

His continued reliance on the strength of his guide, moment by moment, leaning on him as they crossed the hill?

Or was it actually drinking the water?


Or was it all of the above, rolled into one great, eternal whole?  

We are inclined to separate principles into small pieces, dissecting things that should not be ripped into pieces.  "Grace" / "Atonement" is such a transcendent concept that fracturing it in order to analyze it and describe its component pieces literally can do great damage to the perfection (wholeness, completion, full development) it is.

I believe that if we collectively could grasp that grand principle, so much of that with which we struggle so mightily would fade into oblivion - and (wo)men really would be that they might have joy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Comprehensive Self-Reliance and Creating Zion

The focus for next week is going to be self-reliance in the context of thanksgiving, so the lesson last Sunday was more of a lecture format than I usually do. There was some participation, but I talked more than normal today. Therefore, this post is going to be more of a summary than a detailed description.

1) Scriptural Interpretation Methods

Parables are understood to be representative stories that didn't actually happen but teach a moral or a lesson. We have been told Jesus taught parables (they are labeled as parables for us), so we read them as such. Many stories, however, aren't labeled for us, so we often read them as being literal accounts of actual events.

There are multiple ways stories can be read, including as being: literal, allegorical, symbolic, mythological, etc.

We talked about what can be taken from the following scriptural stories using each method above: Noah's flood, the Garden of Eden and Job. We then talked about various views of the Atonement: Penal Substitution, Representative Suffering, Symbolic Ordinance (the traditional scapegoat), etc.

2) Spiritual Languages

God speaks to us "in our own language, according to our own understanding". Moroni's promise says ONLY that God will make truth known to us, particularly about extending mercy to His children. Oliver Cowdery's experience isn't applicable universally. I am a good example of that, since most of my "answers" haven't come in that way. So, missionaries should stop using Oliver Cowdery as the end-all-be-all, one-size-fits-all answer method.

We all need to discover our own native "spiritual language" and allow others to do the same.

3) Physical, Emotional, Financial and Educational Self-Reliance

We talked about each aspect and the need to do the best we can, specifically in order to be able to give the help others need - and to be able to accept that help from others - in an atmosphere that fosters Zion.

I ended the lesson with a direct, blunt discussion of making sure each spouse in a marriage has enough education to be able to support self and family, even if they want to have a traditional marriage where "one parent" works outside the home and "one parent" doesn't have a paying job. I mentioned that over half of the married women in the Church work outside the home now, for many reasons. I told the boys not to insist that their wives leave school without adequate education, and I told the girls not to let their husbands insist that they leave school without adequate education. There simply are too many situations that happen to too many people now to assume they won't need a personal, adequate education to support themselves and their families at some point.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Is Scripture? FAR More than We Tend to Think

I think the definition of scripture in the LDS Church’s Bible Dictionary is instructive. I’m going to quote it below almost in its entirety, with the parenthetical additions and emphases being mine:

“The word scripture means [nothing more than] a writing, and is used to denote a writing recognized by the Church as sacred and inspired.”

(That last statement points more toward “canonized / official scripture”, imo – since it puts limits on the “pure” meaning.)

“It is so applied to the books of the O.T. by the writers of the N.T. (Matt. 22:29; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15)..."

(It’s important to remember that there are LOTS of books referenced in the NT that we don’t have in our OT – meaning there were LOTS of things that the NT authors [and, presumably, Jesus] accepted as scripture but are not available to us currently.)

“Latter-day revelation identifies scripture as that which is spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost (D&C 68:1–4).”

(That final addition throws the doors wide open for things like “a letter, note, epistle, book, etc.” — basically religions writings [ranging]  from religious romance novels to essays to the five books of Moses to popular music and poetry" [So ... what is scripture] – and I am glad it’s in the Bible Dictionary. I believe it’s determining individually exactly what falls into that final category, both within and without our “canonized scriptures” that is the issue – since even Joseph Smith excluded some of the “canonized scripture” from “actual scripture” (the entire Song of Solomon and everything he changed in his translation), as did Martin Luther (The Epistle of James), for no other reason than they didn’t feel the contents were recorded “under the influence of the Holy Ghost”.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

God Is More Patient than We Tend to Believe

I think that God is much more patient than we tend to think - and He has time and all eternity to be patient with us.

Sometimes, the simple things are the most profound. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How Much Control Do I Really Have Over My Actions? I Don't Know, but I Have Faith in God.

I have no idea how much free will I have as I make the decisions of my life – but it’s good to believe I have some degree of power to choose. It’s also good to believe it’s not all in my control, especially as I keep struggling to change what appears to be unchangeable in my nature – and it helps keep me from condemning others who also struggle to change (or appear to not be trying at all).

I have no idea why God very clearly and obviously spoke clear revelation through me on at least three occasions – but in the other hundreds of times when He could have done so He didn’t. It’s good to believe he will do so when it’s really important and not do so when I just need to do my best and learn from the chips falling where they may.

I have no idea why some of the decisions I just knew were inspired turned out so badly at the time – or why some of those ended up being really good decisions in longer hindsight, while others still look like bad decisions now. It’s good to believe he will stop me from making really bad decisions that will hurt other people badly while letting me make bad decisions that will hurt me but from which I can grow.

I have no idea why some people have been healed or protected in truly miraculous ways, while others have been left to suffer tremendously without protection or relief. It’s good to believe He loves us in those situations, but it’s bad to think He doesn’t love others in their situations.

I have no idea why the distinction obviously is NOT objective level of righteousness. Of everything else I’ve written in this comment, that is the only area about which I am certain. Sincere effort to be righteous can result in misery and pain, while wickedness actually can be happiness – at least in all objective measurements dealing only with mortality.

All of this could lead me to question God’s existence and/or love, but I know from personal experience there is something / someone out there that knows me personally and really cares – and that’s enough to keep faith that, despite my lack of understanding of issues like this, there is an answer that will make sense eventually.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Truth Is Reason" - We All Rationalize Some Things in the Eyes of Others

To "rationalize" means to make something "rational" - and, at the most practical level, "rational" means nothing more than "understandable (and acceptable) to the mind". What is completely rational to one person can be completely irrational to someone else - like those who call something "mental gymnastics" that is totally understandable and acceptable to the mind of person who believes it.

We all rationalize, generally to the same extent. We just reach different conclusions than others do - and, because we can't understand and accept others' decisions, we label others' decisions negatively as "rationalizations" while not doing so to our own. (Those who are more intellectual in nature tend to love the word "rational" but not the word "rationalize" - which is deliciously ironic to me.) We also tend to make this criticism about conclusions that are the most removed from our own - which is why prophets / visionaries / charismatics / etc. tend to be loved or hated, accepted or rejected, praised or reviled and have very few indifferent reactions. They usually inspire intense admiration or just as intense revulsion - and that is both good and bad.

I personally am wherever I am on each and every issue and topic, which has caused some people to complain that I am wishy-washy or too hard to characterize. They want me to be consistently on the same side of a line on everything, and I simply am not that way. I attempt to find a view that is rational to me in each and every case - which means I am conservative, moderate and liberal depending on the specific issue. If there is a consistent standard I try to recognize, it is the line between charity and judgmentalism - but even that isn't always a bright line, since, ultimately, it is based on my own reasoning and rationalization. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Mentality Shift at Church: Female Leaders Should Not Have to Interrupt Male Leaders

In the November 2010 CHI worldwide training, Pres. Julie Beck interrupted Elder Holland and Elder Bednar at one point to make a particular point – and neither of them batted an eye or seemed surprised in any way. It appeared that they were used to being interrupted by her – or, to be more precise, it appeared that they were used to a free flowing conversation in which she was not seen as “interrupting” them.  That is an important distinction, and it is badly misunderstood by many, in my experience. 

Generally speaking, I believe the global male leadership listens to and values their female counterparts MUCH more than too many local male leaders do (and that they truly see each other as "counterparts") – and I also believe the male global leadership sees the female global AND local leadership as truly “in charge” within their callings more than too many of the local male leaders do.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Spiritual Self-Reliance: Understanding Scriptural Stories

For the last three weeks, we have been looking really closely at passages that talk about becoming like Jesus: the Beatitudes and Paul's treatise on charity in 1 Corinthians 13. Last Sunday, we talked about another way to study the scriptures to become more self-reliant - stepping back and reading to understand the stories being told, rather than proof texting verse-by-verse and word-by-word.

I started by telling the students that it's important not just to understand doctrine deeply and consider new ways to gain meaning from verses and statements in the scriptures but also to be open to new lessons that can touch them as they keep an open mind and not assume they understand the stories in our scriptures, just because they have read them and been told what they mean. I also explained how important it is to understand the themes, settings, the people involved, their back stories and personalities, the interpersonal dynamics, etc. In other words, I told them that there is a lot that can be gained by reading scriptures the same way they would read an assigned book in an English Lit class.

To show them what I meant, we looked at four stories in the scriptures: one from the Book of Mormon and three from the New Testament:

1) 1 Nephi 15 tells about Nephi returning from the mountain where he received his own vision of his father's vision. I asked everyone how Lehi and Nephi had received their understanding of the Tree of Life and people's actions with regard to it, and one of the students said Lehi had a "dream-vision". (I was happy to hear it worded that way, since that is a good description of how Lehi explained it.) Nephi reported having a "vision" - but everyone agreed that we don't know exactly what that meant and that it might have been the same type of "dream-vision" Lehi described. We then read verses 1-10 and talked about what they appear to say about the family dynamics that can help us understand the story better.

Verses 1-3 say that Nephi saw his brothers arguing about what Lehi had told them and that Nephi's immediate reaction was to mention that they were hard-hearted and wouldn't ask God for themselves. I pointed out that we always zero in on Laman and Lemuel, but that Sam was a brother, too, and there is nothing that says he wasn't arguing about it just like Laman and Lemuel. I also pointed out that Sam hadn't immediately accepted Lehi's first vision - that he only accepted it after Nephi did. It was only after Nephi's immediate judgment of his brothers that he actually talked with them, which means his interaction was colored by how he already viewed them.

Verse 5 says, "I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all." I raised my eyebrows a bit, grinned and said, "Really?! Great above all?! Daddy's favorite son had it worse than anyone else - by implication in the history of the world?! Over-dramatic a bit?!" They got the point. I told them that I love Nephi, especially since we have 2 Nephi 4 (Nephi's Psalm), but that he comes across as a spoiled youngest child in some places in the account.

In verse 7, they tell Nephi that they don't understand what Lehi taught, and Nephi's immediate reaction in verse 8 ("Have ye inquired of the Lord?") shows that he was being influenced by his pre-existing view of them.

Verse 9 is their response: "We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us." I mentioned the reference in Sacrament Meeting by the returned missionary who spoke about the 9-year-old girl he taught who had an incredible vision before finding and approaching them [and it really was an amazing experience], and I told them that I was nearly 50 years old and had never had an experience like that - that I have never had that type of "dream-vision". I told them that if someone asked me if I had prayed for a similar dream-vision, my response might be translated accurately as, "I have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto me."

In verse 10, Nephi rips into his brothers, harshly, and tells them that they don't get dream-visions because they are wicked.

I then recapped the inner-family dynamics of a younger, favored brother giving away all their possessions and then killing a community leader to get a history book, as well as preaching at them constantly. I asked one of the young men in the class how he would feel if his younger brother (who also is in the class) acted that way to him - and he smiled and nodded, showing he understood. I asked them how things might have been different if Nephi's immediate response (then and in previous situations) would have been, "I understand. Let's sit down and talk about it" - delivered with a loving smile. He explained it to them, but only after ripping into them first.

At that point, one of the students said, "You mean the Book of Mormon is a record of a dysfunctional family?" - and I grinned, nodded and told him I hadn't ever phrased it exactly like that but that I would say that - and that I can't see how anyone could read the record and not describe the family as highly-dysfunctional.

2) We then talked about Judas Iscariot. I told them that I was going to share an alternative reading of his story I heard in a Divinity School class years ago that stuck with me - not as something they have to believe as accurate, but simply as an example of how the same stories can be read and understood differently.

I asked them how we view Judas, and they all agreed that he is seen as the ultimate traitor - so much so that Christians have called traitors "Judases" ever since then. I asked them what Judas did in Jesus' group - what his main responsibility was. Some of them knew he was the treasurer - that he managed the money. We talked about why Jesus would need a treasurer, and they hadn't thought about that in-depth. I described what it takes for an itinerant preacher to travel with an entourage and explained that it could happen only if someone provided the money necessary for their needs. James and John were successful fishermen, and there were other professionals who probably had available resources. Perhaps Lazarus, as a dear friend, helped. We don't know, but they obviously needed someone to take care of the money and keep the books - or even solicit donations from followers, which was and still is common. (It's the same reason we need financial clerks in the Church today.)

We talked about how Jesus seems to have "forced the issue" the final week of his life: riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in a way that appeared to mock how the Roman leaders traveled, clearing the temple, etc. I then explained that some people believe Jesus wasn't accusing anyone during the Last Supper of being a traitor, but rather was telling them that one of them would have to betray him to cause his arrest. That could have been because he knew he was innocent and the trial would be a chance to enlarge his exposure in Jerusalem, or it could have been because his death had been prophesied to occur during the Passover, so he had to make it happen more quickly than the Jewish and Roman leadership would have moved on their own. Thus, perhaps Judas wasn't a traitor; perhaps, being known as the treasurer, he was the one to whom the Jewish leadership would be most inclined to listen - and to provide a payment that Judas thought would add to their cause once Jesus was released.

The detail that leads some people to believe this interpretation is Judas' reaction when he realized that Jesus was going to be killed. He didn't run off with the money, as a hard-hearted traitor generally would; rather, he killed himself. Some people see that as a guilty conscience, but others see it as a heart-broken realization that what he thought would happen (an arrest, trial and release) wasn't going to happen - that his role had led to his leader (master, Lord, etc.) being killed.

3) The next situation we discussed was Peter denying Jesus on the night of his arrest. I mentioned Elder Holland's discussion in General Conference a few years ago of this different view and then talked about it in detail. Like the story of Judas, we discussed how it would change the generally accepted interpretation if Jesus wasn't accusing Peter of future denial but rather insisting that he exercise the self-control to stay alive and not get caught up in the arrest and subsequent crucifixion.

I "acted out" the anguish he might have felt as he progressively fought back his desire to defend Jesus each time he was asked (and had to curse the final time to get through it), and how that would have caused him to "weep bitterly" (with pain and relief) when the rooster crowed and he realized it was over - that he wouldn't have to deny Jesus again.

If Jesus' original statement wasn't a sad, "You are going to be so weak that you deny me three times tonight," but rather a pleading, "You have to fight your natural inclination to fight to protect me, since you can't be taken, also," it changes the situation dramatically - and is much more in line with Peter's impetuous, brave, impulsive, passionate nature than the coward he usually is portrayed to be in this story.

4) We ended with Peter walking on the water, and I simply pointed out that it is illogical to criticize Peter for lacking faith in that situation. I said, "Dude jumped out of a boat and started walking on water!" That got some chuckles, but they got the point. I then used the story to illustrate that Peter was walking toward Jesus, but he kept reaching out even as he realized his situation and started to sink. I talked about how that story is one of the best summaries of the entire Plan of Salvation I have ever read - and I would rather read it that way than in order to criticize Peter.

I finished the lesson by sharing the story of my parents' mission and how, sometimes, God really can make it possible to do the impossible. For a description of that mission, read the following post: "Exercising Faith and Seeing the Hand of God".

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Special, Personal Request to My Online Friends

My wife's family has created an online donation site for people who want to help them get her parents back from the Dominican Republic, where they were serving their fourth mission (his fifth) when he had a severe stroke. Given his condition, it will cost about $48,000 to arrange a special flight to get them back home.
My father-in-law is a temple sealer.  He served his first mission as a young man in France, and, after his retirement from the BYU Continuing Education Department, he and my mother-in-law served together in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Chicago - before returning to the Dominican Republic for their current mission. 

If anyone is able to help Michelle's family raise the money they need for her parents to return home (and/or share this request with others), any amount would be appreciated.
If the flight costs end up being covered somehow or donations exceed the target amount any extra donations will be used to provide care costs once Dad returns home. 
 The site is:
Bring Ron Malan Home

Service: A Sense of Our Importance Can Keep Us from Being Christ's People

Normally, I would post something today I personally have written - but I came across the following post again recently and felt I should post it today instead of something I wrote myself.  I hope it touches someone the way it touched me.  

The Windows of Heaven - Sam MB (By Common Consent)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jesus Was Abused but Remained Sinless and Stainless; Why Should It Be Different for Us?

I wrote on Tuesday that victims of abuse have no need for repentance.  A friend made the following profound point to me, and I want to add some thoughts about what he said:

Jesus was abused himself.

As I have mentioned in multiple posts here on my blog, "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 is defined in the Greek as "complete, whole, fully developed". In the Sermon on the Mount, only God, the Father, is used as the example of perfection, while Jesus is included in the restating of it in the Book of Mormon. The last thing Jesus is recorded as having said in mortality is, "It is finished" - and I believe that is profound and important. It only was after the suffering of the Garden and the cross that he could say it was finished - that he was "complete, whole, fully developed". In other words, he was sinless according to our theology but not perfect until the very end of his life - and a major part of that perfection was enduring pain, suffering and extreme abuse without reacting improperly. Nothing about that pain, suffering and extreme abuse affected his sinlessness in the slightest, and he wasn't considered guilty or in need of repentance as a result of it. Rather, it was part of the refinement that he had to endure to die in a perfect state.

The only part of that I want to emphasize for the purpose of this discussion is that he was abused without being guilty, without sinning, without being stained in any way. What is even more profound, I believe, is that it is very easy to read the Biblical accounts of his actions and say that he brought it on himself through those actions.  In fact, I have read analyses that assert he intentionally provoked the Jewish leadership into their reactions - and those analyses are compelling.

With that in mind, he can be seen as like the proverbial woman who is raped while walking down a dark alley at night in a mini skirt. It's extremely easy to blame that woman for provoking actions by others (in this case, being raped) and to impute sin to her, but we don't do the same thing in the case of actions we consider to be "righteous". Jesus absolutely thumbed his nose at the Roman authorities and threatened the Jewish leadership in a very real, strong way during the last days of his life. In fact, it can be said quite logically that Jesus caused his abuse to a much greater extent than the woman in the alley caused hers - since the rapist in the alley would have attacked any woman who was in that alley, even if she was dressed in a burkha, while the Jewish leadership and Roman authorities would have overlooked a less confrontational, threatening itinerant preacher.

If we accord a guiltless, stainless, sinless status to those who cause their abuse in the name of what we consider to be a good cause, we ought to afford the same grace to those who are abused for actions we deem not to be in pursuit of a good cause.  More poignantly, how much more readily ought we to give that same consideration to those who don't cause the abuse they suffer?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Relatively Few Mormons Understand the Book of Mormon Really Well

For the purposes of this post, I am going to discuss a few things about the Book of Mormon from a perspective that isn't focused on my testimony of it as scripture.  I'm going to lay that aside today and talk about it from a more analytical perspective.  

When I speak of my love of the Book of Mormon, it's not about exact content, so much as how it "speaks to me".  I get the "voice from the dust" description, and I love the "story" of it.  As a book, I really like it and it seems inspired, at the very least, to me - certainly every bit as much as the Bible.  There are lots of passages I really like, content- and doctrine-wise, but that's never been what it's about for me. 

I also see some things as almost impossible to "fake" within the text itself.  I won't go into lots of detail here, but the dichotomy between the Book of Ether and the rest of it is just one example of this.  It is amazingly compelling, if you have studied much of the cultural differences between the Middle East and Northeast Asia  - and, if I am right in how I read the Book of Ether, it basically solves the DNA issue on a theoretical level. Even without my spiritual experiences while reading it and subsequent testimony of it as scripture, on a purely academic level, I just can't see the Book of Mormon as an intentional fraud.  Again, to me, it is an "inspired" book, at the very least. 

One important thing to understand is that there really isn't any more physical proof of most of the important claims in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) than there are for those in the Book of Mormon.  Most people don't realize how shaky the non-religious / non-spiritual "proof" for the Bible is, particularly when it comes to the accuracy of the New Testament teachings and just about everything in the Old Testament.  Even most ardent Christian historians agree that the accounts in the New Testament were written after the fact - and were taken from multiple, conflicting source materials.  Hence, we have all the hoopla in the early centuries about which writings to include and which to exclude in the formal compilation we know now as the Bible. 

For example, from a purely "historical" perspective (taking away all claims of source and method of discovery and translation), the Book of Mormon is MUCH easier to accept as scientifically plausible than the Bible - since there is FAR less of the miraculous chronicled in it than in the Bible (and those things that are presented as miraculous generally are much easier to explain as non-miraculous). Further, it's interesting to realize that most of the truly unique "doctrines" in Mormonism are not found in the Book of Mormon.  In fact, there are almost none in it.  Nearly all of them are in the Bible and the D&C - and nearly all of the ones in the D&C are presented as revelations received as a result of contemplating Biblical passages or specific issues of the time. 

Finally, the words of some leaders notwithstanding, the actual book itself DOES NOT claim to be something that should be read instead of or more than the Bible - or even contrasted with it.  Rather, it says explicitly, more than once, that one of its central purposes is to convince people to believe the Bible.  Based on what it actually says, it's supposed to be a supporting companion to the Bible, not a superior work.  Thus, again, some leaders' words notwithstanding, pitting it against the Bible or studying it almost exclusively instead of the Bible simply isn't consistent with its stated purpose - and I regularly go back and forth between it and the Bible in my own study. 

I've said more than once that I think Joseph Smith didn't really understand the Book of Mormon very well - at least not academically with regard to what it actually says in its pages.  I think he simply didn't care about it as a proof text, so he didn't "study" it intently to understand doctrine.  I think he saw it as proof of his prophetic role and as a conduit through which the Holy Ghost could testify.  Ironically, that's one reason I can't accept it as conscious fiction.  Every author I've known understood their works MUCH better than Joseph appears to have understood the Book of Mormon.  

None of the above proves anything regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon in an objective manner, but it's important to keep in mind when comparing it with the Bible.  We've inherited a lens through which we "naturally" see the Book of Mormon, complete with previous leaders' and members' assumptions about what it says, and I believe that lens is one of the "incorrect traditions of (our) fathers".

As a result, I think relatively few members understand the Book of Mormon really well.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vicitims of Abuse Need No Repentance

A friend told me once about an older woman in his ward who said the following:

Abuse and rape victims have to suffer as much pain as the abuser or rapist in order to fulfill the requirements of repentance.

First, I abhor that statement.  It is wrong - so wrong that it's hard to express how wrong it is.  To even think that those who suffer abuse of any kind, especially rape, need to repent in any way is . . . abominable.  I hear something like that, and I want to grab the person who said it, shake them and, somehow, make them understand how horrible and damaging such a statement is.  Such beliefs deny the Atonement of Jesus Christ in a real, fundamental way. 

Second, it's interesting and instructive to me that those who are the most vocal about blaming the victim to any degree almost always have not been victims of the type of abuse being discussed (or are victims of what they see as completely random instances of such abuse and, as a result, suffered terribly themselves) - and they generally are the strongest proponents of near total personal control if they have not endured such suffering. When someone's illusions of control have not been shattered (or only violated with regard to what they see as random occurrences), it's easy to assume everyone has more control than they really do and that what they see as not random cases are the result of lower self-control. Blaming the victim increases one's sense of security, and that is important to some people who desperately need to feel secure and in control, and there is a strong element of, "If I had to suffer, so do others - as much as I did."  That is true especially for those who blamed themselves for the abuse - and such an attitude was far more common in generations past than it is now. 

I understand those tendencies and rationales, so I can't condemn people like the woman my friend mentioned - even as I can condemn completely the statement she made and others like it. I need forgiveness and mercy as much as she does, so, while I can't sit quietly when something like that is said, I also can't condemn her for saying it. I need to act as charitably and mercifully toward her as I can while condemning the statement as forcefully as necessary.
That's an incredibly hard line to walk, and I've failed at it numerous times, but it's important to me to keep trying. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Repentance and Lowered Expectations

It has been said by many, including me on this blog, that lower (or, for me, more realistic) expectations are an important key to happiness - that letting go of unrealistic expectations is critical to finding joy in our own individual journeys. I want to take that idea and discuss it relative explicitly to theology - and to draw an important distinction between unrealistic expectations and the type of hopeful expectations that are central to what I see as empowering faith and true repentance.

I think it's interesting that those who argue a "confess-only-and-be-saved" position basically are employing the lowest PRACTICAL expectation for themselves. Of course, everyone who argues it will say that relying totally on Christ and de-valuing our own actions is the highest form of worship and trust in Him - but, from a purely practical standpoint, it really is the lowest possible expectation for their own actions.

On the flip side, those who argue a "personal-works-only-earn-salvation" position do the exact same thing - but with an opposite focus. They use the lowest possible expectation for Jesus' actions and the highest expectation for their own efforts.

**Both are extremist positions, and both are inconsistent with how I read the Bible.**

Both bring a form of happiness (complacency), imo - since they are simple and give no real reason for what I believe to be "true" repentance. I see repentance as the result of a perceptual balance, that makes it harder to simplify into one fairly brainless formula, that leads to a degree of angst and concern and contemplation, that leads to self-reflection and effort to change - which is the definition of repentance.

It is basing that repentance on faith in Jesus as the Christ that creates the balance I see when I read the Bible - the type of balance that James teaches when he says that faith without works is dead, being alone, AND that Paul teaches when he talks of the need for faith and not just reliance on "dead" works. James seems to emphasize works, while Paul seems to emphasize faith - but they both teach a balance of the two.

Lower (more realistic) expectations of others (and even God, as described by others) is one thing - something I endorse, even as I try to help people improve in whatever way they can; lower expectations of EITHER God OR one's self as His child is quite another thing altogether, in my opinion.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Becoming Like Jesus: Charity

Today was a "bridge" lesson - moving from last month's topic of becoming like Jesus to this month's focus on spiritual and financial self-reliance. We missed a week last month due to General Conference, so I chose to do a combo lesson on the two topics.

I started by asking the students what "self-reliance" means. They looked at me like I'd asked a stupid, obvious question, which was partially true, so I rephrased the question and asked them what "self-reliance" means within the context of the Gospel we teach in the LDS Church - and by telling them that I believe there are important positive and negative aspects of it and ways to define it in Gospel terms. One of the students said it is not having to rely on anyone else - to be able to take care of yourself. I then asked why that might be a problem in the context of the Gospel and the Church. That same student said that there are people who aren't completely self-reliant at times, and there are some people who can't be completely self-reliant - and that if we preach self-reliance as the only good situation, we can end up making them feel ashamed of themselves when they shouldn't be ashamed. (I've driven that point home about a number of things over the last year as I've taught this class - how preaching only a theoretical ideal can be damaging to those not in that situation, especially through no fault of their own, and it's exciting to see the students start to see it without explicit prompting.)

We talked about the extremes: the mentally or physically disabled as an example of someone who can't be self-reliant and the intentional hermit who is completely self-reliant but living a life that is not of any service to others. We talked about how none of us in the room are completely self-reliant (that we all live in the middle somewhere) - from them still living at home and being supported by their parents to me being unemployed and needing fast offering assistance right now. When we finished that discussion, I was ecstatic to hear one of the students say, "So, the ideal really is community self-reliance." I told them we would talk about that more next week.

We then talked about how we really can't be spiritually self-reliant. I asked why that is, and one of them said, "Because we all need the Atonement. We can't become like God without it. We can't do it on our own." I used that as the bridge point to explain that what we had studied last month was how to use the self-reliance we can exercise to access the elements of self-reliance we can't access on our own - to create a condition of mutual-communal-reliance personally with God and then as a group with others.

With that foundation, we turned to 1 Corinthians 13, and I told them that we were going to do with that chapter (for as long as we had today) what we had done with the Beatitudes the previous two weeks (go through it word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase) - and that part of gaining spiritual self-reliance to the greatest extent possible is to study the scriptures carefully and deeply in order to build a personal understanding of them, even if that leads to different insights and perspectives than others - even each other. I told them that we too often read something shallowly and then, thinking we understand it already, never dig deeply and reach a profound understanding of it. Understanding something shallowly usually means understanding what others say about it, which is the exact opposite of spiritual self-reliance.

The following is a summary of what we covered in 1 Corinthians 13:

Verses 1-3: We talked about how the result of not having charity in each verse is the exact opposite of what we naturally assume should be the result of the actions described in each verse. Speaking with the tongues of men and angels ought to produce sounds that are pleasing and enlightening (that are melodious), but doing so without charity actually produces sounds that are distracting and jarring - like a brassy sound or the sound of cymbals clanging indiscriminately throughout a concert. Understanding prophecy and all mysteries and having all knowledge and faith ought to result in becoming someone important and powerful, but doing so without charity actually produces someone who has no lasting worth - who is nothing in the end. Giving everything to the poor and dying as a martyr ought to provide a great reward, but doing so without charity produces no eternal profit. (Think of the passage that says, "They have their reward" - just not God's.)

Verse 4: I used this verse to show the students how commas and semi-colons are used in this chapter - commas linking multiple aspects of the same general characteristic of charity and semi-colons introducing a new characteristic. (This is important, especially, in verse 5.) We talked about what it means to suffer long AND be kind - and how being able to suffer long depends on kindness. We talked about various things that make us suffer, not just temporarily but also for an extended period of time - and how enduring things that others cause in a charitable manner requires not just patience but also kindness. We talked about how easy it is to lash out when someone causes suffering of any kind, but how charity allows us to react kindly. We talked about how charity allows us to avoid envy and, instead, be happy for others and their blessings. We talked about what "vaunting" and being "puffed up" mean: elevating one's self above others and expanding one's self with nothing but empty air. (A student mentioned a puffer fish, and I physically puffed myself up in an arrogant way to make the point visually.) We discussed how charity keeps us from elevating ourselves above others and not getting "full of ourselves".

Verse 5: All of these aspects of charity are linked with commas; there are no semi-colons in the verse. This means that the entire verse really is one combined characteristic - each aspect being built on the previous ones. Behaving "unseemly" means "inappropriately" - and we talked about different situations requiring difference behavior. I asked how they might act inappropriately at school, and one of the students mentioned not following the school's dress code - and he compared how we would dress to go swimming and how we would dress to attend school. I added business meetings and church meetings, and I told them how much I dislike the idea that we need to dress in "Sunday best" for nearly all church-related meetings, no matter their purpose or location. In that light, "unseemly" is much more expansive than we often assume.

We then discussed Paul's statement about not eating meat with those who abstain from meat as an example of not behaving in an unseemly manner - and how we need to be aware of the sensibilities of those with whom we interact and be willing to "suffer long", be kind, not elevate ourselves or puff ourselves up by not following things that are important to others while in their presence - and I said that is why I usually wear a white shirt to church, even though I have no problem wearing different colors (as they have seen occasionally). I also told them that I have a bit of an addictive personality (combined with some extended family psychological issues), and I am grateful I was raised with the concept of the Word of Wisdom - and how others who could have handled a little alcohol in moderation chose to abstain and allowed me to be raised in an environment where I never had to find my own limit, since I can't be sure if I personally could have walked that particular line properly. That also is an example of people not behaving unseemly solely for the benefit / protection of others, since they would not have behaved unseemly regardless due to their ability to handle alcohol in moderation.

We talked about how moderating our behavior in the company of others is part of not "seeking our own" - both in sacrificing "our own" for "others" and also in not limiting ourselves only to those who are most like us (with whom we can "be ourselves" more fully and not be concerned about acting inappropriately). Thus, charity actually allows us to step outside our comfort zones and be productive and loving in those more difficult circumstances. Charity expands our spheres of influence and exposes us to things and people who challenge our natural inclinations, prejudices and biases, then it allows us to grow as a result.

We talked about how easy it is to be provoked (and to provoke) when we are with people who are different than us and how critical it is for growth and expanded understanding to be "not easily provoked". We talked about how easy it is to be provoked in every situation involving multiple people (even just people we love and who love us), much less with people who are different - and why being easily provoked naturally leads us toward "seeking our own" and "behaving unseemly".

We talked about what it means to "think no evil" - and the difference between thinking evil and having a bad thought. We used the example of thinking, "I wish so-and-so was dead," and thinking of ways to kill that person. I mentioned that the thought of wishing someone was dead is not a good thought, but it is different to have the thought and to dwell on it and end up actually thinking evil. We then put the entire verse together, and I showed them how each aspect builds onto the previous one(s) until we have the end results: thinking evil or not thinking evil. Charity is the foundation of avoiding becoming and evil person - and it comes from interacting with people who naturally challenge our charity and acting properly with them.

We ran out of time at that point, so I finished by sharing the following, to tie it all back to the principle of becoming like Jesus and being spiritually self-reliant:

Jesus suffered long, and was kind; Jesus envied not; Jesus vaunted not himself, was not puffed up, did not behave himself unseemly, sought not his own, was not easily provoked, thought no evil.

Developing charity is the most fundamental way to become like Jesus, and it ought to be one of our primary goals in life. We can't do that in a vacuum, and we can't do it by interacting only with those who are most like us and with whom we are comfortable. It will manifest itself in different ways for each of us, and it will be challenging in different ways, but it can't happen in a life of relative ease and comfort. We have to love those we are not inclined naturally to love, and that means interacting with them, being made to suffer but remaining kind, learning not to envy, not elevating ourselves (especially above those of whose choices we do not approve), acting appropriately and lovingly (and, in some cases, sacrificially), not seeking our own benefit or kind, risking provocation and not giving in to it and, ultimately, being able to do so without succumbing to the temptation to think evil (about or of others).

Charity, for the vast majority of us, is a learned, gained characteristic, not a natural gift. In the words of Paul, we need to seek after it - to make it a personal quest. 

I told them that this quest has to be personal - and that the challenges will come from all kinds of sources. For some, it will include their own families and church congregations; for some, it might be in a future marriage; for some of them, it will happen on missions; for all of them, it will happen only as they expand their horizons and leave their comfort zones and begin to love as Jesus loved by living more like Jesus lived.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Some of My Favorite Religious Quotes

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (Rich Alger) wrote a post in which he shared some of his favorite inspirational quotes.  The following are the quotes that came to mind immediately at that time.  There are many more I could share, especially from the writings of C.S. Lewis and Louis L'Amour (a veritable quote machine), but these are the ones of which I thought when I read Rich's post - thinking specifically about "religious" quotes:

"For now we see through a glass, darkly." (Paul, the apostle - I Corinthians 13:12)

"Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

This variety of creation itself is a testament of how the Lord values all His children." (Joseph B. Wirthlin, the apostle - "Concern for the One")

"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. (Joseph Smith, 11th Article of Faith - and I wish members of the LDS Church really, fully understood and accepted this statement and ALL of its implications)

"We don't believe what we see; we see what we believe." (not sure of the source)

"In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see . . . Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow thee." (Susan Evans McCloud, "Lord, I Would Follow Thee"

"I am a child of God." (Naomi W. Randall, "I Am a Child of God")

"I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me." (Charles H. Gabriel, "I Stand All Amazed"

Please share any religion-related quotes that are especially meaningful to you. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Evolution and Mormonism: God as the Great Scientist

I have heard the following, in various phrasing, many times in my life:

Evolution is a Godless/Planless model of Science.

That has been the motto of pretty much every theist who opposes evolution since evolution first was articulated. It just isn’t the “given” that it is presented as being by those theists, especially within a theology that disavows creation ex nihilo.  For those who are open to symbolic mythology to explain the literal, Mormonism can be harmonized with evolution much more easily (and, imo, is much more compatible with evolution) than most other Christian theologies. 

Let me try to explain why I say that:

Mormonism is the most “evolutionary” theology in all of Christianity when it comes to the life of our spirits – and the interaction of the physical and the spiritual – and the very nature of matter – and other fundamental aspects of our eternal existence.

It’s one thing to argue against “Godless evolution” (which I do) and quite another to argue that the concept of physical evolution is antithetical to Mormonism (which makes absolutely no sense to me, especially given our belief that ALL matter is eternal and even our spirits are “physical” when it comes right down to it).

Again, at its heart, Mormon theology is evolutionary in nature – as it posits that something not like God in the beginning becomes like God through a series of changes to its core state of being. It posits that we started out as one thing and literally will evolve into something very different. God is the director of this growth and change – the great scientist, if you will, who takes intelligences and works with them until they become Gods.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Most Hilarious Post and Comment Thread in the History of the World

Adventures in Arizona - The Wiz (Mormon Mommy Wars) 

I check this thread at least once a year, just to see if any more comments have been added.  I thought I would link to it now in the hope that someone would read it and add more hilarity. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

Sometimes We Ask Too Many Questions

[I just noticed that this is the 1700th post I have written here.  I have a hard time fathoming that, and I never dreamed when I started that I would reach that number of posts.

I once listened to a conversation between a couple of men who had been in the LDS Church for multiple decades - two men whom I admire greatly.  One of them asked the other one the following question - to the best of my recollection:

What should we do if there is something in the Church Handbook of Instruction that isn't clear - if we aren't sure exactly what it means or what we should do? 

His answer surprised me, but I agreed totally when I thought about it.  He said - again, to the best of my recollection:

If it isn't spelled out, it isn't spelled out - so, by all that's holy and intelligent, don't ask someone to spell it out. There are lots of things we need to figure out on our own - through the Spirit and through our own intelligence and best efforts.
Sometimes we ask too many questions.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Becoming Like Jesus: Lesson 2

We continued our examination of the Beatitudes today, and it helped that the Sacrament Meetings talks were about becoming like Christ - including an excellent talk by our Bishop. 

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

We talked about what "after" means in this context - that it is used most often in cases where someone "seeks after" something. This means "pursue" or "search for", which means the verse is talking about pursuing righteousness in a hungry and thirsty manner.

I asked the students how many of them have ever experienced potential starvation - or even missed enough meals that they literally thought they were going to die if they missed another one. None of them had. I asked them how long they had gone without water - or liquid generally. Again, none of them had gone more than about a day-and-a-half, and each time was part of an official fast. I told them that I also have not experienced extreme hunger or thirst in my life, which means I don't understand this verse in quite the same literal way as many people do or would who might read it. For us, it is more of an intellectual understanding - and we might translate it as:

"Blessed are they who want righteousness so badly that they seek for it as passionately as people who are starving to death seek food and water."

We then talked about what "righteousness" means. After some discussion of various aspects, we settled on "being right with God" - and we talked about the two great commandments and how everything else hangs on love. Our Bishop had read from I Corinthians 13 where it says we are nothing without charity, no matter how great we are at other things - even extremely important things, so we talked about how we seek to become like Christ in order to be right with God - to be what he wants us to be.

"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."

I asked the students what mercy means. After a brief discussion, we looked up "mercy" on (I love having students who have smart phones in class.) It said that mercy is forbearance to inflict harm or take action that is in our power to inflict. That means having the right and power to do something (generally something bad or punishing) but choosing not to do it.

We talked about situations in their own lived when people do something to them and they have the right or power to respond in a way that would cause harm of some kind. We talked about how mercy is important especially in situations where the other person is weaker or subordinate or unable to defend themselves but how there really aren't simple limits to mercy. I mentioned my favorite humorous statement about the lack of mercy:

I asked God to give me what I deserve, so he slapped me and sent me to Hell.

We talked about how we are told that we will be judged with the same judgment we judge others, which the second half of this verse says.

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."

We talked about what it means to be pure. I asked them how many of them had taken a chemistry class and could tell me what pure means in chemistry. One of them said, "Not having any unnecessary elements", so we used that to talk about the concept of being stainless, spotless, free from corruption, etc. I also mentioned how much we miss when we talk of purity only in terms of chastity - that we need to understand it as perfectly (completely) as possible.

We then talked about what "heart" means in this context. We decided it could mean "spirit" or "core feelings" or "our desires and intent" or some other wording that focuses on our core identity. We talked again about the two great commandments and charity - how the reason we do things says as much about our "hearts" as anything else.

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."

We spent a lot of time talking about this verse. For purposes of this summary, I am going to link to a few posts I wrote years ago on my personal blog, which served as the foundation for the discussion in class. I think this concept (being peacemakers and why that qualifies us to be called the children of God) is one of the most important, least understood principles in all of Christianity. If you want to see the outline of the discussion, read the following posts:

Blessed are the Peacemakers

They Shall Be Called the Children of God

Peace, Be Still: And There Was a Great Calm

Friday, November 1, 2013

Talking about Sex

I wish we could be much more open and aware of sensibilities in the way that we talk about sexuality and sexual activity, and I don't mean that only about within the LDS Church. It's widespread throughout humanity to lean toward one extreme or the other, unfortunately.

I have been disappointed in how little some people can deal with discussing sex, but I also have been disappointed in how much others want to talk about it - and I've been disappointed by how both types of people often talk about it. (Of course, if you insert "religion" or "politics" into that sentence, it's totally accurate, as well - so it's not just about sex.)
If we were less squeamish about topics - or less prone to judge and argue, we could understand ourselves and others so much more easily.