Friday, June 19, 2015

Why I'm Opposed to a Flat Tax

I don’t want to turn this into a political blog, but this topic is coming here in America as candidates are undertaking their approximately 18-month marathon campaigns to become President of the country.  While I think no legislation or change in leadership will save this country from an assured implosion, it is a mildly interesting topic because we actually have scriptural teachings which could be guiding understanding this issue (so of course, they aren’t).

I agree our American tax code is a joke, a Frankenstein-worthy abomination of confusion that is cobbled together in a way that caters to those who least need catering, at the expense of those least capable of shouldering the burden.  It should ideally change.  But I don’t think a flat tax is the solution, and I’ll use the scriptures to explain why.

In the Book of Mormon, every single instance of a people having a flat tax required of them, it is treated as an abusive and grievous practice.  While the percentage amount itself may vary, it is always a flat percentage of all the people.

When Ammon first met King Limhi, the King revealed to Ammon that his people were in “bondage” to the Lamanites, and the very first thing he mentions is a “tax” which is “grievous.”  This tax is a flat tax of 50% placed upon Limhi’s people, to support the Lamanites.
For behold, we are in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne. And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites…And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage. And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.” — Mosiah 7:15, 21-22
When Noah succeeded his father Zeniff king, it is written that he placed a flat tax of 20% on his people, amidst a slew of indictments against his character.
And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.  For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.  And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.” — Mosiah 11:1-3
After Noah’s people were scattered by the Lamanites, many of them were taken captive, and once again they were placed under the burden of a flat tax of 50%.
Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would deliver up king Noah into the hands of the Lamanites, and deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed, one half of their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.” — Mosiah 19:15
When there is a mandatory taxation placed upon everybody, there are always some who are incapable of paying it.  They are simply too poor, they lack the resources to both tend to their needs and pay the taxes.  With a flat tax, more people will find themselves in a position of being unable to pay what is required.  When you are unable to render to the government what they demand, judicial punishment is always brought to bear.  Any leniency that the poor might find in the current, broken system will be further stripped under a flat taxation.  When judicial force is used to punish those incapable of paying taxes in the Book of Mormon, it isn't smiled upon.
And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings.  And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne; and he did build many prisons, and whoso would not be subject unto taxes he did cast into prison; and whoso was not able to pay taxes he did cast into prison; and he did cause that they should labor continually for their support; and whoso refused to labor he did cause to be put to deathAnd when he had reigned for the space of forty and two years the people did rise up in rebellion against him; and there began to be war again in the land, insomuch that Riplakish was killed, and his descendants were driven out of the land.” — Ether 10:5-6, 8
The church’s current approach to tithing could also be clearly understood as a flat tax, tacitly requiring (because they refuse to be forthright and direct) 10% of all your earnings, before any expenses are accounted for.  The “gross” versus “net” paycheck tithing discussion misses the point entirely, because the scriptural teachings concerning tithing show that it is to be 10% of surplus, after all expenses are accounted for, regardless of the opposite being taught over the pulpit.  Rock Waterman does a good job of discussing this matter more in depth HERE.


And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.” — Mosiah 18:27
The Lord frequently gives a basic outline of the economic approaches He endorses.  Those who have more are expected to give more.  Those who have less are expected to give less.  Those who lack are expected to be given substance, not have a burden of taxation strip it from them.
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!” — Isaiah 10:1-2 (also 2 Nephi 20:1-2)
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” — Mosiah 4:26
And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.” — Alma 1:27
And the bishop, Newel K. Whitney, also should travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.” — D&C 84:112
But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;” — D&C 105:3
Granted, these are given as instruction to those constituting His people, but if He desires for all to become a part of His people, would it not make sense to pursue this approach for everybody?  Specifically here in America, where the Lord established a standing stipulation for its inhabitants?:
And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.” — Ether 2:9
Even in tithing, the Lord is aware of those who do not have any to spare, because their expenses are too great.  Tithing is based on an improvement of your situation.
And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.” — D&C 119:4
Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.” — JST Genesis 14:39
Not only is the Lord’s approach a common sense way to help prevent civil wars and revolutions triggered by economic disparity, it is also preparatory for the law of Zion, which all must ultimately join with or face destruction.
Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.” — D&C 70:14
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;” — Acts 2:44
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” — Acts 4:32
And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.” — 3 Nephi 26:19
And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” — 4 Nephi 1:3
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” — Moses 7:18 
When it comes to distribution of burdens, the world would argue that “fair” is determined by the size of the burden placed upon all.  But it seems the Lord would argue that “fair” is determined by the capacity of those upon whom each burden is laid.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ignorance Isn't Bliss

When ignorance charades as informed opinion, it serves not as armor but as a prison, locked from within and nigh impenetrable from without.

Mormon Traditions — Clean Language

Let’s talk about cussin’.  

If you have already decided you don’t like cussin’, you will likely not want to even engage your mental faculties to examine the topic, preferring to hold to your traditions without discovering if they even have a solid foundation (they don’t).  But I think it is a worthy topic, because it is a contributor to foolish cultural pride, and an exploration into the matter reveals how empty and damning our judgments are, which may allow us to let go of them.

We have been taught that certain words are bad no-no words, that we are not to say or we risk offending both our fellow man and God Himself.  There are those who will not even consider the words or ideas of a person if they hear them use a cussin’ word, judging them all as valueless because those with valuable ideas don’t cuss.  


The only scriptural basis I’ve heard used to justify our avoiding cussin’ comes from Matthew 15:
Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man… But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” — Matthew 15:11, 18
Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t hold up for a moment, as soon as you continue reading the next verses:
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man…” — Matthew 15:19-20
The Lord immediately explains that it is the dark content which men have in their hearts that defiles them.  What comes out of the mouth is the revealing expression of this content, which content does the defiling.  The words themselves don’t defile, they are not the issue.

Meanwhile, Jesus and John the Baptist—who Christ referred to as greater than a prophet and unsurpassed as a man—had these things to say to the Pharisees and Sadducees:
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” — Matthew 12:34
But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” — Matthew 3:7
This term is not a kind, “Christian” phrase for denouncing these wicked men.  It is an insult, using gutter language, culturally equivalent to the modern “son of a bitch.”  Yes, the scriptures contain John the Baptist and Jesus Christ cussing people out.  Let that sink in.


The selection of words to be understood as cussin’ is arbitrary.  The words were invented by people who obviously intended to use them in communication, not avoid them.  Language was made for man, not man for language.  There is no sound basis for determining that certain words are inherently inappropriate, because words aren’t actually things, they’re expressions of things.

When we speak, the entire purpose of language is the conveyance of ideas for a desired intent.  We want to send an idea out to another, and have them receive it as accurately as we meant it.  This requires both clarity and honesty.  Self-censoring of expression only serves to damage both of these, leading to misunderstanding.  As a result, communication fails to serve its purpose.  Relationships can be damaged as people fail to understand, or fear they will not be properly understood.  Some studies argue that those who cuss have a marked tendency to be more honest in all their communication.

Cussin’ words also play many roles in language.  There are nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and more that are considered cussin'.  They can be used as expletives, to vent out emotions rather than bottle them up, which can be immensely useful to emotional health.  The use of cussin’ words is widely understood as being more expressive, which is useful in giving people a wider spectrum of descriptive value for what they are saying.  Some individual cussin’ words are highly versatile, simply making them easy and efficient words to use.

Sure, we can find other words to use to try and convey our ideas, but why bother if cussin’ words are the best fit for precisely what we are intending to say?  Almost every word in English has a slew of synonyms.  If we try to justify suppressing cussin’ words because there are other words that can say what we mean, then that logic would require we eliminate all synonyms, and have only one word that refers to each thing.  If you argue that we can’t do that because there are to many shades of “sad” or “green,” or that we like having a pallet of vocabulary to choose from to better help us paint a more nuanced and detailed picture, then that same argument justifies the use of cussin’ words.  They expand the pallet and offer shades that are otherwise only implied.


Some ideas are ugly or harsh or offensive, and the honest expression of those ideas should maintain those aspects if it is being honestly treated.  It is not honest to try and diminish a harsh idea like “rape” with the use of a euphemism that makes it more appropriate.  If we decide it's more politically correct to refer to it as “assertive surprise sex” because we don’t like the word “rape,” does that make us more righteous than those who still choose to call it “rape”?  Does it make the idea of rape less offensive?  Does it not diminish the reality of those who have experienced the brutality of the idea behind the word, to try and find a euphemism intended to make the expression of the idea gentler?  Why should such an idea be made palatable?

It is also foolish to think that we should simply try and avoid all ugly ideas.  If you are LDS, you should understand where Joseph Smith stood in relation to ugly ideas.
Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” — Joseph Smith, Epistle to the Church, Written in Liberty Prison, Clay County, Missouri, March 25, 1839
…if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it.” — TPJS, p. 316
Joseph Smith had no fear of ugly ideas, because he confronted them.  Ugly ideas are to be faced, not hidden from.  They are to have the light of truth shone upon them, so we can understand them and the fear of them can be dispelled.

There is also a difference between entertaining ugly ideas and confronting or expressing them.  Entertaining them is about giving them a space to take root in our heart, to corrupt us as we consider embracing them.  Confronting them is stripping them of their deceptive powers and seeing their ugliness for what it is, so that we may make an informed decision to discard them from our hearts.  Expressing ugly ideas can be used in either, but the fact that it is a necessary component of confronting them (else how do they become known, to be confronted?), says that expression itself shouldn’t be condemned or feared.  It is sufficient to say they are not worthy of entertaining.


If an idea is coarse or offensive, it is incredibly foolish for us to think that the idea itself is somehow made less virtuous by expressing it one way, or more virtuous by expressing it another.  We think the use of euphemisms in lieu of cussin’ is a virtuous practice, when it is in fact a pious one.  It fools us into thinking our version of the idea is somehow more appropriate.  Let’s look at one example: the word "shit."

The word “shit” is a lingual expression referencing the processed food that comes out of our anus.  We also say excrement, feces, crap, turd, leavings, scat, and a slew of other words.  But they are all referencing the exact same thing.  THE.  EXACT.  SAME.  THING.  Are we foolish enough to believe that saying “pucky” or “poop” rather than “shit” somehow makes that coiled log less pungent or disgusting?  Does it grow diamonds and cure cancer when we refer to it as “dung”?

Or is the idea precisely the same as it always has been, only we’ve created an arbitrary cultural bias about how we refer to it, for the purposes of giving us grounds to judge ourselves as better and others as worse?  We do it in every other conceivable way, so why not with word selection?  What is more important to our natural man than comparing ourselves to others and finding grounds for claiming superiority?

Even using the word as a descriptor for something else, such as a lame idea or a poor execution or the low-functioning grey matter inside someone's skull, the word is linguistically being used in an appropriate manner.  It is being used as a metaphor, an incredibly common part of language.

Some seek to justify the exclusion of these words from conversation on the basis that the words refer to ideas that are ugly, saying this elevates them from being arbitrarily nixed to being avoided for acceptable reasons.  But that argument falls apart the moment you look at other words we can use in everyday language that also refer exclusively to ugly ideas.  What about “hate”?  We can use that word rather inanely, referring to the pattern on someone’s hat, or a flavor of ice cream.  But the idea behind that word is at least as offensive as the idea behind “shit,” arguably more so.  Yet “shit” is off the ok list, and “hate” remains.

Some modern cussin’ words like “hell,” “damn,” and “ass” can even be found in scripture.  It is funny, in a tragic sort of way, to watch youth who are taught not to say these words, read aloud scriptures that contain them.  The cognitive dissonance that they are struggling with in that moment contorts their faces and their minds.  "Scriptures are good, but these words are bad, but the bad words are in the good scriptures?"  They are puzzled and frustrated, as they should be, because it’s a nonsensical scenario that no parent can successfully justify.  They have to fall back on the “because I said so” appeal to authority, which is the very worst approach to teaching and persuading people.

For Latter-Day Saints, teaching these arbitrary rules about cussin’ words as part of the “standards” of the gospel can disillusion students about the whole gospel, when they learn that all vocabulary is an arbitrary collection of sounds we just agree upon to enable communication.  If they are being sold this packaged deal of a gospel, and it turns out that part of it is arbitrary and meaningless, how do they know the rest is not as well?  And if their parents are responsible for falsely teaching them that these arbitrary standards are Divinely ordained, then their parents become untrustworthy as sources of information and testimony.  They feel lied to, because well, they have been.


Cussin' words all seem to hail from two backgrounds: religion, and class distinction.

Looking at religious cussin’ words, we find that they all have a perfectly logical basis for their use.  “Hell” and “damn” both refer to the devilish, that which is rejected or cursed or frowned upon by God.  “What the hell” is just the lazy slurring of “what in the hell,” which is similar to scriptural environmental references like “that which is in the earth.”  It expresses a reaction to something that seems to be negative and unnatural.  It appears to come from hell, and what is it?  

“Damn,” “goddamn,” “goddamned” and “goddammit” are variations on a theme, damnation.  God cutting something off.  When used as an expletive, it is most technically an appeal to the Divine, to utilize His power to put a stop to something which is bothering us.  God, please damn this thing from annoying me.

Similarly, the expletive use of the name “Jesus Christ” is not what is referred to when we are told not to take the Lord’s name in vain (saying it is not taking it, let alone in vain, another topic altogether).  This expletive is also an appeal to the Divine, with an implied request for intervention to handle what is irking us.

“Whore” is another biblical word considered by many to be cussin’.  Its most literal understanding is the obvious “prostitute.”  As offensive as the idea is, it was an unfortunate reality for many people throughout history, and remains so today.  To think that using a euphemism to replace this word will somehow diminish the reality of what it references is foolish, as it is the idea itself that is offensive.  Calling someone a “working girl” doesn’t change what she does, it only makes it easier to turn a blind eye to their sorrowful situation, because hey, they’re working, which makes them a normal contributing member of society, totally no exploitation going on.

“Whore” is also useful if it is understood in its more expanded scriptural sense, meaning one who is undiscerning of what they unite themselves with.  The Lord lamented when His people entertained whoredoms, many times referring to adopting religious practices and ideas from false and abominable religions, and bringing them into their relationship with God.  Sexual whores could not (and some cannot today) be picky and discerning about who their clients were, they must embrace them all.  Similarly, if a person adopts ideas and practices without any sort of screening or discernment, they will certainly be selling or whoring themselves to that which they’d ultimately wish they hadn’t.

The use of “ass” as a curse word is not from the biblical meaning of a donkey, but a lazy transliteration of “arse,” which was a commoner’s word for the buttocks.  Which brings us to the class distinctions portion of the discussion.

Words like “shit,” “piss,” “fuck” and the like are more difficult to precisely trace, but seem to hold roots among the “common” folk, who the upper-class wanted to maintain a separation from.  Class distinction was once of utmost importance, and use of such words would reveal a person to be a commoner.  Writers who used these words were appealing to the common folk, not the elites.  So the aristocrats, the upper-class, society, whatever you want to call them, would avoid use of such language so they could be recognized as “classy” (alluding to being of a higher class), using only “clean language.”  “Clean,” as opposed to “dirty” or “gutter” language, referring to the sewage-filled gutters where the common peasants lived and slept.

This tends to be they way we currently understand and judge cussin’.  We avoid cussin’ to show that we are better than those who do use it, plain and simple.  We are classier.  We believe our ideas are loftier, our sensibilities are more refined.  It is bullshit pride, period.

But among the common folk who do not shy away from cussin', it has proven to be useful beyond mere communication.  For example, cussin' provides expanded boundaries for the realm of comedy, giving you words and phrases that can be used ironically or absurdly to great effect.  It is true that they can be over-relied upon, like any tool, or used without any wit.  But when used cleverly, cussin' can illustrate a comedian's point with a nice, sharp bite.  Cussin' is also used endearingly among friends, to tease and cajole as all friends do, but again with a broader pallet.

There are obviously many more cussin' words, but I think this gives a decent start for looking at the rest on your own.  You can probably deduce the literal and metaphorical meanings of many cussin' words like "sonofabitch" and "asshole" with a tiny shred of thought.  Some are witty or clever, some are straightforward descriptions of actions or body parts or whatever.

There is no inherent virtue or vice to any word, as words are only expressions for ideas.  It is the ideas, the contents of the heart, that have impact or value.  If cussin’ helps you honestly express yourself, then it should be allowed space to do so.  Remember what we looked at in the scriptures at the beginning, and if you question whether or not cussin’ is appropriate for you, ask yourself:  

What would Jesus do?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mormon Traditions — Sunday Dress

I recall a few years ago traveling to SLC to visit family.  While there, we made an unanticipated visit to the temple.  Having not expected this temple trip, I hadn’t packed any “church clothes” or “Sunday dress,” as they expect to be worn when entering.  I borrowed clothes from my father and brother, but neither had shoes my size.  I wore black Converse All-Stars, so I assumed this would be sufficient if I dressed “appropriately” otherwise.

After entering and renting temple clothes, I was stopped by a temple worker.  He was soft-spoken and polite, but firmly suggested that if I was to be coming to the house of the Lord, I should be wearing something more appropriate than tennis shoes.

This irked me.  He had not asked and therefore did not know that I was visiting from out of town, and that the impromptu nature of our temple visit hadn’t afforded me any opportunity to obtain more “appropriate” shoes, though I’d succeeded with the rest of the garb.  He apparently had not also considered other possible explanations for my shoes.  For instance, what if I was too poor to afford more than one pair of shoes?  Should I not be coming to the temple because my poverty prevented “appropriate” attire?  He made no inquiry as to why I only had tennis shoes, he only told me they were inappropriate.

How is this not utterly ironic?

When we wear “Sunday dress,” we are purportedly dressing up for the Lord, to show Him respect.  Yet we have statements from scripture—which we claim originates from Him—that decry such behavior:
And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching.” — Alma 1:6
And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.” — Alma 4:6
And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?” — Alma 5:53
Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world. Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.” — Alma 31:27-28 (Alma lamenting the Zoramites’ condition)
And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.” — 4 Nephi 1:24
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” — Mormon 8:36-37
So to respect the Lord, we choose to go precisely against what He has taught us?  To act in direct alignment with what He condemns?  Would it not be more respectful of God to heed what He has to say about fine apparel?  To learn from the failures of those who have succumbed to its siren calls?

When we look to the scriptures to see what they say about the apparel of the righteous, we find the opposite behavior:
And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.” — Alma 1:27
Did Isaiah not spend a good portion of a chapter lamenting the focus on fine apparel and physical appearance exhibited by the daughters of Zion (Isaiah 3:16-24)?  Did Nephi not choose to repeat this very content for us (2 Nephi 13:16-24)?

Did Alma not lament and correct the false understanding that coarse or otherwise not-fine apparel should prevent one from entering a place of worship and worshipping God (Alma 32)? 

If you have money to blow on fine apparel, rather than only affording modest apparel, is it possible you qualify as rich?  At least within the context of being able to grind upon the face of the poor with your riches?  By parading your fine apparel before them, as they wear modest apparel or even apparel described as sackcloth?

If a person mentally relates their own respect for God with the clothing they wear when going to worship Him, how exactly do they prevent themselves from looking upon those who dress to a lower quality as respecting God less?  And if they apparently respect God less, how could they hope to be as righteous as those who show Him more apparel-based respect?  Is this not a seedling of pride?

If the scriptures do not teach a dress code for worship or living the gospel, it is inappropriate to fabricate one and claim it is essential or important.  If a certain dress code is actually condemned in scripture, how is it not sinful to preach, practice and enforce it?


Piety is a charade of humility, and most convincing to the player themselves.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mormon Traditions — Twisting “The Lord Prospers the Righteous” into the Prosperity Gospel

The so-called “prosperity gospel” is seeing a lot of success.  The gospel that “God wants you to be wealthy.”  Some congregational leaders are literally demanding wealth, mansions and jets at the expense of their congregations, and the congregations are complying.  They do so in hopes—and based upon promises from the ministers—that God will then turn around and make them rich as well, as to the things of this world.

Not to be outdone, Mormonism is also succumbing to the notion of a “prosperity gospel,” though the lack of a paid clergy among the lower leadership means it has to manifest differently.  Rather than God “prospering” the members for paying the ministers with money, He prospers them for paying the ministers with unquestioning loyalty and obedience.  And the financially successful Mormons argue that He pays handsomely for righteousness.

For example, we have LDS political hero Mitt Romney selling his multi-millionaire status as God-given “prosperity,” and teaching that we should all similarly seek to obtain and hoard such excessive wealth unto ourselves.  At least within American Mormonism, we can lust for and covet such riches and not only maintain a temple recommend, but be lauded and ushered up the ranks of LDS leadership.  You will never find a bishop or Stake President who is the poorest member of the flock.  We obsess over rich men, especially the “self-reliant” ones, believing we can measure God’s approval of us in our “prosperity.”  John Steinbeck made a remark about Americans that was indeed true, regardless of opinions about his socialist alignment, which is that poor Americans tend to view themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Speak to most any LDS Business College student or professor to confirm this viewpoint is alive and well among American Mormons.

But for the “prosperity gospel” to sell requires exploiting people’s ignorance of scripture.  The Bible alone has enough to indict any who would claim that riches, or seeking them, or measuring God’s approval by them, are pleasing to God.  We Mormons have additional scripture, with even clearer statements concerning wealth and riches and prosperity.  So upholding the prosperity gospel requires we cherry-pick around those verses, focusing exclusively on statements from God where he promises to prosper the righteous, and inferring its necessary inverse conclusion that if you are poor it is because you are unrighteous.

Now, it is true that the scriptures teach that the Lord prospers the righteous.
For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.” — 2 Nephi 4:4 (see also — Alma 50:18-20; 4 Nephi 1:23)
Passages like this form the basis for the claims of the prosperity gospel, in the same way as Paul's statements provide the basis for "faith alone" doctrines.  But there are a lot of good questions that can arise around such a simple statement.  

- How much must God give us before we can or will consider it “prosperity”?  
- Is prosperity necessarily to be understood as a blessing only, a gift with no other purpose than to please us and fulfill our own needs?  
- If God is actually the owner of all the earth’s riches (1 Corinthians 10:26; D&C 38:39; D&C 104:55), can we really consider them as being “given” to us in any other capacity than that of temporary stewards (D&C 104:56-57)?  Which means we are to do with them as He wills, during the brief time they are in our stewardship?  
- If they are His, to be done with as He pleases, do our interests and desires concerning riches get to take precedent over His?  
- Does it matter who He allows to be a steward over more, and who He allows to be a steward over less, if none of it is ours and all of it is His to do with according to His will?

We should also look at the topical context of riches and prosperity, as it becomes abundantly clear that God prospering the righteous it is not so simple as “God pays you more money for obeying Him more.”  

First of all, riches are one of the most frequently denounced, cursed and warned-against things in scripture.
He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.” — Proverbs 28:22
But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.” — Luke 6:24
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.  Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.  Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.  Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.  Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” — James 5:1-6
But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” — 2 Nephi 9:30
Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!” — D&C 56:16
(see alsoEcclesiastes 5:13; Matthew 13:22; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:19-25; 1 Timothy 6:9; Revelation 3:17)
Money has also had a direct corruptive influence on the Lord’s people throughout history. 
But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.  Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.  The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.” — Micah 3:8-12
Moroni even prophesied it would have the same effect upon us Mormons, “the holy church of God,” in the latter days.
Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.  And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.  O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?  Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?  Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?” — Mormon 8:35-40
So why “bless” us with such prosperity and riches if they have such a corrosive power upon our souls?  Perhaps the answer is also in the scriptures.
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad…Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” — 2 Nephi 2:11, 16
…We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;  And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” — Abraham 3:24-25
Could prosperity also be a trial, to see what will be done with the riches?  One of the purposes of our being in this world is to prove ourselves, to be proven.  We must be given the Lord’s commandments on the one hand, and the temptations of the natural man on the other, to see which we will choose.  This serves to help prove your heart, for you cannot serve both God and riches, or in other words Mammon (Luke 16:13).  You must choose one, and we are counseled against setting our heart on the riches of this world, for we will lose them when we go to the next world and would find no treasures awaiting us there.
Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you.” — Alma 39:14
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal;  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” — 3 Nephi 13:19-21
Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” — D&C 6:7
As part of this proving, one thing we must learn is that God does not have exclusive claim to prospering us.  In the temple, Lucifer declares his intention to use money—our primary measure of prosperity—to buy up for himself influence through militaries, religions and governments, the most powerful institutions of this world.  He uses money to accomplish his purposes, and he knows exactly how to use it the most effectively. 

On the other hand, while God does say He prospers the righteous, where does He say He is going to necessarily use money to do it?  Does the Lord ever declare His intention to use money to buy up souls or churches, luxury malls and high-end housing developments, or a percentage of the state of Florida?  To assume that because the Lord allows a person or institution to become rich—or “prosperous”—is not to say that He is thereby endorsing, causing, empowering or otherwise contributing to their excesses.  The Lord also allows all forms of sin and wickedness in this world, but we would not attribute credit for them to Him. 

The wicked are indeed frequently prospered through their wickedness (Psalms 73:3-5, 12). Most riches in this world are obtained through exploitation, digging a pit for our neighbors that we might get ahead, working “smart” to get others to shoulder the real burdens, while we pay them as little as possible and accumulate for ourselves as much as possible.  It is not considered good business to deal justly with our fellow men.  If they can be exploited, then they deserve to be so.  It is the anti-Christ, self-reliant doctrine of Korihor (Alma 30:17), but we are parading it as though it is actually the prosperity of God.  It is the false doctrine of “God helps those who help themselves,” when the truth is that God helps those who help others—at the expense of themselves—while it is the devil who snares those who seek to help themselves (Luke 17:33).

Riches in heaven are obtained by serving God and our fellow man, by sacrifice and faith, and are taught as being a gift, specifically given in the absence of money.
And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” — D&C 14:7 
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” — Isaiah 55:1
We are to first seek God and His kingdom, and we are then promised that the rest of our needs will be added upon us (Matthew 6:33).  This is always to be our priority.  But then, once we are in a state where the kingdom of God and His righteousness really are foremost in our interests, we have this statement by Jacob:
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.  And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” — Jacob 2:18-19
Jacob informs us that once we are in alignment with God and have obtained “a hope in Christ” (another topic), we are then permitted to seek after riches.  Why?  Because our hearts are not set on them.  We aren’t interested in what the riches can do for us, or how much we can stuff into our hoard under the Lonely Mountain.  We come to recognize that riches are all God’s, and they are a means by which we can serve and bless those who stand in need, thereby serving God (Mosiah 2:17).  This is perfectly in accordance with the laws of God governing the use of riches.
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” — 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” — Jacob 2:17
And the money which is left unto this people—let there be an agent appointed unto this people, to take the money to provide food and raiment, according to the wants of this people.” — D&C 51:8
But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.” — D&C 104:16
As individuals become prospered or rich, the expectation is placed upon them to aid the poor, in opposition to the natural temptation to hoard and use riches selfishly.  This requirement has been placed upon all the rich by God, all through history.  Very few, like Abraham, choose wisely to spread their wealth and help others, thereby warranting greater treasures in heaven.  The majority are overtaken by their earthly riches, discarding their responsibility to the poor, rationalizing ways to justify keeping their wealth for themselves, resulting in the frequent warnings and condemnations of riches and the rich in scripture.

In aiding the poor, bonds are meant to be created between those who give and receive aid, as they come to see themselves as members of a community together.  Perhaps they were already understood as members of a community in another sense, but class disparity due to wealth has immense divisive power which must be overcome, or the community remains fragmented.  The rich sacrificing their excess to the help of the poor, to lift them from poverty, is a crucial step in repairing this community fragmentation and preparing a space for Zion to come forth.

As the poor are lifted out of poverty and wealth disparity decreases, unity increases.  This is only the case because it isn’t brought forth by compulsion or force, but by voluntary action on the part of all those involved.  The community comes to truly care about one another’s needs, and are willing to sacrifice to fulfill them.  This is the type of “people” that the Lord likes to prosper.

The Lord can and does prosper both individuals, and peoples.  When the Lord works to prosper a people, all the laws and expectations placed upon individuals remain, but something new is added.  For a people to be considered as Zion, they must be tried and proven as a community.  They must face and overcome the greatest challenges that seek to divide and destroy communities, and one of those is prosperity.
Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.” — Helaman 12:2 (see alsoAlma 4:6-8; 45:24; Helaman 3:36; 6:17)
Most groups fail to clear this hurdle of prosperity, succumbing to pride and ambition and their wealth, and fragmentation occurs as they spiral downward into destruction.  But this must be overcome if there is to be a “people” prepared here to receive Zion upon her return, in preparation of the Lord’s return.  They must have no poor among them (Moses 7:18).  The poor are eliminated not by screening them out, but by elevating them out of poverty and onto equal ground with those in their community.  This necessarily occurs through the free exercise of agency, not coercion.  As the poor are eliminated, they work together with those who have lifted them up to continue producing and contributing to the community, by which means the community can become a rich people with surprising speed. 

We cannot serve both God and Mammon.  God knows we’ve tried, and we are perhaps trying harder now than we have ever tried before.  The nature of civilization has become deeply embedded in the worship of money, business, economy, finances, or in other words: Mammon.  It influences every aspect of the population’s lives and culture, it is the basis for almost all decisions made, it even swings important matters which should not be subject to such influence, like judicial outcomes, political leadership and the functioning of our religious institutions.

Mormons sincerely attempt to worship Christ, but Babylon’s religion of Mammon pushes its head in and sidles up next to Him, demanding at very least equal importance and standing.  This occurs in part because Mormonism transitioned from being a “people” to a Sunday religion, a fractional church facet of our larger lives.  Babylon’s Mammon has come to represent the “real world,” while the gospel represents another world imposing on our Sundays and some weeknights.  Because Mammon represents the more “real” world, it is the more real God, and it is therefore not expelled. We instead attempt to co-worship both Christ and Mammon.  As this is impossible, all we have actually done is choose to worship Mammon, falsely in the name of Christ, and boom, you have the prosperity gospel.

So long as Babylon is the real world, its religion of Mammon is the real religion.  We need for the gospel to become the real world, personally first and then communally, and Mammon to become the imposition.  Rather than accumulate riches to falsely measure God’s prospering of us, we must spend our riches to aid the poor, to help lift them out of the bondage of debt and poverty.

A people must rise who will overcome the temptations of prosperity.  That people must be made up of individuals who have chosen to overcome the temptations inherent with prosperity in their own lives.  Their hearts must be such that the law of all things common (Acts 2:44; 4:32; 3 Nephi 26:19; 4 Nephi 1:3) will be lived as a natural outcropping of who they have become, members of a family.  When a people’s hearts have been proven thus, then they might truly join Zion.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Prophets and Priests

Prophets and priests are always spoken of in scripture as separate and distinct roles or titles (1 Kings 1:32; Jeremiah 6:13; Jarom 1:11).  While they work together in tandem, they are not conflated.  A man may be one or the other exclusively.  

This is different from current LDS understanding, wherein a priest isn’t necessarily a prophet, but there is one “Prophet” who is necessarily the head priest of the church’s priestly body.  There are then 14 other priests titled as “prophets,” among other things, helping the “Prophet” run the priestly hierarchy of the church.  Any others claiming prophetic calls must fit a rigid formula of hierarchal oversight or they are doubted, marginalized, denounced or discharged.  If your prophetic claims don’t meet the priestly criteria of correlation, they are not even worthy of consideration.  But examination of the scriptures proves this view to be problematic.

Priests belong to and maintain a hierarchal religious organization.

Priests are administrators within a religious organization.  If one is a priest, one is necessarily a part of a larger religious body, which they serve in that capacity.  It is an official role, recognized by the religious body they serve.  In the modern church, every office is to be filled by the common consent of the church membership (D&C 26:2; 28:13), meaning the consent of the members at least plays an important role in empowering the priests to hold and exercise authority within the church.

Duties of a priest include things like teaching, exhorting, and administering certain rites of the religion (D&C 20:46-52).  High priests are specifically given responsibility concerning the higher, spiritual teachings and ordinances, while regular (Aaronic/Levitical) priests are to handle the lesser, temporal teachings and ordinances (D&C 107).

Righteous examples of priests would include, for instance, Jacob and Joseph (2 Ne. 5:26), or Alma (Mosiah 18:18), along with the many unnamed priests they ordained and worked with.  Wicked examples would include King Noah's clan (Mosiah 11-17), the Nehors (Alma 14:18), Caiaphus, and many members of the Sadducees and Pharisees.  All these men belonged to a greater religious institution, and played a role within that institution.

Prophets don't necessarily hail from or fit neatly within a hierarchal religious organization.

King Noah was the presiding high priest of his people, with a council of subordinate priests.  However, he didn't call Abinadi, or authorize his working among the people (Mosiah 11:27).  Abinadi was an outsider, and if he belonged in some religious hierarchy somewhere, he was offending jurisdictional lines with his ministry.  But Abinadi was a valid prophet of God (Mosiah 11:20).

Samuel the Lamanite came from a separate people entirely (Helaman 13:2).  The people of Zarahemla at that time had Nephi, a righteous man and a prophet, serving as a legitimate spiritual leader (Helaman 11:18; 16:1).  This could be at least compared to a bishop from another stake coming to our ward in our stake to prophesy to us.

John the Baptist operated outside the rigorous controls of the Jewish authorities, prompting them to interrogate him as to the source of his authority (John 1:19-26).

There was no organized, authoritative priestly body on the earth when Joseph Smith was called (JSH 1:18-20).  Therefore his prophetic call necessarily occurred without any priestly hierarchy to attempt to lay claim or regulation upon that title.

And then there was Christ Himself.  He never sat in a single chief seat of any sort, never functioned as a priest in the temple, and those who occupied the chief seats waged war against Him unto His very death.

As part of a body, priests identify with a community.

Priests not only belong to a community, but to an exclusive one.  To hold a priestly office, one must be chosen, which requires one be "worthy" of that call, fitting a checklist of requirements (e.g. Leviticus 21:16-23; 1 Timothy 3:2; Alma 13:2-3).  By meeting these qualifications and receiving the call, they join a brotherhood of priestly office—a priesthood—and are no longer alone.  The priesthood is their crowd, and it is one generally recognized and respected by the people.

Prophets have no such organized, temporal brotherhood to join, with a set of qualifications that must be met.  Other than having their call come directly from the Lord, one could argue that prophets are generally called from among the unpopular (Enoch and Saul/Paul), noted sinners (both Almas), uneducated laborers (Joseph Smith), and other such "weak" things of the world.

Prophets usually identify with loners, outsiders and outcasts.

John the Baptist was a voice crying out of the wilderness (John 1:23).  He literally lived outside civilization and society, and those seeking his words or services had to go out into the fringe to find him.

Abraham was a lone repenter from amidst a family and culture of corruption (Abraham 1:5), who joined no priestly organization or congregation as far as our records show.  He only had his family and a single recorded interaction with the high priest Melchizedek, who then departed the scene.

Christ wasn't a member of the Jewish priestly authorities at any point during his ministry (Isaiah 53:2).  He instead spent His time among the outcasts, the harlots and publicans and sinners, to the chagrin of the priestly body (Matthew 9:10-12).

Moses was working alone as a shepherd for his father-in-law when he was called (Exodus 3:1-2), having fled Egypt and the Israelites (Exodus 2:11-15).  Perhaps he believed he'd been rejected by the Israelites as the prophesied Moses (JST Gen. 50:29), when they failed to join his insurrection when he killed the slave master.

Priests can be called or advanced in the hierarchy by men.

Priests should be called of God (e.g. D&C 52:38), but they receive their ordination to office within the religious body from another man (2 Nephi 5:26; Mosiah 23:17; D&C 18:32; 20:39).  The exception to being ordained into a hierarchy by men would be founders of a new religious body, for example Joseph Smith (D&C 21:1-3) or Alma (Mosiah 18:18).  The body didn’t exist yet for them to be ordained into, so they were responsible for its inception.

Alternatively, priests may also be called or advanced by men who are merely higher up the priestly food chain, and without a connection to heaven.  When this occurs, the spiritual standing of the organization deteriorates into darkness (Matthew 26:59; Mosiah 11:1-5).

Prophets are always called directly by God.

Prophets are never called by men, or seniority, or assumed titles.  

Joseph Smith’s prophetic call came by faith, according to the will of God.  None but God called Moses from the burning bush, nor gave him his authority to prophesy and perform miracles and deliver the people in the name of God.  The same stands for Enoch (Moses 6:27-36), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10), and all those called as prophets.  None received their prophetic call by an intermediary voice of man, or by virtue of a priestly office. Men may extend to prophets priestly callings, but the prophetic calling is always from God directly.

Priests tend to command the respect of their people.

Some priests earn the respect of the people they serve, by their diligent and righteous service.  Some are beneficiaries of respect for their office, rather than the earned respect for themselves (Matthew 23:1-3; Acts 23:3-5).  Some command respect for themselves literally, threatening the people that they must be revered or they will use their priestly authority to cut the people off from spiritual blessings, such as entrance to the temple or church membership.

Prophets tend to be marginalized and despised by their fellow men.  

Joseph Smith was, and is, marginalized and demonized by all non-Mormon Christianity.  He was, and is, marginalized by his own Mormon people as well.  Marginalizations include(d) our neglect of the Book of Mormon he brought forth, contributing to his murder, altering and discarding of many of his teachings, and attributing to him evils perpetrated by other men.

Enoch said all the people hated him, and was called a wild man before he ever saw any success (Moses 6:31, 37-38). 

And of course, Christ was marginalized throughout His ministry by His own people (Mark 6:4).  Whether they doubted anything good could come from Nazareth (John 1:46), or only saw in him the son of Joseph the carpenter (Matthew 13:55), or being murdered by His chosen people (Zechariah 13:6), who were unwilling to receive Him (3 Nephi 9:16).

Prophets frequently chastise the priestly body.

Christ certainly admonished the Jews (Matthew 23), His declarations of their sins driving them to their murderous rage.  Abinadi was sent not only to the people, but evidently also to the religious leadership made up of King Noah and his chosen priests (Mosiah 13:3), against whom he bore witness and testimony (Mosiah 12-16).  Also Malachi (Malachi 2-3), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:6), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 44:5-13), and of course many more.

Prophets may be called from among the priests.

Examples of this would include Paul (Saul of Tarsus), who was called by Jesus personally while a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 9). Nephi's brother Jacob was called as a priest by Nephi, but obtained his prophetic errand from the Lord (Jacob 1:17-18). Samuel was raised among the priestly class, being groomed as one of them, when he received his prophetic call from God (1 Samuel 1-3).  

This also begs the question that if the priestly calling was in itself enough, as we treat it today with the highest priestly offices, why did God interfere with His direct voice or appearance?  Was their priestly calling perhaps insufficient to constitute grounds for claiming a prophetic mantle?  Because the two are in fact different?

Priests may be called from among the prophets.

This seems more common.  Nephi functioned as a prophet, receiving revelation and instruction from the Lord directly before he supplanted his father and became the presiding high priest among the Nephites.  Alma was called directly by the Lord, being invested with divine authority while teaching Abinadi's prophetic words and performing rites, before organizing a church and priestly body.  Moses was called in the burning bush before he ever became the presiding high priest over the delivered children of Israel.  Joseph Smith was a prophet for years before organizing the church and becoming part of that priestly body.  And Melchizedek was approved by the Lord through displays of divine power as a prerequisite to being ordained a high priest (JST Genesis 14:26-29).  All these men displayed a prophetic connection to heaven before becoming members of a priestly body.

Prophets and priests are both valuable.

Some people marginalize prophets because their pattern appears too unruly, disorganized, or unregulated.  It doesn't match the homogenized priestly pattern.  As a result, those preferring the priestly pattern of order over power may reject prophets, whether intentionally or inadvertently.  Unfortunately, when you reject the Lord's servants carrying His messages or performing His works, He takes it as a personal rejection of Him (1 Samuel 8:7).  Amos concisely described the value of prophets (Amos 3:7).  

Some marginalize priests, saying that their callings and works are external, carnal or temporal, while it is the inner man that must change.  As a result they start to obsess over the esoteric or symbolic meanings of things, deciding that the practical and literal are without value, or are even beneath them.  They think ordinances and other works are all dead, and perhaps wholly unnecessary.  Mental gymnastics transform commandments of action to purely symbolic dramas of the "inner man," with no obligation to external works or efforts.  

This kind of thinking denies the plain and precious nature of the gospel, which is so simple in nature that we must reduce ourselves to become as a little child to engage it (3 Nephi 11:37-38).  Little children are not esoteric beings.  It denies faith as a principle of action (LoF, Lecture 1 vv. 10-12), making it only a principle of understanding.  

While it is true that the ordinances without the inner changes are dead (Joseph said you might as well baptize a bag of sand in those circumstances), the carnal, external, temporal works are considered “living” if approached correctly, and are required.  Nephi couldn't have made the necessity of keeping the outward ordinances more plain (2 Nephi 31:5), nor could Christ with His step-by-step walkthrough to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11).  And if we need the ordinances, as well as any other organized efforts (e.g. building temples), then a priestly body ideally serves to correctly organize, execute and maintain them.

Prophets and priests in a single man

At times a single individual fulfills both roles of prophet and priest. I bring up the possibility that perhaps this is when we get what the scriptures refer to as "high priests".  Alma 13 makes clear that a high priest's calling is to come from heaven, even foreordained before the foundation of the world.  They are ordained of God (it arguably doesn't say anything about an intermediary man), but the title makes clear that they are intended to be a part of the priestly body.  All the examples of crossovers between prophets and priests are named as high priests.  So this begs the question, is Alma 13 explaining that high priests are, among other qualifications, those called to wear the mantle of both prophet and priest?

Joseph and Hyrum, President and Presiding Patriarch of the Church of Christ.

Some further fodder concerning this topic is what Joseph Smith was doing in the church in his day.  Joseph (and the Lord) groomed Hyrum with the intent that Hyrum would join Joseph at the head of the church, as the church's prophet and Presiding Patriarch, while Joseph would maintain his role as President of the Church (see Denver Snuffer's Hyrum Smith series, beginning at  Joseph was to be the presiding high priest, Hyrum the presiding prophet.  Two roles, working together in a co-presidency.  The offices were established for the church as a co-presidency, but correlation has since swept one of these (perhaps the greater one) under the rug.

Modern prophets rising from obscurity

There are prophets today following the scriptural pattern, emerging from obscurity and raising their voices in a call for repentance, and exposing issues within the priestly body.  As prophets have always done.  The priests can choose to either repent, or see the prophets as threats and become defensive and effectively “stone” them.  As priests have always done.  And in harmony with this pattern, the prophets initially suffer at the hands of the defensive priests, until God will either salvage or destroy the priests and their people.  We are watching history unfold in the same cycle it always has, it's just been a little while since we were last at this phase.  

More interesting is that perhaps we are seeing the prophesied “fullness of the Gentiles,” rejecting the fulness of the gospel sufficiently for it to be taken from them and given back to the remnant of the house of Israel (3 Nephi 16:10-12). This would point to the time of the Lord’s return being yet one prophetic step closer to fulfillment.  

Are you watching?  Are you seeing?  Do you know what is happening right before your eyes?  Time may be shorter than we think.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Knots on a String

I've tried to find a good metaphor for how it is that the Spirit of God can dwell in all of us, that we may be one, and yet we are all separate and distinct spirits.  The metaphor I've found I like the most so far is that the Spirit is a piece of string, and all of our spirits are knots along that string.  Each knot is separate and distinct from the other knots, but they are all the same string.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Angels in the Temple Drama

I want to look specifically at the role of the angels in the endowment ceremony.  This study is based on the current version of the endowment, after the 1990 changes removed significant portions which also included interactions with these angels.  I may edit this post later with those portions added into it.

In the temple, three messengers of God make two separate trips down to Adam.  

The purpose of the first trip is described thusly:  
“Peter, James, and John, go down and visit the man Adam in the Telestial world, without disclosing your identity. Observe conditions generally. See if Satan is there, and learn whether Adam has been true to the token and sign given to him in the garden of Eden. Then return and bring us word.”
So they are first sent from the presence of God on a recon mission, with four responsibilities in the Telestial world:

1.  Don’t disclose their identities.
2.  Observe general conditions.
3.  See if Satan is present.
4.  Learn whether Adam is true to what he’s already been given.

They are then to return and report on what they observe.

Considering each point of their mission, there are some interesting things to ponder.

1.  Don't disclose their identities
-  Should we expect that in our initial interactions with angels, we are not to know that they are angels?  If so, it would seem this requires they disguise themselves.  How might they do it?  Perhaps in a manner that is related top ‘D’?  That allows them to test Adam concerning ‘D’?  Could they approach Adam in a manner that will test whether he will hold true to the “light and knowledge” God has given to him, up to that point?  What might that look like?
  • An apparent junkie asking for spare change?  One who “surely” must be seeking money for drugs or booze or other unsavory purposes?  To test whether we will remain true and faithful to the Lord’s injunction to us through King Benjamin?
 “…ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. 17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.” — Mosiah 4:16-18
  • Someone who tests our willingness to keep any given commandment, to abide by any given truth we’ve received? 
  • Someone who wrongs us, to test our willingness to forgive as we seek to be forgiven?
  • Could this type of testing by angels be what Paul is referring to?
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” — Hebrews 13:2

2.  Observe general conditions.
-  What are the angels observing the general conditions for?  Are they watching for opportunities to interact with man?  Are they watching for mankind to meet certain conditions, whether pertaining to salvation or destruction?  All of the above?  Why does God need them to scout things out and then return and report?  Is it for Him?  Is it for man?  Is it for the angels?

3.  See if Satan is present.
-  Why do they need to check and see if Satan is present?  Shouldn’t it be assumed he is, as this is the place where he was cast?  He was present among Adam and Eve, but Adam also showed himself to be true and faithful to what he’d been given.  Is it important that Adam proved he could do that in the presence of Satan?  What if Satan were not present?

4.  Learn whether Adam is true to what he’s already been given.
-  The angels tested Adam, and he passed the test.  What did it look like?  
  1. The angel presumed Adam had received the token and sign from his Father.  He asks Adam first, but before Adam responds, the angel turns the question into a presumption.  Why?
  2. He then asks whether Adam sold what Father had given him for money.  
    • What could this refer to?  Could this refer to selling out?  Giving up what God offered, trading it away for what man and the world offered in its place?  Did Adam turn away from what God had given him and instead sought after money?  Or power?  Or pleasures?
  3. Adam answered that he did not sell them, but held them sacred and was looking for further light and truth Father promised him.  
    • Could this be putting into words what should be communicated in actions?  Could Adam have been asked through actions and situations, rather than direct words?  Could Adam have answered by showing that he indeed kept what he’d been given by God, through displaying actions that reflected holding to what he had received?  Would living what Adam had been given (the gospel) be understood as communicating to the angels that he indeed held the gospel sacred, rather than selling it out for money?
  4. Adam communicates that he is looking for more light and truth.  
    • How does one communicate to the angels that they are looking for more?  Direct requests to God would certainly do it, for one.  Would holding true to what we’d been given also fit into displaying a desire to receive more?
  5. Adam also hadn’t forgotten that Father promised him further light and truth.  He remembered God, remembered what God had told him, and held onto it with expectation, reflecting a belief that God would be true to His word.  
    • Could Adam have displayed this not only in speech, but in action?  By keeping a record of God’s words to him, to which he and his family referred afterward? (Moses 6:5-6)
  6. The angel confirms Adam is right, commends him, and tells Adam they will probably visit him again.
    • What is meant by the angel saying “that is right?”  Understanding it as “correct” seems odd, as Adam wasn’t answering a correct/incorrect type of question.  Perhaps it is meant more along the lines of “that is [the] right [thing to do],” or “right [with God].” How might angels communicate to us that we are right, especially if they are keeping their identity hidden?
    • How might they commend us for it?  Their commendation is in addition to acknowledging that something is right or proper, it is complimentary.  How might an angel commend us for being “right” with God?  Does the commendation have to come directly from the angel?
    • How might a disguised angel tip you off that they will “probably” visit you again?  What would that look like?  Could it be that a relationship of sorts is begun with someone who is in fact an angel in disguise?  And they will later reveal their true nature?  Or how else could it look?

The angels then leave Adam to return and report.  

Adam spends a time going about his business while the angels are away, a time while Lucifer believes he is gaining the upper hand over Adam.

Once the Lord acknowledges he is pleased with Adam, he sends the angels back to Adam in their revealed form.  When they approach, Satan rears his head and tries to exert his power.  But the angels handle him, then engage Adam.
  • It is not enough for Satan to try to impede your learning through you, he will also seek to impede those who God sends to teach you.  He rears his head at any threat to his kingdom, and must be summarily dismissed.

When the messengers now engage Adam, they make no bones about it.  This is who we are, this is who sent us, this is why we are here.  Adam has already been tested and he passed the first test.  But now Adam must do the testing, weighing the messengers to discover whether they are true to their claims (D&C 129).

Adam’s first question doesn’t volunteer any information, it doesn’t reveal what he is looking for in terms of signs to recognize the messengers as true or false.  It instead places the burden of knowing what is expected on the angels, asking “how shall I know that you are true messengers?”  It is then left to the messengers to not only prove themselves, but to also know how they are to prove themselves.

Being true messengers, the angels know how to prove themselves and proceed with the token and sign Adam received in the Garden.
  • If Adam represents us, and the token and sign were received in our Garden of Eden, when would that be and what would those look like?  How would one remember and recognize them?  How would angels “give” them to you, that you might recognize their calling?
  • It is not enough for the angel to simply offer Adam the token.  When the angel gives Adam the token, Adam quizzes him on it.  The angel knows what it is, he is able to identify the token without naming it.  Why?  What purpose does that serve?  How does that help Adam?
  • Why is the name kept hidden, unshared between two like-minded, similarly-initiated and believing souls?  The name is the new name, and is given to a person by the Lord.  Some new names are not kept secret, for example Abram’s new name of Abraham.  
  • As a second witness to the giving of the token itself, the angel gives Adam an identifying sign, in lieu of the name of the token.  What might the sign be?  How does it testify of the token?  How is it universally recognizable among those who have received the first token?
  • Why and how would one display a sign related to a secret name received from the Lord?  It seems the signs must be the same for everyone, or else one person would not recognize another person’s display of them.

Having successfully proven himself, the angel and his companions have now earned Adam’s trust.  They have shown themselves to be true messengers from the Father.  Adam can now agree to take his learning from them, as they will deliver messages from their King.  In doing this, Adam is showing his fealty to the King, not to the messengers.  Any new messengers who may come afterward must also prove to Adam that they also are true messengers, and not impostors claiming to represent the King.