Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Man's Destiny": An LDS View from 1899

Albert Arrowsmith (1861-1936) was an English-born convert to the LDS faith, having been baptized in July 1883.  He served a two-year mission in his homeland of Great Britain in 1894-1896 and then went on to serve in the Southern States Mission.  Shortly after his arrival in Tennessee on 16 February 1899, he was called on to serve as president of the Kentucky Conference on 16 April 1899 and then, shortly thereafter, as president of the newly organized North Kentucky Conference.  The following article by Elder Albert Arrowsmith originally appeared as "Man's Destiny", Latter Day Saints Southern Star 1/35 (29 July 1899): 277-278.
Man is a most peculiar study, but as one writer observes, "There is nothing great on earth but man, and nothing great in man but mind," cannot we readily understand that the mind and intelligent part of that dual incarnation, came from above, and is a product of Deity, but in its hampered state, in mortality, realizes little, but nevertheless, is Lord of all animated creation.  He alone being subject to God, his Father, whose laws must be obeyed, or justifiable punishment is meted out with merciful severity according to the crime committed.  For illustration, let us take Father Adam, who came here clothed with immortality, a perfect man, an image of his Creator, one who, inclusive with all creation, was pronounced very good, unquestionably perfect, physically, mentally, and spiritually, but having lost his identity, was evidently lacking a knowledge of evil, which was essential to full perfection, to sit among the Gods as an impartial judge, if the knowledge of good and evil is necessary to make a righteous judge.  The plan prepared by our Father before the world was, is grand and feasible; and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the proper way to become as Gods, "knowing good and evil," for if a man did not have sorrow, could he comprehend suffering or appreciate joy?  If he never saw darkness could he understand the beauties of sunlight?  If the bitter was not tasted, sweetness would not be enjoyed, and a man not initiated in this knowledge would be incompetent, and lacking in intelligence, and the glory of God being intelligence, he designs us, His sons and daughters, to become like Him.  Therefore, in this stage of progression, He created this tree of knowledge of good and evil, and gave a law, with a penalty affixed, that if the fruit were partaken, they should die.  There was design in all this.  The tree being prominently located in the center of that beautiful garden, and no doubt was very desirable to look upon, so that transgression was easy, and the Father who knew the end from the beginning, was satisfied the fruit would be partaken of, fulfilling the end intended originally, by placing the tree in such prominence, which was a perfect knowledge.  Adam and Eve, apparently, did not know what light, joy, happiness and goodness were, (which appears strange, as they had dwelt in such an environment from their creation), and could not appreciate nor understand the light which shone so resplendently from their God, in daily contact and communion, until that was shut off, which was the spiritual death, and gross darkness covered their minds, obliterating from view that vast spiritual creation, which originated before the world was.  Oh! what a change was wrought.  We can but faintly understand the vastness of that fall, which affected all creation, turning life into death, pleasure to pain, fruitful fields into deserts, and scattering devastation and desolation throughout the domain of the earth, that man might be perfected, and brought to a knowledge that God designed he should have among the intelligences created by Him, primevally.  What a work, oh man is thane, taking thy inception from God, dwelling with Him from the beginning, shouting for joy in contemplation of an evolution from a spiritual entity, to a perfected man; being both spiritual and mortal, provided with a tabernacle in which that spirit might dwell.  What a comprehensive design!  And how glorious the designer!  God, who created all things, first spiritually, both vegetable, and animal.  With what joy we would look forward to the time when we could take upon us mortality, learn the lessons pertaining to this existence, progress and advance, preparing for the great change death brings to pass, a transitory condition, which is involved in this great evolutionary principle of progression.
With what glee we accepted this perfect plan can only be understood by God's word: "All the Sons of God shouted for joy."  We left our spiritual abode, where since the rebellion, and the casting forth of Lucifer and his myrmidons, we dwelt so peacefully in unity, coming here, possibly, not fully realizing the extent of our fall, not thoroughly sensing it in our primeval state, a veil kindly interposing, shutting out our previous knowledge, friends, associations, joys, all lost to our memory, inheriting mortality as a little child, not possessed of ordinary brute intelligence: but placed below all animated creations - not able to control any of the senses, but entirely dependent for life and sustenance upon the nurse: yet, that dormant and imperfect mind, might be in embryo, an Alexander, Napoleon, a Socrates, or Cicero, who can tell what mighty achievements he as a man, might attain unto?  There may be in that mind latent powers to revolutionize a world.  How mysterious are thy works, Oh God, might be applied to this senseless atom, nevertheless grand piece of mechanism, and what design is shown forth in raising this animated piece of clay from ignorance and degradation to the pinnacle of perfection and exaltation.  It is beyond the comprehension of man in mortality, to entirely fathom the handiwork of God, but we can see existing design, order, and law, on the part of the Maker and on the part of the creature made an innate inclination of adoration and worshipful respect for Deity which argues that we are part of that Deity, and a spark implanted by our residence in a purer existence, which gem, shines and shows its lustre, despite all the allurments held up so glowingly by that arch fiend, Lucifer, and which causes a pleasureable feeling in doing good and working acts of righteousness, and causes us, when in despair, to cry "Abba! Father."  Satan has tried many devices to break down this innate feeling, and desire for reliance on an omnipotent God, and has introduced idolatry and infidelity in their various forms, and also a system of evolution calling nature, the great God and panacea for all human ills, and tries to make intelligent men believe he originally came from the jelly fish, or some other low form of life, and that his antecedents were monkeys.  What preposterous ideas men do get, trying to unfathom the mysteries of Godliness without His spiritual aid, so that by a constant rejection of that light originally implanted, darkness arises and men run after devises of Lucifer - vagaries and hypothesis, cunningly implanted by a rejection of God's laws as "the spirit of God will not always strive with man, and the things of God are only understood by the spirit of God."  By this spirit we see our Creator deliniated in all things, from the grand planetary systems of the smallest animaleue, and we can realize that this nature, so called, is the life giving element which rules, governs, and controls all things, being one of the component parts of the eternal elements, and without which we cannot exist.  It is the great spirit of God disseminated throughout all space and part of that great triune Godhead, being the Holy Ghost, which leads into all truth.  By giving proper heed and respect to this spirit, man will be led to honor law, and observe the commands of his Maker, he will be led to know the mind and will of God, hence an investigation of the Holy Scriptures as this agency, and unbiased mind, must "prove all things and hold fast that which is good," and if man will study the Bible in this way he cannot but come to the conclusion that it is the word of God, as he can compare profane, ancient and modern history with modern archaeological investigations, which testify beyond a peradventure, as to the divinity of that Book, and man can gain such light from its perusal and by the observance of the laws and commands therein written, to know without a doubt, his position here, and part of God's plan in placing him in this great mundane sphere.  He can then see how necessary the fall by Adam, "that man might be," and to obtain that perfect knowledge - also the necessity of the Redeemer to atone for the fall and to act as our mediator with the Father, and we can see the necessity of the Everlasting Gospel, or code of laws, with the powers of God's priesthood, and his authorized delegated servants in counteraction to the priesthood of Lucifer, who sways mankind with such power.  It is not reasonable to suppose that our Father would leave us entirely to the mercy of our fallen brother, Satan, but the warfare which originated in heaven, is continued here, and will not terminate until mankind is sanctified and redeemed in God's presence, and every knee bow, and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord of all.  He came in the meridian of time, and thoroughly substantiated his claims as the "first born among many brethren," our Redeemer, and our God, and left us his laws which, by a compliance thereto will restore us back into His presence and make us a joint heir, and one with Him, as He is one with the Father.  Can you my brethren and sisters, conceive the excellence of this great exaltation to be one with Christ?  Is it not to be a God?  It certainly is.  Would not our earthly parent desire us to walk in his footsteps, he being an exemplary man?  Yes: then why should not our Heavenly Father, who is full of love, mercy and all perfections, wish to bring us up to that plane of excellence as himself.  Oh! ambitious man, grovelling in darkness, lift up thy head and shout "Excelsior," as there is no end to progression among the Gods.  You may inquire respecting the laws of Jesus, which are absolutely essential to place you in that straight and narrow path which few find in this life.  They are faith, repentance, baptism, to remit sins, laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, spoken of which leads into all truth, these gifts and blessings, being administered by a duly authorized minister of God.  Then a life of purity, and meritorious conduct engendered by close communion with God, through prayer, all of which will lead you towards the goal of your high calling in Jesus Christ, to become one with Him in the celestial city, trusting you may press forward towards this mark and gain the prize.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Oropeza on Apostasy and Apostolic Succession

Recently I've been reading through B. J. Oropeza's three-volume set Apostasy in the New Testament Communities, and I found some interesting comments touching upon the nature of apostolic succession.  As is well known, the replacement of Judas by Matthias (Acts 1:12-26) is a scriptural incident that has often been interpreted by Latter-day Saint thinkers as clear precedent that the Twelve was to be an ongoing body, with the death of any member requiring the selection of a new replacement so as to keep the Twelve at a full quorum.  (In LDS thought, the failure to keep up this process has often been cited as a contributing factor toward the purported Great Apostasy that overtook the church.)  Of course, as J. Reuben Clark, Jr., admitted, the replacement of Judas by Matthias is the only clear example we have of this in the New Testament (On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1953 (1948)], 34-35, 48).  However, Joseph Fielding Smith advanced the argument that other members of the Twelve were likewise replaced upon their deaths by other New Testament figures designated with the title 'apostle', such as Paul (Doctrines of Salvation 3:152-153):
We know that Judas Iscariot lost his standing because of his treacherous betrayal of the Master, and Matthias was called to take his place.  We know that James, the son of Zebedee, was killed with the sword not long after the resurrection of the Lord.  [...]  We know that it was the custom in the beginning to fill vacancies in this presiding council, for the quorum of the Twelve was to remain in the Church during its entire existence.  We know that in the course of time there came a "falling away," and that the Church was taken from the earth, and that the priesthood went back to God for a season.  [...]  Paul was an ordained apostle, and without question he took the place of one of the other brethren in that Council. 
Contrast this, of course, with Clark's statement that "there is no record that he [Paul] was ever a member of the Twelve" (35).  Oropeza's findings also differ markedly from Joseph Fielding Smith's view (which is unsubstantiated by either biblical evidence or early church tradition) and support an alternative view of the Twelve (In the Footsteps of Judas and Other Defectors: The Gospels, Acts, and Johannine Letters [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011], 149):
Second, Jesus promised the Twelve they would sit with him on thrones "judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:30/Matt 19:28).  The apostasy of Judas reduced the number of disciples to eleven (Acts 1:26; cf. Luke 24:9, 33) and left a vacant seat that needed to be filled if twelve disciples were to reign in the future kingdom, and so Luke includes the replacement of Judas by Matthias in the Acts narrative.  Significantly no replacement is needed for James, another member of the Twelve, when he dies later on in Acts 12:1-2.  His eschatological place is secure because he died a martyr.  He will sit on one of the twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel.  The same could not be said of Judas; another must take his place because he will not participate in the future kingdom of God. 
Oropeza's research supports the mainstream Christian tradition: that the operative factor requiring the replacement of Judas by Matthias was not Judas' death per se but rather his irrevocable act of apostasy - made irrevocable by his death.  Therefore, Judas is replaced, but James and the others are not.  This indicates that the Twelve was not meant to be an earthly body with a lengthy succession of members; rather, it was meant as a once-for-all eschatological quorum - and no replacement has ever been needed for any member but Judas because all of those members still hold their position in it.  Naturally, the implications of this for LDS thought would be extraordinarily significant, given how overwhelmingly the LDS priesthood hierarchy is founded upon its claims that the biblical Quorum of the Twelve was just such a succession-based body. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rev. Anksworth's 1898 Advice on "How to Combat Mormonism"

Several months ago I came across an interesting piece by one Rev. W. W. Anksworth that originally appeared in the May 1898 issue of the Christian Advocate, but then was excerpted in the Latter Day Saints Southern Star 1/11 (11 February 1899): 83:
At the risk of saying something superfluous on the much discussed matter of the Latter-Day Saints, I submit a few thoughts from a personal experience stretching throughout one year, on how to successfully meet the attacks of the Saints.  I say successfully, for I am satisfied that by the right method they can be turned down in any place.  And the work can be done by anybody.  The onslaught is made on our weaker charges, often against our younger men.  But none need be dismayed.  And I believe anyone may profit by the year's experience of the writer.
How not to:
  1. You can't pray them out.  It's a matter of instruction.  Only the older men and women remember anything about Joe Smith and Mormonism.  The people must be informed. 
  2. You can't revival them out.  I tried that.  Three whole weeks we ran counter meetings at the same four corners.  The Saint beat me in sustaining interest and drawing the crowd.  The Saint Missionaries are shrewd, subtle, able fellows, and in most instances will tower above our ordinary men.  After three weeks I saw that I was beaten at that game, and adapted a more successful method. 
  3. You can't ignore them out.  Silence is doubtless golden, but the preacher, especially the Methodist preachers, who sits by and sees inroads made upon his work by the Saints, is either a laggard or a coward.  In either case he is unworthy of his robes.  There are in any community many uninformed, innocent, unsuspecting souls, especially sisters, who can be easily wrought upon and prejudiced by the smooth, wily Saint, and it is our work to open their eyes to what is behind.  Unless the pastor exerts himself, and that right speedily, they will be lured away and lost. 
  4. Don't debate.  This may sound strange.  But it is good advice just the same.  Debating is peculiar work.  It is an art all by itself.  Many successful preachers are not debaters.  Few debaters are successful preachers.  If you know that you have the gift of debate, go ahead.  But even then it is not the best way; at least seldom so.  Saint Missionaries are tried and gifted debaters.  Be careful how you cross swords with them or they may whip the life out of you and carry away the whole community in their hearts.
How to do it:
  1. Begin the very day the Saint preacher begins.   Earlier if you hear of his appointments ahead.  They will not undertake an even fight if you fight right.  Part of their work is done by making friends.  They practice every imaginable wile and trick to get into people's hearts.  That is to get people to like them personally.  If you begin at once, you head them off on this line, which is very important. 
  2. Master and preach Mormonism as it is.  You will find it only in the Mormon Bibles: "Book of Mormon," "Book of Doctrine and Covenants," "The Inspired Translation of the Bible."  These are their true books of revelation.  Other books will be helpful.  But these are all-important.  These are the only books that will defeat the Saints at their own work.  I defy an angel from heaven to down the Saints in a community, without these books.  With these books, any schoolboy is too much for them.  Just get these books, study them, take them into your pulpit, read their black and woeful contents to any American audience, and they will drop Saintism as though it were burning brimstone from the pit.  You may think this cynical and foolish.  But if you have to go through the fight you will understand.  These fellows come in with our Bibles in their hand, denying that they have other Bibles.  They get their converts baptized and stepped in prejudice against the church and Christians before they say anything of these books at all.  Converts to Saintism may be found on my charge today, converts of two years' standing, who will deny that the Saints believe in these books.  These books should be bought and mastered now, before the fight comes on.  If the Saint Missionary has not been in on you yet, it's only a matter of time till he comes. 
  3. Don't take up unnecessary issues with them.  For instance, the Missionary will say: "Please don't call me a Mormon.  I am not a Mormon.  I am a Latter-Day Saint."  All right, call them Saints.  Show up Saintism, and soon the people will see that Saintism is as bad as Mormonism: in fact, the same thing.  Again they will attack the church and John Wesley.  But the church and Wesley can take care of themselves, for all the Saints.  Again they preach immersion as the true baptism.  Don't dispute it with them.  Let the Baptists have all the consolation there is in this agreement with the Saints.  Keep to Mormonism as found in those books.  Don't be side-tracked.
  4. Do the work yourself.  Nothing can give a man such a grip on any community as to defeat the Saints.  After the smoke has cleared away, the pastor finds every man is his friend.  To delegate this work is sometimes necessary, but always hurtful to the influence of the pastor, that is, it advertises his incompetency.  It is a task where a specialist is not really necessary if the proper method be pursued.
  5. Keep sweet, cheerful, kind, patient.  Be kind and civil to the enemy.  Invite him down to dinner.  That is, use his own methods on himself.
Victory is as sure as you begin the conflict.  The American people are not sufficiently degraded to endorse the Mormon Bibles, which tell us that we shall not commit adultery, unless God wills to raise up offspring to his servants, in which case he will make it known - otherwise obey the Doctrine Book of Mormon. 
For my part, I found Rev. Anksworth's article rather amusing.  How interesting that, in his era, he thought that LDS missionaries were "tried and gifted debaters" who might actually best local clergy in a match - and how different this is from the modern reality! 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Reason and Religion": LDS Thoughts from a Century Ago

The following article, written by Aubrey Parker of Gateshead-on-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England, originally appeared as "Reason and Religion", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 73/30 (27 July 1911); 477-478.  
The true religion is easily discernible, because it is in every respect compatible with true reason.  If religion has to satisfy the whole soul of man, it must satisfy his reason - for reason is an integral part of the human soul.
Men laugh and jeer at the origin of the faith of the Latter-day Saints, and call it "fraud."  But our claim for it is that it is the supernatural origin of a supernatural religion.  Had it a natural origin, compatible with the modern conception of religious inceptions, it would not be a supernatural religion and hence not true.  The miraculous has for ever been an essential part of true religion.
The true religion will ultimately "win home."  The devolution of false religion is resulting in the evolution of the true religion.  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is essentially and eternally true.  Were every whit of scripture, ancient and modern, destroyed, the gospel of Christ would still be - for it is the everlasting gospel.  The gospel is of God, it is eternal and infinite, independent alike of time or place.  There are many forms of religion, all originating in the desire of man to worship a supreme being.  The "many sects" taken collectively have many of the principles of the true religion.  But not one of them has all these principles, though all have some, and it is by that they exist.
People are taught to look upon God in much the same way as they look upon electricity.  No one knows what electricity is, but nearly every one comes in touch with its uses in their daily life.  They study the dynamo and the motor conductors through which it manifests itself.  So, say they, it is with God.  You handle nature's gifts, and through all of these God manifests Himself.  Yet He Himself is a mysterious essence, which you may not conceive or comprehend, for in so doing you would confound Him with the grossness of the material.  Is this view a reasonable one?  Is it scriptural?  If it is reasonable or scriptural, then we have grounds for holding that view; but if it is neither one nor the other, then we should not enterain or hold it.  It is written in the Holy Bible, "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God."  Then God is knowable.  Is it within the realm of reason to worship a God "whom ye know not?"  St. Paul sought to teach the Athenians to worship the true God in place of "an unknown God." 
Many men taboo reason as altogether alien to the true spirit of religion.  They declare in horror at him who would reason his way in religion.  "You would limit God to your own little mind," or "You would make unto yourself a material God."  True it is that a man's God can be no bigger than his conception of Him.  But is it reasonable to suppose that the God of Heaven, who Himself comprehends all things, is Himself incomprehensible?
God honors intelligent worship, and only they that worship Him in truth can worship thus.  "The glory of God is intelligence."  Reason is one of God's own attributes and He loves and honors it in His children.  "Truth is reason," and God's word is truth, and truth it is that makes us free: God's freemen. 
Some questions for reflection/discussion:
  1. Parker in this piece makes an argument for the compatibility of reason and religion: True religion addresses a person's totality as a holistic self; what addresses a holistic self, addresses the rational faculties of that holistic self; and therefore, true religion addresses the rational faculties of that holistic self.  What implications does this have for evaluating religious systems?  How does Parker employ it?
  2. Parker professes that, because compatibility with true reason is a necessary feature of true religion, it is therefore easy to discern which religion is true.  Is this the case in your experience?  Is there perhaps something to what Parker is saying here?
  3. Parker argues, against some critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that it is perfectly reasonable that a religion that lays claim to supernatural realities, should have an origin likewise bound up with supernatural realities.  What sort of critics might Parker have in mind here?
  4. Parker claims that, even if all scripture were obliterated, it would not change the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This, of course, is strictly true.  But what about the epistemic impact of such an occurrence?  What function does scripture have?  
  5. Parker opposes a common view of God that, he claims, views God as analogous to electricity.  What sort of view does Parker seem to have in mind?  Is this a fair assessment of that view?  Why or why not? 
  6. Parker seems to object to mainstream Christian views of God on two main fronts (though they seem to be related in his mind).  First, he charges that affirmation of divine incomprehensibility makes God completely unknowable and therefore not a possible object of genuine worship, which is contrary to both reason and scripture.  Second, as a subsidiary point, he seems to claim that only an inherently material God could avoid being a vague and totally unknowable being.  Has Parker really understood the dynamics of 'incomprehensibility'-language as it actually functions in mainstream Christian discourse?  Do mainstream Christians typically act in their religious lives as though God is a complete unknown, whether by reason or revelation?  Is Parker's assessment of immaterialist views of God fair to the actual beliefs of mainstream Christians who believe in divine incorporeality?  
  7. Parker scoffs at those who "declare in horror at him who would reason his way in religion".  Today, and indeed sometimes in his own day, many Latter-day Saints uphold just such a "taboo", charging that reason is merely the fallback of those who deny direct personal revelation and the guidance of modern prophets, and that it is 'worldly' rather than 'spiritual'.  (I have, for my own part, met quite a number of such Latter-day Saints.)  What might Parker say to them within his own church?  
  8. Parker says that, when it comes to religious views, there are two critical questions that we must ask: "Is this view a reasonable one?  Is it scriptural?  If it is reasonable or scriptural, then we have grounds for holding that view; but if it is neither one nor the other, then we should not enterain or hold it."  What sort of religious epistemology does this imply?  What persons or movements in the religious world today most strongly advocate for Parker's view here?
  9. In his last paragraph, Parker quotes from both D&C 93:36 and also the LDS hymn "O My Father".  He says that reason is an attribute of God himself, and so it is something he loves to find in us as well, because it reflects him.  Furthermore, truth is always a reasonable thing; reason leads toward truth, not away from it.  What might it look like for a religious community to really seek to embody this view in the way it conducts its religious life? 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reading and Reflection, according to the Millennial Star

The following article originally appeared as "Reading and Reflection" in The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 23/30 (27 July 1861): 469-470:
There are many attainable sources by which the mind of man may be refined and improved.  Reading is one of these sources - a source from which many invaluable advantages may be obtained; but, like all other pursuits, reading, by its abuse, is rendered a source of evil, rather than being prolific with good. 
Reading may justly be said to be the staff of life to the mind.  Reading is one of the most nourishing and beneficial kinds of good with which the mind can be supplied.  There is no other mental enjoyment which is so interesting, instructive, and advantageous.  By reading we are enabled to become acquainted with every branch of science and knowledge.  We may learn the natural features of the countries in the whole world, and learn the habits of their inhabitants; we may obtain a knowledge of the starry heavens; we may descend into the earth, and learn its different geological structures &c.  In short, there are no bounds to the knowledge to be obtained by reading; and especially is this the case with the Saints of God.  They can have his Spirit to guide them in their efforts; and truly there is no bounds to the knowledge to be obtained by the Saints.  But there is another thing to be taken into consideration in connection with reading - namely, reflection. 
Montesquieu has said that reading is only idleness in disguise. 
It is so for those who read rather than meditate - who desire rather to know what others have said than to take the pains of developing their own ideas - who love reading rather than books.  A lady, who was in the habit of devouring every modern work, especially romances, said - "What matters it whether their tendency be injurious to me or not?  It is enough for me that I am amused." 
Reading is a useless labour, if we know not how to reflect and how to compare - if the good thought of a writer does not kindle our spirit, sharpen our intellect, and purify our judgment.
If we read books without consideration and without forming any judgment upon them, the ideas of others only weaken our own, and deprive our minds of all originality.  If we do not oblige ourselves to give an account of our reading, it leaves no trace, and forms no treasury of wisdom within our minds.  We must not only heap up, but select; not gather all which offers to our hand, but rather pluck those fruits alone which have reached maturity.  It is in the moral as in the physical world - that which nourishes us is not the quantity which we swallow, but rather that which we digest. 
We must be careful in selecting good food (or reading) for the mind, and then in not over-gorging our minds, but giving it a sufficient quantity, so that we may well digest it, and it may do us good.  Especial care should be taken in selecting for, and supplying the wants of, the minds of the young.  Care should be taken lest, in our earnestness for their welfare, we force so much upon them, and as a natural result make them loathe that which, if carefully applied, is of great good.  To this one cause may be accounted the existence of so many scholastic dullards. 
The seed does not grow, unless we both choose good seed and cultivate the ground into which it is to be cast.  Who does not know that a man may be deeply read in learned lore, and yet be a fool?  The wise man is not he that reads most, but he that reflects.  "Read," said Seneca, "not that thou mayest know more than others, but that thou mayest know better than others.  It is not the study itself, but the fruit of study, which we require to see."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Let Truth Stand If Heavens Fall": The 1899 Weiss-Rich Correspondence

In August 1899, there was an interesting exchange of brief letters between two interesting individuals.  The one was Rabbi Louis Weiss (1848-1909), who at the time served the small Mi[t]zpah Congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  (See, e.g., Yearbook of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1898-1899, page 106; Cyrus Adler, ed., The American Jewish Yearbook, 5661: September 24, 1900, to September 13, 1901 [Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1900], 460.  The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook, page 333, curiously claims that Rabbi Weiss only came to lead this synagogue in 1901.)  Rabbi Weiss appears to have also been a Freemason, as indicated in a piece he wrote for a Masonic periodical ("Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty", The American Tyler 16/8 [15 October 1901]: 171-172), as well as his Masonic treatise Glints of Masonic Light.  Rabbi Weiss was noted for his publications, including a short defense of Judaism against the arguments of Christian missionaries, Some Burning Questions.  The other party was the slightly younger Benjamin Erastus Rich (1855-1913), or 'Ben E. Rich', the mission president for the Southern States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  A son of LDS apostle Charles C. Rich, his story has already been briefly covered here before

On the morning of 3 August 1899, the Chattanooga Times printed the following letter by Rabbi Weiss, protesting the mistreatment of LDS missionaries in the region:  
Dear Sir - It is indeed regrettable that it should be necessary in this land, where religious liberty marks the color of our banner with the sweetest hue of freedom, to express our most earnest protest against such outrages as has been - not for the first time, either - perpetrated upon some Mormon Elders in Georgia.  I can safely say that such action is not Christian; it is surely not religious; and it is positively not in accord with biblical injunction, interpret the Bible as you will, to outrage people in order to prevent propagation of their doctrines.  We may preach and teach against it, but it is brutal to raise a hand in violence.  The Christian world stands aghast when their missionaries are maltreated in heathenland; should we be silent when people calling themselves Christians, in this land where civilization kisses into life the sweetest culture that casts its effulgent rays into the breasts of enlightened people, menace the lives of missionaries of a denomination other than theirs?  Fie, and shame! that such be possible in our days and in America!
People that are afraid of their religion being undermined and weakened, either feel their ignorance and inability to defend their creed, or they must be aware of its feebleness and indefensibility.  In either case they proceed wrong.  They ought to either acquire sufficient knowledge to be able to stand by their religion, or if they find it weaker than others, adopt the stronger; by all means fear not to grasp the truth, even at the cost of nursed falsehood.  Let truth stand if heavens fall!  I should feel it my duty - duty to my God and to myself - to renounce my religion fearlessly and adopt and propagate that which I would find more tenable, and I invite scholars of other denominations to convince me of the inferiority of mine and the superiority of another, and so, methinks, must others do that are honest and positive in their conviction.
I need not say that I have no interest in Mormonism, but justice, divine justice and the honorable name of our noble country demands our voices to be heard against brutal assaults of men who are the children of God and citizens of this great commonwealth as we are ourselves.  It is sincerely hoped that the Governor of the great state of Georgia will take proper steps to bring the culprits to the justice they merit.
Chattanooga, Aug. 3, 1899.
The very next day, President Rich replied quite cordially to Rabbi Weiss' letter:
Aug. 4, 1899.
Rabbi L. Weiss, Chattanooga, Tenn.
My Dear Sir - Allow me to express my high appreciation and thanks to you for your letter published in this morning's issue of The Chattanooga Times, condemning the harsh treatment accorded our Elders by mobs in Georgia and elsewhere in the south.  It is indeed refreshing to have one of the clergy with sufficient strength of character to publicly proclaim for justice, no matter what the public may think.
We shall be happy to defend our doctrines with reason and Scripture against all comers, and to answer any charges preferred against us in the courts, but we strenuously object to the arguments of mob law, shotguns and hickory withes.  If every fair-minded citizen would speak out as you have done, there would be an end to such lawlessness in the south, our inspired constitution raised from the mire, and religious liberty and progression enthroned.
Popular opinion and prejudice prevents many from striking for the right, and we realize your perilous position in taking the stand that even a "Mormon" should have justice.
Again I thank you for the noble stand taken in our behalf, and for a higher civilization in the south.
Very respectfully,
The day after that, Rabbi Weiss sent the following letter in reply to President Rich; all three of these letters were then printed in "Uphold the Constitution: The Assault on Mormon Elders", Latter Day Saints Southern Star 1/37 (12 August 1899): 293-294:
Chattanooga, Tenn., Aug. 5, 1899.
Ben E. Rich, Esq., City
Dear Sir - Your favor of the 4th inst. came to hand; and I wish to say in regard thereto that I deserve no thanks for raising my voice in condemnation of an evil that should not exist in this land of the free and the home of the fugitives from oppression.  It is only deplorable that the clergy preaching "Peace on earth, good will to man," are silent in the matter, and in the very locality where the brutal depredations take place.  It is not for us to judge anybody's religion as long as he is a law-abiding man.  I am always at the side of perfect justice, regardless upon whom the injustice is perpetrated, and mob violence is always brutal.
Hoping that you will find the Governors of the various states willing to aid you, I am yours, very cordially,
For my own part, the most interesting sections of this exchange are to be found in the second paragraph of Rabbi Weiss' initial letter and in the opening line of the second paragraph of President Rich's letter.  Rabbi Weiss notes that, when confronted with the ideas of another religious tradition, the proper response is either to join it, if it is convincing, or to make a case against it, if it is not.  To do otherwise would be to shirk a duty to God and a duty to oneself.  President Rich seems to concur with this sentiment, and he declares that Latter-day Saints will be willing to provide exactly such a case in defense of their faith, civilly defending the LDS faith intellectually "with reason and Scripture against all comers".  I wish that this mindset were more prevalent today! 

As a short postscript, I note that this was not the first exchange of thoughts between the parties.  On 29 January 1899, during the controversies over the possibility of seating B. H. Roberts in the United States Congress, President Rich had been interviewed by the Chattanooga Times to offer a defense of B. H. Roberts and of the acceptability of polygamy.  Rabbi Weiss wrote a highly critical reply to the Chattanooga Times, declaring that President Rich's views were uncivilized and that the notion of religion being used as "a cloak for such nuisance" deserves "the contempt of everyone who holds religion as a holy spark of divine inspiration".  Rabbi Weiss claimed that polygamy originated when "it was the animal that predominated" in humanity.  Rabbi Weiss further argued that Abraham, David, and Solomon were commendable in their era, but that not all characteristics of their lives should be morally emulated today, and polygamy is one such exception.  Rabbi Weiss added that "millions upon millions of people call out their disgust against people who are governed by lust and passion for many wives and call it religion".  He also said that "Mr. Roberts is not fit on earth to be admitted into the sanctum of our families".  Naturally, President Rich wrote a further rejoinder to Rabbi Weiss (though the Chattanooga Times declined to print it), chiding the latter for viewing the patriarchal era so dimly, saying that Weiss and likeminded clergy would "join hands with Ingersollism in its attempt to overthrow truth", and he pointed out that, as a Jew, Rabbi Weiss was himself a descendant of polygamists.  These letters are printed in the 11 February 1899 issue of the Latter Day Saints Southern Star.  Given this history of exchanges, it is all the more interesting that Rabbi Weiss and President Rich were able to stand together in a few key areas later that same year.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Brigham Young on Family Prayer

The following letter, dated 10 March 1841 from Liverpool, was originally printed as "Family Prayer", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 1/11 (March 1841): 286-287.
Dear Brother, - I have felt anxious to address a few lines to you on the subject of family prayer, (and shall feel obliged by your inserting the same in your next Star) for the purpose of imparting instruction to the brethren in general.  Having travelled through many branches of the church in England, I have found it to be a general custom among the brethren I visited, that when any of the travelling elders are present, they wait for the elder to go forward in family prayer instead of attending to that duty themselves; that is not right, and I would say to them that it would be better for them to understand their duty on this subject. 
My dear brethren, remember that the Lord holds all of us responsible for our conduct here.  He held our father Adam responsible for his conduct; but no more than he does us, in proportion to the station we hold. - The kings of the earth will have to give account to God for their conduct in a kingly capacity.  Kings are heads of nations, governors are heads of provinces, so are fathers or husbands governors of their own houses, and should act accordingly.  Heads of families should always take charge of family worship, and call their family together at a seasonable hour, and not wait for every person to get through with all they may have to say or do.  If it were my prerogative to adopt a plan for family prayer it would be the following: - Call your family or household together every morning and evening previous to coming to the table, and bow before the Lord to offer up your thanksgivings for his mercies and providential care of you.  Let the head of the family dictate, I mean the man, not the woman.  If an elder should happen to be present, the head of the house can call upon him if he chooses so to do, and not wait for a stranger to take the lead at such times - by so doing we shall obtain the favor of our heavenly Father, and it will have a tendency of teaching our children to walk in the way they should go, - which may God grant for Christ's sake, Amen.
Some questions for reflection and discussion:
  1. Brigham Young's main concern is with households where the (male) head of household de facto outsources responsibility for initiative in family prayer to any visiting elders who might be present.  Brigham Young disagrees with this practice.  What factors might have led to this practice arising?  Does Brigham address any of those factors in this letter?
  2. Brigham Young articulates a particular notion of hierarchy, which I might summarize:  In any social sphere, there is always a God-appointed 'head' who governs it and should direct its affairs.  Thus, in the social sphere of a nation, the God-appointed head is a king (or president?).  In the social sphere of a province, the God-appointed head is a governor.  In the social sphere of a household unit, the God-appointed head is typically a man acting as head of the family.  What are the implications of this sort of view of headship in general?  How does it play out in a democratic society?  What implications are there for issues of unwise rulers - see Mosiah 29:18-24?  
  3. Brigham Young's notion of headship is bound up in notions of responsibility.  The implication appears to be that every figure in authority is answerable to God for the direction given in governing that sphere.  Does this provide sufficient balance to Brigham's notion of headship as authority to govern?
  4. Brigham Young stresses that, by "head of the family", he means "the man, not the woman".  Why did Brigham Young add this qualification?  What objections might Brigham have had to the notion of a woman taking initiative in leading family prayer?  What are modern Latter-day Saints to think of Brigham Young's implied view of men and women?
  5. Brigham Young is careful not to say that the male head of household must offer the prayer, but rather that the head of household, as the authority figure, reserves the right to willfully delegate the offering of the prayer.  What is the distinction here?  Why is there a significance to the man displaying authority by choosing who prays, and no necessity that the man therefore always himself prays?  
  6. Brigham Young describes an ideal situation in which the whole family gathers for family prayer at least twice per day, prior to a morning meal and an evening meal; and the contents of these prayers are described in terms of thanksgiving.  What mealtime prayer practices likely influenced Brigham Young's thinking?  How does family prayer function in Latter-day Saint family life today?  How does family prayer function in mainstream Christian family life today?