Friday, July 29, 2011

W. L. Craig on Creatio Ex Nihilo

The following quote for the day is from William Lane Craig, God, Time, and Eternity: The Coherence of Theism II: Eternity (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2001), 252-253:
The New Testament writers not only understood the Old Testament to be teaching creatio ex nihilo, but went further in identifying the pre-incarnate Christ as the principal agent of creation. The biblical conception of God's relation to the world is therefore one of Creator to creature. Dualistic conceptions of God confronted with a co-eternal, uncreated material which He fashions into a cosmos are alien to the biblical writers, who think of God as all-powerful and the source of all reality external to Himself. he speaks, and the universe springs into being, created out of nothing by His incomparable power. "Before" the beginning, so to speak, only God existed, and creation, we learn from the New Testament, results from His Word, which is the pre-incarnate Christ. [...] A robust doctrine of creation therefore involves both the affirmation that God brought the universe into being out of nothing at some moment in the finite past and the affirmation that He thereafter sustains it in being moment by moment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Historical Scholarship and Priesthood Authority

Recently at the Juvenile Instructor blog, Ben Park made an excellent post about the Sweetwater Rescue (an event in the history of the LDS handcart companies making their way west to Utah - one of many events, unfortunately, that have accumulated a fair bit of ahistorical baggage in the retelling), "Pioneer Day, The Sweetwater Rescue, and the Role of History in Mormonism". It's a post quite worth reading. Importantly, it points to an interesting facet of LDS culture as concerns the relative worth of scholarship and 'priesthood authority'. Ben recounts cases in which LDS students have read scholarly articles that thoroughly, from a historical point of view, demonstrate that some traditional historical narrative is in some way exaggerated and inaccurate; and yet the students protest on various grounds that the traditional narrative should nevertheless be believed. One such ground might be that the student 'feels the Spirit' when reading the (historically inaccurate) traditional narrative but not the (historically accurate) reconstructed narrative. Another might be that the traditional narrative has such value that no good can come of attempting to revise it, even for the sake of eliminating gross historical inaccuracies. A third such, and quite an interesting one, is when students demean 'academia'/'scholarship'/'intellectualism' in favor of priesthood or prophetic lines of authority. For instance, if - as in the case of the Sweetwater Rescue - a General Authority repeats the traditional narrative of the story, his prophetic authority must surely outweigh the historical work of any scholar.

This reminds me of a discussion I somewhat recently engaged in. In brief, a highly cordial Baptist, in the course of a discussion with a Latter-day Saint, referred the latter to an article by LDS scholar Thomas G. Alexander, though - as a sort of test - the former quoted from the article and indicated it had been read at a meeting of the Mormon History Association but left the author unattributed. The article was not at all about current Church doctrine or practice, or anything of that nature; it was about the character of early LDS beliefs, as expressed in early LDS writings. The Latter-day Saint involved did not bother to inquire as to who the author was; the Latter-day Saint did not seem to care to read the article to evaluate for himself whether or not the author made valid points. Indeed, I have seen no indication to this day that the Latter-day Saint involved ever read the (quite brief) article, even after the details were provided, including a link. Even before obtaining any such information, as well as afterwards, the Latter-day Saint disparaged the article as the mere "opinion" of a scholar, which holds no weight; it was irrelevant to him what the article said, because it was not an official publication of the Church, and only those are "binding". Never mind that most of the article's sources were in fact official publications of the Church. The Latter-day Saint involved was not interested in knowing that. It fascinates me that in a matter of historical record - say, what Latter-day Saints believed in the early 1830s - someone would genuinely choose to believe an article in, say, the Ensign (not that any article in the Ensign, to my knowledge, has ever addressed the subject matter that was at hand, let alone to do so in a way that conflicts with Thomas G. Alexander's conclusions) over a well-researched article by someone who is qualified to write precisely that sort of article. Now, the Latter-day Saint involved in this debate did not ever specifically say that he disagreed with the contents of the article; rather, he steadfastly avoided engaging the contents at all, preferring to dodge and demean. The discussion eventually degenerated and died out as a direct result of the Latter-day Saint participant's boorish behavior and his wild, desperate accusations of immorality and prejudice against all of his interlocutors, myself included. Sad, but not exactly foreign to my experience in dialogue with some Latter-day Saints, including the individual in question in particular. (Other Latter-day Saints, of course, make much better dialogue partners than the individual in my example.)

Now, let me put forward a statement that I think, though I may be wrong, should be fairly unobjectionable. In terms of ascertaining the LDS Church's current stance on any given doctrinal, moral, or practical matter, chief attention should be given to the Standard Works, to other works published under the Church's aegis (e.g., the Ensign), and to various correlated religious practices (e.g., rituals performed in the temple, or any standardized aspects of sacrament meeting liturgy) - all of which must, in order to discern the degree to which a Latter-day Saint is 'bound' by his or her membership to accept the Church's official stance, be evaluated in terms of its authoritative qualities. In terms of ascertaining what a Latter-day Saint or anyone else 'ought' to believe about a historical matter, chief attention should be given to historical records themselves and to the contents of scholarly works by academically qualified persons, the contents of which are to be judged on their merits. (In short, if a scholar makes a genuinely good case - especially a -nearincontrovertible case - that such-and-such historical reality was this way or that way, then barring any sound considerations to the contrary it ought to be believed to have been that way; it is, in a sense, 'intellectually binding'.) The possible exception to this, for Latter-day Saints, might be in cases in which official Church sources attempt to pronounce authoritatively on such a historical reality - in which case, perhaps, one might choose either to side with the Church source and discount the historical reconstruction of scholars, or else side with the historical work of the scholars and reject the official Church line. So with regard to questions about, say, what the Latter-day Saints did or believed at a certain time, the normally proper manner of approach ought to be to consult primary sources directly, and/or to evaluate the argument(s) presented by qualified scholars on the matter. It would not generally be appropriate to disregard this approach merely because those scholars are not speaking on behalf of the Church. One need not be speaking on behalf of the Church to be absolutely correct; one need not be speaking on behalf of the Church to make a powerful, intellectually compelling case for a position. And given the subject matter, even if 'the Church is true', that still counts more than whether an alternative story is retold in Church manuals or by General Authorities (unless perhaps those General Authorities actually claim to be putting the authority of God or of the Church behind their chosen version of events). I do not at present see a reason why this stand in favor of the value of historical scholarship should be incompatible with a strong belief in the special divine authorization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Certainly many of the excellent scholars currently working on LDS historical studies are themselves faithful Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Are Latter-day Saints Monarchists?

Are Latter-day Saints monarchists? Brian Mecham of the conservative LDS politico-religious blog Mormon Chronicle says yes in his recent post "Mormons are Monarchists". The keystone text of his case is Mosiah 29:13, which states that if the Nephites could have righteous men to lead them as kings, then in that case "it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you". Mecham also asserts that God's own kingdom is, in fact, monarchical in structure; that Articles of Faith 12 notes 'kings' as a perfectly legitimate form of governing authority; and that LDS homes are themselves mini-monarchies governed by the husband and wife as a king-queen royal pair. Ultimately, for earthly purposes, Mecham grants that any form of government exercised in righteousness is good, since the precise form of government is merely a "tool" to government's ends.

Does Mecham make a good case for Latter-day Saints as monarchists, or - at the very least - as monarchy-friendly?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cory Willson on Interfaith Dialogue

Courtesy of Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, I've found a fascinating brief article by Cory Willson titled "Learning Proper Manners for the Religious Roundtable: Kuyper and Convicted Civility", bringing some insights of Dutch Reformed thinker Abraham Kuyper to bear on today's Evangelical interfaith dialogue scene. While I do think there remains a robust place for a qualified form of what he (Willson, not Kuyper) designates a 'confrontational' approach, his points are otherwise well-made and well-taken. Here is what I take to be the most important (at least here) paragraph from the article:
Interfaith dialogue does not have to be a lazy form of pluralism that leads us to soften our theological convictions. Following theologians like Kuyper and Bavinck, we can learn to shift our basic assumptions concerning our neighbours and the nature of our witness to them. In short, our Muslim and Mormon neighbours should not be assumed to be an "agent of the devil," and Christians should not content themselves with vague second-hand caricatures of these religions. This will only feed our phobias, obscure our vision, and undermine our witness.
He's quite right. All too often, Evangelicals and others react to Islam and Mormonism, along with other religious/theological systems, based purely upon 'vague second-hand caricatures' - just as, to be fair, very many Latter-day Saints operate based upon 'vague second-hand caricatures' of orthodox Christian teaching. This is a serious problem, one raised often by LDS missionaries with the analogy of, e.g., not getting one's information about Fords at a Honda dealership. The solution, of course, is not to uncritically listen only to the Ford dealership, however. The solution is to consult both, as well as sources like Carfax, customer evaluations, relevant government reports, etc., not to mention inspection of the cars themselves. (The analogy does break down insofar as one evaluates cars in terms of, e.g., practical utility, whereas I do not think this to be a wise approach to religion.) Similarly, with respect to Mormonism, the solution is not to uncritically listen to its Evangelical critics only or to listen to LDS missionaries only, but rather to hear out both thoughtful defenders and thoughtful critics of Mormonism, to investigate primary sources and scholarly secondary literature, etc. This, of course, is unfortunately far more work than either the average Evangelical or the average Latter-day Saint is prepared to do. It behooves Evangelical authors to present Evangelicals with an accurate, carefully nuanced, well-rounded, sympathetic yet critical treatment of LDS teachings, practice, and history. It similarly behooves LDS authors to present Latter-day Saints with an equally accurate, carefully nuanced, well-rounded, sympathetic yet critical treatment of Evangelical/orthodox teachings, practice, and history.  And it behooves both audiences to listen to one another's writers and speakers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Query on Permanence in LDS Teachings

I hope to eventually present some further thoughts of my own on the topic, but for now as I continue to reflect, I'd like to ask the question: What statements of distinctively LDS belief can Latter-day Saints justifiably claim will not be and could not be substantially revised by 'continuing revelation' in the years to come?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Renovating the Afterlife

Now that I'm trying to catch up on what the Bloggernacle has been up to while I was busy, I've stumbled across an interesting post by John C at By Common Consent. In "My Little Heresies, Part One: Renovating the Afterlife", John C suggests, in essence, that the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms would be wasteful and do not in fact exist; there is simply a celestial kingdom (containing three degrees of glory within itself) on the one hand and outer darkness on the other. My attention was particularly caught by this paragraph in John's post:
Speaking of D&C 76, there is a portion of the afterlife that it clearly got wrong. It was revealed in 1832 and it puts everyone who didn’t receive the gospel in this life in the terrestrial kingdom, even if they receive the gospel in the afterlife (D&C 76:71-75). However, four years later, in 1836, Joseph received D&C 137, wherein he is surprised to find his brother, Alvin, in the celestial kingdom. Why is he surprised? Because, as I just said, D&C 76 says he shouldn’t be there. We tend to conflate D&C 76 and 137, saying that the really righteous will wind up in the celestial kingdom no matter what (because we are now, apparently, Calvinists), but still clinging to the usefulness of a kingdom where most of its members just disappeared and whose primary explanation just became mostly irrelevant due to later revelatory correction. I say just do away with the whole thing.
What say you? Has John understood D&C 76 rightly? Has he understood D&C 137 rightly? Is there a contradiction? Is it merely an apparent contradiction that can be resolved, or is the only solution to judge as erroneous one of the canonized revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants? And is John's theology of the afterlife a good one, whether that means one faithful to major themes in LDS thought or by some other set of criteria?

A brief sketch of my own non-LDS take on the 'afterlife': the fundamental division is a sharp one between those who have life in the age to come, and those who do not. Those who have life in the age to come are those who have freely accepted that Christ is Lord; those who do not have life in the age to come are those who have rejected Christ as Lord. (I leave to the side for the moment the questions of whether every individual is explicitly presented with the choice. I don't think there would be anything unjust in God allowing some individuals to never hear the gospel, but I would not be terribly surprised if it should turn out that, at the instant of death, every individual experiences a potentially salvific vision of the risen Christ and is given a final opportunity.) Those who are outside the kingdom in the age to come are effectively in exile, cut off from the Source of Life - namely, God. One might see their existence as a perpetual and pointless hunger strike, in a way. They have effaced their human potential by choosing to eschew the source of human flourishing (God) and the model of perfect humanity (Christ in his incarnation). Therefore, they exist in a state of shame and are perpetually withering away, like a flower plucked from the ground, and are asymptotically approaching nothingness. Since not all have the same sins to be ashamed of, of course, not all will 'suffer' equally at any given point in their existence in this state.

In much the same way, those who have life abundantly in the age to come may not have equal honors; some have spent their lives in active submission to the sanctifying Spirit, while others have been somewhat lukewarm and failed to live up to a life of full discipleship. In this way, within the kingdom life to come, there are not merely three but a limitless 'degrees' of glory - all of whom, however, will have access to the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those who have life in the age to come will be drawn perpetually further into the limitless depths of the Eternal Communion of the Godhead - experiencing what some have called the 'beatific vision', the inexhaustible experience of God in his glory. (This eternal communion will be the fulfillment of all of its earthly shadows, including the family, but will subsume and surpass all of them; family bonds will be even stronger in the age to come, not done away with.) In so doing, everyone who lives in the age to come will experience eternal progression, forever learning, forever experiencing more of God and more of one another, forever rejoicing in godliness. There will never be a time at which anyone but God will obtain omniscience, or omnipotence, or omnipresence, or metaphysical necessity, or any of the other incommunicable divine attributes, precisely because they are incommunicable, and so they will never have a robust 'godhood' in the sense that God is God - but they will be exalted as the adopted sons and daughters of God and as joint-heirs with Christ, forever increasing and exploring the limitless wonders of God and of God's creations. (For my part, you'll likely find me spending an inordinate amount of time in the First Library of New Jerusalem...)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

LDS Missionary Attacked by Lions

I don't have much in the way of commentary on this recent news item, but an LDS missionary, Elder Paul Richard Oakey, got a smidgen too close to the lion cage at a zoo in Guatemala. As the story says: Paul stood with his back to the lions, one of them crept up and grabbed his right leg, pulling him against cage bars, where a second lion then grabbed and clawed at his arm. [Elder Oakey's stepfather Jonathan] Allen said Oakey's companion grabbed a pole and shoved it into the mouth of the lion that had a grip on his arm, while Oakey himself poked at the eyes of the lion attached to his leg. Allen said Oakey and his companion were finally able to free him from the lion's grasp a few minutes later.
Thankfully he's alive, and I pray he makes a full recovery - more surgeries are likely needed to repair his arm and leg. Note to self: never turn your back on lions in their immediate vicinity, even when you think they can't reach you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Richard Bushman Recounts His Youthful Faith Crisis

In a recent post about the Book of Mormon musical, famed LDS scholar Richard Bushman recounted his own faith crisis around the time of his mission. I found it quite interesting in the way - maddeningly vague though it is - that Bushman presents himself coming to grips with his crisis and regaining faith in the Book of Mormon:
I had my Elder Price moment, as many Mormons do, but during my sophomore year at Harvard. Writing a paper on Nietzsche and Freud had raised lots of questions about religion in general.

When I went off to Halifax to preach the gospel, I was pretty shaky in my belief. For three months I wrestled with questions about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Was it a hoax, a bold, fraudulent effort to create a myth? Had Joseph Smith hoodwinked his friends - and the rest of his followers including me?

I studied everything and prayed hard for some kind of light. In time I arrived at a rational explanation that allowed for a miracle in the book's production, but along the way I experienced something more important than the book itself. I caught a glimpse of a higher form of human flourishing, something forceful and ennobling which I can only call sacred. It was this encounter with a kind of elevated goodness in the book that won me over.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alfred Osmond on Exaltation

The following is a brief excerpt from Alfred Osmond's May 1890 poem "Two Fires", found in Alfred Osmond, The Poetical Works of Alfred Osmond (Salt Lake City, UT: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1891), 41:
A man created like his God,
If he a certain path will trod,
In time may shine the same as He -
That is, frail man a God can be.
Yes, he may reach that lofty height,
If he will follow truth's bright light;
But let him turn from truth away,
And love the night and scorn the day,
No living thing e'er could or can
Descend so low as wondrous man.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Amphilochius on Christ's Divinity and Humanity

Today's quote comes from Amphilochius of Iconium, a brief statement from whom is preserved in a patristic florilegium appended to the address to the emperor Marcian that Theodoret of Cyrrhus drafted on behalf of the Council of Chalcedon. Amphilochius remarked that Christ "did not become man through a declension of God, nor did he change from man to God through progression". As was agreed, progression from mere humanity to robust divinity is an impossibility.

From the Archives: First Visit to an LDS Chapel

A few days ago, while reading back through some of my old writings, I found the account that I wrote approximately 15.5 months ago about my first visit to an LDS chapel. It interests me now to revisit it and examine the way in which I interpreted and recounted my experiences. For that reason, I'd like to reproduce the account here, exactly as I wrote it then, including peculiar conventions, off-color quips, pseudonyms used to protect the identities of those mentioned, and any uncharitable glosses I may have given to certain points in the narrative.

So this morning I made sure to get up in time for a rendezvous with a family from the ward near my college; since I don't have any transportation on campus, my missionary friends had kindly arranged me a ride today. They arrived pretty close to on time, and it wasn't a terribly long ride to the church. From the outside, it looked quite a bit like a stereotypical American Protestant church, but without a cross atop the steeple and without any stained glass. Although we'd anticipated being a bit late to sacrament meeting, we were in luck--it hadn't started yet.

When I entered the "chapel" - which in other churches would be termed the "sanctuary", ordinarily - it didn't take long for Kallinos to spot me. As (apparently) the only missionaries serving their mission at this ward, he and Demophon were sitting up front, since Demophon was playing the organ. The chapel was perhaps half the size - at best - of my own church's sanctuary, but I've come to realize over the past couple of years just how large my church is compared to some. The congregation here was of mediocre size; if I had to hazard a guess - and I'm terrible at estimating the size of a crowd - I'd venture anywhere from 60 to 70 people. As I looked around, it was mostly small families, largely couples, and I saw one older man with a magnificently full beard--especially striking considering the status of facial hair in contemporary LDS subculture. Anyway, it wasn't especially long before sacrament meeting got started, with "Amythaon", the second counselor in the bishopric, presiding. (Speaking of facial hair, by the way, Amythaon has a goatee.) Like essentially any church service, it started with a welcome and various announcements; however, a major difference soon became very apparent. With respect to a number of announcements, Amythaon asked for a show of hands of those able to sustain various motions. Sacrament meeting struck me as a hybrid of a Protestant church service, a mass, and a committee meeting, to be perfectly honest. Not that I'm necessarily complaining, I suppose, since I frankly enjoy committee meetings far more than any sane person does (I certainly don't fall into that category), but it was strange. Is this normal? (Also, I should mention the screaming babies. Several babies screaming throughout basically everything.)

Anyway, the first hymn, "Does the Journey Seem Long", was #127 in the Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All I remember is that it struck me as... well, to be honest, terrible. Now, a major factor was that as far as I could hear, no one was singing it very robustly at all, nor were we terribly synchronized. As for the actual music and/or lyrics, I'd be hard-pressed to say--it might well have been quite beautiful in itself, for all I know--but singing in sacrament meeting was a somewhat painful experience. After the invocation, we sang hymn #176 ("'Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love") as the sacrament hymn. Again, not exactly a musical performance worth remembering--and that's not chiefly a criticism of the LDS church by any means, since I'm pretty sure that in a singing competition, I'd lose to a coprolalia-afflicted raccoon being slowly tortured with a thousand tiny, sharp icicles.

So then we had the administration of the sacrament, and a number of priests came forward to administer it. By "priests", of course, I mean boys - teenagers at the most, and definitely no girls allowed - considered to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. First over the bread, and then over the water - not wine, not grape juice, but water, which is a move I may never quite grasp - they recited the liturgical prayers prescribed since the early days of the LDS Church:

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

They did the bread first, and then the water. The priests carried the sacramental elements in specially designed silver trays, which they passed down rows. I thought that this was somewhat a shame. As I watched it pass from hand to hand, it seemed unbelievably rushed and perhaps a tad mechanical. There was no time to linger over it at all. The water, perhaps, was even worse. (I will admit that, when it came to the bread, I still felt uplifted in spirit simply from the aroma of it, which connects me viscerally to the many moving experiences I've had taking communion, even though I of course didn't partake here.) First of all, the priest for my section of the chapel wasn't paying close attention to the way in which he was holding the tray, and as a result water was spilling out onto the floor--not exactly a good start when it comes to a substance that's supposed to be representing the blood of Jesus Christ at the time. They used the same little cups that are fairly common for communion in many Protestant churches, and I have to say that seeing them filled with water was a wholly alien feeling. It's amazing what a difference that made, even visually. It was just so difficult for me to associate this act with communion at all. What's more, because the tray was a thing in motion and the used cups had to be deposited into a special receptacle in the tray, it was even more rushed than the bread. One would have to take the tray, grab a cup, immediately down the water, and quickly slip the cup into the receptacle while handing it off to the next person--all ideally within maybe two or three seconds.

When all of that was finally done, we were supposed to have two speakers, but the first hadn't yet arrived, and so the second speaker, Amythaon, went first. (I'll also add that since Kallinos and Demophon didn't have to be confined to the front of the chapel anymore, they joined me in my row.) Things had been interesting... up until this point. I have no idea exactly what Amythaon was talking about, but I think it'd take a while to draft a list; the topic seemed to jump around all willy-nilly like, see? To be perfectly honest, during the talk - which perhaps lasted over a half-hour - I struggled very hard to stay awake. Since I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before (and Daylight Savings Time was no help), nor did I have anything to eat in the past 18 hours or so, that may not exactly have been the sacrament meeting's fault. Nonetheless, Amythaon - and I could tell that he was a nice guy with a decent sense of humor - nearly put me to sleep. Then, after hymn #241 ("Count Your Blessings"), the other speaker - who had forgotten to change her clock and was thus later to church than she ever had been before - gave perhaps a 15-minute talk, during which she basically burst into very sentimental tears over how God had given her strength to carry through some difficult times. After hymn #142 ("Sweet Hour of Prayer"), the sacrament meeting closed with the benediction.

All in all, sacrament meeting lasted almost as long as a service at my home church. But... there was more. After a bit of a break, I accompanied Kallinos and Demophon to Gospel Principles class (also known as Gospel Essentials class, but since they called it "Gospel Principles class", so will I) in one of the classrooms in the church. There weren't too many people in there. Kallinos handed me a copy of Gospel Principles, and as it turns out, it's the very latest edition. The teacher of the class ("Polyxena") had recently returned from a trip to Utah, from the sounds of it. Today in Gospel Principles class, we covered the tenth chapter of Gospel Principles, which deals with the subject of Scripture. [Note: From here on out, when relating dialogue in which I'm not sure who was speaking at some point, or don't want to specify, I'll just mark them with an "O" or something like that.] Elder Kallinos kicked off with prayer:

Kallinos: Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this day and we thank thee so much that-- for the opportunity to be here this Sabbath day in Gospel Principles class, we thank thee, Father, for being able to feel thy Spirit and learn from it and learn what we can do to better follow the gospel of Jesus Christ and to incorporate it into our lives, and help us, Father, to learn what we need to today, we pray in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, amen.

All: Amen.

Polyxena: Okay, today's lesson is on the Scriptures. I know I've said repeatedly in this class that I love how the book [i.e., Gospel Principles] builds upon itself. And so last week your lesson was on prophets. And prophets are the Lord's mouthpiece on earth, and where those words get recorded is in the scriptures. If you recall when we talked about the Fall and being spiritually cut off from Heavenly Father, there are ways that we've discussed that we can still maintain a relationship with him. One of them is prayer, another one is listening to the Spirit, we talked about those. Today we're gonna talk about the scriptures, which are the recorded words that Heavenly Father wanted us to know and so when we turn to the sScriptures, that also gives us the opportunity to hear God's word for us, and it was mentioned today--hey ['O']-- umm, it was mentioned today in sacrament meeting about, um, the scriptures came up a couple of times, didn't they? They are-- even though I think Sister ['O'] said, even though sometimes the stories in the scriptures have to do with people that lived on the planet in different times in a different culture, their trials are the same, they've experienced the same frustration, the same setbacks that we experience today, and so we can always turn to those stories and find comfort in our own lives as we ponder the things that helped them get through their trials. What are some of the blessings that we enjoy today because we have the scriptures so readily available to us? Is there anything that I haven't already mentioned? Yep.

O: We have the written word in book form--

Polyxena: Yeah--

O: And that's something that, some places they don't have it or their government comes down on 'em for having it.

Polyxena: Yeah, you know, we take-- I think sometimes we, we, uh--not us in this room, I mean "we" as in this nation--take the scriptures for granted because we've always had them in our lives, haven't we? Up until-- what was it, was it Martin Luther, back during the Reformation that occurred in Europe, what, just a few hundred years ago--there were no sets of scriptures! People didn't have scriptures in their home, they just didn't, they-- they existed in monasteries and-- you know there weren't that many written copies of the scriptures, they were on probably papyrus and, um, like in Alexandria, in the archives, in the Greek archives--

Demophon: Yeah, and when people copied it, they had to do it by hand.

Polyxena: Yeah, think about that! Can you imagine having to write that out by hand? So they didn't have the written word during the-- has anyone ever played the game "Whisper Down the Lane" when you were a kid?

O: Yeah.

Kallinos: Telephone.

Polyxena: Telephone? Is that what it's called? [...] in all different forms. Basically the point of that game is, you have people in a circle or a row and you tell somebody something in their ear quietly, and they have to whisper it down the line, and what usually happens when it gets to the end?

O: Totally different story.

Polyxena: It's a totally different story! And it's not intentional, is it? It's just, you know, you might miss a word here or there, or you might explain it slightly differently, but by the time it gets passed down, it's almost unrecognizable from what it started out as. Another thing that I think about too is the advent of the copier. Have you ever seen a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy? Holy cow, you can barely read it. I had to take a test, I had to take a test about four years ago to be an Italian genealogist, and, you know, I had just learned Italian not much longer before I took the test, and the first part of the test they gave me twenty-five documents in Italian that had been on a microfilm of a book that was a hundred years old. They took a picture of the original book, which had faded a bit, and they photocopied it... since 1970. Repeatedly! For the last forty years. And that's what they gave me and said, "Here, translate this." It was barely legible, it was like looking at Morse code or something or Braille, little dots on the page, and so this is what happens when you don't have things available like that: it-- it's left for interpretation, and quality degenerates over time. And so we have a huge blessing to have the scriptures so available to us--and I've just been thinking of all the different ways that we have available to us, so, okay, I have my quad here, I can flip it open and read any scripture I want. I have a smart phone, I have a scripture application that has the scriptures on it, I have the Mormon Channel app which I can listen to somebody read the scriptures to me, I can go out to the Internet on this and I can go to and I can look up the scriptures there. We have such availability of the scriptures, there should never be an excuse of why we wouldn't be able to, um, look into those. So-- so the blessing that we have to have these words available to us, um-- how do we get scripture? How do we get scripture?

O: [...] men were directed by the Holy Spirit, and they recorded it.

Polyxena: They recorded it.

O: Also with Joseph Smith and the plates.

Polyxena: Yeah, he actually did a transcription from the original record. Um, the reason that we have scriptures, it says here in our lesson that "from the beginning the Lord has commanded His prophets"--which we learned about last week--"to keep a record of His revelations and His dealings with His children. He said: 'I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their words, according to that which is written' [2 Nephi 29:11]" [(Gospel Principles, p. 45)]. So that-- So that's a big expectation, isn't it, that the Lord has put upon us? He has commanded people to record these revelations, and then he commands us to read them, to apply them to our lives. They're not just nice books that, you know, you sit on a table. That was from my previous life before I joined the Church, and I have friends, you know, who are not members now, and I'll go into their homes and I see their lovely set of scriptures on the endtable with the doily underneath it, you know, "Holy Bible" and it might have their family tree in it, and that's where it stays. It's just a decoration like something you would put on your mantlepiece. That's not the intent that the Lord had for us. You can't sleep on this as a pillow and learn the scriptures, you have to open them up. So, ours look a little different, don't they, than most sets of scriptures that you see, and there's a reason for this. We have four separate sets of scriptures that makes up the LDS canon, and we're gonna delve into each one of these today a little bit and talk about what's contained in each of these books of scriptures. The first one, everyone should be familiar with, the Holy Bible. What parts make up the Holy Bible?

O: The Old and the New Testaments.

Polyxena: The Old and the New Testament. Alright, what does the Old Testament contain?

Demophon: The writings of the ancient prophets up to the time of the-- the years before the coming of Jesus Christ.

Polyxena: Okay. So, it starts from the beginning of time, doesn't it, with Adam and Eve and the creation, and it goes up to, what is it, about four hundred years before Christ?

Kallinos: Something like that, yeah.

Polyxena: And of course you know what happens often in the Old Testament is, they're not-- they don't keep their covenant, so generally speaking somebody comes in and takes them all captive and makes slaves out of them, overruns their cities and they become captives. And so this is what happens during that time period, the Israelites became captives of, I think the Babylonians? The Persians?

O: The Assyrians-- [I think he also muttered something about Alexander the Great]

Polyxena: The Assyrians--take your pick. Somebody over there took them captive and they-- there was no canon of scripture in the Bible that-- between Malachi and the four hundred years that the Per-- that, during the four-hundred-year period before Christ comes. And then we have the New Testament. And the New Testament contains what?

O: Four Gospels.

Polyxena: The four Gospels--

Kallinos: The epistles from the apostles to the believers.

Polyxena: Right, right. Those were generally letters and things that the apostles-- and they were communicating with people that they had taught. Think about the New Testament, um, it starts at the Gospels talking about the life of Christ, it talks about him calling his apostles, about sending them out into the world to teach the gospel. Who did they teach first?

Demophon: The Jews.

Polyxena: They taught the Jews first, and then where did they go?

O: The Gentiles.

Polyxena: To the Gentiles, they went-- they left the holy land and they went out into the surrounding areas and into places like Greece and Rome and, um, around that Mediterranean area, probably into the areas of, like, Turkey and Macedonia. So because they didn't have the luxury of things like telephone and Internet and Facebook, they would have to travel--sometimes for many months--to get out and teach the people, so what they would do is, they would go out and they would set up the church in that area--kind of like the missionaries do today, they go out and they teach the people--people join the church, they set up local leadership, and then they have to leave. They don't have a sattelite broadcast from headquarters or all those things, and they didn't have a lot of written word, so oftentimes it required the apostles to write letters back where they would write and have questions. And so a lot of the New Testament that you'll see are letters that the apostles wrote back to these areas where they had gone out and proselyted [sic] and set up the church to help them clarify things that they didn't always understand. And so, um, I think it's amazing, when I study the New Testament and I think about the fledgling Christian church and how difficult it must have been for them to not have really a central leadership and have no way to, um, have that contact where they could continue learning the precepts and learning the organization of the church. And it amazes me that it continued to grow. Ummm, so those-- those are the parts of the New Testament-- the Old Testament and the New Testament that comprise the Bible. [...] One thing that I do want to touch on is, there are some parts of the Bible that Joseph Smith was required to go back and correct, because just like that game "Whisper Down the Lane" or Telephone", over time and over translation, you figure that this was written in ancient languages and over the years it's been translated and re-translated and re-translated, and sometimes if you speak more than one language you know sometimes it's not always possible to get an exact meaning, is it? And so something that I know in English, so I would say in Italian, it's not quite the same. Sometimes I'll watch a movie in Italian and I'll watch the subtitles and I giggle to myself because I think, "Well that's not what he just said. It's close, but it's not what he just said."

Demophon: And you've also got different denotations and connotations [...] hear a word, it evokes different emotion, and that same word translated into the other language just doesn't mean the same--

Polyxena: Yeah. And so what happens if, look, let's start, say you guys speak Spanish, okay, so let's start, you have something in English and translate it into Spanish, right? What happens if I come along and take your Spanish and translate it into, like, Russian? And then that guy in Russia, he wants to translate it into, like, you know, New Guinea or something? It's not going to look exactly the same as it did when I first told it to you in English, is it?

O: No.

Kallinos: Especially if I'm not inspired by God.

Polyxena: And that really is the crux, isn't it? And so there were some scriptures that Joseph Smith was inspired-- some passages that he was inspired to correct. And they are called the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and if you have a set of Church scriptures, if you look at the footnotes, oftentimes you'll see "JST", and that's the Joseph Smith Translation. You can flip to the Joseph Smith Translation, it's usually after the Bible dictionary, and you can see the scripture. And so they're in here, it's mostly the New Testament, um, and it may just be some little tweak of a word or a phrase that helps to clarify the original intent of that scripture. Okay, so the second book we have contained in here is the Book of Mormon, and this was, as we just talked about, transcribed from plates that Joseph Smith was directed to go and dig up. Those plates were written in a reformed Egyptian, and the reason why they were written in that language and not in Hebrew which is probably what they spoke, is because the reformed Egyptian characters were less wordy, they could fit more of them on the plates. Can you imagine, like, having to hammer out a piece of metal and then carve in what you were writing? So it really helps to keep that simple.

Demophon: So, like, if I said, "Please open your big, brown book and dust off the pages," you'd just-- you could say that in Hebrew and then in English, or reformed Egyptian, you would say, "Open the book."

Polyxena: Yeah. So it was a condensed, more condensed language, easier to be able to put on these plates. The Book of Mormon spans about a thousand years, starts about six hundred years before Christ was born, which takes us in parallel with the Old Testament to, I think the time of Jeremiah the prophet, and goes up to about four hundred years after his death. We often are told that the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel. Does anybody know what that means, "contain the fullness of the gospel"?

O: I think [...] ancient people's history?

Polyxena: Okay, it does contain the ancient peoples' history. Think about what we've talked about with the problems we have with the Bible.

Demophon: The Book of Mormon explains the gospel, teaches the gospel, more purely, more simply, more directly than the Bible does, and it was only translated once, so there's a lot less, you know, margin of error.

Polyxena: Right. There were no-- the other thing about the Bible, the word "Bible" just means a collection of books, and what it is is just a collection of writings, and if you go to different churches around the world you have all-- like, we use the King James Version, but some Catholics use a Catholic version of the Bible and it contains other books like the Maccabees, the Book of Wisdom, it contains extra psalms, it has extra writings in it that the Catholics deem to be canon for them, and so they've added them. I think the Russian Bible has books that the Catholic Bible doesn't have and the King James Version doesn't have, and so there's lots of versions of the Bible that are collections of writings. Um, I-- this is one of the reasons why in the Articles of Faith we say we believe the Bible "insofar as it is translated correctly" because, um, and that we don't believe that it's solely the only canon of scriptures, it's not the only Word of God that's out there, it just happens to be the collection of books that a council agreed upon at that time. Were there other writings? Most likely. Um, are there writings that are still out there that haven't been discovered? It's very possible. Very possible. The Bible as we have it today is what was assembled at, I believe in the Council of Nicea during the Constantine's days [sic], and so that just happened to be the collection of books. So we don't know that it contains the fullness of the gospel; but the Book of Mormon, we know it does. We know it does. It contains all of the teachings of Christ, and the way that he set up his church when he was here on earth. And again, it was only translated one time from the original source. Yes, the Book of Mormon exists in many different languages, but we translated it from one language, the original language that we have it in, which is in English, and we translate it into different languages so that people can have this book. But we don't translate it from English into Spanish and from Spanish into Greek and from Greek into Russian and from Russian into Chinese and from Chinese into Portuguese. It's always only translated a single time. And so it's a very pure-- as you said, it's very simple, it's a very pure version of the scriptures. Um, one of the things it says on the title page of the Book of Mormon is that it's "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book". That's a very powerful statement, isn't it? Ezra Taft Benson, who was a prophet of the Church about forty years ago, "helped us understand how the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion" [(Gospel Principles, p. 46)]--does everybody know what a keystone is? Before I start talking about it? We're in the Keystone State, aren't we? Okay, the keystone, it's shaped like this, so think of a square but wider at the top, smaller at the bottom.

O: Triangle.

Kallinos: Trapezoid.

Polyxena: And ancient architects discovered that when you want to build an archway, in order for it not to collapse you put the keystone in there. And what does it do?

Kallinos: Holds it all together.

Polyxena: Holds it all together, right, so the arch doesn't collapse. It's a specially formed stone that is the foundation of that arch and that, without it, everything would fall apart. So it's a very apt description of the Book of Mormon. But Ezra Taft Benson said there's "three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is (first) the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. (And) it is the keystone of testimony. The Book of Mormon is the keystone in our witness of [Jesus] Christ, who is Himself the cornerstone of everything we do" [(cf. ibid.) Parenthesized words are additions by Polyxena, while bracketed ones are printed in the text but omitted verbally. Words bracketed in the text are not bracketed here]--he is often referred to, isn't he, Jesus, as the cornerstone, he has been referred to as the keystone--"It bears witness of His reality with power and clarity.... It broadens"--this is on page 47, if you're looking at the book--"It broadens our understanding[s] of the doctrines of salvation.... The Book of Mormon... was written for our day.... In it we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming" [(cf. Gospel Principles, pp. 46-47)]. The people that lived oftentimes in Scriptures, the people that lived during the time that the book was recorded, were not the beneficiaries of what was being written; they were living it. This book was written for us; it came forward in our time, in this dispensation. "The Book of Mormon teaches us truth and bears testimony of Christ.... But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called 'the words of life,' and nowhere is that more true than it is (in) the Book of Mormon.... 'Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit'" [(cf. Gospel Principles, p. 47)]. I have a friend who's been studying the Book of Mormon and the Church for almost a year now, and it took him about four months to work through the Book of Mormon. And it's fascinating to me, as we have these daily e-mails back and forth, to see him changing. And when I was in Salt Lake City last week, I was talking to my friends about him, and I was reviewing some of the e-mails with them, just kind of grabbing one here or there that I felt was important, and I thought it was really interesting to me to see the transformation in this individual over the time that he was studying the Book of Mormon, the truths that were revealed to him, the way that he understood his faith was profound, and I am just so amazed at watching that, I mean it's sometimes easier to see that in someone else than it is in ourselves, especially if we're in the middle of going through it, we don't often have that perspective, but it's really easy when we see it through someone else. And so it's just been really great to see as he applies those principles in his life, watching that transformation for him, and so I know what Ezra Taft Benson says is true, that you will find great power in these scriptures. Does anyone have any questions about the Book of Mormon, before I move on to Doctrine and Covenants?


Polyxena: Okay, so the Book of Mormon was written by ancient peoples here in America, it was written for our time. We also have another canon of scripture called "Doctrine and Covenants". And this is a collection of modern revelation, and I like to think of it-- when I was looking at this lesson, I started thinking of Doctrine and Covenants-- if the Book of Mormon and the Bible and especially the New Testament are more like the doctrine of the Church, I think of Doctrine and Covenants more like the operational manual. Would you agree? Elders, would you agree?

Demophon and Kallinos: Mmhmm.

Polyxena: It's sort of the operational manual because it tells us things like... it talks about the organization of the Church, it defines offices of the priesthood and their functions, um, it talks a lot about, um, it talks a lot about the work we do for the dead in there. It really goes into detail about why we do it, why it is important, and it really gets into, like I said, the operations of things. Some sections of Doctrine and Covenants contain prophecies of things to come. God has commanded it to us to study his revelations in Doctrine and Covenants, he says, "Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled" [(D&C 1:37)], and it's really funny because I got an e-mail when I woke up this morning, my friend sent it to me at six o'clock this morning and I thought, "This is so great, it's perfect for my lesson today." He, uh, he hasn't joined the Church though I bought him a quad because he's in such a serious study of the scriptures that I thought it would be beneficial to him 'cause he likes to cross-reference everything on the footnotes, and so he started reading Doctrine and Covenants, and I asked him-- he said that he was reading this while he was donating blood yesterday and so I asked him last night, I said, "What section are you on?", and he said he was in section 9 and 10, and this is what he said about it, this is a guy, he read the Book of Mormon last year and he's worked his way-- he's working his way through the Old Testament, I think he's just about up to Isaiah, and in his spare time when he's not in the deep study of the actual Old Testament, he's been reading Doctrine and Covenants, and this is what he said to me, and I thought this was so profound: "I found it interesting to have such a conversational tone about what was going on between God and Joseph Smith and ultimately to Oliver Cowdery. However, now having read a good bit of the Old Testament, I'm not so surprised of this. It just 'works'", he put it in quotes. When you-- when you have put yourself into a study of the scriptures, you will start seeing patterns, patterns of the way God communicates with man, the way God communicates with the prophet that he's established on the earth, you will see that pattern repeated over and over and over and over again. When-- when he first started reading the Old Testament, he said to me, "I never even bothered with the Old Testament because, well, there's nothing important in there for us in our times, right? Those are all the laws and Mosaic laws, we don't live the Mosaic Law anymore, what does that have to do with anything, why even bother with the Old Testament? It doesn't even talk about Christ." And I said, "What? The entire Old Testament is about Christ! Everything in the Old Testament speaks of Christ, it prophesies of Christ, it's a similitude of Christ! Everything in the Old Testament, if you go back and you look at it, you will see that everything in the Old Testament is like a big red flashing arrow pointing to Christ! That's what you're gonna find." And that is exactly what he found in his study of the Old Testament, and now when he goes back and he says, "Now I want to go back and read the Book of Mormon again, because I really got the Book of Mormon the first time but now that I got the Old Testament I want to go back and read the Book of Mormon so I can see even more of how much it works!" And now that he's reading Doctrine and Covenants, he's getting that same feeling: "God speaks to man through a prophet, I get it, I get it, it's true." And now if he would just join the Church! He's close, he's close. He's, he's-- lemme just tell you a little, this guy, he's a professor, he just got his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University, he's very smart, he was the valedictorian of my high school graduating class, he was one of the smartest people I ever knew. And this is his, this is his challenge, he's so smart he wants to figure everything out before he makes the decision. And I would just all laugh, don't we, because you know, you can spend the whole rest of your life studying this, and you will never, ever have all the answers. You will never have it all figured out. So I keep hoping that he gets there and he's like, "Okay, I know enough, I know enough to make a decision." So anyway, we'll keep praying for him. Alright, so in our last few minutes I want to talk a little about the last book that we have in our canon, this is called the Pearl of Great Price. What does the "pearl of great price" mean? It's from, it's from the scriptures, what's the "pearl of great"-- think about pearls, they're not a gem but they're hard to come by, aren't they?

O: Mmhmm, it's a treasure.

Polyxena: It's a treasure, isn't it?

O: Yes, and it's what we should sell everything we have to buy that treasure. And it parallels on the--

Polyxena: Yeah, think about a pearl, think about where it comes from, it grows over time, doesn't it? It's very valuable, they're hard to come by, you can open a lot of oysters and not find one usually and just end up with a slimy little piece of meat. So you come across a treasure like a pearl, that's wonderful, but a pearl of great price, I believe there's a scripture in the Bible that talks about the pearl of great price, but anyway, the Pearl of Great Price in our canon of scripture contains the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and some inspired works of Joseph Smith, so it's just like his history and his story of the First Vision and all of that. "The book of Moses contains an account of some of the visions and writings of Moses, revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It clarifies doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and gives added information concerning the Creation of the earth" [(Gospel Principles, p. 48)]. I love the Doctrine-- I love the Pearl of Great Price version of creation because it's much more specific and I know when we were studying creation, we flipped back and forth between Genesis and the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, didn't we? We talked a lot about the specific things that were just enough-- just enough light clarification that it just cast an entirely different view on things, like remember when we talked about, as they created-- as the Gods created different parts of creation, whether it be, like, putting the earth together or, you know, building plants or things like that, they would wait to see if it was good. And you see that these were creation periods, that they would take what was there and they would do something to it and they would wait to see if it would work. And then once it was good, they would say, we'd wait to see if it was good, and they went on to the next thing. And so it's little tiny things like that when I go on and read the Pearl of Great Price that I find such treasures in there, just gems of knowledge. Um, the Book of Abraham was translated by Joseph Smith from papyrus scrolls taken from the Egyptian catacombs. So this is what I was saying before about the Bible, it was the collection of materials that some council decided, "This is what we want in here", and again, maybe not inspired by God. There may have been other books that were necessary that contained parts of the gospel that were lost, which is why we're so lucky to have the Book of Mormon to give us the fullness of those things. And so I know that the Church has done extensive study into the Dead Sea Scrolls, there's something that in like the last twenty or thirty years we've heard a lot about the Dead Sea Scrolls. They continue finding these papyri and different things that, um, stone tablets and-- I was watching something, I don't remember where it was, it wasn't Church-related, it was like on the Discovery Channel or History Channel, that they actually had these kind of, um, wooden things that they would write on, and they were hinged together and they would fold up like an accordion, and this was another way that they used to record things in tablets, a soft pulpy part that they would scratch in their writing, but it was, like, wooden and it was on this wooden frame that would close up. And so they're constantly finding as they dig up archaeological sites, they find different things, and so Joseph Smith happened to come upon this papyrus scroll and there's actual images of it in the Pearl of Great Price that you can look at. And again, Joseph Smith--History and history of the church and Articles of Faith. Umm, almost out of time! I want to talk a little bit about people's personal favorites, but, um, one thing that I wanna really use, a quote that's left [...] today, is--besides the fact that we should study our scriptures all the time, we should set aside time every day to read them, ponder them, pray about what we've read. I know that there's times when we need counsel in our lives, we flip open those scriptures, again, it happened to a different people in a different time in a different culture, but I know that there are scriptures that I have read that applied directly to me, and I want you to know that the words of our living prophets are scriptures for our time, the Ensign, the Liahona, those things, General Conference talks--that is our version of scripture, those are our prophets speaking to us today, they are being recorded and they are being archived, and that things are continuing to be revealed to our prophets today.

And this time, one of the missionaries chimed in to make sure that everyone knew when General Conference would be (April 3 and 4), and that it could be viewed at the church via broadcast; they talked about that for a while; Demophon also noted that "it's been said among the prophets of years past that the living oracles, or the living word of God, is more important than the actual canon of scriptures that we have. The words of the prophets that live today are more important than the words of dead men." Alright, everybody got that? What you hear at General Conference is not just scripture but is in fact more important than the contents of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Anyway, the lesson eventually managed to wrap up--finally. It was interesting. I have to say that there were a few times when I had to restrain the urge to laugh, particularly when Polyxena was discussing the formation of the canon or the transmission and translation history of the Bible. (Hint: virtually every English translation currently in circulation is translated directly from the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. All those steps of translation invoked as a spectre? Yeah, not an issue these days. They haven't been since, well, since before the time of Joseph Smith, largely. And the process of transmission is hardly akin to "Whisper Down the Lane"/"Telephone", but is a considerably more reliable process, for all its difficulties. Thanks to the science of textual criticism, we can be reasonably confident that our critical editions of the Hebrew and Greek text are more or less in tune with the original manuscripts--and while Latter-day Saints are free to believe that a whole bunch of things have been removed that were there before, that doesn't strike me as much more reasonable than most conspiracy theories.)

So with that done, I learned that there was even more to do yet; one of my missionary friends, might've been Kallinos, referred to the LDS Sunday morning experience as "a three-hour marathon", and he's right! (Incidentally, Kallinos told me that I was free to keep the copy of Gospel Principles that I'd been using--sweet!) The third installment of my visit was constituted by accompanying Demophon and Kallinos to priesthood meeting, after some customary visits to the lavatory (in turns) while waiting for the chapel to empty out from whatever had been there before. So there I was, with Demophon and Kallinos, near the front of the chapel for priesthood meeting. (Interesting note: although, because LDS missionaries are instructed to refer to themselves, and have other people so refer to them, as "Elder So-and-So", without a first name - which is viewed as a matter of controversy by some outsiders - I noticed that both Demophon and Kallinos had their full names embossed in gold lettering on the back covers of their quadruple combinations.) Now, priesthood meeting is just for the dudes; there's something different at that time for the women of the church. And while that struck me as somewhat unfamiliar in one sense, in another sense, I have to say that I actually enjoyed it. For some reason, paring it down to just the guys gave the room a somewhat different feel; hopefully the women, wherever they happened to be, had a similarly freeing experience.

Anyway, at the start of priesthood meeting, various priesthood holders gave reports on what they've been up to, on various committees, upcoming events, etc. Demophon and Kallinos reported very briefly on their activities, too. We also sang hymn #105, "Master, the Tempest is Raging", which I remembered as one of Elder Gerald Causse's favorite hymns--and with us all in closer quarters and without the women, it sounded much better. And then it was time for the lesson; the guy teaching it was a rather loudspoken man who intimated that he might be a sociology professor somewhere; I'll be calling him "Pterelaos". The lesson for this time around was on creation, drawing on the fifth chapter of Gospel Principles. Rather than quote anything verbatim, I'll summarize the main points I found interesting. First of all, I'd forgotten that traditional LDS interpretation holds that Genesis 1 is about the "spiritual creation", while Genesis 2 concerns the subsequent "physical creation". Everything was created "spiritually" before it was created "physically"; what this means, precisely, I'm not totally sure. But this interpretation was considered to be simply obvious on what was, in fact, quite a slim scriptural basis--allegedly stating that various things were created again (i.e., physically) in Genesis 2 that were already created (spiritually) in Genesis 1. (The argument hinged chiefly on Genesis 2:5, which says that God made "every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew"). Pterelaos also added that Moses 1:33-35 shows that our cosmos is only one of vastly many of God's created realms; and, discussing obtaining knowledge of God and quoting Moses 1:5, he said:
But seriously, you know, he basically told him, 'So no man can behold all of my glory and yet remain in the flesh.' Now what that tells us is that when we are no longer in the flesh, a lot of these mysteries that we have - necessarily so - they'll be shown to us as we see things from an eternal perspective, as we get to the other side of the veil, we'll be able to see things like our Heavenly Father sees them, and then we'll know exactly what he's talking about.
There was also, naturally, the customary misuse of Genesis 1:26-27, as though physical similarity (Pterelaos claimed that the Father "used himself as the blueprint in terms of our creation, our bodies") were really the point of the passage--which, as later passages make clear, is not the point of being made in the image of God, nor does other ancient Near Eastern literature indicate that any sort of physical similarity would be at all required. Pterelaos, in asserting that we and God have the same sort of bodily form, supposed that the alternative would involve God being "some mist out there", which of course is not what any sensible orthodox Christian believes, but is rather a caricature born out of the LDS tendency towards materialism. The plural pronoun in the passage was also claimed to indicate our Heavenly Parents, both Father and Mother--though even distinctively LDS scripture such as Moses 2:26 refers this to God the Father and God the Son.

Pterelaos also talked about how in our pre-mortal life, we learned everything we could from Heavenly Father before taking the step into mortality. I'm not sure I consider that possible; I suspect that, even assuming the overall structure of the pre-mortality narrative, one would have to concede that there's vastly more that we could learn that we haven't already, even assuming that we've forgotten a great deal by passing through the veil of ignorance. Just my thoughts. Also, one person in the audience--and Pterelaos agreed--considered the best biblical evidence for our pre-existence to be Proverbs 8... which, granting that line of interpretation, is exclusively about Jesus, not about us. Whenever Pterelaos mentioned the "Book of Revelations" [sic], I cringed, and in particular when he and everyone else there assumed as patently obvious that we--that is, our spirits--are the ones symbolized there by stars. Job 38:7 also got a weird twist--the reason for the morning stars (i.e., us, in LDS thought) shouting for joy is that we saw that we could become like the Father. (In actuality, the verse is talking about the angels rejoicing in God's creation out of their intense love for God and for his works.)

There was also discussion of John 1:1-3 and the Joseph Smith Translation's rewrite of it; Pterelaos asserted that the priesthood authority that they have is the same power by which the world was created. His exact words, to the best of my recollection: "So actually if we go back further the Word was with God, and it was through the Savior that-- now why would they even make reference to that? In other words, the Word of God and the way all these things were created-- by what power were all these things created? By the priesthood, exactly. And the priesthood, by definition, is the authority to act in the name of God." (Uh, question on that, actually. If authority to act in the name of God is the priesthood, but women aren't allowed to hold the priesthood in the LDS Church, do women have any authority to act in the name of God at all?) In addition, Pterelaos took a question from the 'audience' about what it means to call Jesus the "only-begotten Son of God", and here was the reply given:
Right, right. And that's why the Savior was created in the way that he was as well. Notice, he's the Only-Begot-- we read that in chapter 1 [of the Book of Moses], he's the Only-Begotten of the Father; what does that mean, to be the Only-Begotten of the Father? Unlike you and I, who are born of two mortal parents, he's the only person born in the flesh on this earth who has literally a mortal mother and an immortal father. Okay, that union presented an individual that could take upon himself the flesh and yet remain perfect in spirit. He inherited those qualities of body being able to live and die, but those qualities of perfection to be totally in tune with the will of the Father, he inherited from God himself, and that's what enabled such a sacrifice and atonement to take place. That's what makes him the Only-Begotten of the Father, because of that ability to exist in that manner.
Also, turns out that one of Pterelaos' hobbies is ranting about intelligent design. Loudly. And for quite some time. There were a number of references to evolutionists believing in "life coming from mud" and other such things. Now, I make no secret around here of my general stance on the subject of evolution, though I have no intention to make any creationist readers feel particularly uncomfortable; having once been a very ardent creationist myself, I'm sympathetic. But I found it quite interesting that Pterelaos was using essentially the same arguments (and, oftentimes, caricatures) found in the writings of many creationists and/or other ID theorists. Here's an excerpt from his rant:
You know, it's kind of interesting, you know, when you look at the creation, it's interesting if you look at, you know, the people who make fun of intelligent design, okay? And, you know, basically if you look at Darwin in The Origin of the Species, if you read that book, Darwin's hypothesis is that all man evolved from the very beginning from a single-celled organism, okay? And it's of course nature that, you know, allows this to happen and brings us forward, but you know it's kind of interesting because if you look at that theory-- I mean, to me it is illogical to assume that life happened without a creator. Most scientists will tell you, you know what produces life? It's DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid; Crick and Watson discovered this, okay? And basically what we see is that we have strands perfectly aligned together in a double helix comprised of amino acids. Now, just to give you an idea that we can understand in terms of numbers here, for the most primitive form of life, a one-celled creature, you need about a minimum of 250 proteins for this building block of life, in order for life to exist, alright? With these strands in sequences of four, in terms of the DNA strands. Now, to put this in vaguest terms, in order for that to happen by chance in nature, imagine if you will - and this is what would have to happen, by chance - you have to go to Vegas, and each slot machine not having three but four mechanisms, come up boom-boom-boom-boom, A-B-C-D, all of them come up the same, okay, all A's, all B's, all-- okay? You would have to hit 250 slot machines and win at every single one of them in the proper sequence, boom-boom-boom. So you would have to hit 250 slot machines, all with-- and win at every single one of them in the exact same order in order for that to happen by chance. How does life come from mud? And what scientific experiment can you show me where life comes out of nothing? Where it reproduces without one of its own kind, without one of its species? Where in science-- and I remember asking a philosopher this, I remember engaging in a discussion because you gotta understand, as a teacher, you know, as a professor of sociology I interface with-- and I-- and basically a lot of your philosophers, they are atheists, okay, by nature, because generally what they learn is that their mind, if you can't prove it, if you cannot wrap your brain around it, so anything that they don't understand or cannot logically prove, they dismiss as bunk, okay? This is what teachers (?) do oftentimes. And I remember, you know, talking about evolution, and, "Well, it's, you know, God is a problem (?), why would you believe that... [trails off here]", and I says [sic], "Name me one scientific experiment where life comes from nothing, where a species can reproduce without a member of its own kind." "Well, in laboratories they've done--", and I started laughing, he says, "What, what's so funny?", I said, "You just said the magic word, 'in laboratories'. And who sets up a lab? A scientist. Therefore the scientist would be the creator in the very example that you just put forth! It didn't-- that lab didn't just come together on its own; it was organized by a scientist, by a chemist. Every example that you've given me points to the origin of a creator, somebody who put that lab together, somebody who had orchestrated the phenomena that brought this life together!" I said, "To try and convince me that life comes from-- how do we go from mud to life? Name me one example of that."
So that, in essence, is my summary of Pterelaos' talk delivered during the priesthood meeting. (After the part I quoted, someone in the audience got him going about entropy, which took us on yet another brief wild ride, but one that didn't take quite as long because the audience member also wanted to pontificate on climate change and the Tower of Babel, and then Pterelaos got back into natural selection. I think it was Demophon who also chimed in with a note about how great composers were divinely inspired to write the music they did.) After some concluding remarks on gospel principles, the atonement, self-discipline, the remission of sins, and "return[ing] to our Heavenly Father", he concluded with the phrase, "And this testimony I leave with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen", to which all naturally replied, "Amen", followed by a closing prayer. After everything wrapped up, I chatted a bit with the missionaries and a couple other folks (one guy actually thought to ask if I was LDS, and I infomed him that I'm an evangelical) before my ride was ready to leave; I returned to campus just in time to catch brunch with a couple friends and share with them my initial thoughts on the experiences.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Two Street Interviews with Mormon Fundamentalists

Last week, Aaron Shafovaloff posted to YouTube two video interviews he did at the Manti Pageant this year with two self-identified "fundamentalist Mormons" (from a rather obscure sect). While Aaron mostly sets the agenda and asks many of the same penetrating questions in both interviews, this is nevertheless an excellent opportunity to hear from lay-level practioners of 'fundamentalist Mormonism' in their own words, and on that ground I encourage readers to listen in to at least part of the interviews. Many traditional but presently discarded or marginalized LDS beliefs (whether they were "official" or not, or universally held at any point in LDS history or not) are espoused with gusto by the interviewees here:

Philosophical Challenges of 'Spirit Birth'

Over at the noteworthy blogs Pierian Springs and Faith-Promoting Rumor, LDS blogger aquinas has this morning posted a highly fascinating post titled "Spiritual Birth: Challenges for Philosophers" (see also the FPR version), in which he raises some of the philosophical difficulties (not necessarily insurmountable, of course) raised by certain varieties of classical LDS theology (a la Brigham Young, Orson and Parley Pratt, and Brigham Henry Roberts) on the idea of 'spirit birth', which is a topic generally neglected by modern LDS philosophers and theologians. All five of his points are exceptionally interesting points that deserve extended consideration. As a brief and inadequate distillation of the challenges:
  1. If 'spirit-birth' is an act of creation that gives God determining control over the qualities of the resulting spirit (whether by endowing a given sort of intelligence upon a spirit directly, or by carefully selecting the eternally intelligent spirit-matter of which each spirit is created), how can God justly judge us in accordance with our intelligence, and is there any significant difference between this and a creatio ex nihilo view of spirit origin?
  2. If 'spirit-birth' is an act of begetting that permits us to inherit our Heavenly Father's (or Parents') own traits, what specific traits are inherited that did not belong to our eternal intelligences prior to their spirit-birth?
  3. If our spirits are bodies precisely analogous to fleshly mortal bodies apart from their material constitution, and if this entails that spirits have spirit-organs, how do these spirit-organs function given the presumed absence of the assorted environments and needs for which their fleshly counterparts are tailored?
  4. If a spirit is precisely analogous to the particular fleshly body that it will inhabit in mortality, and if the make-up of any particular fleshly body is wholly contingent upon the full history of sexual interactions between fleshly bodies ancestral to that one, does this require that God predetermine every sexual union prior to the creation of the physical universe?
  5. If 'intelligence' is itself a personal entity with the range of faculties generally attributed to spirits, what distinguishes an intelligence from a spirit apart from the latter's development and possession of a spirit-body; and what functions, then, might a spirit-body serve?
Needless to say, this is a 'must-read' post that highlights an extremely valuable area of inquiry.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sidney Rigdon's July 4th Oration

In 1838, Sidney Rigdon delivered a now-famous oration on the Fourth of July. This was subsequently published by the Church in Far West, Missouri, and further inflamed passions against the early Latter-day Saints, leading to the 1838 Mormon War. As today is the Fourth of July, it seems fitting this year to present the text of Rigdon's infamous oration, on this the 173rd anniversary of its initial delivery. (In addition, I recommend this highly relevant 1845 editorial by Parley Pratt, "American Independence Declared Over Again", courtesy of the Juvenile Instructor blog.) So, Rigdon's oration:

Friends and fellow citizens;

By your request, I am called upon to address you this day, under circumstances novel to myself, and I presume as much so to the most of you; for however frequently we may have met with our fellow-citizens, in time past, in the places of our nativity, or of our choice, to mingle our feelings with theirs, and unite with them in grateful acknowledgments to our Divine Benefactor, on the anniversary of our national existance; but not before, have we been assembled by reason of our holy religion; for which cause alone, a very large majority of us is here this day. But though our residence here, is far from the sepulchres of our fathers, and from the lands of our nativity and former choice; and our association here, as novel, and as strange to ourselves, as it could be, to any portion of our fellow-men; still, we hail the return of the birth day of our liberties, with no less feelings of joy and gratitude: nor no less desire, for the prosperity and continuance, of the fabric of our national government, inspires our breasts this day, than when met in the mixed assemblies of all religions, as in times past, in the lands of our nativity.

Nor indeed could it otherwise be; from our infancy, we have been traditionated to believe ours, to be the best government in the world. Our fathers, our neighbors, and our associates in life, have extalled its excellence to the highest pinacle of fame in our ears, even before we were capable of judging its merits for ourselves, or were able to form an estimate of its worth. As we advanced in life, we heard nothing else from our statesment and heroes, but the perfection and excellence of our political institutions, and the superiority of our government, over all the governments of the world; whether they existed in former or latter times. It is the government under which we were born and educated, or else we exchanged another for it, with whose form we were not satisfied, and in our hearts gave this the preference, and sought by removal to enjoy its benefits.

We have been taught from our cradles, to reverence the fathers of the Revolution, and venerate the very urns which contain the ashes of those who sleep; and every feeling of our hearts responds in perfect unison to the precept. Our country and its institutions, are written on the tablet of our hearts, as with the blood of the heroes who offered their lives in sacrifice, to redeem us from oppression. On its towers, the flag of freedom waves, and invites the oppressed to enter, and find an asylum. Under the safeguard of its constitutions, the tyrant's grasp is unfastened, and equal rights and privileges flow to every part of the grand whole. Protected by its laws and defended by its powers, the oppressed and persecuted saint can worship under his own vine, and under his own figtree, and none can molest or make afraid. We have always contemplated it, and do now, as the only fabric of true freedom, and bullwork of liberty, in the world.

Its very existance, has taught the civilized world, lessons of freedom, far surpassing those of a Pitt, a Wilberforce, a Canning, or a Grey, and has cast all their efforts in the shade forever. It has stood, and now stands, as the arbiter of the world, the judger of the nations, and the rebuker of tyrants.

Throughout the world, it is the standard of freedom, both civil and religious. By its existance, the fears of the superstitious have been removed, and the pretexts of tyrants have been swept away as a refuge of lies, and the rights of man have been restored, and freedom, both political and religious, have been made to triumph.

Our government is known throughout the civilized world, as the standard of freedom, civil, religious, and political; by it are the acts of all nations tried, and it serves to expose the frauds, the deceptions, and the crafts, of the old world, in atempting to pawn upon the people, monarchy and arastocracy, for republicanism and freedom. So powerful has been its influence, that the hand of the oppressor, even in the old world, has been lightened, tyrants have been made to tremble, and oppressors of mankind, have been filled with fear. Thrones, if they have not been cast down, have been striped of their terror, and the oppressed subject has been, measurably, delivered from his bondage.

Having been rocked in the cradle of liberty, and educated in the school of freedom, all our prejudices and prepossessions are deeply rooted in favor of the superlative excellence of a government, from which all our privileges and enjoyments have flown. We are wedded to it by the strongest ties; bound to it by cords as strong as death. To preserve it, aught to be our aim in all our pursuits, to maintain its constitution unviolable, its institutions uncorrupted, its laws unviolated, and its order underanged.

There is one thing, in the midst of our political differences, which ought to create feelings of joy and gratitude in every heart, and in the bosom of every wellwisher to mankind; that, all parties in politics, express the strongest desire to preserve both the union and the constitution unimpaired and unbroken, and only differ about the means to accomplish this object; so desirable, as expressed by all parties. And while this, indeed, is the object of parties in this republic, there is nothing to fear. The prospects for the future, will be as flattering as the past.

In celebrating this, the anniversary of our independence, all party distinctions should be forgotten, all religious differences should be laid aside. We are members of one common republic, equally dependent on a faithful execution of its laws for our protection, in the enjoyment of our civil, political, and religious privileges. All have a common interest in the preservation of the Union, and in the defence and support of the constitution. Northern, southern, and western intersts, ought to be forgotten, or lost for the time being, in the more noble desire to preserve the nation, as one whole; for on this depends the security of all local and sectional interest; for if we cannot preserve them by supporting the Union, we cannot by rending it in pieces. In the former there is hope, in the latter fear. In one peace, in the other war.

In times of peace, it ought to be our aim and our object, to strengthen the bonds of the Union by cultivating peace and good will among ourselves. And in times of war, to meet our foes sword in hand, and defend our rights, at the expense of life. For what is life when freedom has fled? It is a name, a bubble; better far sleep with the dead, than be oppressed among the living.

All attempts, on the part of religious aspirants, to unite church and state, ought to be repeled with indignation, and every religious society supported in its rights, and in the exercise of its conscientious devotions. The Mohameden, the Pagan, and the Idolitor, not excepted, and be partakers equally, in the benefits of the government. For if the Union is preserved, it will be by endearing the people to it; and this can only be done by securing to all their most sacred rights. The least deviation, from the strictest rule of right, on the part of any portion of the people, or their public servants, will create dissatisfaction, that dissatisfaction will end in strife, strife in war, and war, in the dissolution of the Union.

It is on the virtue of the people, that depends the existence of the government, and not on the wisdom of legislators. Wherefore serveth laws, (it matters not how righteous in themselves,) when the people in violation of them, tear those rights from one another, which they [the laws] were designed to protect? If we preserve the nation from ruin, and the people from war, it will be by securing to others, what we claim to ourselvs, and being as zealous to secure another's rights, as to defend our own. If on this day, the fathers of our nation, pledged their fortunes, their lives, and their sacred honors, to one another, and to the colonies which they represented, to be free, or to loose all earthly inheritance, not life, and honor excepted. So ought we to follow their example, and pledge our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honors, as their children and successors, in maintaining inviolable, what they obtained by their treasure, and their blood.

With holy feelings, sacred desires, and grateful hearts to our Divine Benefactor, ought we to perform the duties of this day, and enjoy the privileges, which, as saints of the living God, we enjoy in this land of liberty and freedom, where our most sacred rights, even that of worshiping our God according to his will, is secured unto us by law, and our religious rights so identified with the existence of the nation, that to deprive us of them, will be to doom the nation to ruin, and the Union to dissolution.

It is now three score and two years, since the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, caused the proclamation to go forth among the people of the continents, that the people of this nation should be free, and that over them, "kings should not rule, and princes decree authority;" and all this, preparatory to the great work which he had designed to accomplish in the last days, in the face of all people, in order, that the Son of God, the Savior of the world, should come down from heaven, and reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously; according to the testimony of all the holy prophets, since the world began. And it is eight years, two months, and twenty eight days, since the church of the last days was organized, by the revelations of that same Jesus, who is coming to reign before his ancients gloriously: then consisting of six members only.

At its first appearance, excitement began to prevail among the people where it made its first appearance, and as it increased in numbers, the excitement increased. The first attact made upon it, by its enemies, was by false representation and foul slander. By this engine it was assailed from every quarter, and by all classes of men, religious and unreligious: misrepresentation followed misrepresentation, falsehood after falsehood, followed each other in rapid succession, until there must have been multitudes of them created in a minute, by those employed in it, or else they could not have gotten so many put into circulation. This scheme not succeeding, the enemies had recourse to prosecutions, which were multiplied continually, apparently with determination, to destroy every person who united to aid and assist in bringing forth the work of the Lord. But all this not succeeding, according to the expectations of the persecutors; they united to all this power, that of mobs, driving men, women, and children, from their houses, draging them out in the dead hours of the night, out of their beds, whipping, tarring and feathering, and otherwise shamefully treating them.

Nor were those means the only ones resorted to in this work of persecution, but being determined to put an end to the church forever; they added to all the rest of the means used, stealing the property of the saints, also burning houses and charging it on their [the saints] heads, in order to raise public indignation against them; as also false swearing, and indeed we may add, all other means which the adversary had in his power to use, nothing seems to be left undone, that could be done, by men and demons, in order that the purposes of God might fail; but the object, so much desired by many, has not as yet been obtained. Under all this fire of persecution, the cause has rolled on with a steady course; the increase has been gradual, but constant, and the church, at this time, numbers many thousands: some in the old world have become obedient to the faith, multitudes in the Canadas, as well as in most parts of the United States.

During these scenes of persecution, a number of the saints have lost their lives, and others are missing, and it is unknown what has become of them; but the presumption is, that they have been secretly murdered.

No country, of which we have any knowledge, has offered so fair an opportunity for determining the great hostility which exists naturally in the human heart against God and against his work, as this one. In other countries, persecutions were carried on under the pretext of law; but in this country, where the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of every State in the Union, guarantees unto every person, the rights of conscience, and the liberty of worshiping as he pleases, to witness such scenes of persecution, as those which have followed this church from the beginning, in dispite of law, justice, equity, and truth, and at war with the very genius of our republican institutions, and contrary to the spirit and design of our government; surely evinces the depravity of the human heart, and the great hostility there exists in the hearts of the human family, against the work and the purposes of God; and most fully confirms the apostle's saying; that, "the carnal mind is enmity against God."

But notwithstanding all this violence, we can say as did Paul to the Corinthians: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." We have until this time, endured this great fight of affliction, and kept the faith. If the ancient saints had to endure as seeing him who is invisible - so have we. If they had to suffer the contradiction of sinners against themselves - so have we. If they had to undergo fears within, and fightings without - so have we. If they had to suffer stripes and imprisonments, for their religion's sake - so have we. If they were often in journeyings, in perils of water, in perils among robbers, in perils by their own countrymen, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - so are we. If they had to commend themselves to God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying and, behold, they lived; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things - so have we. If they went up through much tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb - so have we to go up through as great tribulation; and we trust in so doing, we will also wash our robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.

One cause of our heavy persecutions, is the influence which those have in the world, whom we have separated from the fellowship of the church for their wickedness; who attempted to gratify their vengence on us, and also to hide their own shame, by foul slanders and base calumny. We were at one time represented by them, as having all things in common: at another, as being enemies of the government: and in other places we were reported to be abolitionists, and indeed any thing, they thought best calculated to stir up the public mind, and to excite popular indignation; and if possible, put an end to the work, by sacrificing some of those who were considered as most active in supporting and defending the cause. But through the mercy of God, we are still in existence, and have the opportunity of joining with you in the privileges of this day.

In assembling on this occasion, our object is, not only to comply with the custom of our nation in celebrating the birth day of our liberties; but also to lay the corner stones of the edifice, about to be built in this place in honor of our God, to whom we ascribe the glory of our national freedom, as well as our eternal salvation; and whose worship we esteem of more consequence, than we do the treasures of Missouri; ready at all times, to offer unto him the sacrifice of our first fruits, and by untiring perseverence, patient industry, and faithful devotion to the cause of our God, rear this building to his name, designed, for the double purpose, of a house of worship and an institution of learning. The first floor will be for sacred devotion, and the two others, for the purpose of education. The building to be one hundred and ten feet by eighty, with three floors, and not far from thirty feet between the floors: all to be finished, according to the best stile of such buildings in our country. The entire expence, calculated as not far from one hundred thousand dollars: all when finished, to stand as a monument, of the power of union of effort and concert of action.

Next to the worship of our God, we esteem the education of our children and of the rising generation. For what is wealth without society, or society without intelligence. And how is intelligence to be obtained? - by education. It is that which forms the youthful mind: it is that alone, which renders society agreeable, and adds interest and importance, to the worship of God. What is religion without intelligence? - an empty sound. Intelligence is the root, from which all true enjoyments flow. Intelligence is religion, and religion is intelligence, if it is anything. Take intelligence from it, and what is left? a name - a sound without meaning. If a person desires to be truly pious in the sight of God, he must be purely intelligent. Piety without intelligence, is fanatacism, and devotion without understanding, is enthusiasm.

The object of our religion, is to make us more intelligent, than we could be without it, not so much, to make us acquainted with what we do see, as with what we do not see. It is designed to evolve the faculties, to enlighten the understanding, and through this medium, purify the heart. It is calculated to make men better, by making them wiser; more useful, by making them more intelligent; not intelligent on some subjects only, but on all subjects, on which intelligence can be obtained: and when science fails, revelation supplies its place, and unfolds the secrets and mysteries of the unseen world, leads the mind into the knowledge of the future existence of men, makes it acquainted with angels, principalities, and powers, in the eternal world; carries it into heaven and heavenly places; makes it acquainted with God, its Redeemer, and its associates in the eternal mansions; so that when science fails, and philosophy vanishes away, revelation, more extensive in its operations, begins where they [science and philosophy] ends, and feasts the mind with intelligence, pure and holy, from the presence of God. - Tells of eternal mansions, of immortal glories, of everlasting dominions, of angelic throngs, of heavenly hosts, of flaming seriphs, of crowns of glory, of palms of victory, of the saint's eternal triumph through a glorious resurrection, of songs of everlasting joy, of God the father of all, of Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and of the blood of the sprinkling, which speaketh better things, than that of righteous Abel.

It not only acquaints us with these eternal things, but it makes known unto us the future history of man in time, of the purposes of God, which have to be accomplished before the end of all things comes. It warns and forewarns, of the wars, the pestilences, the famines, the earthquakes, and the desolations, which are coming on the earth. The rising and falling of nations: and also the desolation of the earth itself: the falling of the mountains, the rising of the vallies, the melting of the rocks, the purifying of the elements by fire: of the sun's vailing his face, the moon's turning to blood, the stars of heaven falling: of the heavens rolling away as a scroll; and of Christ's descending from heaven in a cloud, with the shout of the archangel, and the trump of God. And of the wicked's fearing and trembling, of their faces gathering blackness, and of their seeking a refuge under the mountains, and of their calling upon the rocks to hide them from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; "For the great day of his wrath has come, and who shall be able to stand?"

All this mass of important intelligence, together with the final end of all thrones, and dominions, and principalities, and powers, and governments, which nothing else but revelation could make known, (for science, with all her powers, could never declare it, neither could philosophy, with her utmost stretch, reach it,) we obtain by our holy religion; for this is her province; it is the theatre where she acts; it is the business we have for her; it is to tell us things which nothing else could tell; it is to fill us with that kind of wisdom, which cometh down from above, and which is alone obtained by revelation, and by the powers which our holy religion confers, and by nothing else. In view then, of what we have already obtained, and of what there is to be obtained, we have assembled ourselves together in this remote land, to prepare for that which is coming on the earth, and we have this day laid the corner stones of this temple of God, and design, with as little delay as possible, to complete it, and to rear up to the name of our God in this city, "Far West," a house, which shall be a house of prayer, a house of learning, a house of order, and a house of God; where all the sciences, languages &c., which are taught in our country, in schools of the highest order, shall be taught. And the object is, to have it on a plan accessable to all classes, the poor, as well as the rich, that all persons in our midst, may have an opportunity to educate their children, both male and female, to any extent they please. So that all the talents in our midst, may be called forth, in order that we may avail ourselves, of all the means God puts into our hands, and put it into the power of all, to deliver themselves, from the impositions, and frauds, which are practicing upon the more illiterate part of the community, by those who have had superior advantages, or as far, at least, as learning can go to obtain this object.

One part of the house, shall be set apart for a place of worship, where we shall invoke our God for revelations, when we have gone as far as human learning can carry us, that by revelations, visions &c. we may fill the vacuum still left, after science and philosophy have done all they can do. So that we may have that understanding, and that wisdom which brings salvation, and that knowledge which is unto eternal life.

That whether there are wars, or famines, or pestilences, or earthquakes, or distress of nations, or whatever may come according to the purposes of our God, that we may know it before hand, and be prepared for it, so that none of these things shall overtake us as a thief in the night, and while we are crying peace and safety, sudden destruction come upon us.

The Savior of the world himself, while he was here with his disciples, said, that, "As it was in the days of Noah, so should it be at the coming of the Son of man. They were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, and giving in marriage, and knew not, until the flood came and swept them all away - So shall it be, at the coming of the Son of man." And Paul declared to the saints of his day, "That the day of the Lord so cometh, as a thief in the night. That when the people are crying peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape. And that wicked men and seducers, would wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." They will, says Peter, say, "where is the promise of his coming; for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."

Such is to be the state of the world, at the most important period in the existence of man's earthly residence. The description given by Isaiah, is tremendous in the extreme, "Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it up side down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people so with the priest; as with the servant so with his master, as with the maid so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him; the land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word. The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth, and fadeth away; the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth is also defiled under the inhabitants thereof, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left."

The prophet Malichi discribing the same scene and the same period of calamity says, "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and ALL the proud, and ALL that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

The psalmist David, in the majesty of his prophetic power, has left us a warning also, when he says, "The mighty God, even the Lord hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence; a fire shall devour before, him and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above and to the earth (that he may judge his people). Gather my saints together unto me; these that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness; for God is Judge himself."

Having then knowledge of these things, and the voice of God being unto us, to gather together, and make a covenant with our God by sacrifice. We have given heed thereunto, and, are here this day as witnesses for God, that he has not spoken in vain, neither has he said in vain. But the day and the hour of his judgements sleepeth not, neither to they slumber; and whether men believe or do not believe, it alters not the word which God hath caused to be spoken, but come it must, and come it will, and that to the astonishment, the confusion, and the dismay, of thousands who believe not, neither will they regard, until overtaken by it as a thief in the night, and sudden destruction come upon them, and there be none to deliver.

Knowing therefore the terrors of the Lord, we warn our fellow men, not only by precept, but example also, by leaving our former homes, to which we were bound by the strongest ties, suffering a sacrifice of the greatest share of our earthly possessions. Many of us, in times past, were rich, but for Jesus sake, and at the command of our God we have become poor, because he [Christ] became poor for our sakes; so in like manner, we follow his example, and become poor for his sake.

And as Moses left Egypt not fearing the wrath of the king, and refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, having respect to the recompense of reward. So do we, we choose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than enjoy the flatteries of the world for a season.

It is not because we cannot, if we were so disposed, enjoy both the honors and the flatteries of the world, but we have voluntarily offered them in sacrifice, and the riches of the world also, for a more durable substance. Our God has promised us a reward of eternal inheritance, and we have believe his promise, and though we wade through great tribulation, we are in nothing discouraged, for we know he that has promised is faithful. The promise is sure, and the reward is certain. It is because of this, that we have taken the spoiling of our goods. Our cheeks have been given to the smiters, and our heads to those who have plucked off the hair. We have not only when smitten on one cheek turned the other, but we have done it, again and again, until we are wearied of being smitten, and tired of being trampled upon. We have proved the world with kindness, we have suffered their abuse without cause, with patience, and have endured without resentment, until this day, and still their persecutions and violence does not cease. But from this day and this hour, we will suffer it no more.

We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever, for from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and to their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed. - Remember it then all MEN.

We will never be the agressors, we will infringe on the rights of no people; but shall stand for our own until death. We claim our own rights, and are willing that all others shall enjoy theirs.

No man shall be at liberty to come into our streets, to threaten us with mobs, for if he does, he shall attone for it before he leaves the place, neither shall he be at liberty, to villify and slander any of us, for suffer it we will not in this place.

We therefore, take all men to record this day, that we proclaim our liberty on this day, as did our fathers. And we pledge this day to one another, our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honors, to be delivered from the persecutions which we have had to endure, for the last nine years, or nearly that. Neither will we indulge any man, or set of men, in instituting vexatious law suits against us, to cheat us out of our just rights, if they attempt it we say wo be unto them.

We this day then proclaim ourselves free, with a purpose and a determination, that can never be broken, "no never! no never!! NO NEVER."!!!