December 31, 2008

Life On Gold Plates 2008: Year in Review

Since other blogs will be covering Mormonism in 2008 generally I decided to do a little navel gazing.

2008 was a formative year for LoGP. (I hit 30,000 visits last week!) Solo blogging can be tough but the site has come a long way from the original conception, which was essentially a slathering of my rather dull and random thoughts. Many of those posts are rather embarrassing now (I wonder what I'll think of this current stuff in a few years). I soon created a new project, "Journey Through the Journal," an exploration of the Journal of Discourses. It seems to have its wheels stuck in the mud; I made it to volume 4 and there I have stayed. I plan to revamp the series and continue, though it will not be the general focus of the site which has become a discussion on any number of topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. I learned how to make clickable footnotes, which is awesome. Finally, I bought a .com address and changed the design of the site after seeing the default blogger template being used by a billion other sites.

I want to thank other bloggers who placed links to my site on their own sites; otherwise I would have practically no visitors. After being placed on the excellent Mormon Archipelago my daily visits increased dramatically. Being a guest blogger at Juvenile Instructor raised the quality bar for me and I am grateful to them for that opportunity.

Many people found this site via Google and other search engines. Here's a list of some of the more interesting ways people wound up here over the last 12 months:

Top Search terms:

-Richard Bushman
-Brant Gardner
-3 nephites
-constitution hang by a thread 
-Funeral sermon

Interesting search terms:

Search: "how to hide plural marriage"
Result: "Plural marriage as discussed in the Church today"

Search: "what mormons think about intellectuals"
Result: "Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism"

Search: "humble plates"
Result: "Daniel C. Peterson on Humble Apologetics"

Search: "ex-mormon woman blog"
Result: "Bill Maher's "Religulous."

Search "wife murder celestial marriage"
Result: "May 13, 1857: The Murder of Parley P. Pratt"

Search: "baptize me"
Result: "Rebaptism and the Mormon Reformation"

Search: "who are the kids in jesus saves from hell t-shirts" and "anti mormon t shirts"
Result: "The Street Preachers and Me"

Search: "cigarette ash for toothaches" and "joseph smith alcohol teeth pulled"
Result: "The Development of the Word of Wisdom"

Search: "how to draw a liken"
Result: "'Liken With Care' series with Brant Gardner"

Search: "my life on gold"
Result: Life On Gold Plates

Search: "brigham purses"
Result: "Without Purse or Pig? Brigham's Missionary Wage"

Search: "how many mormons really believe the gold plates"
Result: "Method and Skepticism (and Quetzalcoatl...)"

Search: "meaning of profound thought"
Result: "Sacred Sorrow"

Search: "what is q for that gold has 6 and brown has 4?"
Result: "Matthew Brown: The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians"

Search: "mormon engagement plate"
Result: "Panel: Philosophy and Mormonism"

Search: "obama plates"
Result: "Is Obama the Anti-Christ?"

Top 10 Posts of the Year (in my opinion):

1. Brant Gardner and the "Likening With Care" series
      Gardner is an LDS scholar and Mesoamerican specialist who recently published Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Gardner spent some time with me discussing his work and the conversations resulted in a twelve-part series on the Book of Mormon.

2. Richard Bushman's transcripts, seminar, etc.
      It began in March when I completed a transcript of Bushman's address at Weber State University called "Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism." Perhaps the most heavily trafficked page on the site this year, his Introduction paper at the 2008 Bushman seminar was a treat to post.

3. 2008 FAIR Conference Notes
     I attended both days of the FAIR conference and jotted some notes as things proceeded for those unable to attend.

4. "Quote Mining"
      The more I blogged about the Journal of Discourses the more I tried to learn about the proper use of historical sources. This post is the result of some frustration over how I saw some historical sources being used. See "Contrasting Attitudes: Keeping things in context" as well.

5. "Committing Suicide to Get to the Telestial Kingdom?"
      This old nugget deserves closer scrutiny. With the help of Dr. Steuss, J. Stapely and Steven C. Harper I chased the origins of this idea.

6. "They leave the Church but can't leave it alone"
     I took a look at the possible origins of this quote and discussed the concept of apostasy generally, arguing that some people do leave the church and then also leave it alone. .

7. "Plural Marriage as Discussed in the Church Today"
     After hearing for the umpteenth time that the Church suppresses information about polygamy, I looked into how current teacher's manuals discuss the issue.

8. "Liken With Care"
     Latter-day Saints can be guilty of misusing or misunderstanding scripture and in this post I discuss the concept of likening scriptures to ourselves without necessarily wresting them from their original context using the concept of "apostasy of the early church" as a springboard.

9. "A Visit to the Southern Settlements: The Miracle of Unity"
     One of the better "Journey Through the Journal" posts, it is based upon an 1856 sermon by Parley P. Pratt and combines ideas from Eugene England's "Why the church is as true as the gospel." Honorable mentions to Spirit Recycling?, "Saints and crockery ware": The Temporal and Spiritual," and "Angels and Outhouses."

10. "The Development of the Word of Wisdom"
     A historical though brief look at the development of this principle-turned-commandment, including a J. Golden moment, of course.

Finally, I'd like to thank many Bloggernaclers who have made my participation worthwhile. I can't name them all but a few whose scholarship and kindness have aided and impressed me include J. Stapley, Ardis Parshall, Kevin Barney, Daniel C. Peterson, Richard Bushman (rarely on the bloggernacle himself of course), Dave Banack, Seth Payne, the folks over at Juvenile Instructor, FAIR, New Cool Thang, and many other friends.

December 29, 2008

Kevin Christensen in "Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals After Two Centuries"

Terryl Givens and Reid L. Nielson's new book Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals After Two Centuries, contains a two-part piece called "Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition" by Margaret Barker and Kevin Christensen. (I received the book for Christmas but have yet to delve in.)

Barker is a Methodist preacher who read theology at the University of Cambridge, England. She went on to pursue her research independently and was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998.1 Reappraisals isn't the first collection of papers on Joseph Smith in which Barker has been included. For instance, in 2005 she presented a paper for "The Worlds of Joseph Smith," an international academic conference at the Library of  Congress which was subsequently published in a volume by BYU Studies.2

Christensen earned his B.A. at San Jose State University and is a freelance technical writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has published in Dialogue and the FARMS Review among other places.3 He wrote a chapter regarding Barker's scholarship for Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem4 in addition to a FARMS Occasional Papers series called "Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies."5 He has discussed her scholarship on various LDS blogs and websites as well.6

Recently on the Mormon Apologetics & Discussion board Christensen made his thousandth post. He spoke briefly of his paper in Reappraisals then expressed some personal views of faith and scholarship. After some "congratulations" for having his paper included in the new book Christensen responded:


Many thanks. It's definitely an interesting experience, more than a little intimidating, being among such company. When Terryl asked me if I'd do it, I immediately leaned upon 1 Nephi 3:7. I could think of many others with far better credentials, but... they had asked me.

The Margaret Barker/Kevin Christensen piece is a two-parter called "Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition." Margaret's part delves deeply into the tensions in the Hebrew Bible regarding whether anyone can see the Face of the the Lord, and is very like the "Transformation and Transfiguration" chapter in her book Temple Themes in Christian Worship. She shows not only some conspicuous passages that illustrate the tension, but identifies many passages where the Hebrew has been pointed to obscure places where the text should explicitly refer to seeing the face of the Lord. The reforms of Deuteronomists make their appearance, and she brings in a lot about the temple as the proper setting for such theophanies.

My eleven page bit simply points out the relevance to Joseph Smith personal experience, to the D&C, to the LDS temple experiences at Kirtland and Nauvoo, and the stories of Lehi and Nephi in the Book of Mormon, as well as the 3 Nephi temple account. My own contribution came together when I thought of Carol Zaleski's observation in Otherworld Journeys that visions don't stand on their own, but require "a community and a context" to make them meaningful.7 Joseph Smith drew upon a Biblical context to interpret his own experiences, and spent his life trying to build a community in which such experiences could be shared.

At one point, one of the peer reviewers commented that our piece read like two separate essays. Margaret's reaction was that that was the point. It's a demonstration of independent witnesses. I think that the notion of independent witnesses agreeing together drives her fascination with Mormonism.

This is my 1000th post. Perhaps a good time for a bit of self-reflection.

While visiting my parents last week, my father printed out a list of all the descendents of Harry and Myrtle Mortenson. Grandpa Harry died of cancer before I was born. Grandma Mortenson lived in Cleveland, in Emery county Utah, a little farming community out in the desert. A little bit of sidewalk, a couple of little stores, a church, a post office, some poplar trees, some open irrigation ditches, and old fences. The print-out is small print, and seven pages. Grandma, from that little tiny town way out in the middle of nowhere had an effect for good that quite literally touched every corner of the world. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now even great-great grandchildren include missionaries who traveled literally all over the world, missionaries to every continent. And all it took was that she loved her 5 children, her many grandchildren, and the great grandchildren that she knew. She loved the gospel. We knew that, and it meant something to us. She did it without office, position, internet, or any other media than birthday cards, and her presence at family gatherings, especially mission farewells and temple marriages.

There is a passage in the D&C 123:15 that I have reflected upon more and more over the years. "Let no one count these as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity which depends upon these things."

I've seen remarkable goodness spreading through the world because of a little old lady living much of her life out in a small desert community. I have also seen the contrast elsewhere, in families broken, and the links between generations broken, testimonies not so much lost, as simply abandoned, and with it, the potential for a continuation of spreading goodness. A decade ago, at a crossroads of my own, I could have turned one way, but instead, turned another. It was nine years ago that I first ran across The Great Angel8 in a Half-Price books in Dallas. As a result I have experienced a great many things that I would not like to have missed, despite the difficult patches I had to get through to come this way. I appreciate the help I have had getting through the difficult bits. From my wife, my parents, my two children, my brothers and sisters, and those who have written the best books, and thought the best thoughts, and listened to the best promptings. Thanks for sharing encouragement, faith, hope, and light.

For those who lurk, who may feel small and voiceless, and without influence at times... think of my Grandma. Or, say, this story.

I think it was on ZLMB9 a few years back, or perhaps here, someone asked Dan Vogel if he and Brent Metcalfe were disappointed in the response to their New Approaches to the Book of Mormon.10 Dan responded that "We had no illusions about the impact of a single book."

At this point I posted a one line comment that "The Book of Mormon was a single book."11

Dan responded that it wasn't the same thing at all, since the church is a massive organization with media and thousands of missionaries. What was their book to that?

To which I noted that in 1830 the missionary program was Samuel Smith and a knapsack, and it was just one of the books in that knapsack that made the difference.

Don't count yourself as a small thing, for there is much in futurity that could depend on you. From some perspectives, we are nothing, as Mosiah and Moses point out with such clarity, re-enforcing a lot of the messages we may get from life. But from another perspective, we are the sons and daughters of God, disciples of Christ. And if we hang around, repent when we need to, and keep our eyes open, we may sometimes get glimpses of why we are here, taking up a little space, on this little planet in an immense speck of a galaxy, for a meaningful moment or two in the vastness of time.

Kevin Christensen
Bethel Park, PA


Barker has published several books including The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God and Temple Themes in Christian Worship. Some of Barker's research can be found on her website, Conversations between William J. Hamblin and Barker can be seen on YouTube.

The two-day academic event (May 6–7, 2005) was cosponsored by the Library of Congress and Brigham Young University. The purpose of the conference was stated as examining Joseph Smith's historical, religious, social, and theological contributions. MP3 are available here. The papers were subsequently published.

See some of Christensen's articles here.

See Christensen, "The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi's World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker," David R. Seely, JoAnn H. Seely, and John W. Welch, Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem.

Kevin Christensen, "Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies," FARMS Occasional Papers.

See, for example, "Plain and Precious Things Restored: Why Margaret Barker Matters," Meridian Magazine.

See Carol Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times, Oxford University Press (1988), p. 204.

Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God, Westminster John Knox Press (1992).

ZLMB is an acronym for the now defunct Zion's Lighthouse Message Board, "A Forum Sounding Board for Academicians, Apologists, and Skeptics Interested in things LDS."

Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, Signature Books (1993). Christensen took special interest in the book, publishing several reviews and responses. 

This exchange occurred on May 16-17, 2005. See the thread here.

December 22, 2008

"What Christmas Suggests to a Latter-day Saint" (1908)

Text not available

Christmas, to the Latter-day Saint, is both reminiscent and prophetic—a reminder of two great and solemn events, which will yet be regarded universally as the mightiest and the most wonderful happenings in the history of the human race. These events were predestined to take place upon this planet before it was created. One of them was the coming of the Savior in the meridian of time to die for the sins of the world; and the other is the prospective advent of the risen and glorified Redeemer, to reign upon the earth as King of kings.

Something of a parallel is suggested by events leading up to the two mighty epochs in question.

A work of preparation was necessary before the Son of God came in the flesh, to give His life as a vicarious offering to atone for original sin—the transgression of Adam and Eve—and to make it possible for man to secure the remission of his own sins, through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Even so, a preparatory work is necessary, and is now being performed, before the second advent of the Lord. Otherwise the earth would be consumed at His coming.

Preliminary to the first advent, a Prophet was raised up to herald the Savior's approach, and to administer ordinances of a preparatory nature—such as water baptism for the remission of sins—unto all who were willing to repent, that they might be worthy to meet the Lamb of God, the "mightier One" who would "baptize them with fire and with the Holy Ghost." A Prophet also came forth at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to proclaim the ancient gospel, to call men to repentance, to lift an ensign for the gathering of Israel, and to lay the foundations of a work designed to prepare the world for the glorious advent of the Messiah, and the ushering in of the Millennial reign of peace.

The mission of John the Forerunner paved the way for the greater ministry of Christ, whose name, through the preaching of the Apostles and their associates, was heralded throughout the then known world, and has been perpetuated and revered all down the centuries by millions of sincere and honest worshipers. And this, too, in spite of the malign influences of Paganism, which early corrupted the Christian Church, and rendered necessary the restoration of the gospel, with the powers of the priesthood, and the re-establishment of the Church of Christ on earth. The mission of Joseph the Seer, who stands at the head of this dispensation, is destined to spread the fame of the Redeemer still wider, and eventuate in the founding of a kingdom that shall stand forever, whose King will sanctify the earth and prepare it for celestial glory.

John suffered martyrdom for what he did in preparing the way of the Lord—and Joseph laid down his life in the same great cause. Foriit is all God's work—the things accomplished in the meridian dispensation and in the dispensations preceding it, as well as the great achievements reserved for the dispensation of the fulness of times, when the Lord will complete the salvation of man, and consummate the work begun by Him when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Adam fell that a world of waiting spirits who had kept their first estate, and were therefore worthy of promotion, might be "added upon" by being given mortal bodies in this their second estate, through which, if found faithful, .they were to have "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." The fall of Adam, while it brought death into the world, also gave opportunities for experience and development, by which perfection might be attained, while the atonement of Christ, in bursting the bands of death, made effectual man's strivings for that infinite perfection, giving the spirit, through the resurrection, a glorified body, as a means of endless increase, eternal progress and everlasting exaltation.

As already intimated, there have been various dispensations of the gospel, which was first revealed to Adam out of heaven, where it was instituted as the means—the only means—of man’s salvation. But the greatest dispensations are, without doubt, the two immediately connected with the resurrection, namely the one in which Christ Himself rose from the dead, and the one in which He will come in the clouds of heaven, simultaneously with the resurrection of the just, who are to reign with Him a thousand years. The final dispensation will witness the restitution of all things, the welding together of all the dispensations, the gathering unto one of all things in Christ, things in heaven as well as upon the earth.

Such in brief is the divine program, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, that latter-day restorer of the religion of Jesus Christ, the pre-ordained plan of salvation. This also is the significance of Christmas, or it is what Christmas suggests to the mind of any thoughtful Latter-day Saint.

It is in honor of our Lord that we observe this day, one celebrated throughout Christendom as the birth day of the world’s Redeemer. Christ is God, even Jehovah, the God of Israel and as such we worship Him. And we also honor the memory of His faithful servants John and Joseph, who in missions involving their martyrdom, went before His face, opening and preparing the way.

In the light of these solemn facts, and in the spirit of charity and goodwill exemplified and enjoined by our blessed Redeemer, we send forth to the Latter-day Saints and to all the world, a hearty and kindly Christmas greeting!

Let no one suppose that "Mormonism," so-called, is here to make war upon men, or upon creeds, governments, and institutions that men revere. It sustains law, order, liberty and truth, the world over. The Latter-day Saints are friends, not enemies, to mankind. That we have a message to deliver we know; and, God being our helper, we will deliver it, come life or death, come weal or woe! But we purpose doing this in the spirit of peace, in the spirit.of patience and brotherly love, forgiving our enemies, and returning good for evil; oppressing no man for refusing to listen to our testimony, nor ridiculing what he holds sacred, however false or foolish it may appear to us. The liberty of conscience is inviolable, and we stand ready to defend all men in the exercise of this sacred, God-given right. We may be abused and slandered for exercising this right ourselves, but heaven forbid that we should deny it to others! Despite the human weakness that all men possess, and which prompts them to retaliate when they feel themselves wronged, we will endeavor, with the help of the Lord, to follow His divine injunction: "When men revile you, revile not again." Our plain and simple duty is the preaching of the gospel, the gathering of scattered Israel, the redemption of Zion, and the salvation of the living and the dead. We have no warfare to wage against our fellow-men, no wrongs that we wish to avenge. We leave that to Him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." May He be merciful to those who misrepresent and bring trouble upon His people!

This gospel of the Kingdom was preached aforetimes as a witness unto all nations; and it is now being preached 'again for the last time and for a similar purpose. The "end" foreseen and predicted by the Savior, that was to follow its promulgation in ancient times, came in the downfall of wickedness, represented by the Jewish Commonwealth which had rejected the Son of God, and the message of salvation. The greater "end," also foreseen and predicted by Him, that will inevitably follow the rejection of the gospel in modern times, will come in the destruction of wickedness throughout the world.

But these issues are all in the hands of the Lord. He will do His own work in His own time and way. Our mission is not to curse, but to bless; not to punish or threaten, but to persuade men to do right. We preach salvation, not damnation; and in this spirit we send forth this greeting, echoing, and, if possible, emphasizing the salutation of the angels to the shepherds, on the first great Christmas night: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Joseph F. Smith,
John R. Winder,
Anthon H. Lund,
First Presidency.

"What Christmas Suggests to a Latter-day Saint," Millennial Star 70, January 1908, pp. 1-4. For an interesting holiday read see "Remembering Christmas Past: Presidents of the Church Celebrate the Birth of the Son of Man and Remember His Servant Joseph Smith," Larry C. Porter, BYU Studies 40.3, pp. 49-119. Image: "The First Presidency 1901-1910," Charles Savage, ca. 1901-1910, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

December 16, 2008

Committing Suicide to Get to the Telestial Kingdom?

"Joseph Smith said the Telestial Kingdom 
is so great that if you were able to see it you'd 
kill yourself just to get there..." 

Did he? Some members of the LDS Church might recall hearing this folk doctrine at some point but are usually unable to identify a source. It has been mentioned in a few talks and books by various Latter-day Saints, each offering their own take on the quote.

In a 1964 address to students at Brigham Young University, Patriarch Emeritus Eldred G. Smith attributed the statement to Joseph Smith, mentioning it as though it was a certain or verified statement:
I cannot for a minute conceive the telestial being hell, either, because it is considered a heaven, a glory. The Prophet Joseph Smith told us that if we could get one little glimpse into the telestial glory even, the glory is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there.
Then if the telestial is such a glorious occasion, a glorious heaven to get into, then how much greater would be the terrestrial, and still how much greater the celestial.1
I believe Patriarch Smith may actually be referring to a questionable third-hand account from Charles W. Walker who lived in St. George when Wilford Woodruff was assigned as the St. George temple president in 1877. (Incidentally, Walker wrote the hymn "Dearest Children, God is Near You."2) Walker's journal entry for August 19, 1877 states:
And on Friday last while speaking at the Funeral of Matilda Moody3 [Brother Woodruff] said we should improve the present time and do all we could for our dead ere death called us away. He referred to a saying of Joseph Smith which he heard him utter (like this) That if the People knew what was behind the vail, they would try by every means to commit suicide that they might get there, but the Lord in his wisdom had implanted the fear of death in every person that they might cling to life and thus accomplish the designs of their creator.4
"Friday last" would place the date of the quote on Friday August 17, 1877. Thus, rather than being a first-hand quote from Joseph Smith, the quote is a paraphrase written by Charles W. Walker two days after he heard Wilford Woodruff recall a statement from Joseph Smith, which would have been spoken at least 33 years earlier. As a result, the historical veracity of the quote is somewhat questionable. I would go as far as to call it a "rumor."

Compounding the mystery, however, is a quote from Lorin Farr. According to historian Steven Harper, Farr reported in 1900 that some sixty years earlier he had heard Joseph say something like "If we knew the condition of the spirits in the spirit world, thousands would commit suicide to get there.”5

The Walker quote is the only one I've seen quoted in subsequent LDS literature. Perhaps Farr heard it from Woodruff, though it wouldn't have been at the funeral, since there is no record of Farr traveling to St. George at the time. Further research needs to be done to see when Farr might have heard the quote from Joseph Smith, or perhaps from Woodruff or another source.

Regardless of the questionable nature of the quote it took on a life of its own. In addition to Patriarch Smith's reference mentioned above, several LDS authors and speakers have referred to the third-hand statement from Walker.

In volume 1 of the Deseret Book Studies in Scripture series (1989), edited by Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, contributor Larry Dahl referred to the folk doctrine in combination with D&C 76:89-90:
And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding; And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it.
In response to these verses Millet and Jackson clarify the suicide quote, stating it was not in reference only to the Telestial kingdom, but to "life behind the veil," still seeming to accept the quote at face value as an authentic quote by Joseph Smith:
Regarding "surpasses all understanding": A rather common notion in connection with this verse is that Joseph Smith had taught that if we knew what the telestial kingdom was like, we would commit suicide to get there. What the Prophet said was not in reference to the telestial kingdom, but to life ‘behind the veil,’ which may mean a number of things.6
Like Patriarch Smith they do not include the actual quote, but they do provide the reference to Walker's journal in a footnote.

At the 1992 Sperry Symposium at BYU, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel presented a paper on the poetic rendering of D&C 76. After the stanzas on the Telestial Kingdom he said:
An often repeated story associated with the telestial kingdom deals with something Joseph Smith was purported to have said: "The telestial kingdom is so great..." Wilford Woodruff recounted a comment by the Prophet that may be the basis of that apocryphal story. According to Charles Lowell Walker, Wilford Woodruff  "referred to a saying of Joseph Smith..." What he may have meant by this statement may never be known, but we do know that the happy state of those who inherit the telestial kingdom is emphasized in the poem.7

Unlike the previous references, Holzapfel appears more reluctant to accept the statement at face value, calling it "apocryphal" and noting that it is third-hand.

Likewise, Truman G. Madsen discussed the questionable nature of the quote before rephrasing it to what he believes the prophet may have said or meant:
Many of us have heard the statement made—and ascribed to either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young—to the effect that if a person could see the glory of the telestial kingdom he would commit suicide to get there. If only we could get the fundamental doctrines across to Church members as rapidly as we get across rumors, everyone would be saved. Am I saying that’s a rumor? 
Well, I am saying this, that over a period of many years I have combed everything Joseph Smith said and wrote, and I can’t find it. Hugh Nibley has done the same with Brigham Young’s words, and he can’t find it. It is hard to prove a negative, of course. What I can say is that we have found a statement from Joseph via Wilford Woodruff that says something else that is close, and I suspect it is the origin of the alleged statement. Elder Woodruff said the Prophet taught this, roughly: that if we could see what is beyond the veil we couldn’t stand to stay here in mortality for five minutes. And I suggest from the context that he was not talking about the telestial kingdom. He was talking about what it was like to be in the presence of God and the family.8
In Elder Russell M. Nelson's 1995 book Gateway We Call Death, Nelson softens the quote through ellipses rather than mentioning suicide:
Brigham Young was not the only leader to be deeply impressed with [Joseph Smith's] seership. Another contemporary penned this statement: "[Wilford Woodruff] referred to a saying of Joseph Smith, . . . That if the People knew what was behind the vail, they would try by every means . . . that they might get there, but the Lord in his wisdom has implanted the fear of death in every person that they might cling to life and thus accomplish the designs of their creator."9
Interestingly, Elder Nelson next relates a story Heber C. Kimball told about Jedediah M. Grant's visit to the Spirit World. Though Grant died shortly thereafter, it does not appear he attempted to commit suicide after his vision.10

Finally, as late as 1998 it has appeared in a book by Robert L. Millet. In his Mormon Faith: Understanding Restored Christianity Millet states:
Life's starkest reality is death...Even among those who see by the lamp of understanding, death is frequently viewed with fear and trembling. Joseph Smith is reported to have taught that "if the people knew what was behind the veil, ..."11
He offers no other commentary on the quote and I am unsure why it is included, as he next discusses spirit prison and spirit paradise without further talk of arrival-by-suicide. I suspect the quote is used to soothe trepidation regarding death or to help a grieving person see that life after death is not frightening, that a loved one is likely happy there.

Nevertheless, I believe the quote is too unverifiable to be considered a sure statement of Joseph Smith. Of course, both he and Sidney Rigdon beheld the glory of the Telestial, Terrestrial and Celestial kingdoms (see D&C 76) and managed to not commit suicide. Furthermore, even if Joseph said something similar (which I suspect he could have) I would not take such a statement as a prophecy or as doctrine, thinking that simply seeing the other side results in a suicide attempt.I place the statement in the "folk doctrine" arena, a "theological Twinkie" with the unpleasant inclusion of suicide.

Eldred G. Smith, "Exaltation," BYU Speeches of the Year, March 10, 1964, p. 4. The sermon appears to be rather extemporaneous with no clear outline. In addition to the suicide comment he discusses things like spirit birth, Mother in Heaven, and precisely calculates the "Lord's time" by referring to Abraham 3:4. ("Compare our time with the Lord's time: If we live on this earth to be a hundred years old, that is only two hours and twenty-four minutes in the Lord's time. A little simple mathematics..."). The picture is Sam Brown's "we might as well," Exploding Dog, 11/17/2008. Thanks to Greg Smith and Daniel Peterson for verifying some sources for me.

For more on Walker see Leonard J. Arrington, Davis Bitton, "Charles L. Walker: Sage of Saint George," Saints without Halos: The Human Side of Mormon History (Signature Books, 1981), pp.63-71.

Matilda Moody, or Sarah Matilda Damron Moody, was born either on January 8, 1836 in Weekly Co., Illinois or January 31, 1836 in Barry Co., Missouri (see Florence C. Youngberg, Conquerors of the West, p. 1700). She was baptized a member of the LDS Church on July 23, 1846. She received her endowment and became the third wife of John Monroe Moody on Dec. 20, 1857 at the Salt Lake City Endowment House. She bore six children. She died in St. George, Utah on August 16, 1877, thus the funeral at which Woodruff spoke was the following day. The Deseret News, though regularly publishing death notices, did not publish her obituary or death announcement (see "Deseret News Weekly Death and Marriage Notices, 1852-1898"). Her family history information was submitted by Vern Taylor in 2006.

Charles Lowell Walker Diary, 19 Aug. 1877, LDS Church Archives. Published in Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, ed. by A. Karl Larson and Katherine M. Larson (Logan, Ut.: Utah State University Press, 1980), vol. 1, pp. 465-66. Woodruff referred to the funeral in his journal, but did not mention speaking. His entry for August 17, 1877 states "I spent the day in the Temple. Gave Endowments to 95 One half of them Swiss. Ordained 32 Elders. J D. T. McAllister sealed 13 Couple D H Cannon 11. I attended the funeral of Sister Moody wife of John M Moody. I wrote 2 letters to Sarah and B[ell/ulah?]. (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Volume 7, pp. 366-367). Apparently this was a busy week for Elder Woodruff. On the 21st he was baptized for 100 people, including ordinance work for the signers of the Declaration of Independence. On the 29th he learned by telegraph that Brigham Young passed away in Salt Lake City. See Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, p. 501.

Lorin Farr, Weber Stake High Priests Quorum Minute Book, 1896–1929, series 13, vol. 1, p. 110, 27 October 1900, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. Found in Steven Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants: A Guided Tour through Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008) pp. 267-268.
Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants (Deseret Book 1989), pp. 305-308.

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, "Eternity Sketch'd in a Vision": The Poetic Version of Doctrine & Covenants 76," Heavens Are Open: The 1992 Sperry Symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History (1993) p. 155.

Truman G. Madsen, "The Awesome Power of Married Love," Radiant Life (Deseret Book, 1994) p. 91.

Russell M. Nelson, "The Veil is Sometimes Thin," Gateway We Call Death (Deseret Book, 1995), pp. 95-96 (ellipses in original).

Heber C. Kimball's account is in Journal of Discourses 4:135-36.

Robert L. Millet, "The Origin and Destiny of Man," Mormon Faith: Understanding Restored Christianity (Deseret Book, 1998) pp. 63-64.

December 12, 2008

Resurrection as an Ordinance?

In a lecture at Calvary Chapel in Chino, California, counter-cultist Kurt Van Gorden noted that Mormon men have the option of resurrecting their wives (or not resurrecting them). Daniel C. Peterson described the exchange:
Naturally, as Rev. Van Gorden explained, this puts LDS women in a "precarious position," for if a wife does not treat her husband well enough, he may be inclined to simply let her "lay in her grave and rot." Now, I really liked this. I immediately announced to my wife that I was never going to eat cooked carrots again. I don't like them, I'm tired of them, and she had better not put them on my plate.1
Some of the more bizarre criticisms of the Church aren't created from whole cloth; perhaps Van Gorden was referring to speculations or statements from past church leaders who said resurrection will be an ordinance of sorts (or at least requiring priesthood keys in order to occur). Bearing in mind that not all statements of General Authorities carry the weight of revelation or scripture,2 Brigham Young tied "keys" to resurrection:
When the angel who holds the keys of the resurrection shall sound his trumpet, then the peculiar fundamental particles that organized our bodies here, if we do honor to them, though they be deposited in the depths of the sea, and though one particle is in the north, another in the south, another in the east, and another in the west, will be brought together again in the twinkling of an eye, and our spirits will take possession of them.3
In 1872 he stated his belief that there are some ordinances the Church does not currently practice, one being resurrection:
It is supposed by this people that we have all the ordinances in our possession for life and salvation, and exaltation, and that we are administering in these ordinances. This is not the case.

We are in possession of all the ordinances that can be administered in the flesh; but there are other ordinances and administrations that must be administered beyond this world. I know you would ask what they are.

I will mention one. We have not, neither can we receive here, the ordinance and the keys of the resurrection. They will be given to those who have passed off this stage of action and have received their bodies again, as many have already done and many more will. They will be ordained, by those who hold the keys of the resurrection, to go forth and resurrect the Saints, just as we receive the ordinance of baptism, then the keys of authority to baptize others for the remission of their sins. This is one of the ordinances we can not receive here, and there are many more."4
Additionally, Wilford Woodruff's journal contains the following:
Who will resurrect Joseph's Body? It will be Peter, James, John, Moroni, or someone who has or will receive the keys of the resurrection. It will probably be one of those who hold the keys of this dispensation and has delivered them to Joseph and you will see Jesus and he will eat peaches and apples with you.5 But the world will not see it or know it for wickedness will increase. Joseph and Jesus will be there. They will walk and talk with them at times and no man mistrusts who they are. Joseph will lead the Armies of Israel whether He is seen or no, whether visible or invisible as seemeth him good.

Joseph has got to receive the keys of the resurrection for you and I. After he is resurrected he will go and resurrect Brother Brigham, Brother Heber, and Brother Carloss, and when that is done then He will say, "now go Brother Brigham and resurrect your wives and children and gather them together. While this is done, the wicked will know nothing of it, though they will be in our midst and they will be struck with fear. This is the way the resurrection will be. All will not be raised at once but will continue in this way until all the righteous are resurrected.

After Joseph comes to us in his resurrected body, He will more fully instruct us concerning the baptism for the dead and the sealing ordinances. He will say, be baptized for this man and that man and that man be sealed to that such a man to such a man, and connect the Priesthood together. I tell you their will not be much of this done until Joseph comes.... Our hearts are already turned to him and his to us.6 
Perhaps there is some speculation in connection with a portion of the temple ceremony before a husband and wife are sealed.7 Hugh Nibley has made connections between ordinances and resurrection in Egyptian ritual, for example.8 The closest contemporary reference I could find dealt not with the resurrection as an ordinance, but with the priesthood keys playing a part in the final judgment as stated in Matthew 19:27-28 (see footnote 3 below). The Encyclopedia of Mormonism makes no mention of it in the Resurrection article but makes an oblique reference to priesthood power directing raising of the dead, which is considered temporal (such as in the raising of Lazarus) contrasted with the eternal resurrection.9

Daniel C. Peterson, "Easier than Research, More Inflammatory than Truth," 2000 FAIR Conference address.
The picture is adapted from Aaron Brown's "I never planned on falling in love with you," Exploding Dog Comics, Sept. 10, 2008.

See FAIRwiki, "Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders." The drift of this doctrinal stance has been mentioned by LDS leaders from Joseph Smith ("a prophet is a prophet only when he is acting as such" [History of the Church 5:265]) to the present. Also consider the recent statement from LDS Public Affairs:
Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church...Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines" (Approaching Mormon Doctrine," LDS Newsroom, May 4, 2007).
Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 372. Perhaps these keys involve the concept of judgment found in the New Testament, wherein Christ told the apostles "ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:27-28; see also Luke 22:28-30). Brigham and other early leaders taught this principle extended to whomever held the keys over a particular dispensation in which people live. For more, see "Priesthood: the chain that reaches from heaven to earth."

Brigham Young, Aug. 24, 1872, Journal of Discourses 15:137.

See "Priesthood: the chain that reaches from heaven to earth." It appears the concept of priesthood stewardship was part of Woodruff's reasoning as well.

Susan Staker, ed., Waiting for the World's End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, pp.168-169. For a review, see Matt W., "Initial Thoughts on “Waiting for Worlds End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff," New Cool Thang, Nov. 10, 2008.

W. John Walsh's statements appear to hint toward that interpretation, but asserts resurrection is the right of Christ:
Now, Latter-day Saints do believe that in some instances, a woman's husband will be given the privilege of performing the resurrection ordinance for and in behalf of the Savior. In cases where a woman does not have a worthy husband, the Savior may allow her father to do so. Likewise, a man's father will be given the privilege of resurrecting him. In such cases, the person performing the resurrection ordinance is simply performing the ordinance for and in behalf of the Savior (Walsh, "Do Husbands Resurrect Their Wives?" All About Mormons.)
The topics of spouse resurrection and the Temple are discussed by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson in Mormonism 101(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books). In a chapter on the Temple they state "Historically, Mormon leaders have taught that the husband has the ability to call his wife from the grave by her new name on resurrection day" (McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 209). In a review by FAIR, Ben McGuire counters the assertion. See McGuire, "Temple," Mormonism 201 (Review of McKeever, Johnson, Mormonism 101), FAIR.

Hugh Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd ed. For an overview see Bryce Hammond's "The Egyptian Ankh, 'Life! Health! Strength!'" on his Temple Study blog.

Douglas L. Callister, "Resurrection," pp.1222-1223, and Dennis D. Flake, "Raising the Dead," p. 1192, in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

December 8, 2008

A New Book of Mormon Wordprint Analysis

Update: Check Jeff Lindsay's response here, which notes some benefits and drawbacks to the new wordprint analysis. 

Three scholars from Stanford recently completed another "wordprint analysis" of the Book of Mormon, the newest in a series of studies completed by various researchers over the past few decades. Matthew L. Jockers (Department of English), Daniela M. Witten (Department of Statistics) and Craig S. Criddle (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) published "Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification" in December 2008. The study can be found in the Oxford Journal of Literary and Linguistic Computing.

I note out the outset I am not a statistics or linguistic analysis expert. I have read the paper and reached a few preliminary conclusions, though others are currently dissecting the paper and checking the intricate details. I expect a full response by people who know much more than me in the very near future. Be that as it may, I offer my initial thoughts here.

First, it should be stated that other wordprint analysis studies have been said to demonstrate the Book of Mormon had more than one author, and that statistically, the odds of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon or Solomon Spalding (sometimes Spaulding) were found to be slim to none.1 Those who performed these earlier studies included believing Mormons and others unaffiliated with the Church. In the case of the current study, Craig Criddle has participated on the website "Recovery From Mormonism" (RFM) detailing his loss of faith and his leaving the Church, and written on his disbelief in the Book of Mormon in other venues. Thus, like the former studies supposedly used to bolster the claims of Joseph Smith, the new study (potentially used to contradict his claims) is not untainted by ideology or presuppositions.

Second, I see a pretty big flaw in their method. It seems they decided to use the original text of the Book of Mormon as published in 1830 by E. B. Grandin rather than the original manuscript or printers manuscript. Thus additions made by Oliver Cowdery in editing/copying the manuscript for printing, as well as any changes made by the typesetters, are unaccounted for. More importantly, they decided to analyze the current chapter structure, rather than the original:

We opted to use the chapter structure currently recognized by modern Mormon Church editors to create our text samples. This results in a total of 239 text segments for testing. This approach yields texts that are generally of adequate size (verses are too small and books too large), recognizes natural breaks in the narrative, facilitates cross-referencing to online resources, and avoids the chance that we have imposed our own bias.2
The current chapter/verse structure is not original to the Book of Mormon. It was not created until 1879 when Orson Pratt published a new edition of the book under approval of the First Presidency. Brant Gardner's analysis of the Book of Mormon shows that Pratt follows a pretty consistent pattern in dividing chapters but actually did quite a bit of damage to the original structural patterns of the book. There are notable differences in chapter division style between the small plates of Nephi and the rest of the book, for example. He also divided chapters and verses to align with the structure of the King James Version of the Bible when a correlation was apparent. Like Pratt, Mormon also followed a consistent pattern in deciding when to begin new chapters and as Royal Skousen's work has shown, the original chapter divisions were a part of the original dictation manuscript.3 I believe this should have been taken into account. Were it shown that chapters overlap where different authors are said to have written the same chapter (now divided into separate chapters) the underlying assumption of the results is undermined. At any rate, I would have hoped that the group would stick to the original composition of the Book of Mormon as it was written.

Further, and I believe most damaging, the authors do not include Joseph Smith in the study. (Or did they include him, but not include the results in the published study?) Either way, that is a massively gaping hole. The study apparently shows that Rigdon and Spaulding are more likely than Pratt or Longfellow (a control subject) to have written the Book of Mormon. This says little about whether they did, only that it matches some better than others, and they did not include Joseph Smith himself. They also did not consider the nature of translation which is a fundamental aspect of approaching authorship of the Book of Mormon in my opinion. If it really is a translation we would expect it to reflect the knowledge or language of the translator. All the more reason Joseph Smith ought to be included in the results.

Finally, the study is premised on the shaky "Spaulding theory." I believe the historical foundation, as a result, is extremely tenuous.4 It also goes without saying that, despite Rigdon's falling out with the Church after Joseph Smith's death he never made a claim to have been involved with the Book of Mormon before his conversion.

Finally, as Ben McGuire pointed out to me, They do not claim to be able to assign a probability to each putative author. The authors of the study claim to be able to assign a relative probability to each putative author - that is, Solomon Spalding was 95% more likely to be the author of passage X than was Sidney Rigdon, and 99% more likely than Longfellow. In other words, it is not really proving any of the men wrote the book, only that some on their list are more likely to have done so, based on other writings, than the others. And again, Joseph is not in the mix. At best the study is a theory, though vastly far from hard proof. I remain unconvinced, just as before, in regards to wordprint analysis and the Book of Mormon.5 Now I wait to see what the experts have to say.

For a brief overview, check the article on FAIRwiki, "Book of Mormon wordprint studies." See especially the cited sources at the end of the page.

Criddle, et. al., p. 6.

While I do not follow all of Skousen's end conclusions, I believe his analysis of the Book of Mormon text itself is crucial and trustworthy. See Skousen, Translating the Book of Mormon, 85-86; Skousen, How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon, 27-28. His overall study is The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text, edited by Royal Skousen (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001) and The Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts, edited by Royal Skousen (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001). Gardner's Second Witness series makes great use of Skousen's analysis.

See Wade Englund's response to the Spaulding theory here and Matthew Roper, "The Mythical 'Manuscript Found,'" FARMS Review (City Unknown: FARMS, 2005), 7-140.

In regards to wordprint analysis and the Book of Mormon, a good primer is John B. Archer, John L. Hilton, and G. Bruce Schaalje, "Comparative Power of Three Author-Attribution Techniques for Differentiating Authors," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 6:1.

December 4, 2008

Brant Gardner fireside announcement

"Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon: Deepening our Understanding through Cultural Context" 

"Join us for a thought-provoking evening presented by Brant A. Gardner, Mesoamerican scholar and author of Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Brother Gardner is a popular speaker whose knowledge and faithful insights have fascinated many."

Date: Friday, December 5, 2008

Time: 7:00 pm

Who: Everyone interested

Where: Sharon Park 5th Ward 150 E. 600 North Orem, UT 84057

The presentation will be made in the chapel. Refreshments will be served after the presentation and a question and answer session.

For further information, please contact Allen Wyatt (801-226-2398).

For more on Brant Gardner's work see the blog series "Likening With Care." 

The Book of Mormon is plausible as an ancient document because:

This post is a continuation of the LoGP series "Likening With Care." 

Brant Gardner recently threw a quick list together to argue the Book of Mormon is plausible as an ancient text (not that it is proved to be one).

1) It has a plausible geography that correlates in specific ways with real world geography.

2) It has a plausible political geography that correlates with specific cultural divisions, times, and geography, all in the right times and places.

3) It has a plausible historical setting in that known socio-political trends of the region are appropriately reflected in the text.

4) It has appropriate descriptions of kin-based cities and later city hierarchies (beholding kings) that accurately represent the nature of Mesoamerican political systems but are unlike anything Joseph could have known.

5) It accurately represents the military use of particular weaponry, even though Joseph could not have known how those would have been used in battle arrangement.

6) Accurately represents certain military tactics that were not typical for Joseph's contemporary armies, but which are represented in textual information of Aztec tactics

7) Presents an authentic function of Mesoamerican warfare for tribute relations rather than concepts of victory that come from any nation Joseph Smith would have known.

8)Presents the story of the Mulekites moving from one cultural area and Nephites moving north to find them, creating a clash of languges. This is mirrored in known history by the movement of Zoquean speakers into the Grijalva River valley and meeting with Maya speakers from the south. The time periods for both the secular history and the Book of Mormon history are the same.

That is enough for now.

Where can we get specific demonstrations of these points, Brant?

I have documented them. Unfortunately, they are scattered through 6 volumes.1


Brant Gardner,, March 26, 2008. It deserves note that Gardner's commentary is more substantive than simply demonstrating his above listed hypotheses. Some of these items will be discussed in an upcoming fireside.

December 2, 2008

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin Dies, Age 91

SALT LAKE CITY - 2 December 2008

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, the oldest living apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last night, age 91.

Elder Wirthlin had gone to bed at his Salt Lake City home, and died peacefully at about 11:30 pm of causes incident to age. His oldest daughter, Jane Wirthlin Parker, was present. A member of the family had been staying and caring for Elder Wirthlin, whose wife, Elisa Young Rogers Wirthlin, died in 2006.

He had continued to work at his office right up until the Thanksgiving holiday.

Funeral arrangements will be announced


Elder Wirthlin's last conference address:

Come What May, and Love It

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
The way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.
Elder Joseph B. WirthlinWhen I was young I loved playing sports, and I have many fond memories of those days. But not all of them are pleasant. I remember one day after my football team lost a tough game, I came home feeling discouraged. My mother was there. She listened to my sad story. She taught her children to trust in themselves and each other, not blame others for their misfortunes, and give their best effort in everything they attempted.

When we fell down, she expected us to pick ourselves up and get going again. So the advice my mother gave to me then wasn’t altogether unexpected. It has stayed with me all my life.

“Joseph,” she said, “come what may, and love it.”
I have often reflected on that counsel.

I think she may have meant that every life has peaks and shadows and times when it seems that the birds don’t sing and bells don’t ring. Yet in spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result.

There may be some who think that General Authorities rarely experience pain, suffering, or distress. If only that were true. While every man and woman on this stand today has experienced an abundant measure of joy, each also has drunk deeply from the cup of disappointment, sorrow, and loss. The Lord in His wisdom does not shield anyone from grief or sadness.

For me, the Lord has opened the windows of heaven and showered blessings upon my family beyond my ability to express. Yet like everyone else, I have had times in my life when it seemed that the heaviness of my heart might be greater than I could bear. During those times I think back to those tender days of my youth when great sorrows came at the losing end of a football game.

How little I knew then of what awaited me in later years. But whenever my steps led through seasons of sadness and sorrow, my mother’s words often came back to me: “Come what may, and love it.”

How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.

If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness.

Over the years I have learned a few things that have helped me through times of testing and trial. I would like to share them with you.

Learn to Laugh
The first thing we can do is learn to laugh. Have you ever seen an angry driver who, when someone else makes a mistake, reacts as though that person has insulted his honor, his family, his dog, and his ancestors all the way back to Adam? Or have you had an encounter with an overhanging cupboard door left open at the wrong place and the wrong time which has been cursed, condemned, and avenged by a sore-headed victim?
There is an antidote for times such as these: learn to laugh.

I remember loading up our children in a station wagon and driving to Los Angeles. There were at least nine of us in the car, and we would invariably get lost. Instead of getting angry, we laughed. Every time we made a wrong turn, we laughed harder.

Getting lost was not an unusual occurrence for us. Once while heading south to Cedar City, Utah, we took a wrong turn and didn’t realize it until two hours later when we saw the “Welcome to Nevada” signs. We didn’t get angry. We laughed, and as a result, anger and resentment rarely resulted. Our laughter created cherished memories for us.

I remember when one of our daughters went on a blind date. She was all dressed up and waiting for her date to arrive when the doorbell rang. In walked a man who seemed a little old, but she tried to be polite. She introduced him to me and my wife and the other children; then she put on her coat and went out the door. We watched as she got into the car, but the car didn’t move. Eventually our daughter got out of the car and, red faced, ran back into the house. The man that she thought was her blind date had actually come to pick up another of our daughters who had agreed to be a babysitter for him and his wife.

We all had a good laugh over that. In fact, we couldn’t stop laughing. Later, when our daughter’s real blind date showed up, I couldn’t come out to meet him because I was still in the kitchen laughing. Now I realize that our daughter could have felt humiliated and embarrassed. But she laughed with us, and as a result, we still laugh about it today.

The next time you’re tempted to groan, you might try to laugh instead. It will extend your life and make the lives of all those around you more enjoyable.

Seek for the Eternal
The second thing we can do is seek for the eternal. You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, “Why me?”

But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt.

I love the scriptures because they show examples of great and noble men and women such as Abraham, Sarah, Enoch, Moses, Joseph, Emma, and Brigham. Each of them experienced adversity and sorrow that tried, fortified, and refined their characters.

Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others.

Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others.

Remember the sublime words of the Savior to the Prophet Joseph Smith when he suffered with his companions in the smothering darkness of Liberty Jail: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”1
With that eternal perspective, Joseph took comfort from these words, and so can we. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome.

The Principle of Compensation
The third thing we can do is understand the principle of compensation. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.

One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.

Because Heavenly Father is merciful, a principle of compensation prevails. I have seen this in my own life. My grandson Joseph has autism. It has been heartbreaking for his mother and father to come to grips with the implications of this affliction.

They knew that Joseph would probably never be like other children. They understood what that would mean not only for Joseph but for the family as well. But what a joy he has been to us. Autistic children often have a difficult time showing emotion, but every time I’m with him, Joseph gives me a big hug. While there have been challenges, he has filled our lives with joy.

His parents have encouraged him to participate in sports. When he first started playing baseball, he was in the outfield. But I don’t think he grasped the need to run after loose balls. He thought of a much more efficient way to play the game. When a ball was hit in his direction, Joseph watched it go by and then pulled another baseball out of his pocket and threw that one to the pitcher.

Any reservations that his family may have had in raising Joseph, any sacrifices they have made have been compensated tenfold. Because of this choice spirit, his mother and father have learned much about children with disabilities. They have witnessed firsthand the generosity and compassion of family, neighbors, and friends. They have rejoiced together as Joseph has progressed. They have marveled at his goodness.

Trust in the Father and the Son
The fourth thing we can do is put our trust in our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”2 The Lord Jesus Christ is our partner, helper, and advocate. He wants us to be happy. He wants us to be successful. If we do our part, He will step in.

He who descended below all things will come to our aid. He will comfort and uphold us. He will strengthen us in our weakness and fortify us in our distress. He will make weak things become strong.3

One of our daughters, after giving birth to a baby, became seriously ill. We prayed for her, administered to her, and supported her as best we could. We hoped she would receive a blessing of healing, but days turned into months, and months turned into years. At one point I told her that this affliction might be something she would have to struggle with the rest of her life.

One morning I remember pulling out a small card and threading it through my typewriter. Among the words that I typed for her were these: “The simple secret is this: put your trust in the Lord, do your best, then leave the rest to Him.”

She did put her trust in God. But her affliction did not disappear. For years she suffered, but in due course, the Lord blessed her, and eventually she returned to health.

Knowing this daughter, I believe that even if she had never found relief, yet she would have trusted in her Heavenly Father and “[left] the rest to Him.”

Although my mother has long since passed to her eternal reward, her words are always with me. I still remember her advice to me given on that day long ago when my team lost a football game: “Come what may, and love it.”

I know why there must be opposition in all things. Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. We can learn to love it.

As we look for humor, seek for the eternal perspective, understand the principle of compensation, and draw near to our Heavenly Father, we can endure hardship and trial. We can say, as did my mother, “Come what may, and love it.” Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

1. D&C 121:7–8.
2. John 3:16.
3. See Ether 12:27.

December 1, 2008

Remember "Kolob Sunday"?

From the "backburner never got around to posting" department:
A question by message board participant "battlefieldboy" once sparked BYU professor Daniel C. Peterson's memory of the good old days:

I have other Questions like how come the Church doesn't teach about Kolob anymore is it because it was such a silly notion that we would be laughed out of mainstream christianity. Kind of like believing the world is flat.

Daniel Peterson:
Actually, I didn't realize that we had ever been in "mainstream Christianity," or that we even aspired to join.

You're right, though. When I was a boy, the second Sunday of every month was "Kolob Sunday," when sacrament meeting talks were turned over to contemplation of Kolob and we attended dressed in spacesuits. There were at least thirty or forty hymns in the hymnal dedicated to Kolob. Every fourth year in the Sunday School and seminary curriculum was focused on Kolobology. Our stake used to run a group of observatories up on Mt. Wilson, above the Pasadena area, that we used to search for Kolob, and occasionally we got to go down to the even bigger Kolob-searching facility on Mt. Palomar, jointly run by the stakes near San Diego. But now there's only one rarely-sung hymn left, and we've sold off the observatories.

P.S. With John Gee and Bill Hamblin, I just published an article in the book Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, focused to a certain extent on Kolob. I didn't realize that we don't do that anymore. Whoops.1

Conversation posted to the message board, August 11, 2007.
The article to which Peterson refers is "And I Saw the Stars: The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy" by John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid.

November 25, 2008

"Hi folks. My name is Peter." (A missionary approach)

From the "backburner never got around to posting" department:

The recent introduction of Preach My Gospel as the fundamental missionary approach for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was an exciting development for me. Still, despite its strengths,1 undoubtedly some will still notice its apparent weaknesses.

For example, some critics assert Mormons, and especially missionaries, need to provide a fuller picture of their history. (Strangely, some who claim the Church spends too much time on Joseph Smith at the expense of Jesus Christ also appear to want more discussion of Smith.) Daniel C. Peterson's fundamental nature seems to render him incapable of avoiding this opportunity for satire. He offered the following as a possible rewrite of an early Christian missionary approach, providing a more full account of the controversies surrounding the apostolic witness:

"Hi folks. My name is Peter. I am an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus. I saw him alive, after I had seen him killed. However, as mandated by the rules of full disclosure and in accordance with best historiographical practices, I need to point out that my credibility as a witness has been questioned. I may be entirely insane. (Who am I to say?) Worse, I have serious character issues. I assaulted a young temple servant in the Garden of Gethsemane, for instance, intending to kill him with my sword. I lied about knowing Jesus in order to protect myself from possible harm. (Even friendly sources admit these things.) I was really, really upset by the death of Jesus and the disappointment of our messianic hopes -- we had given up our lucrative fish business in Capernaum and devoted three full years to following Jesus around as vagrant religious fanatics without productive jobs (Jesus promised me and my brothers a rich pay-off if we did, so you shouldn't forget the self-interest angle here), and you can imagine the psychic shock we experienced when he was suddenly killed -- so it's possible that I merely imagined Jesus' postmortem appearances. Wish-fulfillment, and all that. (I've read my Freud!) And, to cap it all, I'm a primitive ancient person, absolutely awash in pre-scientific superstitions, from a provincial backwater town in a provincial backwater country, with virtually no education. Would you buy a used car from me? Anyway, though, as I was saying: I'm an eyewitness. I saw, or claim I saw, or think I saw, Jesus, in some form, alive, in some sense, after he was possibly dead. (What am I? A doctor? [You and my Jewish mother!] You think we maybe had electroencephalographs or even scientifically rigorous definitions of death in 33 AD?) If you believe what I'm telling you, the Roman authorities aren't gonna like it. Well, that's all for now, folks. It's hard to talk, upside down on a cross like this. Fortunately, some rabbinic anti-Christian tracts have fallen out of my pockets. Feel free to read them. And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask them: I've probably only got an hour or two of consciousness left."2

For example, I believe Preach My Gospel emphasizes more flexibility and more responsibility for the missionary to not only better understand the scriptures, but focus on allowing the Spirit to dictate the discussions.

Daniel C. Peterson, posted to the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board, July 20, 2006.

November 21, 2008

On Opposition as Evidence of Truth

A YouTube video of Robert Millett (left) presumably addressing future missionaries has been used by various critics of the Church to claim that Latter-day Saints encourage the practice of "lying for the Lord."1 In it, Millett relates the following:

If I didn't already know by the whisperings of the Spirit to my soul that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact the Kingdom of God on earth, that we hold the fulness of the Gospel, that we hold the priesthood of Almighty God--if I didn't already know that in a quiet way--I might suspect that's the case by the kind of loud opposition that that very concept elicits.
This reminded me of something Brigham Young related in regards to building the Salt Lake Temple in 1861:
If you wish this Temple built, go to work and do all you can this season. Some say, “I do not like to do it, for we never began to build a Temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.” 
I want to hear them ring again. All the tribes of hell will be on the move, if we uncover the walls of this Temple. But what do you think it will amount to? 
You have all the time seen what it has amounted to.2

Certainly the early Saints had good reason (from experience) to fear the opposition that seemed to accompany temple building. Although the "opposition to truth" concept has been repeated by many Church leaders, in and of itself it is short-sighted when taken to its limit. "Truth" will be opposed, but clearly so will falsehood. Millett appears to recognize this, as he elsewhere hedged "The significance [of a truth] may be known by the loud jangles of opposition."3

Criticism (or even persecution) of the Church or gospel does not validate its truth claims. To claim otherwise may be a cheap declaration of victory without having engaged an opponent.  It can also lead to overlooking ones own part in eliciting negative feedback. Church teachings oppose various things but this opposition isn't considered evidence of the "truth" of those things. Further, the feeling that one is right based on evidence of opposition from others isn't confined to Mormons, it has been embraced in various contexts by various parties.

While I believe that truth can be (and perhaps often is) opposed loudly, I don't view opposition in and of itself as proof for truth. Else, whenever I openly or strongly opposed something I would only be confirming its truth.

What is the purpose of Millett's (and earlier, Brigham's) comments? I believe they are statements geared to buoy up believers; to help them endure opposition with an understanding that such should be expected. When the opposition itself turns into evidence, however, the concept quickly breaks down. There are many benefits to opposition but being sheer evidence of truth isn't one of them.4

"Lying for the Lord" is a fairly common accusation. In this video Millett encourages members to answer questions by deflecting to answer the question "they should have asked." A post on this idea is forthcoming.

Brigham Young, March 3, 1861, Journal of Discourses, 8:355-356.

Jason Olson, "Robert L. Millett: Mormons need to get on the same page," MormonTimes, Aug. 19, 2008 (emphasis mine).

I suspect Millett would agree with me on this clarification. The purpose of my post is to clarify any potential instances when people will take a simplified approach and feel justified