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

November 20, 2008

Obama is the "Anti-Christ"?

Various emails are circulating regarding President-elect Barack Obama being the anti-Christ.1 It seems since John the Revelator put quill to parchment people have been figuring out various ways to discover who "the" anti-Christ is using math, etymology, and other approaches. In this case, the name "Barack" is the clincher.

From the email:
"In Luke 10:18 Jesus states, "I beheld Satan as Lightning fall from Heaven." Barack, also transliterated as Baraq in Hebrew, is LIGHTNING (Strongs Hebrew word 1300). Even in Greek, Barak is LIGHTNING (Strongs Greek word 913) for the name of a person!"2
If the punchy ALL CAPS and lack of authorial source isn't enough to tip people off as to the specious reasoning, it would do well to check the claims. First, Barack Obama's name is Arabic, not Hebrew, though both are Semetic. It derives from the Semitic root *BRK [to kneel, bless] and is not etymologically related to the Semitic root *BRQ [to flash, gleam], whence the noun for "lightning" derives.3 Even if it did mean "lightening," I fail to see how this is proof of anything significant in relation to the Bible, especially from an LDS stnadpoint (we don't really expect Satan to be embodied, do we?)

Interestingly, just as "solid" a connection could be made with Joseph Smith. Older versions of the Doctrine and Covenants contained code-names intended to conceal the identity of people mentioned in the revelations.4 One name used for Joseph Smith was "Baurak Ale." Loftes Tryk, eager to find problems with the LDS Church, explained that this code-name revealed the sinister nature of Joseph Smith:
Barak is a Hebrew term for lightning. . . . Ale is the common English transliteration of El, the Hebrew word for power, almighty, or God. Joseph was '"Lightning God." Alternatively, [the name] may have identified a home-made brew sometimes known as white lightning, a slightly ribald reference to Joseph's occasional heavy drinking."5
In response to Tryk, Daniel C. Peterson explained:
In fact, the Jewish Hebraist Louis Zucker, speaking of our very phrase, has observed that "the form 'baurak' is not actually found in the Bible but is a perfectly valid hypothetical form." And Prof. Zucker implicitly approves the translation of "Baurak Ale" as something like "God bless you" or "God blesses."6
So if anyone wants to equate Obama with the anti-Christ, I'll associate him with Joseph Smith, instead. More on Obama and the Anti-Christ can be found at Snopes. The place all should go when you get a mysterious email with "fwd: fwd: fwd:" in the subject line. If I haven't convinced you that the tie is spurious, perhaps you would help me obtain the millions of dollars I just inherited from my dead great uncle in the UK. All I need is your bank account number and you'll get to keep 20%. I swear. 

Kevin Barney over at By Common Consent certainly scooped me, but given that several visitors were brought to this site looking for information on the constitution of the United States "hanging by a thread" (another post forthcoming) I thought it appropriate to go ahead with a few thoughts on President-elect Barack Obama.

Email sent to "Ask an Apologist" on the FAIR organization website, November 18, 2008.

See Kevin Barney's explanation, ibid. If it turns out that the name really does mean lightening and that Obama is the anti-Christ, please blame Kevin Barney.

See the code names listed at the Book of Abraham Project site, in their incomplete annotated History of the Church.

Loftes Tryk, The Best Kept Secrets in the Book of Mormon, 121, as quoted in Daniel C. Peterson, "A Modern Malleus maleficarum,"  FARMS Review 3:1.


November 18, 2008

Kevin Barney's article on Heavenly Mother

Recommended Reading

Dialogue's most recent issue offers a free sample article by Kevin Barney called "How To Worship Heavenly Mother (and Not Get Excommunicated)."

A .pdf is available here.

Barney has a unique way of speaking ecumenically to Latter-day Saints of many views, so while it may be easy for some to disagree with him, it seems nigh unto impossible to be disagreeable in the process. Barney is an example of charitable, scholarly, and engaging research and writing.