Muzzling the Ox

Occasionally I see critics of the LDS Church attack the salary drawn by General Authorities and the stipend given to Mission Presidents. I think the Church is fully justified by the Bible in offering these benefits to these men. The chief passage that allows for this practice is I Corinthians 9:1-18. In it Paul defends himself from the same charges.

Paul was a “tent-maker missionary”, someone who works full time to support themselves while ministering. Apparently at some point in Corinth he had eaten from the collective meal that Christians participated in as part of the Lord’s Supper. We learn from Chapter 11 that some believers were eating private suppers and getting drunk and not allowing everyone in the congregation to get a share of the portion of the meal. This was depriving some members of the body. Paul defense seems to come in context of this local controversy. Paul is incensed by this accusation because he feels that he’s not only allowed to eat from the church pantry but that he’s even allowed to take a portion of the offerings (though he does not).

Paul offers two defenses for the practice of paying those in ministry. Both are found in the Old Testament, which should especially appeal to the Mormon idea of practicing “Old Testament Christianity.” Continue reading

A Place Without God

The first time my wife and I attended an LDS baptism a man stood up to speak and he told the young woman being baptized that the following day they would lay hands on her and give her the gift of the Holy Ghost. He counseled her to avoid all evil afterwards and to never enter a place in which the Holy Ghost could not follow. My wife and I were stunned. This might have been the thing that stunned and offended our sensibilities more than anything we had heard in Mormonism to that point.

As we discussed it later we couldn’t imagine living a faith where the possibility existed that the Holy Spirit could not bear his presence. Our own journeys and the faith we had grown up in taught us that even in the deepest darkest places the Holy Spirit was at work convicting, counseling and comforting. Though the distractions around us may make it difficult to hear him, we believed that he always had to power to reveal himself. As God, He could always overcome the situations or atmosphere of those he wished to guide.

Jared recently directed me to an article written by Boyd K Packer on “the light of Christ” and I was encouraged to see that this concept was not absent in Mormonism, it was just renamed and attributed to the “light of Christ” rather than the Holy Spirit. The article states:
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Zion and the Light of Christ

Along with the fact of salvation, there is another fact that is wound up in Christianity.  James pointed to this fact: i.e. faith without works is dead. Once a person accepts that salvation is possible, the question remains, what should I do?  The Mormon answer is actually very compelling for most people given the facts in front of them.

Joseph Smith grew up. like many Christians today, with the understanding that the Bible was the word of God. He had no sophisticated understanding of how to prioritize scriptural passages – nor did he care for sophisticated understandings – he saw the original text all as equally true. It all came from God didn’t it?  The bible talks a lot about Israel, Zion, the end of the world, the Second Coming, the Kingdom of God and a whole lot of other things that would happen on earth. To him, and to many reasonable people, if the Bible is reliable, it seems like the “true” Church should be wrapped up in that stuff in a big way.

Nearly every country preacher in Joseph Smith’s time was using reason and the Bible to try to figure out how the Bible should apply to life and society in light of the dire prophecies in the text.  They were incorporating “churches” based on all kinds of novel hermeneutics, visions, assimilation of science, and personal creativity.  Some of this, no doubt, was simply branding and gimmicks, and the young Joseph Smith was clearly deeply cynical about the established order of things – especially given the bald-faced selling of salvation and religious competition that was going on around him.  It may not be possible tell if Joseph was “saved” in the Protestant sense, but it may be also that he rejected the descriptions of salvation given by the country preachers around him, because they were too simple and self-serving. He might have thought that the way the preachers talked about salvation was corrupt as they were, or at least made way-too-simple in order to make their product more attractive.   Like Joseph, these country preachers had already completely rejected the authority of the Catholic Church, every state church, and every other denomination except their own.  It seemed clear to him that these men did not seek “the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol.”  (D&C 1: 16.)  He sought direction from heaven.

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Possibly Protestant?

I may have come a Christian in the Protestant sense over the weekend, but I am still slightly skeptical I meet that definition.   There is a lot that could be said, but all I really know is that I had a “conversion” experience.  The way I see things has changed.  I can’t explain why the change happened, but I link it to my accepance of this fact:  justified guilt and pain can turn to joy in the mind without effort or rationalization. When I acknowledged this fact, the way I look at things started to change quite dramatically, and it has brought me what is best described as joy.

I am very focused on not resorting to “spiritual” matters to explain my position. I say “fact” because I was convinced of this proposition by argument, not by any spiritual experience.  The strange thing is I came out of thinking about the argument with a different view. I also realized that explaining this fact to other people is not straightforward, understanding the strength of the argument is also hard to explain to those who don’t seem to “get it”. I also felt a bit embarrassed for not really getting it earlier, it doesn’t feel like a brilliant discovery, but more like a recognition of something that lots of people have already figured out. Maybe I have been convinced to be a Christian again.

The simple facts of guilt and joy

Since I acknowledged the fact of God, I have considered what other important facts should be acknowledged, which is the most simple, and how these facts fit together.

Guilt is a simple fact.  Guilt should be obvious to everyone – every sane person gets it. Justice also seems a simple fact- some people should accept guilt and feel it. Logic and honesty also require that I acknowledge that I should accept guilt and rightfully feel guilty.   In fact, everybody should feel guilty.  This fact showed itself in a most visceral way in a small Polish town while staring at room filled with human hair.  Guilt is the case for us all, justice and honesty require it.

The fact of guilt is very simple and sturdy. It remains even after we have been completely distracted from it. Also clear is the fact that virtue permeates every aspect of life and excellence is never perfection.  No matter what the sacrifice, justice and logic continue to point to out the fact guilt in the honest mind – especially in light of the bloody cost of the most common sorts of imperfection and vice.

Virtue is also a fact – there are ways of being that people should never be required to feel guilty for. These ways should be championed and fostered in children.  It is a fact that children should be taught to make a stand for virtue and to suffer wrong rather to sacrifice it.  Life is better with virtue.

It also seems that virtue also seems to dissolve feelings of guilt, or at least relieve the intensity of the feeling.  Some who have the knack for acting with virtuous attitudes can avoid almost any feeling of guilt, even when they engage in unspeakable atrocity.  (e.g. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori)  It’s a simple fact: justice requires guilt, but virtuous feeling alleviates guilt. Of course, when virtue demands performance and sacrifice, guilt shows up when we don’t tender performance and sacrifice. Perfection is required in order to eliminate guilt.

There is one very powerful fact that seems relieve guilt better than virtue: Love. Love doesn’t follow rules like virtue, it’s well outside the rules of justice. It often acts inexplicably, like magic. But love’s power to direct a person virtue and action even when virtue and justice does not require it does not relieve all guilt and bring stable joy. It always demands more love.  With love, amazing joy comes in glimpses and these feelings are only worth anything when virtue shows up with love.

Joy also is a fact. People seem to find joy in all kinds of things: virtue, work, leisure, sensory pleasure, drugs, intellectual contemplation, relationships, fame.  But after the joyful attitude ends with the activity, the weird facts of logic reassert the very simple and pervasive fact of guilt: it’s shadow lies behind every action, every thought, every impulse. Virtue and love (among other things) can distract us from guilt, but justice and honesty continue to reassert guilt as a fact.

It is also a strange fact that joy is rarely found in tandem with guilt.  For some reason – likely rooted in our DNA and culture – the feeling of guilt does not sit well with joy.  For some, any guilt robs the mind of unspeakable joy, especially when the mind honestly recognizes the impossible demands of virtue and love.  For some left without a path to consistent virtue or love, life is pain peppered with fleeting joy, or even completely joyless.

But there is a weird sort of joy.   That joy that shows up even while honestly contemplating the hard facts of guilt is also a well-established fact. There are plenty of cases where the attitude of guilt changes immediately and powerfully into the attitude of joy by adopting a certain attitude — often merely by acknowledging the fact that guilt can turn to joy.  For some, tears of sadness caused by guilt actually do turn to tears of joy.

This sort of joy happens even when people should feel guilty, even when they are not virtuous or loving, even when they are in agonizing pain, hanging mangled on a cross.  Justice, virtue, and guilt all seem irrelevant to the fact of this joy.  This seems to happen especially when people are brutally honest and acknowledge that justice, virtue, guilt, pain, and death are pervasive and undeniable facts.

This sort of joy is an unspeakable mystery for it to drastically undermine these simple facts of life. Given the nature of guilt we have no good words to explain this feeling of joy because it would not to depend on any of our attitudes toward words like: love, happiness, goodness, righteousness, kindness, propriety, virtue, guilt, justice etc..   Perhaps it could be described as “salvation” or “redemption”, but even these seem mixed up in virtue and love, and begin to engender guilt by their association. Maybe a more unique word is necessary.

How is it possible that such unspeakable joy is a fact, even in the honest mind who acknowledges its vices and has never known the magic of unconditional love? Even in cases where the fact of guilt is blaring and inescapable?  What if there was honest joy even when there is honestly not enough love or virtue to distract the mind from guilt?  A sort of joy that somehow rightfully defied nature, feeling, thought, instinct, or description.

What if it was a fact that this joy happened by merely acknowledging that this sort of joy is a simple fact.  A fact far more simple the pervasive complexities of justice, virtue, and guilt.  What if it was this simple, unspeakable, fact that Jesus was pointing to?

Could salvation be that simple? 

The Future

I think this guy gives us a glimpse at the future of Mormonism due to the recent publication of Church essays on Mormon history. It won’t come quickly, easily or without consequence, but it will come.

Rethinking the Great Apostasy: “The Peasant Revolt of the Spirit” and the definition of Mormonism

Friedrich Nietzsche explained Luther’s Reformation as a dramatic spiritual revolution within Europe of the northern sentiment and character, which demanded simplicity, with the southern, liberal sentiment that allowed for unending complication under the simple structure of the Church.  Whatever can be said of Nietzsche, he was a fabulous writer.  His imagery viscerally cast light on the spiritual facts going on around him, that cleared the clutter of culture to allow the simplicity of “modern science” but eventually pushed Europe into the maw of gore and madness that reigned there in the first half of the 20th century.

Luther’s Revolution

Nietzsche explains, with at least a bit of lament, the ruins of the Church as he saw it in Europe in the 1880s:

. . . were there ever finer ruins?  Overgrown with weeds, large and small.  It is the Church which is this city of decay: we see the religious organisation of Christianity shaken to its deepest foundations.  The belief in God is overthrown, the belief in the Christian ascetic ideal is now fighting its last fight.  Such a long and solidly built work as Christianity it was the last construction of the Romans!  It could not of course be demolished all at once; every sort of earthquake had to shake it, every sort of spirit which perforates, digs, gnaws and moulders had to assist in the work of destruction.  But that which is strangest is that those who have exerted themselves most to retain and preserve Christianity, have been precisely those who did most to destroy it, the Germans.  . . The Lutheran Reformation in all its length and breadth was the indignation of the simple against something “complicated”.

He describes Luther’s revolution as that of the thinking of simple, good-natured folk over the complexities of culture that shone in the Church because the church retained “the luxury of skepticism and toleration which every victorious, self-confident power permits.” While Nietzsche acknowledged the fact that Luther spiritually revived Christianity as a worldview, and his simplicity allowed for modern thinking, but to him, Luther’s German reasoning meant an unraveling:

“[H]e tore asunder with honest rage, where the old spider had woven longest and most carefully.  He gave the sacred books into the hands of everyone, they thereby got at last into the hands of the philologists, that is to say, the annihilators of every belief based upon books.  He demolished the conception of “the Church” in that he repudiated the belief in the inspiration of the Councils: for only under the supposition that the inspiring spirit which had founded the Church still lives in it, still builds it, still goes on building its house, does the conception of ” the Church ” retain its power.”

Nietzsche also puts his finger on the simple fact that the Reformation made the Church, which had enforced its superiority since Theodosius, the vassel of the state rather than its rightful superior.  Christianity became “good-natured” in its simplicity, and cleared the way for infecting law with modern thinking in the form of modern science.

The consequences of Luther’s simplification of Christianity Continue reading