Rethinking the “skin of blackness”

BYU scientists have discovered how to remove the actual “Skin of Blackness” spoken of in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 5:21):

Skin texture glow distinguishes Mormons from others

It’s hard to believe it is not satire.  This article reports a study conducted by non-Mormon researcher attempting to understand how those who knew Mormons could distinguish them from non-Mormons based on a photo alone. The study  found that “skin texture was the key indicator and determinant in distinguishing a Mormon from a non-Mormon”.

Because, apparently, this is now hard science, I suggest LDS immediately adopt a new interpretation of 2 Nephi 5:21 where the “skin of blackness” mention merely represents the lack of glow found on non-Mormon skin.

Fearing the Enemy vs. Fearing Ourselves

This quote is from one of my favorite pieces from William James. He seems to deeply get the superiority of Tolstoy’s (and later Ghandi’s) militant pacifism. He also recognizes that it is better to marshal our forces to fight the patent enemies outside of us, than to be controlled by our fear of our own weaknesses:

“[M]ankind was nursed in pain and fear, and that the transition to a “pleasure economy” may be fatal to a being wielding no powers of defence against its degenerative influences. If we speak of the fear of emancipation from the fear-regime, we put the whole situation into a single phrase; fear regarding ourselves now taking the place of the ancient fear of the enemy.

Turn the fear over as I will in my mind, it all seems to lead back to two unwillingnesses of the imagination, one aesthetic, and the other moral; unwillingness, first, to envisage a future in which army-life, with its many elements of charm, shall be forever impossible, and in which the destinies of peoples shall nevermore be decided quickly, thrillingly, and tragically by force, but only gradually and insipidly by “evolution,” and, secondly, unwillingness to see the supreme theatre of human strenuousness closed, and the splendid military aptitudes of men doomed to keep always in a state of latency and never show themselves in action. These insistent unwillingnesses, no less than other aesthetic and ethical insistencies, have, it seems to me, to be listened to and respected. One cannot meet them effectively by mere counter-insistency on war’s expensiveness and horror. The horror makes the thrill; and when the question is of getting the extremest and supremest out of human nature, talk of expense sounds ignominious. The weakness of so much merely negative criticism is evident — pacifism makes no converts from the military party. The military party denies neither the bestiality nor the horror, nor the expense; it only says that these things tell but half the story. It only says that war is worth them; that, taking human nature as a whole, its wars are its best protection against its weaker and more cowardly self, and that mankind cannot afford to adopt a peace economy.

Pacifists ought to enter more deeply into the aesthetical and ethical point of view of their opponents. Do that first in any controversy. . .  then move the point, and your opponent will follow. So long as antimilitarists propose no substitute for war’s disciplinary function, no moral equivalent of war, analogous, as one might say, to the mechanical equivalent of heat, so long they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation. And as a rule they do fail. The duties, penalties, and sanctions pictured in the utopias they paint are all too weak and tame to touch the military-minded. Tolstoi’s pacifism is the only exception to this rule, for it is profoundly pessimistic as regards all this world’s values, and makes the fear of the Lord furnish the moral spur provided elsewhere by the fear of the enemy. But our socialistic peace-advocates all believe absolutely in this world’s values; and instead of the fear of the Lord and the fear of the enemy, the only fear they reckon with is the fear of poverty if one be lazy. This weakness pervades all the socialistic literature with which I am acquainted. Even in Lowes Dickinson’s exquisite dialogue, high wages and short hours are the only forces invoked for overcoming man’s distaste for repulsive kinds of labor. Meanwhile men at large still live as they always have lived, under a pain-and-fear economy — for those of us who live in an ease-economy are but an island in the stormy ocean — and the whole atmosphere of present-day utopian literature tastes mawkish and dishwatery to people who still keep a sense for life’s more bitter flavors. It suggests, in truth, ubiquitous inferiority.”

One LDS View of Fasting and Faith

[This post is excerpts from an LDS sacrament meeting talk on fasting a friend of mine gave. These are not my thoughts but this is almost exactly the way I believed as a Mormon. The speaker is an strong example of typical LDS faith, and I thought this might be of interest to the discussion of the similarities and differences between Evangelicalism and LDS Christianity.

The LDS set aside one Sunday per month to fast for a chosen purpose. A “fast” consists of going 24 hours without eating or drinking or skipping two meals. The money saved by not eating is donated to the needy through the church welfare system. The program was instituted as a way to generate money for the poor. The talk began with a discussion of the historical practice of fasting in the bible and in the history of the LDS church and then turns to picking either a spiritual or a temporal purpose for the monthly fast. ]

. . . Here’s how I might go about thinking through picking a temporal purpose for a fast. I would ask myself these two questions: (1) Is this something God is capable of helping me with? (2) Is this something he even cares about?

First of all, what is God’s purpose? To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man — that is his focus. To accomplish this on this earth, he set up 2 things. First, free agency. We know that before this earth was created, Satan wanted God to have complete power to control our decisions on this earth. Christ’s plan was to give us that power. And God went with Christ’s plan. Which is remarkable, because in doing so, he consciously limited himself.

With free agency, he can’t force me to get out of bed, or go to work, or take care of my kids. He can’t force an employer to hire me – or to not fire me. He can’t stop a man from abusing his wife. He can’t stop war, or disease. He can’t stop Donald Trump from getting on TV or will the BYU Cougars to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Because we, individually and collectively, all 7 billion of us, are the decision makers on this earth. We decide who gets rich, and who doesn’t. We decide who wins wars, and who doesn’t. We decide who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Not God. It’s the primary explanation for why a loving God would allow all the temporal pain and injustice that happens in this world. It’s part of a larger plan we accepted prior to coming to this earth – with all of its risks and temporal inequalities.

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Making peace between Joseph Smith and Saint Paul

I came to the conclusion years ago that the difference between Mormons and Evangelicals was the difference between taking Paul’s philosophy and taking Joseph Smith’s seriously. If the LDS Church wants to be what it claims to be, I think it behooves them to think though and reconcile these differences in a way to keep the theology of both men intact, even if they have to be viewed within different metaphysical paradigms. My view currently is that the failure to reconcile these differences without discrediting what Paul said is a grave mistake. I think that the historical antagonism between the LDS and Paul’s theology has been as unhelpful as the LDS policy of denying the priesthood to people of African descent.

In my mind, Paul and Joseph Smith are very similar figures. Both assumed authority within their Christian communities do to supernatural experiences, and claims that they spoke and wrote under the authority of the Holy Spirit.  Both were religious geniuses, able to bring the patterns of ancient scripture to spectacular effect in promoting their new worldviews.  They both claimed to bring to light hidden knowledge from God that was hidden in the past due to false traditions perpetuated by the hard-headed, and hard-hearted.  Both claimed to speak the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Obsessed with Christ

This is a response to  Steven E. Webb on Mormonism’s obsession with Christ.

“I have come to repent of this view, and not just because I came to my senses about how wrong it is to be rude toward somebody else’s faith. I changed my mind because I came to realize just how deeply Christ-centered Mormonism is. Mormonism is more than Christianity, of course—most obviously by adding the Book of Mormon to the Bible—and that makes it much less than Christianity as well. Nevertheless, the fact that Mormonism adds to the traditional Christian story does not necessarily mean that it detracts from Christianity to the point of denying it altogether.

After all, what gives Christianity its identity is its commitment to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And on that ground Mormons are more Christian than many mainstream Christians who do not take seriously the astounding claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.”

Does anybody have an idea how common this logic is used to support the church? I think it is honest, but unsettling. I am with Chesterton on this:

“[T]he next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. And aparticular point of it is that the popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts.”

Yikes, sounds a lot like my boy Uchtdorf.

I think Mormons need to be wary of anything that is “much less” than Christianity. Anything less Christian than the run-of-the-mill non-Catholicism that parades around as Protestantism needs to be highly questioned.  The Church needs to become closer to the type of Christian Joseph Smith was, however ironic that sounds.  It seems like Joseph Smith simply shot a bunch of charismatic and smart guys on an incredible trajectory.  They did amazing things and all that, but can they really settle for something “LESS” than the Christianity of legend?

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”

Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15:

Now if Christ is preached that He rose from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not risen. If Christ has not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain.  Yes, and we would then be found false witnesses of God, because we have testified that God raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up, if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then they also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

I can see why Paul draws this conclusion, but I don’t understand this as a good argument for the resurrection of the dead.  Does our joy in Christ prove that the joy will last? I am not sure that this makes sense.

I can see the argument that my joy in Christ might be “counterfeit” like it is often said of Mormons. Does consciousness of death without conscious of resurrection even qualify as “joy in Christ”?

What Mormons don’t get about the Telestial Kingdom

Many Mormons got a bit bent about my “off-the-wall” post about how the LDS Church could advance itself dramatically by adopting a more grace-based theology, and that Uchtdorf’s talk was a great step in that direction. Many claimed that “Mormons have taught this all along”.   I see where they are coming from, because I might have claimed this as a Mormon.  This was my attempt to salvage a clumsy attempt to explain to Mormons that in Joseph Smith’s own theology everybody get’s a free ride to heaven through God’s grace:

Me: I’m being serious. When we confront the reality of death and hell we fear God, and recognize that we have no capacity to escape death or hell, even with our great choices. Our only hope to escape the disease is to simply look to Christ and live. Reasonably people often recognize that they do not have any freedom except in Christ, because they cannot escape hell, and they cannot escape their guilt. When we can grasp that in Christ we are redeemed, the joy of the redemption transforms us. If we react to the joy we will live, if we deny the joy, we are doomed. This is really our only choice, but it is a simple choice and the fruits of that choice, including the resulting power to live the celestial law, is all a free gift from God.

What Joseph Smith saw about the next life doesn’t change this reality. In fact, he saw that only those that do not CHOOSE heaven over hell will be given a portion of God’s glory. Even those who are filthy when they die will be cleansed and glorified. The telestial kingdom is HEAVEN, and we all get that free ride. And that fact alone should make us uncontrollably happy that we will eventually be free from all of the consequences of our choices. Joseph Smith taught that hell is not eternal, and that God won’t let anyone stay in hell that does not want to. Thus, we all get a free ride to heaven.

Reasonable LDS believer: At this point I don’t think any purpose can be served by discoursing with you any longer. Your views here are, as far as I’m concerned, so unhinged and irrational as to be quite beyond any attempt at logical amelioration.

Reasonable LDS Believer 2: Agreed [Believer 1]. Not only unhinged and irrational but also disjointed.

Me: You can’t expect much more from someone like me who learned theology from the Book of Mormon.

Was I as incoherent as they are saying here?  Am I getting the Gospel wrong?

I re-read my un-edited response and, even though it could have been worded a whole lot better, I am not sure that my ideas are completely “unhinged”.  It’s hard to swallow that criticism coming from a Mormon, so I admit that I let by ego get involved. But I actually don’t have an agenda that is against the Church here: I am very open to any orthodox believers correcting me if I explained grace incorrectly and I am very open to hear from Mormons if I get Joseph Smith wrong.

When I was a TBM, my LDS theology was mainly based on Joseph Smith’s theology, and I believe Joseph Smith had a reasonable grasp of grace, even if he did not explicitly use that word (he would often use the word “mercy” and did so inconsistently.)In my opinion, the sooner the Mormons start at least listening to Joseph Smith’s actual theology, the sooner they will start listening to the message of the New Testament.

If you really get what Joseph Smith was saying, Mormons are, strictly speaking, complete Universalists. In Joseph Smith’s theology, beings are immune from utter destruction, because we are co-existent with God.  God cannot destroy us, but only relegate us to the torments that our sins will give us for eternity.  There is no hell in Mormonism, only regret. No matter how successful we are in this test, it will torment us forever to know that we could have “had it all” but chose not to because we were too weak to follow the principles that lead to any particular level of glory.

I personally think this regret is directly opposed to the Gospel, and to teach it at all completely misses the point, to a dangerous degree.  But what is often ignored by Mormons and anti-Mormons is that Joseph Smith taught that the telestial kingdom, the lowest tier in heaven, surpassed all of our wildest dreams of happiness and that men would commit suicide in droves if we were to understand this.  This was always puzzling to me as a kid, this teaching was almost never repeated in church, even though it seemed like a piece of information that we should be very excited about, i.e. we will eventually be free from all regret from our choices and dwell in eternal joy.  Sometimes it seems that Joseph Smith might have been the last Mormon to actually believe this.  (Perhaps you can blame him for that, but that is another story.)

What Mormons simply don’t get — but Joseph Smith did — was that any heaven is heaven, not earth life.  And a state of being called “heaven” requires that we be free of the regret that often plagues faithful Mormons throughout their lives.  In Christ even the worst of us will, eventually — after a lengthy term in spirit prison, the millennium, and eons of time in our post-earth existence — learn and grow to the point that we will be completely happy serving God in whatever heaven we wind up in.  Those in the telestial kingdom will have no regrets, they will be as the angels, filled with joy in the service of God.  This should not make us not want to be celestial, but it should FILL US WITH JOY NOW.

However, Mormons often teach that those in the telestial kingdom will be in the hell that we find themselves in on earth, i.e. plagued with the knowledge that they are complete screw-ups when it comes to really being one of the “good guys”, and the everlasting regret that they didn’t follow Christ well enough in this life. This is not the Gospel.