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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Elections 2014

So I've marked up my sample ballot and here's how I'm voting on those races for which I'm willing to publicly share my opinion and would rather not take any more phone calls.  I'm a conservative republican so most of these choices won't surprise anyone.  These are my own individual opinions and are not representative of any other group or entity with which I am affiliated:

Question 1: YES.  We need an intermediate appellate court in Nevada.
Question 2: YES.   I'm not generally pro-tax.  But Nevadans can only get the benefit of our State's indigenous mineral resources once, when they are pulled from the ground, often by foreign firms who ship them elsewhere to be sold.  It would be nice if it rained here and we had agricultural crops that could be harvested year after year, but there you go.  Mines shouldn't have any special protection against taxation.  Once those resources, the natural inheritance of all Nevadans, are harvested, Nevada's public can't ever benefit from them again.  
Question 3: NO.  NO NO NO NO NO.  They want to tax a business's revenues?  Regardless of whether it made any profits?   Who are these people?  Apparently they don't include any one who owns a business, is employed by a business, or buys any products or services from a business.  Give me a break.

Congressional Representative District 4.  Really not thrilled with my choices here.  How did I get gerrymandered into this district?  I guess I'm just indirectly voting for which party's member I want to hold the gavel as speaker of the house.

Governor: Sandoval  We are extremely lucky in our Governor at the moment.  An extremely intelligent and competent person who is also very good at winning elections.  Not a combination you see every day.
Lieutenant Governor: Hutchison I did some volunteer citizen lobbying on an educational issue in the last legislative session (which I'm still not quite sure how I ended up getting involved with) and I was extremely impressed at the Senate Republican Caucus Hutchison hosted for our group and the questions he asked and his grasp of the issues.  Should he end up becoming Governor because Sandoval leaves office to run against Harry Reid (which presumably won't happen if Flores defeats Hutchison) the State would be in excellent and competent hands.  

Attorney General: Adam Paul Laxalt.  I liked Governor Miller.  But his son seems to have fallen pretty far from the tree.  All those perqs of office he's enjoying aren't going to mean people looking for payback?  Criticizing his opponent's military service?  Really?  Laxalt spoke at a CLE I attended and wasn't shy about standing up for his values, which I share.  I like him.  One of the good guys.

State Assemby District 37: Wesley Duncan.  Our State's legislature did some crazy things two years ago, and came very close to doing some other crazy things.  It's important to put the senate and the assembly and all their committee chairs in the right hands this year or all of our wallets and all of our childrens' minds are at risk.

DA: Wolfson.  I doubt I would vote for Wolfson for any legislative office, given his liberal politics. But, having once argued a case before an administrative law board he was chairing, I found him to be a very fair and intelligent person, and the people I know who work for the DA's office and whose judgment I trust all seem to support him.

Sheriff: Burns.  We have a good police force in Las Vegas, and we don't seem to have ever been troubled by some of the pervasive corruption which has cropped up in other cities' police departments from time to time. So I trust and respect the judgment of our local officers and police department employees, and every single one of them who I talk to supports Burns.  He was also their overwhelming choice (not even by a close margin) when they voted on who they would endorse. That speaks volumes, since they presumably know the two candidates better than any one.  I also went to an open house for Burns which I was invited to by a police officer friend of mine, and I was favorably impressed with Burns' experience, especially in his successful efforts in reaching out to improve police relationships with locals in minority neighborhoods.  

Judicial Races
Department 3: Herndon
Department 20:  Tao
Department 22: Johnson (really one of our better Judges, who runs her courtroom the way it should be run and who rules based on facts and law not emotion or bias).
Department 24: Hardy
Department 30: Wiese
Department 32: Bare

There are a lot of judges who I've never appeared in front of because they have criminal or family law dockets or because I've just never happened to draw them. If I don't have an opinion I'll typically look for some reputable source of endorsements.  The RJ's endorsements can sometimes be just completely wrong, but they get it right more often than not.  The newspaper does a good job in conducting the attorney survey on which judges should be retained, and they tend to put a lot of stock in that survey in their endorsements, so it's as good a place to start as any:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How to Destroy a Nation

If I were President of the United States, and I was determined to destroy this Nation, here's what I would do: 

1.  First, destroy the economy, and wage relentless war on jobs:  I would accomplish this in a few easy steps: (i)  I would pass laws (with respect to healthcare, for example, but any other major sector of the economy would do) that made it so onerous for employers to hire new employees, that everyone in America became a part time employee because no employer wanted to hire anyone on a full time basis anymore.  Soon, everyone would be working three part time jobs, one job to pay part of the bills, a second job to make up for the fact that your first job isn't full time, and, finally, a third job to pay for things like health insurance that would have been provided by your first job if it were a full time job, which it isn't, because those don't exist any more.  (ii) I would then import millions of unskilled workers from third-world countries who would, by virtue of the simplest and most inelectuble law of economics, supply and demand, drive entry level wages down so far that young Americans would be unable to find work and begin building work experience.  This would be especially harmful to minorities who have already lived in America for generations and who are most in need of entry level work in their youth.  Nevertheless, I would decry as racist anyone who disagreed with my policies, ignoring those who put me into office and are being most severely harmed by my policies.  (iii) Finally, if new technologies emerged which threatened to strengthen the economy, I would choke them off.  Fracking threatening to turn us into an exporter of oil and reduce our dependence on oil from parts of the world that hate our guts?  Block it, sue it, regulate it, kill it.  And if that doesn't work, prevent the construction of any new refineries which can turn the oil into its usable form.  Force people to use organic, grown fuels instead, from land that used to grow food to eat, so our society can choose between starving and driving.  Enormous oil discoveries in Canada can bring us cheap oil from a friendly nation instead of expensive oil from the other side of the world, controlled by people who want to wage Jihad against us?  No way! That's not going to help me destroy America.  No XL Pipleline for you, Mr. American hoping for a job or a cheap gallon of gas. Kill it, regulate it, sue it, block it.  

2.  Next, destroy the American family, and wage relentless war on fathers.  If I were the President of a nation which I so despised that I felt it was in need of fundamental transformation, and therefore wanted to destroy that country as it had heretofore existed in its untransformed state, I would ignore what numerous studies have shown about the importance of fathers in the home, and the statistical and scientific evidence of how much better both girls and boys do in adolescence and throughout their adult life if they are raised by their own married mother and father, who were married before the child was born and remain married until the child reaches adulthood.  Despite those scientific truths, I would promote a new definition of family which had the effect of proclaiming that children do not need both a mother and a father, and, would, indeed, make it socially unacceptable, bigoted and reprehensible, to advocate for the importance of fathers in the lives of children, so that young men can be taught there is no need to curb their sexual appetites within the confines of a committed marital relationship, or be responsible for their sperm donor babies, whether the sperm was donated at the clinic or in person.  This will have the inevitable effect of strengthening the hand of government, as the proliferation of single parent homes inexorably leads the government to play a greater role in the lives of the citizens formed in broken families, with government stepping in to act as disciplinarian (through the police and the courts) of sons not raised with a father (many times more likely to end up in juvenile court than sons with fathers), and as bread provider (through welfare services) to teenaged mothers (many times more likely to become teenaged mothers than are young women raised in a home with a father) who find they are unable to both raise their newborns and provide for them in the marketplace.  This strengthening of State power will inevitably lead to a destruction of the small government foundational doctrines upon which the Country was built.

3.  Then, attack the Constitution. Then I could strengthen the power of the State, and weaken the power of the citizen, in more direct ways, and at the same time remove the biggest hindrances (the Constitution, liberty) to my nation-destroying objectives.  I would for example install on the Supreme Court a Justice (Sotomayor) so radical that she believes the United States Constitution says exactly the opposite of what it says.  As demonstrated by her dissent in Schuette, Sotomayor not only believes it is perfectly appropriate for States to ignore the 14th Amendment's requirement of equal protection, such that they are allowed to ignore that Constitution's equal protection provisions and provide preferences which discriminate against certain racial and ethnic groups and prefer others in public university admissions and public contract bidding, but she also believes that States are REQUIRED to violate the 14th Amendment, even when they decide they don't want to do so, and are REQUIRED to discriminate against some of their citizens and prefer others and may not democratically decide to stop doing so by a voter-enacted amendment! Thus, in one fell swoop, Justice Sotomayor would (a) abolish democracy, (b) rewrite the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause to say exactly the opposite of what it says, and (c) create an America in which individuals are not treated as individuals, equal before the law and judged on their own merits, but as members of racial composite groups who are encouraged by law to compete with one another for racial spoils (a truly wonderful recipe for ethnic harmony and cohesion).  If I wanted to destroy this Country, Justice Sotomayor is exactly the type of person I would want to intall on the high court.

I would then encourage my party's senate and judicial committee members to wage an assault, unprecedented in all of U.S. history, on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights, such as the assault currently being levied by the Democrats against the First Amendment in the form of S.J. Res 19, also known as the Udall Amendment.  This proposed constitutional amendment, to which all of the democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to their everlasting shame, gave their assent, would give to congress the power to restrict any speech engaged in by any corporation or any individual which is politically motivated.  It would in other words repeal the First Amendment.  And no, that's not overheated rhetoric, that's my reading, as a lawyer, of the text of what this proposed Constitutional law expressly indicates it would do.  S.J. Res 19 explicitly and expressly indicates, in section 3 thereof, that there is only one of the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment which is not to be repealed thereby, in that the Amendment is not to be construed "to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press."   So the other four rights enjoyed by Americans for the past 200 plus years are all fair game: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government for redress?  Bye bye.  This is such a blatantly bad idea that even the ACLU has argued against it.  But don't worry, Ted Cruz is against it too, so all the cool kids on Kos and the Huffington Post are ignoring the ACLU and making fun of him and fully supporting this monstrosity, because that's how sheep decide their politics, not on the basis of independent critical thought, but on the basis of lining up with their teammates to be "for" whatever the other side is "against."  Barack Obama said he wanted to transform America.  Well, destroying the First Amendment would certainly be the best place to start. It's a lot easier to transform a nation when you make it impossible to criticize the leaders.  Just ask the Russians, that's how they did it in Eastern Europe.  

4.  Finally, weaken the military. If I were a President who wanted to destroy this country, I would, against the advice of all of my military and intelligence advisors, remove troops from areas of the world where they had just won a war, so as to allow those areas of the world to fall prey to new aggressions at the hands of terrorist militias.  If even members of my own party, such as the highly reputable Leon Panetta, told me this was asinine and insane, I would kick them to the curb, pull out the troops, and go golfing.  And then I would ignore briefings on the rise of insurgents who were undermining what American money and blood had accomplished, until the rise of ISIS like fanaticals forced me to engage in a military response which could have been avoided had I just maintained the course to begin with.  (Look, I get that alot of Americans on both sides of the aisle were skeptical of the war in Iraq.  But just because of the many people who were disappointed that the surge worked, did that really mean we had to deliberately unwind a victory once obtained? Have we stayed too long in Germany and Japan and could they start building their own military now and let us save our money and go home and stop subsidizing their protection? Yes.  But that doesn't mean it would have been a good idea to leave two weeks after WWII was over and hand those countries back over to Nazis and Military Imperialist groups who were still eager for victory.  That would have been insane, or the work of someone who actually hated America and wanted to see her disgraced.)

It would be almost comforting to believe that Barack Obama was some sort of evil aberration forced upon America by conspiring outsiders, like in the Manchurian Candidate.  But the truth, I am afraid, is much more frightening.  Barack Obama actually believes his course would be better for America than the pro-American course engaged in by almost every single one of his predecessors (excluding Jimmy Carter).  And enough voters agreed, or were simply too simple-minded to know better, that they voted him into office.  How did we reach such a point in our nation's history?  Part of it is our education system, hijacked by left wing ideologues who have no desire to teach patriotic or uplifting history to our children, or help them understand the U.S. Constitution or the free market system.  Part of it is an ahistorical influx of more immigrants, over a shorter period of time, than have ever arrived here before, many of whom came to America because of its prosperity, but came from cultures which made it all but impossible for them to understand the principles and systems which account for that prosperity, such that they end up voting for the same kind of politicians whose policies led their home countries to be such miserable places (which immigrants are certainly not going to be taught more accurate principles by any of the dominant thinking in our current education systems or news or entertainment media).  And part of the problem is prosperity itself.  Who has time to read history, think critically, understand what has historically distinguished this country and allowed us to buck the tide of international opinion, avoiding monarchy in the 19th century and totalitarianism in the 20th, when there's so many fun things to watch on Netflix and so many fun vacations to go on, and good music to listen to on our iPods?  Whatever the sources of our national stupidity, the road it has put us on is not leading us to a happy end.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Disingenuous Sophistries of the New Mormon Dissidents

The Gift of Faith

Like all believers, I have occasionally had doubts, about the existence of God, or the teachings of my own religion.  But they’ve never been too difficult to overcome, and I’ve never spent much time wallowing in them.  Truth be told, I’ve never had a really serious intellectual or spiritual crisis of faith.  I don’t share this to brag or out of pride, but out of gratitude.  We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and the weaknesses I have been given to make this mortal sojourn a time of learning and growth are more than sufficient for the task, thank you very much.  Nor do I believe that easy faith is a strength, let alone a virtue.  But I do believe that it is a gift, a manifestation of grace.  The gift of faith is a wonderful thing, for many reasons.

For one thing, the most fascinating questions, leading to the most satisfying insights, are the questions that you get to ask as a believer.  When you know that certain precepts are true, and then seek to understand their application, or when you wrestle with reconciling the paradoxes of seemingly contradictory scriptural directives (let your light so shine, but do not your alms to be seen of men) and try to determine how and to what extent each may apply and clarify the other, you can, I believe, be presented with opportunities for growth that are denied those who live their lives on the periphery, forever investigating the much less interesting “is this true?” question, rather than eventually moving past all that to cut to the chase and get to the good stuff.  Why spend an excessive amount of time trying to determine the plausibility of any particular geographical setting for the Book of Mormon over another, or trying to precisely ascertain the nature of the divine process involved in Joseph Smith’s deriving the text of the Book of Abraham, when the Holy Spirit has told me what I need to know: the scriptures are true, such that I get to involve myself in far more intriguing areas of inquiry.  I can instead enjoy spending time in 2 Nephi Chapter 2, trying to understand its deep and significant theological statements, or pondering on and trying to comprehend Alma 5, or Alma 7, or Alma 34, or Moroni 10, or being refocused on the paradigms offered by the Pearl of Great Price, the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s final statements on the cross.  Critics and murmurers and antis and political advocates and narcissistic podcast hosts?  Whose got the time?


And so, when I remark upon the ease with which I have come to accept the truths of the restored gospel (despite my persistent difficulties in trying to consistently live it), I do so not from pride, but out of gratitude, including a deeply felt gratitude for God’s little interventions and tender mercies.  As I look back on my life, I find that I have often been sheltered from doubt and struggles of faith, by virtue of what I would call prior inoculations, which have kept me from being tripped up by some of the stumbling blocks and sophistries to which I’ve sometimes seen others fall prey.  These inoculations have prevented me from becoming overly concerned with some of the common criticisms of faith in general, or my Church in particular. These typically come in the form of a forewarning, or prediction, of some danger on the road ahead, which, when the danger arises, keeps me safe, because of the faith generated from the very fact of having been forewarned.

By way of illustration, when I was in my late teens, I read C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters.  At the time, many of the issues addressed in the book were beyond the scope of my experience, and it did not initially become, as it later would, one of the most important world-view-defining texts of my life.  Nevertheless, there were a few things that stood out to me and which I later remembered.  One of them, for whatever reason, was Lewis’s description and prediction (in Chapter 23) of how Satan would rely on skeptic-scholars to give each future generation a new iteration of “the historical Jesus.”  These would be forthcoming, Lewis’s senior devil, Screwtape, explained, on a regular and recurring basis, on into the future, with each new version to be based on suppressing certain scriptures and historical evidence, and over-exaggerating other data, to arrive at the precise “historical Jesus” custom designed to do the most harm to each particular generation’s faith, based on the vogues and concerns of their own time.

At some point later in my life, I found myself reading a magazine article, I believe in the Atlantic, but perhaps somewhere else, about the latest views on the subject of the historical Jesus. I remember I had a hard time taking the theories set forth in the article very seriously, given that so many of them, in premise and effect, conformed so perfectly to C.S. Lewis’s predictions.  If I recall correctly, I was especially bemused at how the adjectives used in the article to describe a particular scholar’s theories were updated synonymous variations on Screwtape’s recommended term for the WWII generation: “brilliant.”  But then, Screwtape had mentioned that the adjective would change.  The article was unable to move me from my faith in the basic narrative of the Gospels because  I had been inoculated.[Endnote 1]  Lewis’s wisdom in being able to predict a phenomenon I later saw occurring, many years after his death, made me trust his wisdom more than that of those who seemed to be following the script he had so aptly described and predicted beforehand.

Of course, the best source of inoculation is to be steeped in the scriptures. I came across a Salt Lake Tribune article recently about the history of societal and religious attitudes towards marriage.  The central expert quoted in the piece argued that, while Jesus did not necessarily condone adultery and divorce, he wasn’t overly concerned about them.  This argument could only be made by someone completely unfamiliar with any of the many statements Christ makes on these subjects in the Gospels (including in Christianity’s most basic text, the Sermon on the Mount), such as Christ’s call for the restoration of an ancient prohibition against no-fault unilateral divorce, which prohibition Moses had “suffered” to be set aside, due to the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, as well as passages which broaden the definition of what is prohibited as a form of adultery, to encompass the thoughts of our hearts.  This so-called expert’s willingness to state an opinion on a subject which he clearly had never studied, made me realize that I didn’t need to take anything he said with the slightest degree of seriousness.

But the most important inoculations we receive from the scriptures work at a spiritual, not an intellectual, level.  If, at some point in your youth, you had the experience of reading about Lehi’s dream and having the spirit work within you such that you just knew exactly what the great and spacious building and the mocking people therein were all about, and you just understood in ways that can never be articulated, the truth of that symbol, then you will know quite clearly what I am talking about.  You were inoculated, and you can probably remember specific moments in your life when the strength and power of your understanding of that symbol protected you from veering onto a particular path.

President Cracroft

The most important series of inoculations against the arguments and sophistries of skeptics and critics which I ever received came during my mission, and were provided by one of my most important spiritual mentors, my Mission President, Richard H. Cracroft.  The Prez, as we called him[2] was a truly remarkable man.  The major inoculation Prez gave me was in teaching me an important truth, not by telling me this truth, but by living it: It is possible to be a Mormon liberal intellectual, and remain true to the faith.

I did not become an intellectual.  I also did not become a liberal.  But I needed to know this truth nonetheless, and I am glad President Cracroft taught it to me.  It inoculated me against the claim I’ve sometimes heard from murmuring Latter-day Saints that if you are just too smart, or just too socially aware, in comparison to your fellow Mormons, your exit from the Church must be excused.  Sorry, not buying it.  Especially from self-described intellectuals who aren’t nearly as bright as der Prez was, but think that, unlike him, they’re too smart for the Church.  It is pride, not brains, not politics, not social views, that puts one on the high road to apostasy.  Always has been.  Always will be.  Now that I think of it, I got this inoculation from Prez as well, who talked to me once about what he called “the people of the higher plane” those who say, “I’m sorry dear Priesthood leader, you are a good (read simple) man, but you have to understand, I’m just on a higher plane.”  Whether that supposed higher plane is intellectual, spiritual, political, or social, and whether it stems from overzealous and overly dogmatic right wing orthodox conservative views, or from a secular liberal humanist point of view, it always turns out to be a high road to thinking we know better than the current leaders of the Church, which, in turn, is the high road to apostasy.

(For those who did not have the privilege of knowing Prez, but who would like to learn this same truth about the ability to be true to the Mormon faith even as a liberal intellectual, I would suggest reading Boyd Jay Petersen’s excellent biography, Hugh Nibley, A Consecrated Life, about beloved Mormon Scholar and ardent liberal Hugh Nibley.  Added bonus: Petersen’s book is just fun reading.)[3]

Prez Cracroft had the credentials that allow one to be called a scholar and an intellectual: the Ph.D., the publications in scholarly journals, the jobs as a university professor and dean, etc.  But most people who came to understand his keen mental gifts did so in the privileged context of being exposed to his amazing sense of humor, always used to edify and bring joy into the room, never to skewer (unless in self-deprecation).  You can get a small sense of what I’m talking about in this tribute I found to him:

Prez was also one of the best writers I’ve ever read, with a truly distinctive voice.  Here’s a little gem that gives a small taste of this: . [4]

President Cracroft believed in intellectual integrity.  During a mission tour in which he and his AP’s listened to missionaries role-playing teaching the discussions, he learned that some of the missionaries were using a bit of inaccurate folk-apologetics to explain the reasons for polygamy, if they were asked about the subject by investigators.  He would have none of it.  He taught the missionaries the correct historical information about the reasons given and understood at the time for the revelations on polygamy, and how it was seen in the Church while it was practiced, and explained better and more accurate ways of discussing the issue and resolving concerns.  

I had the opportunity, during the first year of my mission, to be assigned as an office Elder, working with President Cracroft’s older sister, Helen, who came to the mission with her husband to handle administrative matters, and with whom I felt a special kinship, because she found the same people vexing or annoying, for the same reasons, as I did.[5]  During this time, I recall driving Prez around to various errands or conferences, and listening to him discuss Joseph Smith and the history of the Church with his wife, sister Helen, and her husband, in a dispassionate, objective, and scholarly manner that was a bit startling for someone like me, who wasn’t used to hearing people talk like this.  He would, for example, elaborate on the different accounts Joseph Smith provided of the First Vision, and the obvious influences that affected these different write-ups of the experience, explaining on one occasion that the Prophet Joseph had not quite gotten past Presbyterian influences when he wrote his first account, which was written in a very Presbyterian voice, and addressed very Presbyterian concerns.  President’s take was that the Prophet had not himself understood the full import and significance of the experience, until he, like all of us, grew in his own understanding, line upon line.  When Prez would then stand up in a Zone Conference and give the most powerful testimony of Joseph Smith I’d ever heard, I came to realize that his deep and sophisticated, scholarly and objective, understanding of the Prophet Joseph’s life and the history of the Church was not a stumbling block to his testimony, but was, quite to the contrary, its source.  (Indeed, he loved to tell the story of a bet he had made with a colleague that Hoffman’s so-called Salamander letter would someday be found to be a forgery, since Prez couldn’t put its implications into his mental file of the Prophet Joseph’s life and thinking.  His colleague smiled condescendingly at Prez’s supposed naivete at the time, but Prez won the bet.)

I did not speak much to Prez about his politics, or overhear him say much about it, but when I did it was clear that, like most college professors, including Nibley, he did not share most Mormons’ (including my own) conservative political leanings.  However, unlike some of today’s more strident LDS dissenters, who believe themselves “compelled” by their intellectual skepticism and political liberalism to attack the Church and its leaders, Prez was true blue and dyed in the wool.  If there was an academic controversy that involved Church principles, Prez defended the Church’s principles, as in this piece, in which testimony is borne to worldly scholars:

Likewise, if a Cracroft piece appeared in a publication that good Mormons, for good reason, ought not  to read without a helping heaping of grains of salt nearby, such as Sunstone, Prez’s contribution would be refreshingly faith affirming, notwithstanding that magazine’s usual fare, like a rose springing up from the fetid manure surrounding it:

“From those who will claim to be our friends”

I’ve been thinking a lot about President Cracroft lately, as events in the news have reminded me of the final inoculation I received from him, in the form of counsel he gave my flight group, on our last night in Switzerland.[6]  Der Prez, among other issues, discussed with us a concern that had been on his mind, from his perch in the world of academia, about the changing nature of those who would criticize the Church.  The anti-Mormonism we’d been exposed to as missionaries was generally of a right-wing evangelical variety.  It was annoying, but its strident tone, disreputable methodology[7], and its often easily refuted falsehoods often kept it from being particularly effective.

President Cracroft indicated that he saw a shift coming.  We would be increasingly exposed to attacks on our faith “from those who will claim to be our friends.”  Active members of the Church, acting from prominent positions within society and academia would not leave the Church, but would undermine it from within, all the while claiming to be “trying to help us.”

It was a thought that has stuck with me.  And it is a forewarning that I have recently seen come to pass.  The old-fashioned anti-mormons were, for all their faults, and all their falsehoods, at least open and honest about this: that they were our enemies, and they wanted to undermine our faith and lead people away from it.  This is an important point.  I have no particular beef with those who decide they do not believe in the truth claims of Mormonism.  Many of those truth claims are truly remarkable, and most of the world has been skeptical from the outset.  If the demographics of the Church as described by Nephi (who saw the members of the Church on every continent, but everywhere in smaller numbers than the nonbelievers) hold true, that will always be the case.  I don’t even have any particular concern about those, be they fundamentalist evangelicals or fundamentalist secular materialists, who decide it is their mission in life to help poor straying Latter-day Saints escape from the so-called falsehoods of our faith and be brought into the light of truth and knowledge.  I think it’s a silly way to spend one’s life and energies, but hey, whatever gets you motivated to wake up in the morning.  Under God’s plan, it’s a free universe, and we can take sides on whatever issue we want to, be it historical, political, scientific, or theological, without any bolts of thunder coming down from the skies to blot us from the earth.  If you are sincere in your belief that you are doing God’s, or the universe’s, work, your heart is not mine to judge (though, in many cases, I reserve the right to question that sincerity).  My beef is with those modern dissidents from the Church who aren’t honest with themselves or others concerning what they are about.

Many in the new generation of Mormon critics fall into this far more deceptive and disingenuous category than old school fundamentalist Christians with their anti-Mormon, anti-Catholic, anti-JW, anti-Seventh Day Adventist, tracts.  “We’re here to help” claims an anti-Mormon web site deceptively designed to appear like a place where prospective LDS missionaries can go for counsel.  “I’m here to help the church” by making it toe my own particular political lines, proclaim so many in the dissident bloggernacle.  “I’m here to help” says one of the more prominent anti-Mormon podcast hosts who has recently made himself the center of a media frenzy by rushing letters from his priesthood leaders to national news organizations.  “He’s here to help and the church should embrace him” parrot his followers, as they post their trolling comments on pro-LDS blogs, not bothering to mention that they themselves have become adversarial to the Church, as you will find if you click on their profiles and follow them to their own sites.  An acquaintance of mine recently shared a blog post from one of these currently trendy apostates, which my acquaintance was apparently much moved by.  I found the experience of reading it somewhat akin to dissecting a frog: “OK, I see the bit of emotional sophistry being deployed here, but I’m not sure why anyone would find it effective.  I’m surprised he didn’t work harder to avoid that logical fallacy in the second paragraph, and that logical leap in the third.  Huh, that’s an interesting double-standard there.”  Etc.  The whole process left me bewildered that anyone I know could have fallen for this stuff.  Maybe he watches too much cable television and his brain has turned to mush.  I dunno. If someone is ever going to push me out of the Church, and make me forsake the thousands of manifestations of the Spirit which have crafted my testimony, please, please, please, for the sake of my own pride, at least let him be someone who is bright and has something original or compelling to offer me, not this cheap reheated pottage.

Nevertheless, this stuff is out there, and some people apparently find it convincing, so in the hopes of offering some of my own inoculations to anyone who might be interested, here’s a list of a few of the disingenuous sophistries of the new anti-Mormon advocates that I find particularly annoying, and my own responses to the same.  This is not a list of specific critical claims about Church history or doctrine.  There are plenty of Mormon defenders of the faith doing fine work on the internet and elsewhere with respect to those specific issues, and I would defer to them, because I don’t have their credentials, nor their patience in dealing with subjects that I often find boring and tedious.  This is, rather, a list of rhetorical devices and methods utilized by the new Mormon dissidents for presenting the context of their claims, which I find to be disingenuous and full of sophistry.

The List.  Some Currently Prevalent Disingenuous Sophistries and Why They Annoy Me and Should Be Challenged.  

1.  The “We’re here to help the Church” sophistry (See also the “I’m just asking questions” meme).

Is it possible that fair consideration of difficult subjects in Mormon history or doctrine will “help” the Church and its members?  That critical questions can lead to more accurate information from the Church, about the Church?  Sure it is.  Some of the best historical research on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, to take just one of many possible examples, has been done by faithful Latter-day Saints.  The earliest of that research was not always initially welcome, but it was necessary, and the Church ultimately embraced it and has published straightforward accounts of the matter in its own publications.  Addressing that painful chapter in our Church’s history can be an important step against such an episode ever being repeated, just as the study of U.S. history needs to include frank evaluations of slavery, dealings with Native-Americans, WWII Japanese internment camps, and other subjects that we don’t necessarily bring up on the 4th of July, but still need to know.

So, how can I personally tell when someone is truly trying to “help” and when someone is engaged in an attack on my faith?  In part, to paraphrase a famous remark by a Supreme Court Justice on another topic: I know it when I see it. When I read Juanita Brooks’ account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, for example, I could tell she was writing as a fair and objective historian, seeking to discover and lay out the facts and let the chips fall where they may. She did not unnecessarily sensationalize the facts.  But she also did not downplay them.  She was not putting these facts on the table in order to embarrass or discomfit but simply to tell the story of what occurred.  She had no agenda but telling the truth.  She did not write in order to convince anyone that a particular political or doctrinal policy change was necessary.  Nor did she act the part of Shakespeare’s lady who doth protest too much, by loudly and stridently and zealously proclaiming that she had “no agenda but truth” or, no agenda but “just asking questions.”  She didn’t need to do that because her writing spoke for itself and made that clear.  She simply told the story, as best she could with the tools available to her.

There is, by contrast, a tone in much of the “we’re here to help” sophistries of today’s Mormon dissident bloggernacle that gives their game away.  They insist, frequently and loudly, that they are merely doing what other truer scholars have actually done, just helping, just asking questions.  But in their frequent repetition of this claim, and in the stridency with which they make it, they doth protest too much.  A wise man once told me I should always be cautious about doing business with any company that had the word “honest” in its name.  Do you want your car repaired by “Honest Joe’s Honest Repair Shop”?  Probably not. If objective scholarship were what the new Mormon dissidents were truly about, they could just go about their work, and their writings and publications would speak that truth for themselves.  But they don’t.  Their writings convey a different spirit altogether.  Their tone is gleeful when making any point that might embarrass, narcissistic when comparing the humble writer to the leaders of the Church, strident and agenda-driven in presenting arguments based upon cherry-picked historical anecdotes, rather than merely presenting all of the relevant history for its own sake, the good and the bad, the divine and the mortal, that which inspires and that which reminds us of human error and folly, all presented in context.

Political writing offers a handy analogy. You want to help a political party? Then don’t parrot the other political party’s talking points under the guise of “trying to help you understand why so many Americans disagree with your agenda.”  You want to write objective political journalism and political history which helps neither side and without an editorial agenda beyond asking questions and getting at the answers?  Then quote from both sides and get sources in both camps to help you tell your tale, and present both sides’ fairly.  But don’t tell me, loudly and insistently and stridently, that all you’re doing here is objective journalism, when it’s clear from the tone of what you produce that you’re really doing partisan editorial commentary under the guise of journalism.  Follow these same rules whether you’re writing about politics or faith or science or any other subject and you won’t insult my intelligence or demean your own integrity.  There is a place for editorial commentary and partisan attacks in this world, but if that’s what you are selling please be up-front about it.  The same is true of modern Mormon dissidents.  If you are interested in doing objective scholarly research, by all means, do so, and then let what you have written speak for itself.  If you are interested in attacking the Church, have at it, but be honest about it from the get-go, without hiding who you are and what you intend.

The same is true of the “we’re just asking questions” meme.  There are, to take one currently trending example, perfectly legitimate questions to be asked about why women are not ordained to the priesthood on this earth.  I have heard many explanations, some of them more convincing than others, but none of them has ever, to my knowledge, been adopted as official Church doctrine.  Based thereon, I would not find anything particularly offensive about some group who honestly wanted the Church to clarify the reasons for this practice, if the Church is able to do so.  But a group which claims to be “just asking questions” while marching under a name which belies the possibility that there may be any legitimate answers to the inquiry, and while issuing statements demanding not answers to questions but policy changes dictated under various “or else” threats, is not just asking questions, and when they claim to be doing so, they are making a false statement, plain and simple.  If you want to demand changes to church policies and doctrines, despite the fact that such demands deny one of the core doctrines of the Church, that we are led by revelation and prophets, seers and revelators, fine, have at it, do your worst.  And if you want to make your demands through political showmanship, all to the delight of a secular news media which holds a deep antipathy towards people of faith, then good for you, enjoy your 15 minutes.  But do your soul a favor and be honest about what you are doing, and don’t claim to be engaged in a task which is directly contrary to everything you say and everything you do.

2.  The sophistry that if you disagree with the new Mormon dissidents, it is because you are “anti-intellectual.”  

There is an underlying assumption among many of the modern critics of Faith in general and of Mormonism in particular, that if only the members of the Church knew this or that uncomfortable fact about  history, or heard some cherry-picked politically incorrect quotation from an old-time church leader, then we would take off our blinders and be lead to the salvation of secular humanism. The reason you are not on my path, they will tell you, is because you just aren’t as smart as me.  The reason you dislike my scholarship, they say, is because you are against scholars.  You are an anti-intellectual, unwilling to study the truths and come to the same understandings and conclusions as your betters.  That may sound convincing.  But it doesn’t really work that way, especially for people who keep on studying.

Let me discuss U.S. history as an imperfect but handy analogy to scholarship on the Church.  Broadly speaking, there are three types of U.S. historians: First, there are what we might call “patriotic historians” those who write inspiring history which instills patriotism, but who may sometimes be accused of engaging in advocacy or hagiography more than objective scholarship. (These might run the gamut from people like Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, one of my favorite writers, with his incredibly engaging and uplifting books, like John Adams and Truman, to more specifically partisan, typically conservative, authors producing more in-your-face works, favoring titles such as “The Real Thomas Jefferson” or “The politically incorrect guide to U.S. History”).  Secondly, there are those who are genuinely interested in objectively studying and writing about U.S. history without any political motivation, but who seek to understand the motives of those who occupied any particular time period on the terms which those people themselves understood, and who are willing to give us the good, the bad, and the ugly, let the chips fall where they may, of our past.  We might call this group the “objective academic historians.”  (Pulitzer Prize Winner Gordon S. Wood, one of America’s most well-respected academic scholars on early American history, would be my favorite author in this camp.  I consider his books Revolutionary Characters and The Idea of America to be essential reading.  They have introduced me to ideas and worldviews and preoccupations held by the founders which are completely alien to us today, because they arose from a society which no longer exists, which has helped me to understand that the founders' viewpoints cannot always be marshalled for some modern political purpose as easily as we think.)  Finally, there are those who dislike America, see her as her enemies see her, and believe that the “truth” of American history is essentially ugly, and write to persuade us to see ourselves in the way that the Soviet Union's citizens saw us, as an enemy of progressive forces trying to create a better and more benevolent world.  We might term this group the “negative narrators”.  Scholars in this camp regard the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as only dead white male slaveholders who couldn’t possibly have advanced any principle or value worth remembering or fighting to maintain and transmit to the next generation.   (Howard Zinn would be one obvious example, but much of modern scholarship on U.S. History falls under this same hostile and deconstructionist agenda.)

I have a great love for certain patriotic historians and for some objective academic historians.  Patriotic history is  perfectly legitimate and fulfills an important need.  A nation, to remain sufficiently homogenous to be and remain a nation, instead of several balkanized factions, needs to have some shared sense of gratitude for what makes their country great, for what ideals it stands upon, and why those ideals matter.  Our feelings for our nation ought to be capable of being expressed in poetry, not only in prose.  Our nation’s citizens ought to get teary eyed when we hear our national anthem or see our flag flying at half-mast.  It makes our country stronger.  Sometimes, I want to be inspired by heroes.  I want to be moved by the story of our nation’s earliest citizens’ and their stand for freedom and liberty.  I want to be grateful for those who wrote, fought, and politically finangled to end slavery.  I want to be thrilled at our nation’s successful 20th Century stands against totalitarianism abroad, in WWII and the Cold War.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, the gratitude I feel for my nation from reading such history makes life better.

There’s also, of course, a place for more objective history.  We ought to know the dark side of American history.  We ought to know about slavery, the displacement of Native Americans from their ancestral lands, and the exploitation of labor in early American sweatshops. We ought to be exposed to objective history from the past in order to learn about values and worldviews held by earlier generations which have been lost to us.  The work of objective academic scholars can provide us with a nuanced view of history that can prevent our patriotism from turning into parochial jingoism, help us avoid jumping onto simple-minded political bandwagons, and help us to understand and learn to deal with the inherent ambiguities in life.  Sometimes, however, the nuanced view can also remind us that patriotism is legitimate.  An open-minded and objective study of U.S. history will not always lead us to negative conclusions, despite the contentions of those in the third camp.  The more we know, the more we might come to see that the founders, for all their faults and fights and bickering, and for all the ways in which they were beholden to and creatures of their own times and the value systems of those times, were nevertheless, still truly remarkable men.  We may just find, when we reach a higher level of knowledge and understanding, that some of the founders, in certain of their best moments, really were the great and noble men our elementary school teachers taught us about (or at least did when I was that age), despite the warts and weaknesses our more cynical High School and college teachers liked to share.  For example, scholarly historian Gordon S. Wood, who has forgotten more about the founding era than most of us will ever know, and writes without blinders about the strengths and the weaknesses of our first leading citizens, has a chapter in his book, Revolutionary Characters which is entitled, simply and without irony: The Greatness of George Washington.

Even the work of the negative narrators has potential value, in exposing historical events which don’t always make the textbooks, and describing the viewpoints of those who stood on the fringes of history.  But much of the negative narrators’ work is ultimately just . . . negative.  Many negative narrators revile patriotic history, refusing to concede its point or purpose, not because their own viewpoints are any more true, but because their cynicism blinds them to light and virtue, and their arrogance makes them despise any viewpoint but their own. You can see this from how often they also revile academic historians, if their work fails to reach the same partisan political opinions which motivates the negative narrators.  But, more relevant to the point here, this is the group which sound most like certain modern Mormon dissidents in their insistence that if you do not see the world the way they see it, you are an anti-intellectual and stupid person:  "You don’t hate my scholarship because it’s unpatriotic.  You hate my scholarship because you hate scholarship; because you are not as bright or enlightened or as sophisticated I am. You reject my writings because you are simple-minded, blinded by naivete and jingoism, part of the bourgeois problem" etc.  But this is bogus. There are plenty of smart and scholarly and academically serious people who don’t buy the premises of Howard Zinn.

Indeed, members of camp three are often far more simpleminded and blind to any evidence that undercuts their assumptions than are members of camp one.  An approach to history premised on an attitude of “always assume the worst” is no less simpleminded than “always assume the best.”   The most zealous proponents of the negative narrative (and this is where you will find zealousness if you are looking for it) are often far less willing to recognize the ambiguity and nuance in history than are those who want their history patriotic and inspiring.  The believers in an inspiring and patriotic view of American history are, typically, willing to concede that the Country’s past has included dark episodes and undercurrents that we should study and know something about.  The negative narrators, by contrast, are often unwilling to concede that there is anything meritorious or virtuous about America’s past, and take every patriotic story as an affront and opportunity for pedantic critique.

A similar dynamic plays itself out among those who write about Church history and doctrine.  Many fine and faithful writers have approached the Church’s history in a manner designed to inspire, show its beauty and poetry, and engage, uplift, edify, and inspire.  And despite the critiques of the new Mormon dissidents, that is just as it should be.   Such works can help us stay true to the path and cling to the rod through difficult times in our mortal journey.  They can uplift us, call us to be something more, inspire us to repent, help us see the history of the Church and the paradigms offered by its doctrines in all their grandeur.  The study of such works of history, doctrine, literature, music, etc., are important places for us to spend our time and nourish our testimonies. We ought to go there frequently, and help ourselves to blow our personal trumps of testimony without an uncertain sound.

Is there a time and a place for more straightforward and objective history?  Absolutely, and in the works of people like Richard Bushman, and others, we can find the Latter-day Saint equivalents to Gordon Wood.  Some people will read these more frank histories and be troubled by them.  They will let the humanity in the church obscure the divinity of the Church. Others will read such works and not only still be able to see the grandeur of the truth of Mormonism, but will perhaps have an even keener appreciation for the miracle of this Church having sprung forth from truly obscure beginnings, and a deeper appreciation for how God works his mighty plans through small and simple things, using very mortal tools, for the building of both the tool and the Kingdom.

Then there are the new Mormon dissidents: claiming the mantle of objective scholarship when in truth and fact they are just as one-sided in their approaches as they claim the uplifting narratives to be.  If there is an inspiring story to be found in the annals of Mormonism, they ignore it, doubt it without any evidence for doing so, and then move on to preaching to their own choirs in a voice and with a purpose that will not allow for even the possibility of any dissent from their own conclusions.  They are free to advocate for their conclusions, but as they do so they should be open with themselves and their audience about who they are and who we are: they are to the LDS Church what communist deconstructionist American historians are to America, cranky advocates for their own opinions, so blinded by their own worldview that they have no ability to temper that view with the possibility of nuance or ambiguity.   It is, more often than not, they, not the faithful, who have left the road of seeking after truth, and have become anti-intellectual in the certainty of their opinions, and the blinders they wear against any other possibilities.  

I suspect that if I were transported in a time machine back to the era of Moses, and I learned intimate details of Moses’s personality and day to day life, I would find much of what I learned, to be, from my perspective as a 21st Century American, odd, unsettling, politically incorrect, even horrifying.  I suspect the same would be true, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, if I were transported back more recently in time to Joseph Smith’s day.   Some of this would be based on cultural differences that would blindside me, and some of it would be the realization that these men put their pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.   If a skeptic or a new-fangled Mormon dissident wants to take me on that journey, my answer would be the same as if I had traveled there myself: So, what’s your point?  These men were either Prophets or they were not.  That they had mortal flaws and weaknesses which Satan would have exploited to the highest degree possible, that they were people very much of their own time and their own place, I already knew.  That doesn’t mean they weren’t also Prophets.  In fact, their feet of clay actually makes me admire their stories even more.  Look what they accomplished, in the forging of a new faith and a new people, in the bringing forth of scripture, in the realization of Moses’s dream of a kingdom of priests, despite all of that.

3.  The claim that the Church is on the wrong side of history.

Much of the new anti-Mormonism grows out of modern left-wing politics, which has become increasingly bold in its radicalism in recent decades, despite the historical evidence which mounted throughout the 20th century  of the core weaknesses, and horrendous outcomes, which are precipitated by the application of its precepts.  For those whose dissent stems from a left wing political agenda, claiming that the Church is on the wrong side of history, in its male priesthood or in its views on the meaning of marriage, has become a powerful rhetorical tool.  In response, I would offer the following statement from a Catholic conservative, who has been confronted with the same type of arguments from the more liberal members of his religion.

Here is Robert P. George, speaking in 2014, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., in a speech entitled, “Am I ashamed of the Gospel” : “These forces tell us that our defeat in the causes of marriage and human life are inevitable. They warn us that we are on the wrong side of history. They insist that we will be judged by future generations the  way we today judge those who championed racial injustice in the Jim Crow south. But history does not have sides. It is an impersonal and contingent sequence of events, events that are determined in decisive ways by human deliberation, judgment, choice, and action. The future of marriage and of countless human lives can and will be determined by our judgments and choices, our willingness or unwillingness to bear faithful witness, our acts of courage or cowardice. Nor is history, or future generations, a judge invested with god-like powers to decide, much less dictate, who was right and who was wrong. The idea of a judgment of history is secularism’s vain, meaningless, hopeless, and pathetic attempt to devise a substitute for what the great Abrahamic traditions of faith know is the final judgment of Almighty God. History is not God. God is God. History is not our judge. God is our judge.  One day we will give an account of all we have done and failed to do. Let no one suppose that we will make this accounting to some impersonal sequence of events possessing no more power to judge than a golden calf or a carved and painted totem pole. It is before God, the God of truth, the Lord of history, that we will stand. And as we tremble in His presence it will be no use for any of us to claim that we did everything in our power to put ourselves on the right side of history.”

If the 20th century taught us anything, it is that ideological fantasies which ignore fundamental truths and realities of human nature, no matter how seemingly virtuous and well-meaning, no matter how passionately believed in, no matter how socially impossible, in a given time or place, to dissent from, sooner or later, hit reality.  The fantasy of communism, with its unwillingness to confront the truth of human nature, held sway for decades in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but eventually crashed against the realities it was trying to ignore.  If current trends are any guide, we will no doubt pretend, for many decades hence, that human beings do not come in two genders, that children do not need both a mother and a father, and that there is no reason why sex, marriage, procreation, and child-rearing should be thought of as necessarily integrated concepts.  Our Church will no doubt face a great degree of hostility and pressure and persecution if we refuse to bow to these ideological winds.  Our children and grandchildren will no doubt be taught that there was something cruel, primitive, and unenlightened about the views of their parents, which were heretofore held by virtually every society on earth for thousands of generations, regarding sexual morality.  They will be taught to scoff at the idea that, as sex’s most important biological function is procreative, any sound sexual ethic requires an institution which fosters commitment between the men and women whose sexual activities produce new human beings, and that, based thereon, the whole point of matrimony was essentially and distinctively to foster male-female unions, and to encourage abstinence outside of such unions.  But the damage that is already being done to human beings raised in the shifting family structures of a society which clings to these new, anti-scientific, biologically insane, fantasies, will eventually become too overwhelmingly obvious for even the most obtuse among future generations to ignore.  The end of the story has already been written, in a poem by Rudyard Kipling, called The Gods of the Copybook Headings.  It tells a sad story, but one that always keeps repeating itself.  To determine who is truly on the “wrong side of history” is the work of generations, and of those capable of taking the long view.  Our age’s instapundits, welding sitcom stereotypes of any who dare dissent from the new orthodoxies of our age, are not up to the task.  

1.  In the course of writing this post, I tried to remember and find the precise article in question, but my research led me to discover that there was more than one candidate, and I couldn’t remember which one I’d had this experience with, just remembering the thoughts I had at the time.  The “historical Jesus” has apparently been a recurring theme in certain magazines, and my own memory of things I once read or ideas I was once exposed to has become so full that not only years, but decades, are now starting to collapse in on themselves in my mind.

2.  That’s the phonetic spelling for English speakers: it should actually be spelled “Der Praes” or “Der Präs” as a shortcut for Der Praesident, with the German “s” pronounced as an English “z.”

3. President Cracroft knew and was friendly with Nibley, who was a member of his Stake, and introduced me to the book, Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless, which contains some of Nibley’s easier-to-read and pithier articles, while nevertheless advising me that some critics did not agree with Nibley’s bone-to-pick style of scholarship.

4.  This article has a special place in my heart.  When I read it, it prompted me to write President an email of appreciation, the first time I had communicated with him in many years.  His response e-mail to me, full of encouragement, became one of my most prized possessions.  He died shortly thereafter, and this was the last time I ever heard from him.  

5.  There are few things in life that will ever bond two people together quite as quickly as finding that they both roll their eyes in response to the same stimuli.

6.  Anyone who has been on an LDS Mission can imagine and should be familiar with the scene.  A group of Elders and a couple of Sisters are visiting in the mission home, waiting for a nice meal featuring a culturally appropriate dish (raclette, of course, for Schweizer missionare) whose aromas they can smell wafting in from the kitchen, to be followed by their final counsel from their Mission President, a testimony meeting, and then off to bed before catching tomorrow’s flight home, where they will be released of their mantles, to much mixed emotion.  As I recall it, President Benson had recently given a pulpit-thumping General Conference speech, calling on any bachelors within earshot who might be getting a bit long in the tooth to repent, rise up, be men and do their duty.  Inevitably, given the subject matter, the speech had become the topic of some degree of humorous commentary.  Spotting the most recent Conference Ensign on the table, I found the speech, which we’d all heard about, but not yet read, and began finding the good parts to read to my flight group, the perfect audience for this particular address, as we were not yet RM’ed, and so too young to be guilty of the sin at issue, but knew that avoiding the fate of these aging bachelors was to be our next duty.  I tried to muster as much pseudo-brimstone as I could in my voice, as I read the most strident passages, to what I felt was great comic effect and a lot of laughter, when der Prez came into the room and jokingly berated me for stealing his thunder, while simultaneously giving me precisely the correct look to convey that, though he loved me, I was being a little irreverent with what was after all prophetic counsel, and that I should perhaps tone it down a little.  Oh, how I miss that man.  I had not, in fact, stolen his thunder.  The topics for the evening ran far afield of President Benson’s talk, though it was of course referenced.

7.  My first exposure to the dishonest methodology of the antis of my mission era was on the plane from Salt Lake City to Chicago, where we would be boarding our Swissair flight to Zuerich.  My companion and I found ourselves sitting next to a man who asked us to give him a list of reasons why we believed Joseph Smith was a Prophet.  After a bit of debate that followed, he revealed that he was a member of a group calling itself “Ex-Mormons for Jesus.”  When I asked when he had left the church, he revealed he had never been Mormon.  When I asked by what right he then called himself an “Ex-Mormon for Jesus” he explained the rhetorical importance of the name, and indicated that whenever his group set up their booths at various Christian gatherings, they always tried to find at least one actual “Ex-Mormon” to be on hand, even though he eventually conceded that most of the group’s membership did not actually fit the title.  That was all it took for me to write him off as someone not worth spending any more time on.  I enjoyed my nap on the rest of the flight.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Treatise on Stewardship

A Treatise on Stewardship.

This started out as a talk for a 2009 single adult fireside, then a talk for a 2010 Sacrament meeting, then a letter to my oldest son on his mission in 2011.  It keeps growing so now it's too long to utilize for anything other than as a repository of my thoughts on a few interrelated subjects.   This is a work in progress and some citations need to be added for some of the quotes still, and quotation marks corrected, etc. . . . , until I figure out what to make of it.

The Power of Language and Words.

The scriptures teach us that there is a diversity of administration of the spirit and that different people are given different gifts of the spirit.  It is interesting to get to know lots of different people and see how much diversity there really is in what different people are inspired by and how they feel the spirit.

Some people have a special affinity for music, and are very aware of how music can be utilized to uplift and convey and help people feel the Holy Ghost, and that is for many such people a focus in their lives.  Other people find evidence for God in the simple elegance of mathematical equations and scientific truths.  Some people are inspired by physical prowess and athletic ability, and can watch or participate in an athletic contest or a dance and find inspiration and motivation in their lives by watching someone performing at their peak levels of ability in a physical or athletic performance.

Personally, I am a very language-oriented person.  I find inspiration in reading or hearing well-written prose or an effective speech.  I am as inspired by the beautiful language of the scriptures as I am by some of the doctrines and stories contained therein.  Some of my favorite historical figures are people like Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill who were able to effectively employ the English language in a manner which changed history.

As a language oriented person, I have found that, for me, there is great power and motivation that can come into my life by taking a gospel word, such as covenant, or repentance, or atonement, and trying to fully understand, as well as I possibly can, the meaning of that word, so that it will begin to resonate with me when I come across it in reading the scriptures or studying the Gospel.  In these thoughts I would like to try to fully understand the word “Stewardship.”


The term stewardship appears frequently in the Doctrine and Covenants, as compared to earlier, more ancient scriptural texts.  Stewardship must therefore be a word that has significant meaning in the restoration and for those of us who live in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times.

For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 104:13 we read that “it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.”  And in D&C 70:9 we are taught that we shall be accountable for the uses to which we put our blessings, for this is “what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man.”

The first time I came across the word stewardship and began to have some inkling of what it meant was when I was 12 or 13 years old and read what became one of my favorite books, the Lord of the Rings. You may recall that in that story there is a character named Denethor. Denethor is a person who has all of the rights and responsibilities of a king, but he doesn’t get to sit on the throne and he doesn’t get to wear the crown and his title is “Steward” rather than King.  The idea is that many generations ago, the true kings of the kingdom were exiled, as a result of a kind of civic apostasy, and so the kingdom has been ruled by stewards ever since.  So Denethor’s charge, as Steward, his “stewardship” is to maintain and preserve the kingdom until such time as it might be returned to the true king.

Well, it’s not hard, when an author sets up that kind of a plot device, to know what is probably going to happen, and as it turns out, as the story develops, Denethor comes to learn that one who can claim the true kingship is returning to the kingdom.  (It might be noted that the true king has certain characteristics, such as the “hands of a healer” which make him a literary Christ figure, so that this whole episode is very capable of a spiritual symbolic reading).  At that point, Denethor has two choices.  On the one hand, Denethor can be excited about the possibility that he can stand in front of the king and say, “I and my fathers before me have fulfilled our stewardship, we have maintained and preserved the kingdom and we return it now to your hands.”  He can be excited that he is going to get to hear the king say the words “Well done, thou good and faithful steward.”

But instead, Denethor resents the idea that the true king is returning.  He is annoyed.  He likes his calling, thank you very much, and he doesn't want to be released.  You see, Denethor has forgotten.  He has forgotten that he wasn't really the king.  That he was a steward, with a fiduciary duty to serve the needs of his true lord, for his lord, and not for himself.  He has become guilty of a kind of priestcraft.

By contrast, for an example of someone who had a healthier attitude about his Stewardship, we can look to John the Baptist, who, like Denethor, was  responsible for preparing the way of the true king, when John’s disciples complained of Jesus’s growing popularity, John said in John 3:30 “Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him . . . . .   He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Another example of a stewardship is found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, as the Innkeeper was asked by the good Samaritan to take care of his injured neighbor, and was given two coins to care for and assist this man.   We are not told the rest of the story.  We do not know if the coins the Samaritan gave the Innkeeper to care for the wounded man were used for that purpose, but we do know that if the Innkeeper did not use them for that purpose, that the Innkeeper would have to answer for any such misuse of a sacred trust that was given to him, not for his benefit, but in stewardship to help another.

As members of this Church, all of us are given a variety of Stewardships.  Many of us, for example, are parents.  In our relationship with our children, do we have an attitude of entitlement and ownership or of Stewardship?  Do we feel that if it is convenient to us to lose our temper and let loose on our children whenever they frustrate us, that we have the right and entitlement to do so?  Or do we recognize that our children are our spiritual brothers and sisters, children of the same Heavenly Father we have, and that our parental relationship with them is a charge given us by our Heavenly Father, which we need to fulfill in a loving and patient manner which will allow our children to grow in confidence, and in a manner which would be pleasing to their true Father and Mother?  Do we see our relationship with our spouse as something we own or something we must nurture?

C.S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, describes how the devil wants us to develop a sense of ownership and entitlement rather than understanding that all we have is a gift from the Lord, given to us as a charge, not a right.  Through his narrator, the Senior devil tempter, Screwtape, he describes Satan’s plans to lead us  toward his path by having an ownership rather than a stewardship mentality in our lives:

“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged.  The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so.  Much of the modern resistance to chastity [for example] comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies – those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another!  It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love’s sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counselors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor.  We [the devils] produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion.  We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun– the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’ ‘my servant’ 'my wife’ ‘my father’ ‘my master’ and ‘my country’ to ‘my God.”  They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’ the ‘my’ of ownership.  Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my teddy bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation . . . but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like.’ . . . .  And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.  In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and especially of each man.  They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong- certainly not to them whatever happens.”

The Apostle Paul taught that our body and our spirit both belong to God, having been “bought with a price” 1 Corinthians 6:20.  The price that has been paid, is of course, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, pursuant to which, we no longer belong to ourselves, but to God and our Savior, and everything we have been given has not been given to us as a possession, but as a charge, or a stewardship, to bless the lives of others.  We need to be constantly aware of our stewardships, and constantly on our guard against the opposite attitude: the attitude of ownership, entitlement, and priestcraft.

We have many stewardships in our lives, including our callings and our blessings.  I would like to address three specific Stewardships that we have.  These are taken from a speech President Monson gave in a General Conference shortly after he became our Prophet, in which he spoke of our duty (i) to learn what we need to learn, (ii) to do what we need to do, and (iii) to be what we need to be.  Let’s start with learning:

I. The Stewardship to Know and learn what we must Know.

Our minds and our time are stewardships given to us to develop as best we can.  There are many types of knowledge that we have a duty and a stewardship to develop during our lives.

We have a stewardship to learn and develop our minds in all the general fields of knowledge the world has to offer. Brigham Young taught that “Mormonism embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical.” On another occasion Brigham Young stated: “Not only does the religion of Jesus Christ make the people acquainted with the things of God, and develop within them moral excellence and purity, but it holds out every encouragement and inducement possible, for them to increase in knowledge and intelligence, in every branch of [engineering] or in the arts and sciences, for all wisdom, and all the arts and sciences in the world are from God, and are designed for the good of His people.”  See also, D&C 88.

We also have a duty and stewardship to learn Gospel Knowledge.  I remember going to a marriage fireside that was taught by a BYU Professor.  The title of the fireside was Keys to Successful Marriage.  I was expecting a talk about rules for how to treat your spouse and why to go on regular dates, etc.  But instead the speaker spent the whole evening discussing the Plan of Salvation.  Why?  Because of something that Boyd K. Packer has frequently stated: “True doctrine, understood, changes behavior.  The study of doctrine will do more to change behavior than the study of behavior will do to change behavior.”  The premise of this marriage fireside was that if we understood the plan of salvation, then we would understand how precious our marriage was, and naturally act in accordance with that knowledge.

Most importantly, we have a duty and a stewardship to develop knowledge of our Savior.  According to John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.”

The idea that we need to come to know Jesus is also set forth in Matthew 7:21-23.  This is a scripture which, according to John Taylor, is talking about priesthood holders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not members of other churches.  Although not set forth in our footnotes, in the full JST translation this scripture reads: “And then will I say, Ye never knew me, depart from me, Ye that work iniquity” JST Matt 7:33.  (See also, Parable of the 10 virgins; Matthew 25:1-13. Again, the JST translation changes “I know you not” to “ye know me not” JST Matt 25:11.)

Joseph Smith taught “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.”  Jesus taught that we get to that point by knowing Christ, for we can not see anything Christ does without knowing of something He says His Father has done before him.

What are some steps we can take to really know Jesus Christ?  My Mission President wrote a doctrinal dissertation about the German author Karl Mai.  In the course of writing that dissertation my Mission President, to get his Ph.D., studied every book and short story Karl Mai had ever written, but he also studied his personal private letters and journals.  When he was done with that process, my Mission President could have told you what Karl Mai thought about just about any subject: religion, politics, child-rearing.  He knew Karl Mai because he had studied his words.  Maybe in similar fashion we need to read everything Christ has said to us and his prophets in the scriptures, so we know who he really is.

How seriously should we take the stewardship to come to know Jesus Christ?  Well maybe if we turn that question on its head that might give us some idea: How important was it for Christ to know us?

Alma 7:11 and 12 tells us what Christ was willing to go through so he would know us: He condescended, to use the phrase the Angel taught to Nephi, to cease being God the Son, and to become a mortal man, so he could know and understand us: “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.  And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

Well if Christ was willing to go through all of that, that he might know us, than shouldn’t we be willing to read the five gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Third Nephi, and Christ’s words to modern prophets, so we might know him.

I have a favorite story about this idea of the condescension of Christ.  It’s a story that was written by Kierkegaard:  

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise - the king took on a totally new identity - He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.
The King and the Maiden, Soren Kierkegaard, as quoted in Epic, by John Eldredge

This story explains why Christ, when he came to earth the first time, did not do so in the full magnitude of his divine glory, offering his people no choice, in accepting or rejecting him.  Rather, as is explained in Phillipians 2: 5-8 “Christ Jesus [though] equal with God . . . made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” so he might fully understand what it was to be one of us.  We have a stewardship to try to do something similar in reverse.  To try to live Christlike lives so we can understand and “know” Christ in a personal way as well, so, like the maiden in the story, Christ, having descended to our level, can eventually raise us up (exalt us) to His.

II. The Stewardship to Do what we must Do.

So, we have a stewardship to come to know Christ.  But knowing isn’t enough.  Remember the famous story about Spencer W. Kimball, that he changed a word in the chorus to the hymn “I am a child of God.” It used to say “teach me all that I must know” now it says “teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.”  So we also have to do certain things.  Or maybe we could word it like this: In order to truly come to “know” Christ, part of our learning must come through doing, through living a Christlike life.

So, let’s address our stewardship to DO certain things.

Just as we could spend hours discussing all of the things we ought to know and learn and gain a testimony of; we could also talk for hours about all the commandments we ought to be performing and doing. But we always need to try to focus on what’s most important.

When Christ was asked what are the greatest commandments he said  they were to Love God and, Like unto it, to Love our neighbor as ourself.  So among the most important commandments apparently is the command to serve others.  I think its significant He didn’t say “love humanity” or “Love mankind” Those concepts can be ethereal, He said love your neighbor, in other words, specific persons who are actually part of your real life.

Here again I think understanding the plan of salvation can help us to  follow this commandment more perfectly.  If we understand who our neighbor is, it becomes easier to follow the commandments that tell us to love and serve him.

I’ll quote C.S. Lewis again: “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it . . . .  It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. . . .  Next to the blessed sacrament, . . . your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”  C.S. Lewis, the Weight of Glory.

Well the wonderful thing about the church is the many opportunities it gives us to help one another along the right path.

I read a book recently called Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, about a man named Louis Zamperini who was a POW in Japan during WWII.  One episode in this book that I found quite moving was the story of how, before being captured by the Japanese, he and two of his colleagues survived on life rafts for over 40 days in the Pacific Ocean.  These three airmen found themselves as the only survivors of an airplane crash. They found they had two bars of chocolate as rations for their survival on the rafts.  They decided they would each eat one square of chocolate every morning and every night to make it last as long as they could. Well, while the other two men slept, one of the men, Francis McNamara, panicked, and he ate all the chocolate.  The other two men weren’t too happy when they woke up the next day and found out what had happened, but there wasn’t much they could do except continue to try to survive.  As their journey continued, they discovered a significant thing.  It was going to take all three of them to survive on the raft. Two men or one man on the raft would not have been able to survive.  Frequently, they all 3 had to work together to survive.  For example, on one occasion they were spotted by Japanese fighters who strafed their life rafts.  For the next several hours, lasting into days, one of the men, using crude implements, had to try to patch up and sew up the holes in the raft that survived that strafing, the other man had to continuously pump air into the raft while that was happening to keep it afloat, and the third man had to fend off the sharks.  After forty days, before they were “rescued” by some Japanese and began their time as POWs, Francis McNamara wasn’t going to make it any more, and began to pass away.  His boatmates looked at him and thanked him for his service.  They knew without him they wouldn’t have survived.  They owed him their lives. He had redeemed himself from his error in eating all the chocolate.

Some of us may feel we can’t give proper service to our fellow men.  We may feel there is some sin in our lives that is holding us back.  We feel we ate all the chocolate and so now we’re not worthy of the priesthood or of the Holy Ghost.  But we need to remember that our fellow raft-mates need us.  Our assistance may be essential to their salvation.  We need to remember we can repent.  We can be made whole.  We can seize on the power of the atonement to be redeemed, and we can get on with the business of helping out our fellow-humans.  Don’t let the fact that we’ve made errors, that we’ve eaten all the chocolate, hold us back.  We need to move on from that and serve and save others.

If there’s one thing this Church seems to teach again and again, it is that we are not entitled to be saved as individuals due to our own personal purity and righteousness.  Instead we are taught we have a stewardship towards others.  For example, We cannot be saved without our dead.  We cannot be saved without the hearts of the children being turned to their parents, so we cannot be fully saved without our families.  We cannot be saved if we neglect our callings to serve each other.  We have a stewardship to serve others.  We need to broaden our view of what our stewardship encompasses.  At a worldwide training meeting recently, Elder Bednar told a story of a Bishop who asked the Primary President of his ward, what are you doing to help the Priests get ready to serve a mission.  She was a little perplexed.  That didn’t seem to fall under her charge.  But she realized he was asking her to broaden her view of her stewardship.  She asked the Priests to come talk to the 8 year olds who were getting baptized about the subject of baptism, something they would be teaching as missionaries.  We need to broaden our vision of who is in our life-raft with us and who we need to reach out and have a stewardship to help.

Elder Dallin Oaks, in a General Conference talk, said:

“Each of us should apply that principle to our attitudes in attending church. Some say 'I didn’t learn anything today' or 'No one was friendly to me' or 'I was offended' or 'The Church is not filling my needs.' All those answers are self-centered, and all retard spiritual growth.

In contrast, a wise friend wrote:

'Years ago, I changed my attitude about going to church. No longer do I go to church for my sake, but to think of others. I make a point of saying hello to people who sit alone, to welcome visitors, . . . to volunteer for an assignment. . . .'"

Dallin H. Oaks Unselfish Service, April 2009 General Conference.

This is a person who has developed a stewardship mentality.

III. The Stewardship to Be All that We Can Be.

But even doing everything we are supposed to be doing isn’t enough. After we have done all that we need to do, the next question is, what do we need to be.  For example, Laman & Lemuel did many of the same things that Nephi did: they went back for the plates, they went back for Ishmael's family, they helped build the boat, but they did these things begrudgingly, and they didn’t become what Nephi became.

In Moroni 7: verses 6-10, we can read about the idea that if we do good acts without proper intent, but grudgingly, it is counted as evil and it profiteth us nothing. So our greatest stewardship is to be the type of people that God wants us to be.

In one of my favorite talks, from the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained as follows:

"In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.  Many Bible and modern scriptures speak of a final judgment at which all persons will be rewarded according to their deeds or works or the desires of their hearts. But other scriptures enlarge upon this by referring to our being judged by the condition we have achieved. The prophet Nephi describes the Final Judgment in terms of what we have become: 'And if their works have been filthiness they must needs be filthy; and if they be filthy it must needs be that they cannot dwell in the kingdom of God' (1 Ne. 15:33; emphasis added). Moroni declares, 'He that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still' (Morm. 9:14; emphasis added; see also Rev. 22:11-12; 2 Ne. 9:16; D&C 88:35).  The same would be true of  'selfish' or 'disobedient' or any other personal attribute inconsistent with the requirements of God. Referring to the 'state' of the wicked in the Final Judgment, Alma explains that if we are condemned by our words, our works, and our thoughts, 'we shall not be found spotless; . . . and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God' (Alma 12:14).

From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts--what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become."  CLOSE QUOTE.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks, The Challenge to Become, October 2000 General Conference.

Our ultimate Stewardship is to hand back to God a clean and pure and fully developed self which has become the type of person God wants us to be, and whose loved ones have also, through our service, become what God wants of them.  And what manner of men ought we to be, the Savior asked, and what was his answer?  Even so as I am.  Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect” even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.  This is a tall order, and we will not fully reach it in this life, but it is what we have been commanded, and the grace and atonement of Jesus Christ can help us on the way, so let’s get started.

D. Chris Albright
June 12, 2014