Rationality Redefined

[This is a “reprint” of part 1 of a series I posted on my home blog, ldsphilosopher.com]

Early Greek philosophers saw reason as the conduit through which human beings could access the unchanging certainties of the cosmos. This perspective actually makes some sense. We may age, wither, and die, but the Pythagorean theorem remains unchanged through time. The conclusions of rational thought were seen as the bedrock truths at the bottom of our swiftly changing world.

This understanding of human reason implies that rational people will converge on the same ideas. An interesting, subtle, but extremely important side effect of this point of view is expressed aptly by John Locke: “All that is voluntary in our knowledge, is the employing or withholding any of our [rational] faculties. … But they being employed, our will hath no power to determine the knowledge of the mind one way or another.” Thus, the conclusions of rational thought are inevitable.

Modern philosophers have, to some extent, rejected this ancient perspective on rationality. Instead, reason has been seen as Continue reading

Catholics vs. Mormons on Abortion (The Pregnant 9-Year Old)

In many respects, Catholics and Mormons have similar views on abortion. In general, both churches are pro-life, although individual Mormons are probably more likely than Catholics, at least in the U.S., to be pro-life. Plus a larger number of U.S. Catholics are more likely to emphasize (Democratic) legislation and interventions to reduce abortion, rather than (merely) emphasize (with Republicans) repealing Roe v. Wade. So, on average, it is probably safe to say that individual Mormons are more conservative than Catholics on the abortion question.

However, in terms of their institutional positions, it is the other way around–the LDS church is more liberal.

These differences are relevant in light of the Catholic church’s recent automatic excommunications of the family and doctor of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who received an abortion. The pregnancy (twins) was a result of rape from the girl’s father (the girl is not subject to automatic excommunicated because of her age). Two weeks after the decision (March 2009), the archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho (who made the ruling) stepped down, prompting some to wonder whether the Vatican disagreed. Time Magazine (above link) reports, however, that a recent Vatican publication “unequivocally confirmed automatic excommunication for anyone involved in an abortion — even in such a situation as dire as the Brazilian case.”

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Lessons from Primary

My five-year-old daughter came home from Primary one Sunday and told us all about her lesson the Word of Wisdom. Her teachers had creatively made pictures of things that were “bad” so the children could throw them away. They threw away images of cigarettes, alcohol, tea, and coffee – all the things that are restricted based on D&C 89 and other, later admonition from the prophets.

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How We Reason About Politics (And Why It Matters): A Survey

A friend of mine is piloting a survey about political reasoning. I encourage you to take it. It only takes a few minutes and I think you’ll find it to be interesting (much better than all those lame Facebook quizzes).

Click here to take the survey.

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LDSApology.org: Climate of reconciliation or of accusation?

There is currently a petition to the First Presidency to apologize on behalf of the Church for “official statements, rhetoric, policy and practice” that “have been injurious to gays and lesbians and their families and friends.”

First, I should say that in many ways I respect this petition. There clearly is a self-conscious attempt to address reconciliation without demanding the Church change its moral position on homosexuality or its political position on gay marriage. There has been a genuine effort, I think, to actually try to make inroads with the Church. I especially like the line, “We believe that people of good will may have differing views about homosexuality, while maintaining amicable relationships.” Yes–let’s hope this is true.

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Literal Confusion (about D&C 137)

I’m not usually a literalist about the scriptures, but I’m a little baffled by a verse I read today and the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 137. This section is the account of a vision Joseph Smith had of the celestial kingdom. He names Adam and Abraham, as well as his parents, as inhabitants, likely those who were saved “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

And then he mentions his brother, Alvin. Joseph “marvels” that his brother Alvin is there, “seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.” And then the great revelation that “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” Of course, this revelation plays a big part in understanding why we do work for the dead in our temples…right?

Here’s my question: What was Alvin doing there in the celestial kingdom when his work hadn’t been done yet?

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Will Prop 8 Decision Increase or Decrease Criticism of Mormons?

Today, the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 while leaving previous same-sex marriages intact.

My question is: What difference will the Court decision have on criticism of Mormons?

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To Be on Facebook But Not of Facebook: A Mormon Dilemma

Imagine inviting all of your friends over for your birthday party.

And by friends, I mean just about everyone you knew in high school, your college friends, people from your ward(s), people from work, relatives, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends. In other words, this is a BIG party.

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Sacrament Meeting Talks: A More Excellent Way

Some sacrament meeting talks are more meaningful, insightful, and applicable than others. Certainly natural ability comes into play, but one of the biggest problems, from my experience, is that most speakers follow a “same old” generic pattern. There is nothing inspired or authoritative for this pattern, and in fact in many cases it can dull or deaden what could otherwise be enriching and inspiring sacrament meetings.

I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s efforts, faith, or testimony. Rather, I bring good news. It’s not hard, if one is willing, to raise the standard of sacrament meeting talks. It requires (a) recognizing the “same old” pattern as simply one way of giving a talk (and probably not the best way) and (b) being willing to try something new. I think you’ll like it.

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Fit for What?

I believe that one of the common problems of our modern era is that our relationships with our bodies have become abstracted.  This abstracted relationship manifests itself in a lot of ways, but I’d like to focus in on our modern concept of physical fitness.  I’m implicating fitness as an abstracted relationship because we talk about fitness without much discussion of what exactly our bodies should be fit for.

As far as I can see, the implied answers to these questions are  rather unsatisfying.  Fit to inspire envy.  Fit to turn heads.  Fit to be admired, liked, loved.  Perhaps secondarily we hear in the chatter around fitness some answers along the lines of fit to keep living, fit to live longer, or fit to feel good.  Whatever degree of merit these answers deserve, I submit that they all likely fall short of better answers that we might come up with.

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Recognizing the Resurrected Christ

Just a few thoughts from my reading the accounts of the resurrected Christ to his followers.

In three visitations, Christ was not recognized at first: (a) the visitation to Mary at the empty tomb, (b) the extended journey with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, (c) and the appearance on the shore while Peter and the disciples were fishing.

I think it can be profitable to point out what happened before His followers recognized Him. For Mary, it was after he called her by name. For the two disciples, it was when he blessed and broke bread. For the fisherman, it was after they, following His instructions, pulled in their net overflowing with fish.

Perhaps these stories can be analogous to our lives, in terms of recognizing the Savior’s presence and influence. When we feel that Christ knows us personally and calls us by name; when we partake of the sacrament and renew covenants with God in His name; and when, following His instructions, we are successful beyond our wildest dreams in building His Kingdom — in these circumstances, we see Christ for who He really is.

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Highlights from General Conference, April 2009

We had another great General Conference! Some of the dominant themes were faith and endurance amidst trials, temple worship, and unselfish service. Here are some highlights, with some of my own thoughts (and at least one soap box.)

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Mormon Blogs and the Search for Truth

I love to ponder, learn, share, and discuss.  I love when people challenge my beliefs in a way that stretches me to seek more deeply for understanding and helps me gain a greater vision of the possibilities and the truth.

I have always been this way and I know it is part of why I discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ and joined His Church.  If I did not desire truth and was not willing to change my mind about things, even things I deeply clung to, I would not be a member of the Church and I would not have the life I live today.

So, I appreciate when people share ideas and challenge each others’ understanding.  I think it is so valuable and so important.  I believe it to be necessary to truly become a Zion people.

Yet, there are some dangers that we need to keep in mind and be aware of:

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If I could ask God one question…

Things are quiet on the blog lately, so I figure it’s a good chance to make an appearance. Perhaps few people will read this entry and then I can likely avoid being blacklisted.

I applied to teach at Messiah College in Pennsylvania recently and part of the application was affirming the Apostles’ Creed. I affirmed the Apostles’ Creed, and I did so because I agreed with all the statements that were made within the creed. However, after having done so, I couldn’t help but recall the words of Joseph Smith when discussing his First Vision: “the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (JS-H 1:19).

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Can you be a good Mormon and want to be a millionaire?

“Can you be a good Mormon and want to be a millionaire?”

This question, or something very much like it, was posed in my Sunday School class last week. I think the very question says something interesting about the asker, but since my short answer (“No”) would not have gone over terribly well, and my longer and more justified answer would’ve taken over the lesson, I thought a blog entry might be a good place to explore the issue.

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Elder Ballard: Regardless of Party Affliction (er, Affiliation) Pray for Obama

I received the following report in an email newsletter from my friend Don Jarvis (quoted with his permission):

A senior LDS apostle recently told Provoans that “We need to pray for our new president, regardless of party affliction, I mean, affiliation.”  Speaking on January 25th in the Provo Tabernacle at the conclusion of an Oak Hills (east Provo) Stake Conference, Apostle M. Russell Ballard spoke warmly of the inauguration, read excerpts from President Obama’s inaugural address, advised members to read it, and said, “I like his emphasis on personal responsibility.”  The audience chuckled at the “affliction” slip, but was otherwise unusually hushed and attentive as Elder Ballard voiced his strong support for our the new Democratic President.   Continue reading

Beyond the Sunday School Answers: Tips for LDS Teachers

I’m going to say what many Latter-day Saints are thinking, but some are afraid to say: Sunday School is often mediocre.

I really don’t wish to gripe. I definitely realize that each person — teachers and students — need to do their part. I also recognize that most teachers try hard and take their callings seriously. But certainly Sunday School doesn’t have to be the mind-numbing chore that it seems to be for many members. We can do much better!

In this post, I offer ten simple tips that could radically improve Sunday School lessons. (Yes, I will be that bold.) These tips are simply suggestions from myself, a Latter-day Saint who has done a fair amount of teaching and thinking about this issue. They can be applied by virtually anyone, in my opinion.

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Meditations on Time, Part 2: Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

This is the second of a series of short posts entitled “Meditations on Time.” In this series I will explore some of my thoughts and experiences concerning time and the gospel.

In my previous post, I talked about my childhood fear of living forever. As a young boy, I thought that living forever would be boring and even frightening. I concluded that I would simply live in the present and not worry too much about it.

What I’m aiming to do in this series is to discuss why this childhood view — simply live in the present — is problematic.

I know it’s a couple days after Christmas, but I would like to briefly talk about Ebenezer Scrooge’s resolution at the end of A Christmas Carol. After being shown his tombstone by the Ghost of Christmas Future, Scrooge pleas:

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

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Meditations on Time, Part 1: My Childhood Fear of Living Forever

CB007962This is the first of a series of short posts entitled “Meditations on Time.” In this series I will explore some of my thoughts and experiences concerning time and the gospel.

Living forever hasn’t always been a pleasant thought for me.

I still remember when the notion of living forever first dawned on me. I was probably 4 or 5 years old. Prior to this time, I had believed in life after death, but I never had really thought about what that would be like. I remember having some kind of conversation with my older sister, and she said something about how in the next life time never ends. That idea was so foreign, I couldn’t even begin to fathom it. I asked my mom if this were really true, and she said it was. When I expressed that it sounded so weird to me, my mom replied, “Well, wouldn’t it be weirder if your life just suddenly ended?” I had to admit that I of course didn’t like that outcome either.

Therein was my dilemma. Both possible outcomes — living forever and ceasing to exist — frightened me.

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Please Don’t Hate (H8) Me Because I’m Mormon

Since the passage of Proposition 8 in California, there have been several protests aimed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These protests are of course understandable. California Latter-day Saints did, after all, play a formidable role in donations and phone calling in support of the measure. This participation was formally encouraged by the general leaders of the Church in Salt Lake City. Considering how big of a deal this is for so many same-sex couples and others in support of same-sex marriage, these protests are inevitable and I welcome this exercise of free speech.

What I disagree with, however, is the “stop the hate (H8)” rhetoric. As if everyone in favor of Prop 8 is hateful and bigoted. Especially Mormons. This message is coming off to be awfully disingenuous and overly dramatic, and also sidesteps the major issues that need to be debated. Just because someone is not in favor of gay marriage does not mean they are hateful. Nor does it mean they are bigoted. They simply disagree with you, in terms of what should count for marriage.

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