Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts on the Credit Crisis

I am not sure where I stand on the bail out. Some say that while they detest it, it is a necessity to stabilize the markets. Others say that it is too much government intervention and that taxpayers should not foot the bill in a free market economy. I am sure of some things though:
  • President Hinckley warned us about this for years.
  • When we do come out of this, and we eventually will, we will have gained nothing but losses.

During the railroad construction boom of the 1850's the speculative bubble that burst left us with huge losses and cheap railways across the country. Entrepreneurs were able to buy the railroads for cheap and develop a continental trading system. We came out on top.

After the internet bubble popped in the late 1990's, we were left with huge losses and fiber optic broadband cables connecting us to India and China. This infrastructure was bought for cheap and you began to see massive off-shoring to India and China around this time because US companies could get great connections with good workers abroad. Without broadband cables, this would be impossible. In other words, despite the losses of the busts, we had massive and high quality infrastructure that benefited (and still does benefit) us and them every day.

The bubble popping that we are essentially feeling now is from the housing market as we all know. After the bubble burst, the government and Alan Greenspan encouraged us to invest in housing as prices were rising so fast (not to mentioned Congressional members purposely lowering credit standards for mortgages). The bubble popped in September 2007 and we are still feeling the effects today. After we recover from the astronomical losses of this bubble in the months/years/decades from now, what will we be left with? Cheap railroads, fiber-optic cables that will improve the economy or a Condo in Aspen and Boca Raton that are useless?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Sealed Portion of the Gold Plates

As many of you may already be aware, there is a security guard in Utah who claims to have received revelation that he was supposed to translate the sealed portion of the gold plates and also re-translate the Book of Lehi of lost 116 pages fame. You can view his work here. FAIR posted a review on its wiki about the validity of the work. You can decide for yourself.

To be honest, it is astonishingly long and detailed, and you can definitely tell the guy put a lot of time into it. It's something like 668 pages total but not all of it is scripture. Page 596 in the pdf. includes a letter sent by the translator to the First Presidency. However, he did preface the letter with the following:

By way of commandment I wrote the following letter to the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had it delivered in late March 2004 along with a copy of The Book of Lehi, certified and registered by way of United States Postal Service.
Does the Lord then command us to use USPS for our mail delivery or would you not FedEx something that important? All kidding aside, the point of the post is not to really to discuss the contents of the translation nor its merits, but to discuss how we as a church:

1) Encourage and require that all members receive personal revelation, whether by grandiose visions or simple inspiration; and,

2) Keep any personal revelation subject to the priesthood lines of authority and its right to obtain revelation for the church as a whole

By cutting off personal revelation, a church would become dead as its members would have to rely on texts that, while somewhat relevant, might not address the problems of that particular time and would not provide for revelation that has been lost (Zenos, Zenock). Priests and early Fathers would interpret the scriptures and theological debates would continue for centuries. Moreover, without priesthood organizational authority, we would encounter splinter groups claiming personal revelation more often, as this brother so easily demonstrated. Polygamous groups are an easy example as well but how many times have we heard about a seminary teacher who broke off and was treating a barn in Manti like a temple or some other strange story?

We as LDS and Christians are not limited to this conundrum. Islam is divided into two major groups (Sunni and Shi'a), with each group having multiple varieties internally. A Sunni can be a Wahhabi Sunni in Saudi Arabia, which is generally more conservative or a Dervish in Turkey could be a Sunni, but have a different understanding of Islam as a mystic. I will talk more about this in a future post.

How have we been successful in overcoming this apparent contradiction while others have not been as successful? (Bonus points for mentioning Hiram Page. Any one that can work a seer stone into an argument on a blog called The Seer Stone certainly deserves extra credit)

Prop 8 Note: I guess the Brother of Jared knew that the California Supreme Court would rule that same sex marriage discrimination was going to be a major issue for our day. According to our good friend the translator of the Sealed Portion, the Book of Mormon condones same sex marriage. Check out this press release. Apparently two of Jesus' apostles were openly gay. So the Pharisees relied on criticising Jesus on the shaky doctrinal ground of healing on the Sabbath instead but ignored the basics of Mosaic law?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pythagoras, Tetraktys, and the Manti Temple

Pythagoras (died 490 BC) is perhaps most famous to us because of what we all dreaded in school: math and the Pythagorean Theorem. For those who can't remember or who willfully forget this (me), the Pythagorean Theorem is described as such:

In any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs (the two sides that meet at a right angle)

This is also represented as a² + b² = c².

Pythagoras was also considered to be the first Greek philosopher and discoverer that musical harmony is based on constants between intonation. One of his lesser known discoveries, at least to lay people, is the Tetraktys. The Tetraktys is a triangle, with a dot representing each row and its value. Thus, the first row is one, the second two, the third three, and the fourth four. If one were to add all of these up, the answer is ten (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, a perfect number in the decimal system). There are many mathematicl formulas and fascinating connections to the Tetraktys, among which the Kabbalists are obsessed with its relation to the Tetragrammaton (I would love to hear what David Littlefield has to say about this).

I bring this up in an LDS-related blog because a few years ago I went to the Manti Temple and was impressed with its symbolism and unique character. I asked some of the temple workers what the symbols on the door hinges and door knobs were but they did not know and referred me to a book about the Manti Temple that I could buy in a local grocery store. Those living in Manti know there's probably only one store. So I found the book, "The Manti Temple", and bought it. It was written specifically for the 100 year celebration of the temple and includes some great information about the temple and its history. One of the sections in the book includes an observation made by Hugh Nibley about the temple's unique metallic features. In case one is not familiar with his work, Nibley viewed the temple as a compass for the cosmos, a place where we can get our bearings in relation to the universe. By gaining further truth and knowledge there, we can answer the terrible questions of life (great chapter in Temples and Cosmos) and find our way back to God's presence.

According to Nibley, his Great Grandfather, John Patrick Reed, who was a Branch President and leader of his local Masonic order in Belfast, Ireland, designed many of the metal elements in the Manti Temple. Brother Reed, influenced by his Masonic associations, incorporated many of the symbols into the temple as purely cosmetic elements. One of the more well-known elements seen by patrons is the distinctive look on the door knobs. Look closely at the picture below.

If you were unable to see it, look at the top half of the door knob in the middle region. What do you see? Four lines that represent a triangle, the Tetraktys! You may ask why this is so significant when it is simply a masonic element from Greek philosophic schools used in an LDS temple? Consider this statement, attributed to Iamblichus:

The Tetraktys [also known as the decad] is an equilateral triangle formed from the sequence of the first ten numbers aligned in four rows. It is both a mathematical idea and a metaphysical symbol that embraces within itself — in seedlike form — the principles of the natural world, the harmony of the cosmos, the ascent to the divine, and the mysteries of the divine realm. So revered was this ancient symbol that it inspired ancient philosophers to swear by the name of the one who brought this gift to humanity — Pythagoras.”
Why do we go to the temple? Is it simply to do work for the dead? Or do we go to learn "the principles of the natural world, the harmony of the cosmos, the ascent to the divine, and the mysteries of the divine realm"? Does not the temple teach us about the nature of the universe, the creation, or how we can ascend back to God? Is it just coincidence that this symbol, which represents learning the mysteries of the universe, was added as a decoration by one completely unfamiliar with its meaning, and yet still have deep and profound meaning for the temple?

For a similar situation, check out here, here, here, and especially here for Bryce's posts about the symbol of the Seal of Melchizedek at the San Diego temple which occurred under similar circumstances by the architect, and also included Hugh Nibley. Also checkout David Larsen's site on the Heavenly Ascent in apocalyptic literature.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Seven Deadly Heresies - Part Five (Progression Between Kingdoms of Glory)

This post is part five in our series on The Seven Deadly Heresies, as given by Elder McConkie (see here).

The fifth heresy, according to Elder McConkie, is the idea that there is progression within the kingdoms of glory after the resurrection.

Heresy five: There are those who say that there is progression from one kingdom to another in the eternal worlds or that lower kingdoms eventually progress to where higher kingdoms once were.

This belief lulls men into a state of carnal security. It causes them to say, "God is so merciful; surely he will save us all eventually; if we do not gain the celestial kingdom now, eventually we will; so why worry?" It lets people live a life of sin here and now with the hope that they will be saved eventually.

The true doctrine is that all men will be resurrected, but they will come forth in the resurrection with different kinds of bodies--some celestial, others terrestrial, others telestial, and some with bodies incapable of standing any degree of glory. The body we receive in the resurrection determines the glory we receive in the kingdoms that are prepared.

Of those in the telestial world it is written: "And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end" (D&C 76:112).

Of those who had the opportunity to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in this life and who did not do it, the revelation says:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven; which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. [D&C 132:16-17]

They neither progress from one kingdom to another, nor does a lower kingdom ever get where a higher kingdom once was. Whatever eternal progression there is, it is within a sphere.
So the question is whether the kingdoms are locked from progression after entrance, or whether there is some progression after entry so that we could progress to eventual Celestial status.

Elder McConkie relies on D&C 76's description about the inhabitants of the Telestial Kingdom that they cannot visit the Savior and the Father or be where the are. He also relies on D&C 132's description of those who reject the new and everlasting covenant.

Those who believe in some type of progression rely on D&C 19, specifically verse 6, which says:

"Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment."

I suppose to proponents this means that punishment is not eternal but that after our punishment we can increase in glory as we perfect ourselves.

Additionally, a supporter of this theory would say that the Telestial Kingdom scripture mentioned above does not specifically say that it will be eternally so. One could be in the situation until he is ready to progress. Moreover, Heber C. Kimball taught an eternal progression model (perhaps BHodges can give us an idea where to look in the JD). Proponents are not comfortable with the absolutism of eternal placement where our theology is generally not so absolutist. I don't see how this can displace Section 132 above, but I don't see any scriptural support beyond Section 19 and it's tenuous at best.

Kimball's model seemed to further Joseph Smith's teachings that we only receive blessings from ordinances as soon as we are ready to receive them. Therefore, if one receive assurance of salvation, while guaranteed, it would not occur until that person is ready. Brigham espoused the idea that we resurrect in Celestial glory and make the jump directly to Celestial substance, whereas one could argue based on JS's statement that we attain a kingdom and then progress to receive our blessing as soon as we are prepared.

My final thoughts:

1) Like previous posts, this is certainly not case-closed as Elder McConkie suggests (astonishing!).

2) My gut tends to feel better with the progression idea because as Alma and Amulek taught, we are raised in the state that we die in. If we are in great need of improvement and are still bound to be Celestial, that leaves a huge gap between death and resurrection.

3) Despite my gut feeling against absolutism, there are similar circumstances of absolutism (War in Heaven) where we understand a group to have made their choice and no further progression is possible. While this may feel like a contradiction of Moses 1:39, I just don't see a lot of scriptural support for the progression model, and not much more direct support for the model advocated by Elder McConkie. I think that, like many of these deeper points of doctrine, it is better to stay open minded because it really hasn't been revealed relative to what we are asking. Any GA statements are, most likely, speculation and will contradict each other (I'll see your Talmage and raise you a Wilford Woodruff).

Monday, September 1, 2008

“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior."

(Guest Post by: Nathan Rees, of Dallas, TX)

After a recent conversation with Hans and Jeremy I have been contemplating the above quote by Elder Packer. (Elder Boyd K. Packer, “Do Not Fear,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2004, 79) When examining this statement, the patent lawyer in me cannot ignore the extra limitation in that quote that I believe makes all the difference in the world, the word understood. To prepare for writing this entry I began to review various doctrines of the church that I have studied over the past few years. I found that there are many doctrines of which I have a thorough knowledge, but there are less that I can honestly say that I understand in a true sense. This has happened for many reasons, usually attributable to my own attitude at the outset of my studies.

President Benson stated that “the Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. . . . The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment.” See also, Mosiah 5:2. These words, like the first quote, seem very intuitive. Because it is so intuitive, I believe that we fail to give this phenomenon its proper heed. In other words, I believe we often have a tendency to underestimate the power of a true understanding of doctrine. Most likely we can all look at ourselves and agree that random things simply will not change our attitudes or behaviors. I imagine that this is human nature. If we recognize this fact, we will be able to better appreciate the type of impact for good that our own personal studies can potentially have, and hopefully we will be able to better focus ourselves when we take time to study a gospel concept (or even when we are taking the time to listen to a talk or lesson prepared for us).

These thoughts bring home to me a renewed importance of attempting to learn principles, not just with our minds, but with our spirits. It also raises questions in my mind regarding the more general population of the Church. I have recently started going to Sunday school again after a year of teaching gospel essentials as a ward missionary. I have found a startling contrast in the attitudes and thirst of new converts to gain a true understanding of gospel teachings, as opposed to the more general population of the church who seem to treat church talks and lessons as nothing more than an extremely boring social encounter.

Why (assuming I am correct in my perceptions) do many people fail to apply themselves sufficiently in order to truly understand the truths that are taught at our meetings. Especially in light of the fact that they are already putting out the effort to show up and sit through the meetings. Are we not supposed to be continuing to search for further light and knowledge? For that matter, why does it seem that the general population of the church are merely content with the light they currently have. Personally, complacency in any aspect of life, especially in the gospel, has never gotten me very far. This also raises the question of what can we do (if anything) as teachers, spouses, parents, etc., to get the people that we are attempting to teach in a mindset that helps them to understand doctrine to an extent that they are motivated to change their attitude and behavior in order to apply the teachings of the gospel. For me, I am sure that recognizing the problem will be a good first step…what now?