Friday, January 30, 2009

Samuel L. Jackson, Mormons, and Prop 8

Just when I thought that I didn't have any thing more to add to the whole Prop 8 debate, Samuel L. Jackson got in his two cents regarding Tom Hanks' comments from last week about Mormons being un-American for supporting Prop 8 (see here and here). Now, according to Fox "you stay classy" News, Samuel L. Jackson modified the Hollywood argument:

I wouldn't go so far as to calling them un-American. I'd just call them

By them, I assume he means LDS that voted for Prop 8. Perhaps this is a more reasonable or coherent approach than others. I can also think of other misinformed decisions. Perhaps playing this guy for a movie role was. Or this role. Also being a part of the Star Wars movies that ruined all the rest is not cool either.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

In response to several thought-provoking comments raised in a recent post, my thoughts here are intended to touch on the reason, or reasons, why Christ uttered that never-to-be-forgotten cry, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). My thoughts are based, in part, on the explanations and teachings found in “The Infinite Atonement,” by Tad R. Callister (now Elder Callister of the Seventy). If you haven’t read this book, I strongly recommend it, and promise that you will gain many new insights into the Atonement.

While in the Garden of Gethsemane the Savior’s state of mind, physical body, and spirit reached such a point that an angel from heaven came “strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). Elder Bruce R. McConkie suggests it was “mighty Michael [Adam]” (“Purifying Power,” pg. 9). As a God himself, was he so weakened that he now needed strengthening? Perhaps Adam was there to console the Savior, to comfort and support him, or to bless him.

In stark contrast to the Garden experience, no angel was to be found at the cross. Instead, it appears that the Father’s presence was withdrawn completely. Brigham Young taught that at this moment of crisis, “the Father withdrew Himself, withdrew His Spirit, and cast a vail [sic] over him” (Journal of Discourses, 3:206).

This raises the underlying question, “Why was it necessary for God to withdraw his spirit?” Well, the answer may lie in the response to another question: “What happens with God’s Spirit when we sin?Answer: It withdraws, of course, as our spirit becomes estranged or separated from God. Thus, as the Savior assumed the infinite sins of infinite worlds and all their attendant consequences (including the empty feeling we all get following sin) it appears that God’s Spirit naturally withdrew.

Yet, God's Spirit withdrawal seems to be a required part of the Atonement:

11 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.
12 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.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance. (Alma 7:11-13)(emphasis added)

If this withdrawal of God’s Spirit had not taken place it would have been impossible for the Savior to know “according to the flesh” the attendant consequences of sin as experienced by those for whom he suffered. As a result, the Savior would be unable to “succor his people according to their infirmities” since he would not be able to fully relate to the common sinner.

The last trace of God’s healing light withdrew, to let the unrestrained effects of evil run their full course. No longer could the Father’s Spirit remain in the presence of infinite evil, now being assumed by the very one who embodied infinite goodness. At that point, the Son of Man, acutely alone in the fullest sense of that term, cried out in a moment of ultimate pathos, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ No one could claim he was spared any consequence of sin. There was no softening of the blow. He descended beneath it all” (“The Infinite Atonement,” Callister, pg. 143)(emphasis added).

In one of the most touching sermons I have ever read, Elder Melvin J. Ballard also commented on the Father’s decision to withdraw his Spirit and not rescue his son:

God heard the cry of his Son in that moment of great grief and agony, in the garden when, it is said, the pores of his body opened and drops of blood stood upon him, and he cried out: ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.’

I ask you, what father and mother could stand by and listen to the cry of their children in distress, in this world, and not render aid and assistance? I have heard of mothers throwing themselves into raging streams when they could not swim a stroke to save their drowning children, rushing into burning buildings, to rescue those whom they loved.

We cannot stand by and listen to those cries without its touching our hearts. The Lord has not given us the power to save our own. He has given us faith, and we submit to the inevitable, but he had the power to save, and he loved his Son, and he could have saved him. . . . He saw that Son finally upon Calvary; he saw his body stretched out upon the wooden cross; he saw the cruel nails driven through hands and feet, and the blows that broke the skin, tore the flesh, and let out the life's blood of his Son. He looked upon that.

In the case of our Father, the knife was not stayed, but it fell, and the life’s blood of his Beloved Son went out. His Father looked on with great grief and agony over his Beloved Son, until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son. Oh, in that moment when he might have saved his Son. I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us” (Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1949], 151-155)(emphasis added).

Friday, January 23, 2009

UPDATE: Tom Hanks, Mormons, and Prop 8 - Part Deux

UPDATE 1/23/09: Tom Hanks has retained some of his class after all. He recanted his original assessment that LDS support for Prop 8 was un-American (see here for our initial post). He still believes that Prop 8 is discrimination, but I can respect his opinion based on the merits and not on ad hominem statements. At least he showed some character by admitting he may have gone overboard. Aubrey O'Day, however, is probably still clueless.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Aubrey O'Day, Prop 8, and Mormons

In a related follow up to our posting about Tom Hanks and Prop 8, another Hollywood mega-star condemned LDS support of Prop 8. Aubrey O'Day, who I actually have never heard of, was critical of the church in another article according to (you stay classy, Fox News!). I must digress at first to mention that the initial line of questioning in the interview refers to her recent photo shoot for Playboy. Specifically she says:

The shoot was so liberating, it is very classy, simple and glamorous. It’s all about the girl and that’s what I wanted. It’s so glamorous, Hef was there and he loved it. My whole family came to watch, I have a very liberal and accepting family and there is very little judgment to have ever come out of my family.

One quick comment and I will move on. If you feel a pornographic photo shoot needs to be justified so you call it classy, it probably isn't classy. And what's up with the whole family watching? I can see that conversation at home:

Kid sister: Mom, can I watch Sesame Street?
Mom: No, we need to go watch your sister undress for an 80 year polygamist. Don't worry. It'll be classy! (For other instances of parents who are okay with letting their children sell themselves for money (i.e. glamour and class), check out Tess of the D'Urbervilles).

Moving on now, Aubrey or Audrey, whatever her name is, goes on to really let the Mormons have it:
[Supporting Prop 8] is absolutely Un-American. At the end of the day regardless of
whether you agree with homosexuality or not it’s about supporting basic human
rights. They need the rights just to go to hospital and get proper
treatment if their boyfriend is sick and dying — when I hear stories that they
get refused treatment, that’s when it’s really Un-American.
Perhaps she left her California Statutes Annotated in her pants when she undressed and no longer has access to them. If she had read them, she would know that same-sex couples in California have the same rights as married couples with the exception of the name. This includes death and inheritance provisions, medical decision making, etc. Perhaps before Aubrey shoots off her mouth about Un-Americanism, she should familiarize herself with the issue. It is more Un-American to make a judgment based on ignorance of the laws.

And what does LDS support of Prop 8 have to do with whether someone receives medical attention. No where did I see any person, for or against Prop 8, advocate for refusing medical treatment to homosexuals. If that happens, it is wrong. But don't tie that in to a completely different argument by making a brain-less comment. Perhaps that is why I have no idea who she is.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tom Hanks, Mormons, and Prop 8

I am a big Tom Hanks fan. I think he has done great work and is pretty classy in the work he has done. He's one of the few people in show business who doesn't mind aging naturally (let's not get into the weird Da Vinci Code haricut). Today I was disappointed to find out that Tom Hanks was a producer for Big Love. In and of itself, I am not too bothered but more annoyed at the perception it gives the world about polygamy. But whatever, I can live with that. But then during an interview, he said this:
The truth is [Big Love] takes place in Utah, the truth is these people are some bizarre offshoot of the Mormon Church, and the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen. There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here's what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed, and people can see who's responsible, and that can motivate the next go around of our self correcting Constitution, and hopefully we can move forward instead of backwards. So let's have faith in not only the American, but Californian, constitutional process.
He must have his facts wrong because he says that Mormons gave money to their church. This is not correct. The Church encouraged members to donate time and money to the campaign. Members were free to decide whether they agreed or not.

I am not the type to go and throw away DVD's after learning the person I like in a movie holds opinions that differ much from my own. However, my faith in classy Hollywood actors has definitely been shaken. Perhaps I should have expected it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bigfoot! The REAL story behind Cain....

When I was a teenager, I read Spencer W. Kimball's “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” I can still remember being taken aback when I read of David W. Patten’s infamous encounter with “Cain:”

As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me . . . . His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight . . . .” (Lycurgus A. Wilson, Life of David W. Patten [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1900], p. 50., as quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, Inc.] 18th printing 1991 p.p. 127-128)

At about this same time, a friend in my home ward in Michigan had just returned from his mission and “confirmed” that indeed Cain had survived the great flood and was currently being hunted by modern man as the elusive Bigfoot. My friend even went so far as to use the scriptures to show me how Cain was cursed as a fugitive and a vagabond for the rest of eternity, and that he would be dark skinned and hairy. He insisted that this was Cain’s "curse," and that the scriptures were clear about this.

Being a naïve teenager, I ate this up and believed everything he told me. Heck, he was a returned missionary, right? At that age, that was like the equivalent of being a Bishop, or at least one of his counselors.

Now, I’m not going to propagate the Cain = Bigfoot theory, because I don't believe it to be true. Instead, I think a review of Cain’s REAL cursing should be touched upon. Interestingly enough, what happened to Cain is quite similar to the oft misunderstood cursing of the Lamanites as recounted in the Book of Mormon.

As a consequence of murdering Abel, Cain understood that he was to roam the earth as “a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that he that findeth me will slay me, because of mine iniquities” (Moses 5:39). It should be noted that roaming the earth as a fugitive was not Cain’s “curse.”

Why would those that find Cain attempt to kill him? Well, because they were living under the patriarchal law of blood vengeance: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:6). This law, commonly referred to as the “an eye for an eye” law, was later incorporated into the Law of Moses (see Num. 35:19).

Under blood vengeance, the nearest kin had a right and responsibility to avenge the death of his relation by killing the murderer. Because Abel’s murder was known, Cain realized that it was only a matter of time before blood vengeance took its lawful toll. Is it any wonder that Cain cries out to the Lord, “my punishment is greater than I can bear” (Moses 5:38)?

Since God is merciful, he does not necessarily desire the loss of one life to lead to the loss of another. So he offered Cain two protective elements. First, God decreed that “Whosoever slayeth [Cain], vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold” (Moses 5: 40). In other words, God declared that the Cain's slayer would in turn suffer the loss of seven lives from his or her family; quite a severe toll. Because the avenger is not to suffer loss under the law of blood vengeance, the fact that vengeance was to come against the avenger contradicted the current system.

The second protective element is that God “set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (Moses 5:40). Accordingly, a mark, presumably of darkened skin, was placed upon Cain to visually remind any avenger of God’s decree about the seven lives for the life of Cain. One may speculate that the mark was placed upon Cain at his own request so as to prolong his life. However, Cain’s darkened skin was not his “curse,” but instead was the sign of his curse.

So, what was Cain’s curse? Not unlike the cursing placed upon the Lamanites for rebellion, Cain’s curse consisted of being “shut out from the presence of the Lord” (Moses 5:41). Indeed, Cain declared that God had “driven me out this day from the face of the Lord, and from thy face shall I be hid” (Moses 5:39). The Lord's presence is routinely equated with the temple and other holy sanctuaries or geographical locations; consequently, Cain essentially had his temple recommend revoked so that he could not access the Lord any longer.

Similar to Cain, a dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites as a sign of their curse, but did not necessarily represent the curse itself. If you read the text of 2 Nephi 5:20-21 closely, you will see that the curse placed upon the Lamanites was being “cut off from the presence of the Lord,” or, in other words, having access to the temple restricted. The Lamanites' darkened skin served to distinguish themselves from the Nephites in order to keep the unbelievers and believers from mixing (see 2 Nephi 5:22-23).

That the darkened skin was only a sign of the curse and not the curse itself, is further emphasized later in the BofM when the curse was removed from a certain group of Lamanites after the conversion of King Lamoni’s father and his people throughout seven lands. “The king and those who were converted were desirous that they might have a name, that thereby they might be distinguished from their brethren” (Alma 23:18)(emphasis added). In a clear allusion to the temple, the “new name” that they received was Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Thus, after returning to the temple (i.e., God’s presence), Mormon explains that “the curse of God did follow them no more” (Alma 23:20). Once the curse was removed, it should eb noted that no mention is made of any alteration in skin color. Instead, the converted Lamanites were once again allowed access to the Lord's temple.


As a last side note on the demise of Cain, I also do not believe, as some Mormon myths purport, that Cain is an immortal being and thus roams the earth today. As extrapolated from the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, Hugh Nibley reports that Cain was killed when his stone house fell on him. “For with a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone was he killed in righteous judgment” (Hugh Nibley, “Temple and Cosmos,” pg 223, quoting Jubilees 4:31). Nibley also taught that Lamech, Cain's great-great-great-grandson, may have killed him and thus ascended to the title of Master Mahan (Moses 5:47-49).

Mentality of Lucifer

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven or Hell, a Hell of reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

- Lucifer speaking to Azazel and Mammon, Paradise Lost, Book 1, vs. 254-55, 263 (John Milton)

Though not scriptural, I believe that Milton describes Lucifer's mentality well in Paradise Lost. The context of the quote comes from Lucifer and his minions' debates about whether to wage war on Heaven, from where they had just been cast out. They eventually determine that war will be necessary, but decide that the best way to figure out how is to send Lucifer to see God's new creation, Man, and see how to deceive him before war is waged.

Surely Lucifer really has this mentality, that it is better to be the master of the underworld than to serve the Lord. He is also correct, that Heaven and Hell depend on us in our own minds. Our living closer to the commandments can make our mind a Heaven. And that is not fiction.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why does Moroni point east?

One of the most recognizable symbols of the LDS Church is the placement of the angel Moroni atop our modern temples. Interestingly enough, eight temples are not crowned with the statue: St. George, Logan, Manti, Laie Hawaii, Cardston, Mesa, Hamilton New Zealand, and Oakland.

Most Moroni statues adorning our temples point due east, however, the Seattle, Nauvoo, and Taipei Taiwan temples all have statues facing west. This is likely due to the orientation of their respective lots and/or the placement of their spires. While there is obviously no Church standard for Moroni’s easterly pointing direction, the symbolism is quite rich.

Members of the Church will frequently explain to their non-member friends, or in Church classes, that Moroni is often pointed east in reference to Christ who is to return from the east. The scriptural background stems partly from Matthew 24:27:

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Joseph Smith provided us with a more correct version wherein he replaced “lightning” with “light of the morning” (see Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:26). Lightning out of the east is meteorologically incorrect in the Holy Land, as lightning typically originates in the west, as with all storm clouds and precipitation from the Mediterranean. Without any training in Near Eastern weather patterns, Joseph correctly amended the KJV to reflect that as the sun comes from the east, so will the Savior at his second coming.

But this is not the only symbolism which can be inferred from Moroni’s eastward orientation. Moroni may also point east to symbolically reflect certain events surrounding Earth’s first temple, Eden.

Eden represented God’s presence, a holy place where He could dwell, quite similar to its modern temple equivalent. “[T]he Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden,” (Gen. 2:8) where he originally placed man. “[I]n the midst of the garden”, indicating a sacred center, he also placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). Thus, there was a garden placed in the eastern part of God’s presence, or Eden, wherein man and the two trees were situated. Although a frequent visitor, there is no indication that God resided in Eden's Garden permanently.

[As a side note, it is interesting that “a river went out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen. 2:10). God provides the living water that gives life, vitality, and meaning to eternal life, or the tree of life.]

After partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were driven to the east out of the Garden of Eden:

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24) (emphasis added)

Accordingly, so that Adam and Eve could not westerly return to the Garden and partake of the tree of life and forever live in their sins, God placed “cherubim” (Moses 4:31, the correct plural) and a flaming sword at the east gate, or entrance (compare Alma 12:21). The east side of the Garden is seemingly the place of sacred entry, as it is with many modern and ancient holy sanctuaries.

It was “the way” [Hebrew = derek, meaning “a pathway”] of the tree of life that the cherubic host and flaming sword were to guard. Evidently, “the way” connected to a sacred roadway that approached the Garden on its east side. Could the cherubim represent the “angels who stand as sentinels” to whom we must give the proper “key words, [] signs and tokens” to be able to “walk to the presence of the Father” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 416)?

Later, Adam and Eve went to a certain spot, likely on the east side of the Garden where the gate was located, to pray and worship:

And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence” (Moses 5:4).

Although they were unable to see God, being shut out from his presence, Adam and Eve could speak with the Lord through the veil as he remained in “the way” toward the Garden. Interestingly, Cain and his family settled “east of Eden” in an apparent attempt to also remain close to the gate leading into the Garden (Gen. 4:16).

In an obvious representation of the Garden temple, Moses was commanded to emblazon cherubim on the “curtains” (i.e., veil) of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 26:1), wherein the curtains were to guard the way to the Holy of Holies (i.e., God’s presence). Why don’t we have cherubim on the veils of the temples today? Because the veil was rent upon Christ’s victory over death (Matt. 27:51), thus removing all obstacles for us to be redeemed from the Fall. Now that all obstacles are removed, we are to “hav[e] boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20).

So, why does Moroni point east, then? In my opinion, it is because we, as types for Adam and Eve, are cast out from God’s presence to the east. Moroni sits atop the edifice that represents God’s presence and declares unto us symbolically residing in the east the everlasting gospel and invites us all to return westward, from whence we came (Rev. 14:6-7). With trumpet in hand, Moroni announces to us that "the way" is now freely open for us to attain eternal life, and he invites us to worship God. Where can we better worship our Heavenly Father than in his presence, the temple?