Balancing Scripture

I’ve often been interested in how scriptural books relate to each other. As Latter-day Saints, of course, we have multiple books of scripture in our canon: The Bible (which itself is a compilation of books); the Book of Mormon, a record of ancient prophets in the Americas; the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations from the modern era; and the Pearl of Great Price, which is rather a small miscellaneous assortment. How these connect, and the way they draw on each other and shed light on each other, drew my attention enough that I wrote my erstwhile thesis (and now book) on the Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

Sometimes, however, we can neglect particular parts of our canon. There’s a particularly powerful warning in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Saints neglecting the Book of Mormon:

And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—

Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—

That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.

(D&C 84:54-58)

This warning was notably reiterated by Ezra Taft Benson in his first conference address as President of the Church, a message he continued to repeat throughout his presidency. I think that now, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, one can see many blessings that have come from members heeding that warning and paying more attention to the Book of Mormon, including a greater understanding of Christ’s atonement and the role of his grace, topics about which the Book of Mormon teaches emphatically.

One can neglect the other books too, of course. One conclusion of my own work was that the Book of Mormon prophets saw all scripture as part of one vast, interdependent collection, and that to reject one part is to reject all, as seen in the warning in 2 Nephi 28:29-30:

Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

Indeed, I believe one can sometimes take a focus on the Book of Mormon too far, if it causes one to neglect completely the Bible, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. To do this is hardly something the Book of Mormon writers would approve of, when one purpose in writing the work was “for the intent that ye may believe that [meaning the Bible]” (Mormon 7:9); nor would it be in keeping with Christ’s instruction to read Isaiah and the other prophets (3 Nephi 23:1, 5). It’s for that very reason – in response to comments that Latter-day Saints didn’t need to read the Old Testament – that I wrote a series of posts about why they should (including that it’d help them understand the Book of Mormon)!

Having said that, however, there does seem to be a particular focus on the Book of Mormon itself, enough to provoke a divine warning in revelation, not to mention the continuing focus by present day Apostles. And I have often pondered why that is the case. It was written with prophetic foresight for our day (Mormon 8:34-35), of course, and wasn’t read by the people of the time, but then again the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants were actually written in our era. There is also the sense in which the Book of Mormon is described as “the keystone of our religion”: it simultaneously bears witness of past scripture, of the prophethood of Joseph Smith, and of the divine authority of the Church today (D&C 20:11). But if one has already received this witness, are there any other reasons to focus on the Book of Mormon in particular?

Two principle reasons suggest themselves to my mind (there are more, but these seem key).

Firstly, the Book of Mormon has a relentless focus on the most important and basic matters. It is noticeable, for instance, that in contrast to the rather loose and expansive way we tend to use the word doctrine (and slather that term on top of everything), in the Book of Mormon it is only used in two senses: doctrines, plural, always referring to false doctrines; and doctrine, singular, always referring to the “doctrine of Christ” or “the gospel”, a term used of the most basic core of the gospel. As seen, for instance, in 3 Nephi 27:13-20, the description of this gospel is succinct (just 8 verses there!), but covers the most important matters: the incarnation of Christ, redemption through his death and resurrection, our resurrection and final judgment and the basic principles of faith, repentance, baptism, and sanctification through the receipt of the Holy Ghost. Likewise, the basic themes announced on the title page – revelation, the restoration of Israel, and the messiah-hood and divinity of Christ – are emphasised again and again (including, as I discovered, in the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible). The Book of Mormon aims like a laser at the things that matter most, while hardly talking at all about some things we tend to think are very important.

This may be seen as part and parcel of its mission to restore “plain and precious things” (1 Nephi 13:40), but I also wonder if it ends up going beyond that. It seems quite easy, from observation, that when people principally read other portions of scripture for them to not see the wood for the trees: that is, to end up focusing and losing perspective on principles that may be true, and may even be necessary, but which are an appendage to more basic things. Likewise, in such circumstances it seems easier for people to over-complicate the gospel, or get focused on overly-speculative matters. But if we are reading the Book of Mormon as well, perhaps its focus can help to keep us focused. By serving as a lens in our reading of other scripture, it may not only restore plain and precious things, but help us to see the plain and precious things in the other books too.

Secondly, there is a power beyond the text itself. I’ve had some powerful experiences with scripture, with a range of different passages, throughout the standard works. But when I look back over my life, I find that in general that it is those periods when I am reading the Book of Mormon regularly (rather than just the other books) that I am spiritually better. On an average basis, I find it has a more powerful devotional effect than almost any other passage, save perhaps for the Gospels (and perhaps even just the Gospel of John). When I am read the Book of Mormon over a prolonged period, I am closer to the Spirit, repent more readily, am more obedient, and find it easier to resist temptation.

Part of a reason this comes to mind is a feeling that I have a personal need to refocus a little. Most of my reading of scripture this year has been from other books, particularly the New Testament, and that’s certainly not bad (especially with Come Follow Me), but I have been reading less from the Book of Mormon this year than those immediately prior (especially compared to the thesis years). Everyone is probably in a different place on this front, and would need to judge for themselves where their balance currently is, but personally speaking I feel a need to re-balance in the direction of reading the Book of Mormon more consistently than I have recently. Because there’s a benefit that I feel that comes from it that extends beyond the words themselves.

There’s many things in the gospel, and our experience with God, that cannot be put into words. Indeed, I think that’s part of the key to the book of Job: Job’s questions aren’t answered in the book of Job, but he does learn something that puts him at peace, something he learns from seeing God (Job 42:3-6), something which cannot be put into words, but can only be learned the same way Job did. Likewise, in reading scripture I feel that there is something we can experience that is more than simply taking in the text on the page. There have been times in my life – I found quite often as a missionary, since I’d often have one in my hand – that I could feel the power within the Book of Mormon simply by holding it. That power comes from God, and I believe, and have felt, that when we read the book with a sincere heart and real intent that we receive not only the words that are written into our minds, but also receive that power into our souls. Christ himself taught that God’s word, and his word, has a sanctifying effect upon us (John 15:3, 17:17). And as President Benson said, quoting an earlier apostle:

“But there is another reason why we should read it,” President Romney continued. “By doing so we will fill and refresh our minds with the constant flow of that ‘water’ which Jesus said would be in us—‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ (John 4:14.) We must obtain a continuing supply of this water if we are to resist evil and retain the blessings of being born again. …

“If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with and call them back to the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by reading the Book of Mormon.”

 

Why revoking Article 50 or suchlike would make me really really angry

I voted leave in the 2016 referendum, for reasons outlined here, and would vote the same again. What has happened since then has in my mind rather served to confirm my reasoning, and indeed emphasis the need for accountability in some nearer places too. Obviously a number of people disagree with the result – the majority of MPs for one – and a number of these figures – the Liberal Democrats as a whole, key figures amongst Conservatives and Labour and so on – have proposed revoking Article 50 (our notice to leave) altogether, or holding a second referendum (which for some reason they dub a “people’s vote”; I suspect the hand of Tony Blair in this, since he liked to add “people’s” to all sorts of things in an attempt to generate support) or a “confirmatory vote”.

The issue has become highly contentious, and there seem to be some who think if the whole thing can be undone, such disagreements would disappear. For those who liked or benefited from the political status quo prior to the referendum, such is likely to be highly attractive. It is also impossible. Setting aside the arguments over Brexit itself, what I want to communicate is why I personally find the suggestion to revoke article 50 or similar so objectionable, and why in many respects this issue is now far bigger than Brexit itself.

What should not be forgotten is that the referendum itself, voted for by an overwhelming majority of Parliament, was presented to the British public as:

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

Upon the result, many MPs now committed to revocation or to a second referendum spoke about the need to respect and implement the referendum result (including luminaries such as Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna). Many of them subsequently stood on an election manifesto in the 2017 election promising to implement the result, the Conservative members explicitly on a manifesto that no deal would be preferred to a bad deal.

So when MPs argue for revocation, they are explicitly arguing that Parliament should break a promise it made to the British public to respect the public’s vote, one that many of the members subsequently remade by the platforms they stood upon for the 2017 election. Some might argue that legislatively, the referendum was “non-binding”. But that doesn’t change the commitment made to the electorate, the assurance that it was there decision. To argue this is to confuse legality with legitimacy. It would be legal, but it would be illegitimate. And Parliament’s authority to make laws for the rest of us depends on its legitimacy.

To revoke article 50 would in short be to void my vote; it would effectively disenfranchise me by making my vote of null effect. This strikes at the very heart of the implied social contract by which we give Parliament any right to rule over us at all. We permit Parliament to fill this role because we are assured we have a say in what happens, via our exercise of our vote. Thus even if a vote doesn’t go our way, the result is legitimate if we had the opportunity to have our say. This has been the situation for most of my life: there are very few decisions the Blair government made that I agreed with. But while I disagreed with that government and its decisions, I could give a broader consent to the legitimacy of that government, because I’d had the opportunity to vote but was sadly on the losing side.

That calculus changes if it appears that my vote is to be ignored if it is on the winning side: then it appears my vote is a fraud, designed to give the illusion of a say, but to be ignored lest there be any danger of me having an actual say. It breaks the implied social contract upon which our system of government depends. To attempt to defend any such moves on the idea of Parliamentary supremacy is to ignore the question of why should we permit that supremacy. What gives Parliament the right to rule over us? Until now, it has been that it has, imperfectly perhaps, reflected our communal decisions. But if my vote is to be outright rejected, then Parliament doesn’t reflect or allow for my input at all. It is, perhaps ironically, making a new claim to a “divine right”, but in this case a divine right of MPs. A right I must reject. As I must likewise reject any supposed “government of national unity” that takes as its starting point excluding the votes of the largest vote in British history. They would be no government of mine, and I’d reject their right to rule over me.

It is particularly infuriating when many of those pushing for revocation within and without Parliament have been seemingly happy to go along with the system so long as the results were congenial to upper middle-class politicians and lawyers. It is a seeming double standard that I have had to consent to results I disagree with most of my adult life, but the moment a result is reached they disagree with it is the result that is to be dispensed with. I say a seeming double standard, because in reality it sets up a new single standard: they get to decide, whereas the rest of us will have things decided for us. We are to be effectively disenfranchised, while they effectively enthroned as our new masters.

What then of a second referendum or a “confirmatory vote”? Note again the double standard. The Blair government, for instance (and indeed feel free to use the example of any post-war government of your choice), introduced sweeping changes to public life and law. Do we get a confirmatory vote on all of those? Why not? If some argue that the referendum result was too close (despite having an outright majority of votes cast, by over a million votes), then what do we say of the Blair government with 43.2% (1997), 40.7% (2001), and 35.2% (2005) of votes cast, i.e. no majority of votes at all. No British government since 1935 has had a majority of votes. Once again, my vote is to be subject to confirmation, while their vote is to be implemented without question. Of course, the leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have already admitted that were a second referendum produce a leave result, they’d ignore that too.

In a democracy, the ultimate civic right and the ultimate means of redress is the ability to vote. It is this that allows Citizens to reign in their governments and to secure their interests and all other rights. Conversely, establishing a principle by which votes may be ignored if they go against the desires of the influential is to effectively strip people of that civic right and render effectively meaningless that means of redress. And so I ask of you, if MPs and others are to ignore my vote and render it null and void, what means of redress remain open to me?

A False Quotation

I was reading the news, as one does, and came across an article talking about the implications of Israel’s current political gridlock during a period of increasing conflict between Iran and the likes of Saudi Arabia. Such articles, of course, tend to attract those who argue that the Israeli nation itself is illegitimate and/or is responsible for all the Middle East’s problems (usually turning a blind eye to the rest of the Middle East), and comments tend to become swiftly impassioned.

There’s a lot I could say on that topic, but what caught my attention was an excerpt of an article that someone produced in support:

After studying the establishment and fall of old empires, and the existing conditions early in the twentieth century, they drew up their suggestions in a report, which ended with a declaration stating that the dangers facing colonialist empires lay in the Arab land if and when they are liberated, united and progress. Thus they recommended to the seven colonialist powers to maintain the prevailing status quo in the region, divided and backward, and keep its people in their current status: disunited, backward, ignorant and quarreling.

The report also recommended fighting the unity of the people of the Arab nation culturally, spiritually and historically, resorting to strong scientific means wherever possible to separate its components from each other, namely keeping apart its western wing away from its eastern wing, that is separate its African wing from the Asian wing, by establishing a foreign and powerful barrier on the land bridge that connects Arab Asia with Arab Africa, which connects them together with the Mediterranean Sea, and near to the Suez Canal, a powerful entity friendly to western colonialism and enemy to its people.

This was, it was claimed, “the plan of Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman”.

Something didn’t seem right about this. Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister was Prime Minister from 1905-1908, a period where the European powers were hardly acting in concert (as would be proved just a few short years later). Furthermore, North Africa and Egypt were already separated from the Levant and Arabia: the latter at the time were not governed by any European colonial power at all, but were territories of the Ottoman Empire. And of course it would certainly be nonsensical to attribute the origins of Zionism to this, considering political Zionism (that is the belief in establishing a Jewish homeland) and other such movements arose in the 19th century.

A quick search on the above text found found the full article, attributed to an author called Awni Farsakh, and claimed to be translated by an Adib S. Kawar; I find little more details of either. although the article itself was supposedly published in Al-Khaleej, based in the United Arab Emirates, on May 11, 2007, while the latter individual is a member of the website, tlaxcala.es,  that had the supposed translated version. Virtually all searches head back to that website, however, as do all other citations. The full article, however, made an extended argument along the lines of the excerpt above, and furthermore attempted to support it from a quote attributed to “the Campbell-Bannerman Report, 1907”:

There are people (the Arabs, Editor’s Note) who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of world routes. Their lands were the cradles of human civilizations and religions. These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations. No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another … if, per chance, this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world. Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.

This is a supposed quotation from this report in 1907. Yet there are already issues with it. There’s the claims, for instance, that the region has “one faith, one language”, claims that anyone familiar with the Middle East should recognise as simply not true, now or in 1907. They are, however, claims that are often advanced both by Arab Nationalists and by Islamic Fundamentalists, and indeed the last few years have witnessed the efforts of groups like ISIS to try and make such claims reality by eliminating groups such as Yazidis, Assyrian Christians and so on.

Furthermore, there’s anachronistic elements to the quotation, such as the idea that the region could “serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects”. First, the European powers – who were very much focused on their rivalry with each other – were exceptionally unlikely to think of themselves as acting as a unified “West” (in fact that term would be used by the likes of the UK and France to define themselves against other European powers, such as Germany). And then springboard to what? The British Empire of 1907 already included all of India. If one were following the expansive definition of “West” employed here and includes all the other colonial powers, there’s little else left in 1908.

The most fundamental problem with this quotation, however, is that it appears to be a complete fabrication. One can find the full minutes of the proceedings of the Colonial conference of 1907 here. It does not contain that text. Nor is there is any evidence of any other such report; indeed the only sources in English of such a text go back to the article mentioned above. Digging deeper I found a lengthy but interesting recording of a seminar on the topic at the Oxford University Website: Eugene Rogan – The Myth of the Campbell-Bannerman Report: Arab views on Israel after the Suez Crisis, in which Rogan recounts his own research, including interviewing Antoun Canaan, the Egyptian lawyer who is the first to have made claims about the existence of said report in a paper he presented following the Suez Crisis. It appears Canaan himself was unable to explain quite what his sources where, and his paper did not include any citations or quotations. All other references to said report appear to rely on Canaan, and it is some of these later sources that appear to have invented the wording found above. In other words, the above quotation is spurious, and little more than a conspiracy theory. So once again, one should never believe something just because it’s written down, especially if it’s written down on the internet.

“An Abraham Lincoln keyed to base uses…”

Just came across this bit of description in a Sherlock Holmes story today, and loved it:

As I looked upon him I understood not only the fears and dislike of his manager but also the execrations which so many business rivals have heaped upon his head. If I were a sculptor and desired to idealize the successful man of affairs, iron of nerve and leathery of conscience, I should choose Mr. Neil Gibson as my model. His tall, gaunt, craggy figure had a suggestion of hunger and rapacity. An Abraham Lincoln keyed to base uses instead of high ones would give some idea of the man.

The Problem at Thor Bridge, Arthur Conan Doyle

On Prorogation

It’s worth pointing out:

1) Prorogation is what happens – every single time – before a new session of Parliament with a new Queen’s speech can take place.

2) The current Parliamentary session is the longest since the Rump Parliament was dissolved in 1653, which had similarly out-stayed its welcome. It’s been over 2 years since the last Queen’s speech and anything like a legislative programme existed. If we’re looking to constitutional “outrages”, one can begin there.

3) Anything we are proceeding towards in the meantime – such as an exit from the EU on WTO terms in the absence of any alternative treaties – will happen only because of legislation voted for by the current crop of MPs. They legislated that into law.

4) Of course, the reason certain MPs are protesting this (in rather overblown terms) is because of the desire they have to undo the laws they’d already agreed to and effectively void the largest vote in British history. Their proposed “government of national unity” would be a real outrage, since it wouldn’t represent national unity, only parliamentary unity against said vote and the nation.

Even experts are ignorant – UnHerd

There’s an interesting article on UnHerd today, about a book called The Hidden Half: How The World Conceals Its Secrets by Michael Blastland, which apparently examines how strange reality really is, and how little we sometimes know about it (or even how little know we know about what little we know).

Some highlights:

So what caused these differences if not genetics or environment? Answer: we don’t know. And most laypeople – myself included, before I’d read Blastland’s book – didn’t even know we didn’t know. You, like me, probably thought that the argument in science was between genes and environment; not between genes and environment and… this other thing. Yet this other thing – this hidden half, called “enigmatic variation” – doesn’t just apply to crayfish. As much as half of human variation can’t be accounted for, writes Blastland, by either genetic or environmental factors.

 

You all know by now, for instance, that economic forecasting isn’t hugely reliable; perhaps it seems obvious that that’s in the nature of the thing. Animal spirits, irrational exuberance and all that, right?

But economic reporting, it turns out, is just as dodgy. Not only do we not know what’s going to happen, we don’t know what did happen. ONS figures for the economy two or three years ago continue to be revised in light of what has followed – and are often subject to confidence margins that can make the difference between a boom and a recession (Blastland cites one where a fall in unemployment of 3,000 was sombrely reported with a confidence margin of +/-77,000 – i.e. the figure could be a rise of 74,000 rather than a fall of 3,000).

 

And then there’s the “replication crisis” in the social sciences, where results on which whole subsequent fields of research have been built turn out to be, literally, junk science. Again, as many as half of the accepted results in the whole of social science or medicine are feared to be unreliable or plain wrong. The experiments simply don’t replicate. Even medicines that we know work may only work for a tiny percentage of patients – and we can’t predict which ones and we don’t know why.

Read more at Even experts are ignorant – UnHerd

Mosiah 4

There’s one running thread through this chapter that has caught my attention before, and really stood out today. It begins in verse 1 & 2:

And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

Following King Benamin’s remarks in Mosiah 2-3, the people respond with sorrow and humility, and ‘viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth’. In that state, however, they then cry for mercy in the name of the Lord, and in verse 3 that request is granted.

I don’t have any absolute figures for any of this – it’s simply a phenomenon I’ve observed and heard – but it seems many in our current era are inclined to affirm that they are good people, that they don’t have anything particular to repent of. There’s people who run to the opposite extreme of course (and eras in which that is more common), who may suffer from what Catholic theology (and modern psychology) has termed scrupulosity. And that can be a serious problem: I remember when it dawned on me that such feelings can be a form of “sorrow of the world” as being sorry we got caught or such like, because such feelings can still trap us and thus “worketh death”, while “godly sorrow” produces change (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).

But feeling that we’re without sin, that we’re good and don’t have anything to repent of can also be damning. First, such notions are simply not true: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, see also Alma 34:9), and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). But secondly, if we don’t have a consciousness of our sin, then how do we recognise that we even need the Saviour? How do we call upon the power of his atoning sacrifice if we don’t feel a need for it? How do we even appreciate what he has done for us if we don’t think it’s necessary? A consciousness of sin, while an unpleasant feeling, is the very thing that impels us to seek change and lead us – as it led King Benjamin’s people – to seek mercy through Christ. It strikes me that it is perhaps one of the first and most fundamental steps of our repentance.

Yet this chapter goes further in verse 5:

For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state

This is talking about the same experience of King Benjamin’s people, but it also describes sentiments I suspect it’d be most unlikely to be urged in your average Sunday school lesson: ‘a sense of your nothingness’ and ‘your worthless and fallen state’.

The idea of realising out ‘nothingness’ is not only found here in the scriptures: In the Pearl of Great Price, Moses remarks upon the conclusion of one visionary experience that ‘[n]ow, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed’ (Moses 1:10). This sensation, this realisation, is not the sum total of all we are supposed to feel in regards to ourselves and our relationship with God. But it is perhaps an element that receives little modern attention.

Back to Mosiah 4, and again King Benjamin goes further, describing what we should remember not just at a moment of conversion, but throughout our lives:

And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

(Mosiah 4:11, my emphasis)

Again, this is not found only here: Alma in Alma 38:14 counsels his son Shiblon to ‘acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times’. But I suspect that at the present time such passages are often passed over quickly; they are hard passages, with hard counsel. But they clearly appear to be quite essential, with King Benjamin teaching that we should always remember God’s greatness, and in contrast our own nothingness and unworthiness if we wish to retain a remission of our sins (and we surely do).

Now I do not think that these verses are preaching a kind of self-hatred: while I do not find many scriptural passages that support the modern emphasis on self-esteem, self-hatred does not seem to be encouraged. Furthermore, we are also often counselled to seek and feel God’s love towards us. In some way, then, we are being encouraged to simultaneously realise our own nothingness and unworthiness, and thus our utter dependence upon God and his mercy, and that we do not earn any blessing from him, but at the same time feel of his love and realise that, in the words of Elder Uchtdorf, ‘compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God.’

I don’t know that I can make any great claims of knowing how to balance those realisations, but I am confident that both are necessary: we need one to avoid pride, and so that we know we need help and change and grace and who to seek it from, and we need the other to avoid despair and discouragement, and so that we know we can leave judgment in the hands of God and need not seek to punish ourselves for our own sins. With that in mind, we surely need to read such passages as the above carefully, and seek to follow them, rather than pass over them swiftly.

A couple of final, tangentially related points: this chapter goes on to detail our need to help and serve others, beginning with children (and our obligation to teach them), and then towards those seeking our assistance. I find it striking how it links our response to those who beg of us to God’s response to when we beg of him, and so how our acts of service are likewise connected to seeking to retain a remission of our sins:

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

(Mosiah 4:26)

However, allowance is also made for capacity, thus those who have sufficient, but not enough to aid the beggar are addressed (v. 24), and then the general principle is also addressed (v. 27):

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

The image this conjures up for me is one of a marathon, and I believe this is a helpful image to have in mind. If someone tries to sprint a marathon, they’ll lead at first, but then their strength will ebb and they will not finish the race. Likewise, this life is a marathon, in which our means and energy are often limited, and if we are unwise, and “sprint”, we may exhaust our strength and lack the capacity to serve at a later date. We must therefore not let our zeal outweigh our wisdom, but carefully pace ourselves where appropriate to ensure that we are in a position to serve diligently up until the finishing line.

Mosiah 3

This is a very well known and oft quoted chapter, particularly the portions relating to the prophecy of  Christ’s mortal ministry and atoning sacrifice (vv. 5-10) and the famous passage that really encapsulates the core of the Gospel:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

That really covers almost everything important: the fallenness of man, guidance through the Holy Ghost, repentance and sanctification through the Atonement of Christ and how we should be as disciples and God’s children.

Perhaps one bit of that verse that catches a little less attention is that whole bit about being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him’. I think it’s easy to read the verse, and see it as being willing to submit to everything God may ask of us and in addition what he permits may happen to us. But the word inflict is rather more active than that, in that it requires us to accept and submit to what God may do to us, even if unpleasant. An interesting article I’ve already linked to in this blog which discusses the concept of an Abrahamic Test quotes this verse in that context, noting that the scriptures teach that God both chastens us (which is correction or punishment upon those that have disobedient) and tries us, in which the refiners fire falls upon the righteous. It is interesting that a crucial part of our discipleship is the degree to which we accept both of these processes.

I don’t know whether I can say I’m grateful for any of the trials I’ve experienced, and in many respects I’m quite fortunate, so I don’t know how others may feel about that either. But I’ve certainly found with some unpleasant experiences that – often given time and opportunity to reflect – I’ve been able to perceive some of the positive results of them too. I don’t know that we’re actually being asked to be glad about unpleasant things (though perhaps with sufficient perspective we can be; thinking about it there are a couple of things I think I can now say I am appreciative for). But perhaps what this is really getting at is the core measure of our trust and loyalty towards him, the capacity to say “not my will, but thine be done”, no matter what that appears to entail for us.

Linked to this verse, but really catching my attention today, was verse 16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

It’s an interesting point in general that the Atonement establishes both justice and mercy (for instance, see v. 10-11 and 2 Nephi 9:26). But what attracted my eye today was the whole phrase about ‘in Adam, or by nature, they fall’. When we talk of the fall, we often talk of Adam and Eve, but really in a sense each of us falls as we grow up. We are born innocent before God (D&C 93:38), and we are not held responsible for the sins of our forebears (Moses 6:54). But as a consequence of the fall, human nature is opposed to God, and our natures mean that as we grow ‘sin conceive[s] in [our] hearts’ (Moses 6:55) and we yield to our unrighteous instincts (‘the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein’, 2 Nephi 2:29) and become fallen people. We each experience the fall individually; I guess in a similar manner to the way in which while Christ atoned once for sins in an infinite and eternal offering, we must experience the power of that redemption individually too.

I think it’s also important to remember this self-sabotaging nature that we all inevitably have. We can become ground down trying to perfect ourselves, or we might try to persuade ourselves that some inner tendencies can’t possibly be wrong, or why would we have them? But human nature as it is is morally flawed, and is not perfectible by our efforts alone. But there’s two crucial caveats there, which again verse 19 addresses: our current nature is not the nature God wishes for us to carry into the eternities, and we can put off that nature and become something else – a saint, that is holy – as we “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” and accept the power of Christ’s atonement into our lives. God wants us to change, and through Christ’s power we can.

 

“Big Tech”, Privacy and the Brave Web Browser

The power and influence of certain technology companies is something that I – and I’m far from the only one, as seen in the various US Senate hearings – am increasingly concerned about, and I’m not just talking about Apple. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others all raise monopolistic concerns, but are even more worrying because of their approaches to personal privacy (since you are their product, not their customer), and increasingly their willingness to throw their weight around and leverage your personal data to promote their own ideological and social views (many in areas that are already concerning), and even enforce them via censorship, boycotts and so forth. There’s often a whiff of hypocrisy about this: witness Paypal threatening to boycott North Carolina over transsexual issues, but being rather happy to do business in the Middle East, or big tech’s happiness to cooperate with authoritarian regimes like China in pursuit of their money. But their willingness to operate what increasingly seems like a privatised version of China’s “social credit” system in the West, combined with the mob-like tendencies of social media, is truly worrying: being “unpersoned” by the big tech companies can leave individuals without income and with limited capacity to rebut charges against them.

All of which means I’m quite interesting in looking towards alternatives to the big, and especially the most egregious, players in that market (particularly Google, who seem to be taking their former motto of “Don’t Be Evil” as some kind of challenge). Of course, any data you put online should be regarded as potentially compromised, but there are options that are either more secure or at less danger of being misused or subject to censorship. I shifted away from the Gmail/Google Drive ecosystem a while ago, in favour of Microsoft’s offerings in Office 365 and Onedrive of all things, on the basis that they at least seemed principally interested in my money, and not my soul (and who in the 1990s would think the day would come when they were considered the lesser of evils)! While stuff there can hardly be thought of as private, much of it is about stuff I plan to publish anyway, the principal concern being that it not fall victim to Google’s trials at locking out or deleting things based on their analysis of the contents of user documents. For a more private email service, there’s things like Protonmail people might like to try, which offers a basic free service and paid offerings for those who require greater storage, and which offers services like encrypted emails.

One area worth looking at for alternatives is the humble web browser, where people may wish to reconsider the amount of personal data they offer Google for free via Google Chrome. Again, I switched from that a while back, but felt unable to switch to Mozilla Firefox considering the Brendan Eich case, in which Brendan Eich, developer of Javascipt, was effectively pushed out his position as CEO of Mozilla after 9 days due to having made a financial contribution to Proposition 8 in support of traditional marriage a number of years earlier. Since they wouldn’t want me to be an employee they clearly didn’t want me as a customer, and in any case there’s something quite sinister about the attempts to crush people’s professional endeavours because of opinions held in other spheres: the unspoken implication of trying to deny employment to those you disagree with is that those you disagree with should be starved into submission.

For several years I’ve used Opera. That’s not free of privacy concerns, since it’s owned by a Chinese company, but since I don’t live in the People’s Republic I’m not sure having the Chinese in possession of my personal data is any more of a concern than Google having it. Opera did offer some nice features as well too, such as a built in ad blocker. Unfortunately their mobile offering didn’t seem to offer any way of changing the default search engine from Google.

However, one option I’ve looked into from time to time has been Brave, which has been developed by a company headed by the aforementioned Brendan Eich. This browser offers a range of privacy features, without sending as much data off as possible to either Beijing or California. When I first tried this several years ago, however, it didn’t quite seem ready for everyday use. I’m delighted to report, however, that after trying it the other day this seems to have changed immensely, so much so that I’ve switched to it on all my devices (including mobile). I’d honestly recommend trying it out: it appears to have a host of features it didn’t have when I last tried it (including an integrated Tor mode), and seems very stable and fast to boot. One can download it here.

Now if only I knew what to do about the Android/Apple dilemma…

The Omniscience of God | Religious Studies Center

Since the topic has come up in correspondence, and some things I’m writing (both for a book and for this blog), I happened to come across this article in my reading, and thought it was good enough that I wanted to share it: “The Omniscience of God” by Roger Terry.

I wanted to share it, however, not just for what it addresses about God’s omniscience and relationship to time (though those are very worth reading), but also for some profound points it makes at the end, some profound points that I think often get overlooked in such debates:

Thus far we have talked about God’s omniscience primarily in the sense that He sees everything and has all information present before Him. But all the knowledge in the universe would not make our Heavenly Father a perfect or even helpful God without His other attributes, such as love, justice, mercy, goodness, patience, and kindness. One attribute in particular that enables Him to use His infinite knowledge to bless His children is His wisdom. Wisdom is actually an important aspect, or product, of God’s knowledge. Wisdom, we might say, is knowing how to apply knowledge correctly. Thus, because He has perfect wisdom, God always knows which choice will create the greatest eternal good for His children. His wisdom prevents Him from ever misapplying His knowledge, as we imperfect mortals often do.

President Marion G. Romney, First Counselor in the First Presidency, wrote:

‘Since knowledge is an “acquaintance with, or clear perception of, facts”; and “wisdom is the capacity of judging soundly and dealing broadly with facts; especially in their practical” application “to life and conduct,” it follows that wisdom, although more than, is nevertheless a product of, and is dependent upon knowledge.
The Book of Mormon specifically relates God’s wisdom to his knowledge. Speaking of God’s plan for the salvation of men, Lehi says, “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24). Thus, . . . God’s perfect wisdom is a product of His knowledge of all things.’

Certainly, His wisdom is a product of His knowledge, but it is also a product of His goodness, for knowledge alone does not automatically produce wisdom. Lucifer had great knowledge, but that knowledge did not lead to wisdom. Indeed, Lucifer’s unwise choices prevented him from attaining greater knowledge. It is God’s perfect knowledge combined with His perfect goodness that makes His perfect wisdom a reality. And because God has perfect wisdom to apply His perfect knowledge, He is able to perform His work and enjoy the associated glory in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

In debates about omniscience and omnipotence, it should be remembered that while these are necessary qualities for God to do all that he promised and for us to have confidence in him, they are not all that defines or characterises God. We likewise should not forget his love, justice, mercy, goodness, patience, kindness and his wisdom.

Read the whole article at The Omniscience of God | Religious Studies Center