On “hurting”

I hadn’t planned to return to this topic so soon, and I don’t plan to do so at any length.

Concerning the amendments to the Church handbook of instructions that I discuss more here, I see quite a few comments talking about how the policies mean they are “hurting”.

Most of these people saying this don’t seem to be directly affected by the policy, but anyway:

We should always be prepared to feel compassion. I struggle with this, as I am an imperfect human being, but Christ is our master, and he showed and taught us what we should do.

Mention is sometimes made of suicide and suicidal thoughts. I sympathise – I personally know very well what that feels like. If anyone genuinely felt that way, and thought that perhaps I could help, I would want them to get in contact with me.

Some people, however, seem intent on using such feelings – or the feelings of others – as an argument for why the policy should be changed. “Change this policy” this line demands, “or you are hurting these people and some may harm themselves!”

Forgive me for being blunt (though Christ also said we should speak truth): in a marriage there’s a term for when people attempt to control the actions of others through threats of self-harm or suicide. It’s called emotional abuse.


I’m not trying to be controversial.

Controversial stuff just keeps happening. And well-intentioned people, out of the goodness of their heart, seem unable to recognise what is happening.

So terrorists in Paris have launched a series of well-coordinated attacks using both guns and bombs (having learned from the 2008 Mumbai attacks that small arms are as an effective a terrorist weapon as explosives). So far at least 128 people are recorded as having been killed, and ISIS have claimed responsibility, and certainly provided the inspiration.

And of course there are a range of public reactions to this. Most of what I’m seeing falls into several categories: some expressing sorrow and solidarity with the people of Paris. Others asking why these things happen. And some (often the same people) express sentiments that these people do not represent “real” Muslims, are a tiny minority, or that this has nothing to do with Islam.

Unfortunately, the last two statements are fundamentally connected. One of the reasons things like this keep happening, and are going to get worse, is because of people’s good-hearted, wishful thinking about what’s really going on.

Radicalism in Islam

Every time something like this happens, both Governments and private individuals claim that this has nothing to do with Islam, or at most involves a “tiny minority”. This is an understandable response, grounded in the desire to avoid any kind of backlash (however hypothetical) against innocent people. Unfortunately there is rarely any attempt to ground this hope in actual details.

Islam of course is a vast religion, with over 1.6  billion adherents. And it is no more monolithic and unified than Christianity is. There are branches of Islam – such as the Ahmaddiya or Ismailis – who are not remotely involved in terrorism, and indeed are actually heavily persecuted (the Ahmaddiya, for example, are regard as ‘not Muslim’ in Pakistan, and so are open to attack). Those who insist that all Muslims are the enemy aren’t correct, and aren’t doing us any favours, since by their logic (namely that the radicals are the ‘correct’ Islam) they’d seem to be almost encouraging all those not involved to join up.

Yet the converse is often based on nothing more than wishful thinking. Islamist radicalism draws upon long-standing strands in Islamic tradition. These aren’t the only strands, true, but they’ve been in place since the beginning of Islam. And at least amongst Sunni radicals – who aim to dispense with what they see as unIslamic bid’a (“innovation” – seen as a bad thing) such as Sufism or Saints and return to the golden age of the four rashidun (“righteous”) caliphs – they are drawing upon some very long-standing strands indeed, including Qur’anic passages and Hadith (traditions/sayings of Muhammad, which form a secondary source of authority for Islamic teachings). It’s why I cringe a bit when some people talk about Islam needing a reformation, since arguably it’s going through one already (the wars of religion following the reformation and counter-reformation in Europe were no picnic, after all).

Some accept that these ideas do come from a Islamic background, but make the claim that Islamic radicals are no more than a “tiny minority”. These needs quantification, because some people simply haven’t thought this through. Even if no more than 1% of Muslims were sympathetic to the Islamic State, for example, we’d still be talking about 1.6 million people.

Unfortunately the situation is much worse.

If we look at surveys of Muslim attitudes, both in the Middle East and in Great Britain, we do not find much comfort. For example, this Pew Research Centre survey from 2013 trumps the fact that a majority of Muslims have unfavourable views of Al Qaeda. Unfortunately that majority is only 57%. 13% had a favourable view, and a further 23% claimed not to know or refused to answer the question. Even if one went with a baseline of 13% of Al Qaeda sympathisers, that still leaves 208 million Al Qaeda sympathisers – three times the population of the UK. Other surveys provide equally comforting information: In 2006 a survey found almost 25% of British Muslims felt the 7/7 attacks on London in 2005 were ‘justified’, 28% wanted Britain to become an Islamic fundamentalist state, and that 78% supported the punishment of those who printed or re-printed the Muhammad cartoons. A 2015 ComRes poll found that 27% of British Muslims sympathised with the motives behind the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and 11% said that such magazines “deserved to be attacked”. A 2007 survey found that nearly a third of Muslim 18-24 year olds in Britain “believed that those converting to another religion should be executed”; apparently it is good news that amongst those over 55 ‘less than a fifth’ believed the same. It is little wonder that there are more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than there are serving in the British Army.

My own anecdotal experience more than bears this out: while pursuing my Masters in Islamic Studies, my fellow students were very prone to voicing their support for Al Qaeda and its tactics, their belief that the Mumbai attacks were a conspiracy by India to make Pakistan look bad, or claims that “the Jews own the BBC”. I remember one class vividly where one teacher (who was fairly young – other teachers included the old Shia Imam who taught Qur’anic hermeneutics who was very vocally opposed to Al Qaeda for all the right reasons) started referring to “martyrdom operations” (the preferred radical term for suicide bombings), and all the other students around me were nodding along. Amongst young British muslims, radical opinions are far more widely held than most people realise.

Based on the surveys, however, I think a reasonable conjecture is that a minimum of 10% of Muslims worldwide are vocal sympathisers with the most extreme Jihadists, and that in some demographics this is much higher. There’s a further percentage who at least sympathise in part, and who are unlikely to counteract the actions of the radicals. There are also some positions that Westerners would consider radical (such as attacks on those deemed to ‘insult’ Islam, or the death penalty for those who leave Islam) that enjoy even higher support, and may even be considered mainstream positions amongst many Muslims. Even if we take are bare minimum of 10%, we are left with over 160 million Jihadist sympathisers. We are not talking a tiny fringe here, on the order of the Branch Davidians. Rather we’re talking about something that (in proportionate terms) is comparable to Protestant Evangelicalism in Christianity. No one would refer to them as a “tiny fringe” or “completely unrepresentative” of “Real Christianity”. For the Latter-day Saints among my readers, perhaps this may put it most vividly: for every single Latter-day Saint, active or inactive, I estimate that there are at least ten ISIS sympathisers.

So yes, this is something to do with Islam. Not all Muslims, certainly, but enough of them that this is a serious problem. A minority of the people of Northern Ireland were involved in terrorism too, but no one would have claimed that the IRA or UVF “had nothing to do with Ireland”. Anyone whose first reaction to yet another of these attacks is to try and claim that this is nothing to do with Islam is – however well intentioned – only trying to put their head in the sand and pretend this isn’t a problem.


And so I come onto a particularly controversial symptom of that blinkeredness, namely the current mass immigration into Europe, particularly from Syria and other portions of the Muslim world.

It’s understandable that people would want to help.

Indeed it’s right to help those driven out of their homes.

But – as I pointed out speaking in an ecclesiatical and familial context – misguided mercy may end up being very merciless to others.

The following points should be considered:

We are therefore engaged on a public policy of allowing into Europe millions of people (nearly a million in 2015 alone), of whom I’d estimate at least 10% are terrorist sympathisers, a figure that may likely be considerably higher in view of the demographics. We do not adequately screen those passing our frontiers, and at the same time those who are suffering most are abandoned to the wolves, even when they make it all the way to Europe!

And then we wonder how events in Paris can happen, and why they keep on happening!

Nor is this just a matter a public policy. I know of at least one person amongst my past acquaintances who (out of a misguided sense of compassion) is planning a trip out to Greece this December to help personally move immigrants onto the mainland. Let’s say they manage to help ten people make the trip. While percentages never quite work like that, it would easily be within the bounds of probability that one of those people is a supporter of radical fundamentalist Islam. Who this good person helped to mainland Europe.

Gee… thanks!

And it’s only going to get worse: A German prediction of their demographic change suggests it is likely that with the recent influx and those that will follow that Germany could have a population of 20 million Muslims by 2020, a proportion of roughly 20%. Even if that doesn’t happen by 2020, relative demographic differences (i.e. who’s having children) will make that happen in time. This effect across Europe is undoubtedly going to mean substantial societal change – and in the present climate, considerably more radicals to commit terrorist attacks.

It’s a policy born of madness and wishful thinking. I imagine the hope is that somehow Europe will be able to defeat radical ideas through counter-extremism policies and all the new immigrants and their descendants will happily integrate rather than join the existing parallel societies. I find this extremely unlikely. You can’t fight something with nothing, and the modern West increasingly offers little but empty materialism and creature comforts. Instead I see two options as far more likely: either this continues to happen, until Europeans states increasingly resemble the Near and Middle East (the so-called Eurabia), or a counter-reaction will happen, which like all human things will overreact in a horrible way. In either case, the prospects of free societies and an absence of this sort of violence are slim. And the possibility that we end up with something like a continent-wide Yugoslavia is far higher than it ever should be (and were the Government inclined to take my advice on preparing for the worst-case scenario, it’d begin setting up secret caches of small arms and ammunition in the countryside – rural areas being far more likely to remain in loyalist hands. But I say stuff like this, so they won’t.).

Unbelief, and membership in the Church of Christ

I haven’t updated this blog in a fair while, as I’ve been striving to finish writing up my thesis. And the next post I was going to do was going to be a speculative post involving spiders. That’s still going to happen at some stage (and people who speak to me in real life have likely heard at least some of it). But then something else came up that has sadly caught my attention.

Namely the recent reaction to the Church’s amendments to the Handbook of Instructions concerning same-sex marriage.

I’m not really going to discuss the actual policy itself, other than the section on children is an extension of the policy applied to polygamous families, and that entering into a same sex marriage isn’t just being classed as apostasy, it is apostasy: it is, after all, a public act in opposition to the Church’s teachings, not just the result of a yielding to temptation. Further context can be found here on the actual policy itself.

It is the reaction to all this that gets my attention. It follows the reaction to several other things over the years on social media (such as the Church’s efforts to support marriage, the “Ordain Women” movement and the excommunications of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin). I have become aware – who couldn’t? – that there’s at least a portion of Church membership who stand vocally opposed to the Church’s policies, and often teachings. This has struck very close to home, as I have seen friends and continue to see friends go astray in these things. People who were once my brothers and sisters in the gospel have abandoned the Church because of these things. I am not a diplomatic man, and I hold no ecclesiastical position of any major consequence. But if there are members, ersatz members and ex-members who feel free to comment in such a way as to lead my friends astray, then I believe I at least have the right to reply.

The real problem

Now this is not so directed as those Church members who otherwise agree with the Church’s teachings but felt some concern at the announced policies. There are other, better, things that they can read which hopefully address their concerns. But my observation is that those most concerned at this, and certainly those who are most vocal, not only differ with the announced policy, but some if not all of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and the family. Indeed I struggle to think of a single blog article or facebook comment I’ve seen whizzing by in the past week that was critical of handbook changes which was by someone who didn’t also – explicitly or implicitly – object to the Church’s fundamental teachings in this area in the first place. So some comments about policy vs doctrine are misguided – while the exact nature of a policy like this may well take different forms, the Church’s fundamental opposition to same-sex marriage as contrary to the Lord’s commands isn’t new. That wasn’t going to change just because US law changed.

I have been struck, for a number of years, by a line from Alma 12:

Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption
(Alma 12:32, my emphasis)

This is quite a common pattern. When I was a full-time missionary, we taught people about the law of chastity after we had taught them about the plan of salvation and eternal families. We taught about fasting and tithing after we taught about sacrifice. Many of God’s commandments may be confusing to us mortals when we’re working from our own presuppositions about the universe – but they make fundamental sense when we understand and believe in God and His plan. The Church’s teachings on the nature of the family, the law of chastity and human sexuality make perfect sense when we know that He is, that Christ is our Saviour, that He revealed Himself to prophets who recorded it in scripture, and that He has established His Church in these latter days which He continues to lead to which He has given His power and authority. Likewise the administration of priesthood ordinances is not a mere social event, but the exercise of that power and authority that requires preconditions, including faith.

Now many of those writing these various posts, comments etc have certainly been in the Church long enough to learn all this. They’ve been taught it. “Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?” If they are now having trouble accepting the Church’s teachings on family and sexuality, then what is the problem?

I speak bluntly. The problem is unbelief.


Now they may believe something, for example, that God exists. But it is impossible to believe that God exists, that He has revealed commandments in His scriptures and to His modern prophets, and that by His power Man and Woman may be knit together for eternity, and that obedience to this covenant is the path to exaltation, to believe all of that and yet believe that somehow God and His prophets have it wrong and that violating those commandments and barring oneself from what is required to gain exaltation must be morally acceptable. Somewhere there is a lack of belief.

Some of those who’ve commented have been quite open about this too – one I happened to read claiming that the individual had been a ‘practicing Mormon’ for decades, but never a ‘believing Mormon’.

This attitude baffles me. I find it incredible, yet I do know people who hold to this – who do not believe all the teachings of the Church, but who continue to claim a “Mormon” identity. What’s more is that some of these voices increasingly campaign that this *should* be the case, that the Church should give up any ambition for its members to believe, that it’s possible to be, say an atheist or agnostic and a Mormon (I would not have believed this had I not read it myself), and that the Church should be ‘inclusive’ of those who feel ethnically ‘Mormon’, but reject (loudly) the teachings of the Church.

I shall return to the last point later. On the former, it is certainly the case that those who are experiencing doubt and unbelief have been urged (as within the last few years by Elder Uchtdorf) to remain within the Church. It’s also the case that doubt and unbelief are not always the result of sin. But some have misconstrued this into thinking unbelief is an acceptable, or even a desirable state, and that one can be “faithful” and comfortable in the Church while remaining in a state of unbelief. This is not true.

For unbelief is a sin.

I’m aware that statement may cause hackles to rise. But sometimes things must be put as plainly and bluntly as possible. There are sins of the intellect. And I am not seeking to rise up as a great accuser here, for we are all sinners. I have my sins as does any man, and all of us need to repent. I’ve even recently struggled with unbelief: not as to the existence of God or the truth of His Church or anything like that, but in believing certain promises God has extended to me. I’ve struggled with some of that, and have had to strive to believe. I certainly lay no claims to perfection. Every one of us does things that are wrong, and need to change and repent. For us to do that, of course, we need to realise where we have erred, so that we might call upon God and that He might correct us. The reason people struggling with unbelief are encouraged to remain within the Church is – as it is for the rest of us and most of our sins – the Church is the best place to do that.

And far from being content in our unbelief, it is one of those things in which we sin and in which we need to repent. Christ “upbraided” his disciples for “their unbelief” (Mark 16:14), and taught elsewhere that “he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). We likewise learn “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and are warned to “take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). In the Book of Mormon we find Nephi mourning because of “the unbelief […] of men” (2 Nephi 32:7), and are told directly by Christ (as reported by Moroni) to “come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief” (Ether 4:13). Finally in modern revelation we see Edward Partridge being warned that “if he repent not of his sins, which are unbelief and blindness of heart, let him take heed lest he fall” (D&C 58:15) and the Church as a whole taught that “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” (D&C 84:54-55). While faith and belief may not come easily, we are commanded to “doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36), and instructed to “exercise a particle of faith”, and to not cast out the word “by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord” (Alma 32:27-28). Unbelief is a sin, but with God’s grace we can choose differently, by “experimenting” on his word, by yielding to the influence of His spirit and by remembering our previous experiences.

For several years now I have been struck by how important it is to remember our spiritual experiences and those miracles we witness. While there’s some – like the aforementioned article writer – who may have never have believed, others did at some stage. And for at least some of them, including some of my friends, that belief was not just a vain hope, but founded on actual experiences. I wonder what they make or even remember of those now, and there’s some friends I wish I could just shake: “Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember what it was like? What you felt and saw?” How I wish I could help them remember, for it is actual experience with the Divine that answers all questions and doubts.

The exclusivity of “inclusivity”

There is one final point I wish to briefly address, namely this concept that because of one’s ancestry and upbringing in the culture, one can continue to be a “Mormon” while rejecting the practice and especially the belief, and even that they should be permitted access to the Temple and so forth in spite of public disbelief. I have to admit this argument gets me angry to some degree, although I doubt that many who advance it see the implications of it.

Converts must believe to be baptized. To unite themselves with the Church, they must have faith and practice the first principle of the Gospel. And before they are baptized, they are asked about what they believe to ensure they meet the requirements for baptism. To become a “Mormon”, they must have and exercise their faith.

What is being implicitly proposed, then, ends up being a two-tier system. Converts must have faith to become members of the Church and enjoy its spiritual blessings. But those of a particular ancestry and upbringing need no faith to accrue the same benefits. I can only imagine what the Apostle Paul would make of this argument. As for me, all I can think is to paraphrase the words of John the Baptist: “Think not to say within yourselves that we have Brigham Young, or Lorenzo Snow or whomever to be our father, for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Brigham Young”.

“Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?”

Recent events and comments have reminded me of the following:

FOR A moment there was silence under the cedar trees and then-pad, pad, pad-it was broken. Two velvet-footed lions came bouncing into the open space, their eyes fixed upon each other, and started playing some solemn romp. Their manes looked as if they had been just dipped in the river whose noise I could hear close at hand, though the trees hid it. Not greatly liking my company, I moved away to find that river, and after passing some thick flowering bushes, I succeeded. The bushes came almost down to the brink. It was as smooth as Thames but flowed swiftly like a mountain stream: pale green where trees overhung it but so clear that I could count the pebbles at the bottom. Close beside me I saw another of the Bright People in conversation with a ghost. It was that fat ghost with the cultured voice who had addressed me in the bus, and it seemed to be wearing gaiters.

“My dear boy, I’m delighted to see you,” it was saying to the Spirit, who was naked and almost blindingly white. “I was talking to your poor father the other day and wondering where you were.”

“You didn’t bring him?” said the other.

“Well, no. He lives a long way from the bus, and, to be quite frank, he’s been getting a little eccentric lately. A little difficult. Losing his grip. He never was prepared to make any great efforts, you know. If you remember, he used to go to sleep when you and I got talking seriously! Ah, Dick, I shall never forget some of our talks. I expect you’ve changed your views a bit since then. You became rather narrow-minded towards the end of your life: but no doubt you’ve broadened out again.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that you weren’t quite right. Why, my dear boy, you were coming to believe in a literal Heaven and Hell!”

“But wasn’t I right?”

“Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure. I still believe in them in that way. I am still, my dear boy, looking for the Kingdom. But nothing superstitious or mythological. . . .”

“Excuse me. Where do you imagine you’ve been?”

“Ah, I see. You mean that the grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea.”

“I didn’t mean that at all. Is it possible you don’t know where you’ve been?”

“Now that you mention it, I don’t think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?”

“We call it Hell.”

“There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently.”

“Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell: though if you don’t go back you may call it Purgatory.”

“Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you’ll tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I’m not angry.”

“But don’t you know? You went there because you are an apostate.”

“Are you serious, Dick?”


“This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken.”

“Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?”

“There are indeed, Dick. There is hidebound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed-they are not sins.”

“I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions.”

“Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk.”

“What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came-popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?”

“Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?”

“Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of our faith?”

“If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like …”

“I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn’t want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes.”

“I’m far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it’s not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed.”

“Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man’s mind. If that’s what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.”

“You’ll be justifying the Inquisition in a moment!”

“Why? Because the Middle Ages erred in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?”

“Well, this is extremely interesting,” said the Episcopal Ghost. “It’s a point of view. Certainly, it’s a point of view. In the meantime . . .”

“There is no meantime,” replied the other. “AH that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past (your past and mine) only in order that you may turn from it forever. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as if nothing had ever gone wrong. White as snow. It’s all true, you know. He is in me, for you, with that power. And- I have come a long journey to meet you. You have seen Hell: you are in sight of Heaven. Will you, even now, repent and believe?”

“I’m not sure that I’ve got the exact point you are trying to make,” said the Ghost.

“I am not trying to make any point,” said the Spirit. “I am telling you to repent and believe.”

“But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me.”

“Very well,” said the other, as if changing his plan. “Will you believe in me?”

“In what sense?”

“Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”

“Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances … I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness-and scope for the talents that God has given me-and an atmosphere of free inquiry-in short, all that one means by civilization and-er-the spiritual life.”

“No,” said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”

“Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? “Prove all things” … to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”

“If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for.”
“But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?”

“You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.”

“Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leave me the free play of Mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know.”

“Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry.” The Ghost seemed to think for a moment. “I can make nothing of that idea,” it said.

“Listen!” said the White Spirit. “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now.”

“Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

“You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”

“If we cannot be reverent, there is at least no need to be obscene. The suggestion that I should return at my age to the mere factual inquisitiveness of boyhood strikes me as preposterous. In any case, that question-and-answer conception of thought only applies to matters of fact. Religious and speculative questions are surely on a different level.”

“We know nothing of religion here: we think only of Christ. We know nothing of speculation. Come and see. I will bring you to Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facthood.”

“I should object very strongly to describing God as a ‘fact.’ The Supreme Value would surely be a less inadequate description. It is hardly . . .”

“Do you not even believe that He exists?”

“Exists? What does Existence mean? You will keep on implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, ‘there,’ and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing (there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy) quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is something purely spiritual. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance-and, er, service, Dick, service. We mustn’t forget that, you know.”

“If the thirst of the Reason is really dead . . . ,” said the Spirit, and then stopped as though pondering. Then suddenly he said, “Can you, at least, still desire happiness?”

“Happiness, my dear Dick,” said the Ghost placidly, “happiness, as you will come to see when you are older, lies in the path of duty. Which reminds me. . . . Bless my soul, I’d nearly forgotten. Of course I can’t come with you. I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life. Not of a very high quality, perhaps. One notices a certain lack of grip-a certain confusion of mind. That is where I can be of some use to them. There are even regrettable jealousies. … I don’t know why, but tempers seem less controlled than they used to be. Still, one mustn’t expect too much of human nature. I feel I can do a great work among them. But you’ve never asked me what my paper is about! I’m taking the text about growing up to the measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you’ll be interested in. I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste … so much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”

The Ghost nodded its head and beamed on the Spirit with a bright clerical smile-or with the best approach to it which such unsubstantial lips could manage-and then turned away humming? softly to itself “City of God, how broad and far.

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

New ‘Study Resources’ page

I’ve added an extra page of ‘study resources‘, where I’ve begun to write a list of various resources I’ve found helpful or indispensable. There’s not much in the way of secondary literature on it yet (I think I’d want to write up reviews first), but so far it lists a few sources for primary texts and so on. Plus the single most useful scripture-related computer program I’ve found so far!

The vexed question of Book of Mormon geography

There’s been several more articles in the recurrent arguments over Book of Mormon geography. The Interpreter has posted a couple of articles arguing against the so-called “heartland” model (which locates Book of Mormon events in the American midwest and around the Great lakes) here and here and thus implicitly defending the old FARMs preferred model of Mesoamerica. This in turn seems to be a reaction to several books and a fairly prolific run of posts arguing for the heartland model here. And so the arguments continue.

Personally I’m an agnostic on Book of Mormon geography. I don’t know where it happened. And I think that where it happened is considerable less important than that it did: the reality of the Book of Mormon’s promises about the gathering of Israel and God’s intervention into history, or its witness of Christ, depends on the events within happening, but not so much on their geographical location. Though it’s also understandable why people get so involved in the question, because (at least as far as I can tell), many of those seeking to identify the location are aiming in some way to bolster that it did. But at the same time I’m not sure that the Lord’s going to let us find anything particularly conclusive on this subject yet, particularly since at present one purpose of the Book of Mormon is to ‘try [our] faith’ (3 Nephi 26:9).

In the meantime, I don’t find any of the models as presented completely convincing. The heartland model certainly has issues: I think it reads too much into things like D&C 125:3, or has geographical issues like the seas mentioned both east and west of the Nephite/Lamanite lands. But then I think the Mesoamerican model, while often pursued in a more professional manner, also has geographical issues (the placement of the seas, the narrow neck of land and so on) and I find the cultural case unconvincing. But then again, while I think they have problems, that doesn’t mean they might not be right. My biggest issue isn’t really anything to do with the actual models themselves but where people try to actually read the text of the Book of Mormon itself through their preferred (and unverified) lens. It’s that aspect that fuelled my rather negative reaction to the Journey of Faith 2 DVD (in three parts: 1 2 3), where the insistance on trying to see everything through a Mesoamerican lens led to easily avoidable mistakes like reading an explicit quotation of the Ten Commandments as a reference to Mesoamerican cosmology. I object to any model that leads to misreading scripture, but that’s really a case of people reading it in, rather than the model itself.

In any case, until a conclusive link is found for any model, I can’t help but think that many of these issues may be interesting, but they’re not as important as other matters. Yet – perhaps because of the perceived benefits of actually locating the scriptural scene – it’s definitely consumed a lot of attention. I don’t wish to dissuade any of those interested in the topic from researching it (who knows, after all, what the results will be). But I do think that means that discussions on the topic should really have an assumption of good faith, and avoid some of the accusations that can accompany this topic. And there are good examples of this: this article here, for example, deserves kudos for the author’s (J. Theodore Brandley) calm approach to his views,as does the Interpreter for their willingness to publish something at odds with their preferred approach and a couple of the commentators (such as Brant Gardner) for calmly engaging even where they disagree.

In the meantime, however, and as much as I find these topics interesting from time to time, I find my attention is attracted to other topics. From personal experience, I’ve found conclusive answers to matters of faith (such as the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon) come through revelation, rather than a firm geographical hypothesis. And beyond that question, I find I personally want to devote my time to questions I believe may well of be greater importance. The most vital questions about the Book of Mormon to my mind are not where but what: not where the book took place, but what it has to to teach us, what it has to say about what God is about to do, and what it has to say about what we should do.

The Adventures of Nephi son of Helaman

In my personal study I’ve be reading through the travails of Nephi son of Helaman (Helaman 7-11) lately, and really was just struck by the following points, and since it’s good to share:

1) Nephi is accused at one point of personal ambition, that he was seeking to make himself “a great man” (Helaman 9:16) and so had conspired for someone to murder the chief judge. What struck me on this read through is how this may well have seemed outwardly plausible to the people at the time, since Nephi himself had been chief judge (Helaman 3:37, 5:1-4). The circumstances of his abdication might have seemed particularly controversial, for while we learn from 5:4 that he was ‘weary’ of the judgment-seat and undertook to preach the Gospel as Alma had done earlier, the fact that this came in the wake of the Nephites losing half their territory (Helaman 4) and that Nephi appeared to lack political support (5:2-3) may have led many to think Nephi was seeking to reclaim an earlier position of power via other means. And perhaps we too need to be cautious about assuming what appear to be ‘obvious’ motives.

2) The attitude of the five who went to check on the chief judge following Nephi’s prophecy seems important. They didn’t believe Nephi was a prophet, but what I find significant is that they were willing to check and – should it turn out to be correct – expressed the willingness to then believe everything else he had taught (Helaman 9:2). It seemed an illustration of what Alma teaches in Alma 32:27, about how one could “experiment” upon the word and “exercise a particle of faith”. These five didn’t even necessarily “desire to believe”, but they were willing to go and look, and willing to believe all if what they checked was true.

3) The point at which Seantum, the brother and murderer of the chief judge, is accused is very interesting. Nephi tells them precisely what to say, and what Seantum’s replies and reactions will be (Helaman 9:26-36). The actual account of them doing so, however, simply states:

And it came to pass that they went and did, even according as Nephi had said unto them. And behold, the words which he had said were true; for according to the words he did deny; and also according to the words he did confess. (Helaman 9:37)

By giving Nephi’s prophetic instructions in detail, and then not actually giving an account of what happened other than to say it went like Nephi said, I think the passage emphasises the power and accuracy of prophetic fulfilment. It’s saying that Nephi’s prophecy was so accurate, there’s no need to retell it all over again.

4) Finally the section from Helaman 9:39 to 10:1 seems quite ironic. At least some believe Nephi is a prophet (9:40). Others even say “he is a god” (v.41). But amidst all the arguments, even those who claim to believe Nephi “went their ways” and leave Nephi “alone” (Helaman 10:1). That he feels “cast down” (v.3) is quite understandable – even those loudly proclaiming that Nephi is a prophet have wondered off rather than listening to him!