Truth and lies

A few months ago I found myself reflecting on the importance of truth. I had been wondering why I found it difficult when people espoused certain concepts with the claim that these things were “helpful”. I find myself almost instinctively pulling away from such things, but I wondered why I did it, and if I was wrong.

After some pondering, I realised what I found objectionable was the idea that I should accept something because it was helpful, without knowing if it was true, and on a personal level found I had to reexamine myself for those ideas I had come to accept that were unhelpful, and also untrue. Because truth matters, on a cosmic and a personal level.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that God is described as “the spirit of truth” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:23-26), nor that the Brother of Jared’s great statement of faith that permitted him to be redeemed from the fall and enter the presence of God was “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie” (Ether 3:12, my emphasis). In contrast, one of Satan’s preeminent titles after his fall is “the father of all lies”, who aims to “deceive” men (Moses 4:4). We are especially directed to avoid lying about other people (Exodus 20:16), but there is a broader principle at stake: To the extent that we tell and believe truth, we become closer to Our Father in Heaven and Our Saviour. And the extent to which we either tell or believe lies places us closer to the Adversary. And this will be especially important in the times to come, for one attribute of those who are prepared for the Second Coming is that they “have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57).

Truth in the public square

Which takes me to a related topic. Namely the social and legal changes that have been happening in the West concerning marriage, family and identity.

It goes without saying that I oppose these changes. I believe, and the scriptures teach, that these developments are founded on a mistaken idea of human identity, and on what will promote human happiness. They furthermore lead people away from the plan of salvation that God has set. For those who do not know this yet, I invite them to read the words of ancient and modern prophets, and prayerfully seek truth. I believe these will have eternal consequences for individuals and families, and consequences upon the nations involved, as stated in The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets”.

I am furthermore concerned at the wider implications of these developments, upon family stability, in education, in employment and ultimately for freedom of conscience, which has already come under attack. For those Church members who are complacent or supportive of these developments, I invite them to think about what has happened and what will increasingly happen to those who oppose these developments in public.

But there is another aspect of many of these developments that I have found increasingly concerning. And this is what is happening to truths in the public sphere, even self-evident truths that one can recognise regardless of one’s opinions. Regardless of one’s opinions of same-sex “marriage”, said couples cannot have children by themselves. Children attached to such couples are not the children of both, and said children do not have two fathers or two mothers; the truth is that said children have in many cases been deprived of a mother or father respectively (in some cases under very sad circumstances). In such cases we are deliberately creating broken families, and then asserting that everyone involved, including the children themselves, deny the existence of one of their parents. Likewise, regardless of one’s opinion of the efficacy of “sex-reassignment” surgery, someone such as Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner was not “always a woman”, as advocates are arguing (never mind the fact that he actually remains anatomically male!). He was born a man, he fathered children; to support such a rewriting of history, or the rewriting of birth certificates, is not only to deprive children of a father, it is to tell an untruth. Likewise the idea that the US Constitution contained a right to same-sex “marriage” that was somehow undetected for 228 years until found merely by application of the law is manifest nonsense. And so on, along with the notion that the judgement of nine black-robed priests somehow represents a triumph for “democracy”, or the simple intellectual incoherence that goes with believing that sex isn’t innate, but sexual orientation is, and that there is no mental difference between men and women, unless we’re talking about a transsexual man.

This is all bad enough, but is worse for the degree that such untruths are becoming enforced through state recognition, state education and social pressure. Believing untruths is dangerous enough, but saying untruths when we know them to be untrue can be even more so. In 1984, doublethink is the phenomena by which – partly through state action, but partly through the desire to fit in – people knowingly espouse untruths and hold mutually contradictory ideas. Hence the Ministries of Peace, in charge of war, or the Ministry of Truth, with responsibility for propaganda and lies. According to the book, the logical culmination of this would be the insistence that 2+2=5. And this is what we are seeing: the assertion that children have two fathers, the claim that a man and father has always been a woman, or that contractual sexual relationship between partners of any sex constitutes a marriage. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

This knowing acceptance of lies forms a powerful lever of social conditioning by which people can be persuaded of the rightness of actions they know are wrong. It is a way by which people’s moral compasses can be wrenched into untrue forms, so that they lose the capacity to recognise truth and become mental captives. Yet this is not being forged for us by a vicious police state with an all-powerful intelligence apparatus. We have forged these chains for ourselves, so that the saying of truths can be rendered unacceptable and intolerable, and people’s livelihoods ruined, with little state action at all, but the mere noise of the mob. While state action may follow (and the signs aren’t good), and may intensify, we are making ourselves mental slaves entirely by our own hands.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
(Isaiah 5:20)

And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.
(Moses 7:26)

Edit: And in a related issue to this post, it seems the calls for the imposition of taxes on churches and so on haven’t even waited a few days to start. Considering the claims that Same-sex marriage would have zero consequences upon religious freedom or anything else that I heard as recently as (literally) yesterday, I can’t help but regard this as part of the “We have ALWAYS been at War with Eurasia” “We have ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia” mindset I was talking about.

“Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us?”

I came across the following passage today which made me think:

Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?
(Alma 21:5)

The interesting and the ironic thing about the challenge at the end is that the time Aaron saw an angel (and which he is doubtless describing) was when he, his brothers and Alma the Younger were intercepted by an angel as they sought “to destroy the church” (Mosiah 27:10-19). Neither Aaron nor his brothers nor Alma could be described as a good person at that time, and so the angel’s appearance had nothing to do with their personal righteousness.

But it does make me wonder what made the difference – why did an angel appear to them but not the people in this verse. Perhaps God’s knowledge of how they would react played a role? Or perhaps it was the faith and likely prayers of their fathers? And how many spiritual blessings come into our own life undeserved by any goodness on our part, but because of the faith and devotion of others, or God’s extending to us unexpected opportunities?

Job, Jacob, the problem of evil and the “end of history”

The Interpreter has posted an interesting article on Jacob and the problem of evil, here.

I think it has some thought-provoking ideas, but also had some reactions to its comments on Job, its application of Zeno’s allegory of the Olive Tree (Jacob 5) to the problem of evil, and particularly its application of Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis to the allegory which I feel sits at odds with what the allegory is actually talking about. So I ended up commenting, and as often happens the comment grew rather larger than I was expecting, so I’ve reproduced my main comments on it below:

1) I don’t think that Job 42 merely has an intimidated Job accept what has happened as unfathomable mystery. He admits his previous lack of knowledge (“Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” v.3), but his following statement that “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (v.5) suggests that his direct experience of seeing God has taught him something that could not be put into words, and it is the seeing that has given him peace. It may remain an unfathomable mystery to the reader, but not, I believe, to Job.

2) Regarding the Allegory of the Olive Tree, there seems to be a bit of a conflation of different evils and different goods here. The issue of the corruption of the fruit can only refer to Human evils (the only sort that can really be addressed with reference to agency), but not to others, such as those that Job experienced. Likewise that God is doing everything to produce good fruit isn’t the same as ensuring that only good things “enter the lives of his children”; after all, what theodicy in many cases boils down to is the question of why bad things (including many things not caused by any human agency) happen to good people. The distinction between these can be illustrated by the very fact of the poor ground mentioned in this article: the branches planted in the poor and the poorer spot of ground bear good fruit (Jacob 5:21-23), while that planted in a good spot of ground bears wild and tame fruit (v.25). There’s a difference between trying to get people to do good things and ensuring that good things happen to people, and it seems this distinction could be better elaborated. Human agency didn’t pick the poor spot of ground, and many the evils we experience in this life are not directly due to any human agency. God *does* permit many of those sorts of evils, but he also knows what he is doing, hence ‘counsel me not, I knew it was a poor spot of ground’ (Jacob 5:22).

3) I think the equation of what is happening to the tree with Fukuyama’s “End of history” thesis and democratic capitalist states is mistaken:

A) Firstly, in Zenos’ allegory the balance between the root and top is not presented as a spontaneous development of the tree (that is to develop all kinds of fruit, *all* of them bad (v.32) – it is the deliberate result of the those pruning the tree following divine direction to ensure the bad is cleared away as the good grows (v.65-66). Verse 73 records their actions and verse 74 the final results, which are not part of the overall conditions of the current dispensation but rather the millennial state (v.76). There is certain nothing in the allegory that demands this “must be attributed to a change in human consciousness and social practice”, particularly since it is describing a process of divine judgment and the gathering of Israel (a central concern of the Book of Mormon).

B) As Bushman points out in “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution”, the equality Mosiah is talking about in Mosiah 29 is moral accountability (Mosiah 29:30-32,34), as seen by the conclusion of that very verse 38: “and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins”, rather than a posited “open access state”.

C) The picture painted by the Book of Mormon and other scripture certainly doesn’t seem to depict the “end of history”, least of all the picture implied here of a gradual spread of democratic capitalism marking time till the second coming inaugurates a new order. The Book of Mormon (and the allegory in Jacob 5) is centred upon the dramatic divine intervention that will gather Israel and bring judgment upon its oppressors *prior* to the Second Coming (indeed, when the Book of Mormon talks of restoration, it is mostly talking of the restoration of Israel, not the Church). Certainly at least one competing social system will emerge prior to the Second Coming – namely Zion itself. And it is divine power, not “societal commitment”, that will protect the saints.

D) The “end of history” has had rough treatment at the hands of history in the last few decades, and frankly shows every sign of having it rougher yet. *Democratic* capitalism is not expanding, but has been retreating in the face of rival models. If people in previous ages have apostatized from the Gospel, after all, it seems somewhat unlikely that they cannot “apostatize” from democratic capitalism. And it appears to be a big assumption that any “firm societal commitment to mutual recognition and toleration of even unpopular beliefs and practices” will continue. In the West, every sign seems to point in the opposite direction.

I guess as a final comment (that didn’t end up in my comment on the article) I just want to add to that final point (I’d originally began only planning to mention the Job bit!). The allegory in Jacob 5 does depict an “end of history”, it’s just not the end of history Francis Fukuyama talked about: it’s about the gathering of Israel and the cleansing the vineyard, and concludes with the millennial state and mention of the final judgment and the burning preceding the new heaven and new earth. Its scope is far grander than democratic capitalism or any other mortal and perishable social set-up.

Reasons to read the Old Testament #4

Confused at the genealogies in the Gospels? Wonder at who these Jews are, and what they are expecting, and why the Christ was born among them? What is this Temple place? Do you wonder where the titles “son of David” and “son of man” come from, and why they are important? Do you know where Christ got the two great commandments from?

I don’t recall ever reading the New Testament without some familiarity with the Old, so I have trouble imagining what that is like. I do know one is likely to miss a lot, though. The history of the people of the New Testament is established in the Old. The New quotes the Old frequently (often without saying so), and the meaning of many key phrases can only be understood in light of the Old. Christ and the Apostles were immersed in the Old Testament, teaching many people who were likewise immersed, and about things that are the culmination of the Law and many of the prophecies and hopes of the Old Testament writers. One reason for Latter-day Saints to read the Old Testament then is simply because it will allow them to better understand the New Testament.