Alma 1

And so on to the book of Alma. The first chapter details the attempts of one Nehor to spread his false teachings (namely a version of universalism – the belief that everyone will be saved, and so consequently, that no one needs to repent – and of priestcraft: the idea that priests and teachers should be “popular” and be financially supported by the people), and his consequent trial and execution after he murders Gideon. His career is thus short-lived, although his teachings will have far greater staying power.

What stood out to me upon reading this book, however, emerged from the book heading (remember that – unlike the chapter headings, which are mere aids and not part of the text – most of the book headings are part of the scriptural text):

The account of Alma, who was the son of Alma, the first and chief judge over the people of Nephi, and also the high priest over the Church. An account of the reign of the judges, and the wars and contentions among the people. And also an account of a war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, according to the record of Alma, the first and chief judge.

(Heading to Alma, my emphasis)

As I read the header today, the repeated mentions of war really stood out to me. The book of Alma is notorious for spending quite a bit of space and time describing the wars that take place at this time, and I understand that some find the resulting “war chapters” hard to read or less interesting (I actually quite like them, but there you go), or even at odds with what they expect scripture to speak about. Funnily enough, these won’t be the most destructive conflicts in the Book of Mormon (that easily belongs to those in the books of Mormon & Ether), but the accounts in Alma are far more detailed, covering deployments, fortifications, equipment, strategies, logistics, propaganda, moral conduct in war and leading commanders and so on. And while the wars haven’t begun yet (don’t worry, one will start in chapter two!), the header warns us it will be a prominent topic.

Of course, that raises the question of why. I’m not the only one to make suggestions along these lines, but there’s several reasons I can think of (there may be yet more none of us has thought of yet!):

1) The war chapters can be read symbolically. There’s a variety of episodes in these chapters that readers over the years have read in a symbolic fashion as applying to us, even if we’re not involved in a physical war. Thus episodes like the stripling warriors, or Captain Moroni’s fortification efforts, or Amalickiah poisoning “by degrees”, have been read almost allegorically as either approaches we apply spiritually or warnings against possible dangers. I think much of this may be deliberate: the note at the beginning of Amalickiah’s plot amongst the Lamanites that he was “a very subtle man” (Alma 47:4) strikes me as a deliberate echo of Genesis 3:1. making Amalickiah a type of the serpent, and thus of Satan, much as other scriptural figures are types of Christ.

Why would war be a particularly good setting for such symbolism? I think perhaps because of the particular threat that wars represent. There’s a number of things that can present a collective existential threat to human beings aside from war: earthquakes, volcanoes, meteorite impacts, famine, floods, and disease of course. But only in the case of war is there an active mind guiding the actions of the enemy that wishes to do harm. But this is the best analogy for the situation we face spiritually: on a spiritual level we all face an existential threat – one that wishes to do harm to our very souls – and moreover one that is not simply a random act of nature, but which is guided by cunning, indeed “subtle” minds who wish to make us eternally miserable. Indeed, this conflict, even before it was extended to Earth, has already been called a war. This threat, of course, is principally spiritual, not physical, and so must many of our defences be. Yet just as victory in physical war requires courage, determination, vigilance and and all-out effort, so will victory in this spiritual war we all face.

2) War is an extreme situation. The true test of our commitment to any principal, including the gospel, is not when the situation is easy, but when it is hard. War is an extreme situation, compared to the every day lives most of us have been living, and so it is a crucible in which we see people’s determination to hold to and live the gospel be really tested, a refiner’s fire in which some “become hardened”, and in which others “humble themselves before God” (Alma 62:41). Many of us may not face war in our every day lives, but we will face situations which are far more challenging than our typical lives, points in which we get tested in extremis. Knowing that some have managed to live the gospel in similarly challenging times, and seeing how they did it, can be instructive.

3) We may face war one day ourselves. Much of the Western world has had a comparatively easy life for the last few decades: we have lived in unimaginable prosperity compared to most of our predecessors, while the threat of war has been remote. Oh, war has taken place, but largely at a remove from our own lands: it has affected many abroad, and also many servicemen who’ve gone to serve in those conflicts, but aside from acts of terrorism has largely left our own lives untouched.

Both history and the Book of Mormon would teach us not to assume this will always be the case. It’s funny that we speak during the present coronavirus pandemic of things “getting back to normal”, but while the lockdown is weird (and probably unsustainable in view of human nature), our lives beforehand weren’t “normal” compared to most of human history. They may never quite come back in that way. We face an economic crisis first; war is a frequent companion. Even if things recover swiftly at this stage (and perhaps they might), we cannot assume the comparatively idyllic period we have experienced will always remain the case. At some stage, war will affect people in our own lands. It is a human phenomenon, and as scripture is given by God to addresses all the challenges we humans face, I expect war to feature within.

And war does bring its own specific challenges. I think it no coincidence, for example, that the Book of Mormon – particularly in Alma – talks about moral conduct in warfare, for instance. War brings unique moral challenges, and a situation in which one could very easily lose their way. There is more in these chapters that I am sure those faced with such a situation can and will find value in. So if perhaps we’re amongst those who don’t find these chapters especially relevant right now, perhaps we should count ourselves fortunate. We should not assume that this will always be the case.

 

 

To prevent economic crisis, fix your culture not the free market | Conservatives Global

An interesting article by Peter Šulek about economic crises and their solutions. He points out how efforts to avoid them via regulations and government intervention don’t work, and argues that the cause of such crises are cultural problems, needing cultural solutions.

The tendency of commentators to ascribe the reasons for the crisis to a failure of the market is shallow and perfunctory. The belief that ever-increasing regulations will prevent another depression is naive. It is in the second motivation that governments should be looking for the answer. Large financial crises are caused by runaway greed, left unchecked by the diminished impact of cultural and societal pressures on ethical behaviour.

Read the rest here: To prevent economic crisis, fix your culture not the free market | Conservatives Global

Shiz versus Coriantumr

A major, but often ignored, theme of the Book of Mormon is the collapse of societies and civilizations. The book concludes by recounting the destruction of both the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations. As I’ve written before, I believe there’s a lot in those accounts that is relevant for the situation we find ourselves in today. There are important differences between the two accounts, however. With the Nephites, they were destroyed by an external adversary, due to their pride, wickedness, and failure to repent despite the mercy the Lord had previously extended to them. While one could see the Nephite-Lamanite divide as a case of polarization, the Lamanites were ultimately spared. In the Jaredite case, however, the conflict was internal, and both sides destroyed themselves in an act of civilizational suicide.

It is perhaps particularly applicable to the social and political climate in which we find ourselves today, that the Jaredites never stopped in their conflict to wonder whether they had any other options. After another period of prolonged conflict, their choices devolve into two: Shiz or Coriantumr. Doubtless there were Jaredites who were exclaiming that everyone must choose, and that it was a binary choice. It was certainly the case that many Jaredites chose their side because of their terror of the other:

And there went a fear of Shiz throughout all the land; yea, a cry went forth throughout the land—Who can stand before the army of Shiz? Behold, he sweepeth the earth before him!

And it came to pass that the people began to flock together in armies, throughout all the face of the land.

And they were divided; and a part of them fled to the army of Shiz, and a part of them fled to the army of Coriantumr.

(Ether 14:18-20)

After all, do you want Shiz/Coriantumr to win? If you don’t choose Coriantumr/Shiz, then all you’re doing is helping Shiz/Coriantumr! At least, many say such things today, and it’s entirely possible that at least some Jaredites said something similar.

Now sometimes there are only a few available choices, and one must try to choose the better one in difficult circumstances. But sometimes, neither choice is correct. Witness Nazism vs Communism on the Eastern front, where two genocidal and evil ideologies faced off, and some choices could be based on but little than “who doesn’t want to kill us right now?” In some cases, there are no good choices. But what would certainly be incorrect in such circumstances is to conclude that, because the other is evil, the other must be good and be embraced. This is a perennial temptation through the ages, a pattern in which we are tempted to accept the evil in one thing merely because it is opposed to another evil thing. As C. S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity:

[The Devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.

The Jaredites became so consumed with their hatred for the other side, they never considered that they didn’t have to choose a side, and that by choosing a side, they would end up destroying both sides. But that was the result of their decisions, even over the heads of their leaders. In perhaps the most interesting part of the account (and one I’ve discussed before), we learn that Coriantumr, though he had rejected repentance earlier, had begun to regret that when faced with the destruction that was happening, and went as far as offering to “give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people” (Ether 15:3-4). Shiz demands Coriantumr’s life as well. It’s possible that Coriantumr rejected that, but any response of his is not recorded. Instead we read (Ether 15:6):

And it came to pass that the people repented not of their iniquity; and the people of Coriantumr were stirred up to anger against the people of Shiz; and the people of Shiz were stirred up to anger against the people of Coriantumr; wherefore, the people of Shiz did give battle unto the people of Coriantumr.

The resumption of hostilities – the final resumption that will conclude in the death of every combatant save Coriantumr – is thus ascribed not to Coriantumr’s reply, or even Shiz’s bloodthirstiness, but to the anger of “the people” of both sides. The people of Coriantumr himself were prepared to keep killing and dying in his cause, even if he himself was prepared to concede at least his position to spare the people.

The only other individual, save Coriantumr, who survived was Ether, who did not pick either side. Yet it was Ether’s legacy – his writings – that continued, which survived the destruction of his whole civilisation and which were preserved for future civilisations to come. It was Ether who ultimately made the most difference, and did the most good, by not choosing either side, but by choosing something higher.

We live in an age in which political and cultural rivals and opponents are increasingly regarded as evil and are called enemies, in an age in which we are increasingly told we must pick a side, and in which increasing numbers are embracing extremism out of fear and hatred of others. This is a familiar account, and one that may well have a similar result. The leap towards violence seems so much smaller once one is dealing with enemies rather than mere opponents you might disagree with. Yet whatever the wider society does, we do not need to embrace evil to fight evil. We can reject such a binary choice. We can choose differently. We can choose higher.

“…if you believe no one was ever corrupted by a book…”

After all, if you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you also have to believe that no one was ever improved by a book (or a play or a movie). You have to believe, in other words, that all art is morally trivial and that, consequently, all education is morally irrelevant. No one, not even a university professor, really believes that.

– Irving Kristol

“Mere morality is not the end of life”

All right, Christianity will do you good a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won’t enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called ‘good’ — all that about ‘leading a decent life’ and ‘being kind’ — isn’t quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can’t be ‘good’ (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn’t have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that ‘a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear — the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.

‘When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away’ (1 Cor 13:10). The idea of reaching ‘a good life’ without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to he accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are ‘done away’ and the rest is a matter of flying.

– from C.S. Lewis, “Man or Rabbit?”

Trump will not save you

I’m still trying to finish my thesis, but outside events do catch my attention from time to time. The US election is obvious a big one. This is a topic I’ve written about at length from time to time. I really do feel that – at least for those on the political right (the Left will have their own trials) – Trumpism is a test of character: one I fear that many have failed. But I am proud and have been rather gratified that many Latter-day Saints have proved resistant to Trump’s charms, such as they are. I would thus be really glad for Utah to vote for a third party, if it only has symbolic immediate consequence (I happen to believe the long-term consequences would be even more important).

However, there are obviously some members who feel differently. That may be for a variety of reasons, some of which I can sympathise with even if I believe it is mistaken. Other arguments I find less sympathetic, such as the arguments found here. I happened to respond to some snippets of that in the comments of another blog, but since I took the time thought I share my response here too, in case anyone else was wondering:


The Truth About Evan McMullin

Rather amusingly, the article swiftly admits they don’t actually know much about Evan McMullin’s career (though they find it surprising that CIA work might be considered “secret”. So what follows is mostly built on the boiler-plate anti-establishment ramblings of an “establishment” conspiracy, where “establishment” includes any rich people not named Donald J. Trump. None of it is based on verifiable facts about one Evan McMullin.

There is a powerful and established section of the Republican leadership (elected officials, party members, big donors) who do not support the values of grassroots conservative Republicans.

And Donald Trump does?

But How? Enter the Mormon Suckers. I am proud to be a Mormon so it pains me to say what I am about say. When the GOP Establishment Never Trumpers and their Clinton allies went looking for a 3rd party spoiler they needed someone with a constituency of sheeple who would follow him regardless of the obvious logical outcome (President Hillary)

“Suckers” and “sheeple”, eh? Good to see the author thinks well of their fellow saints. They then go on to talk about a “weak-minded demographic”. Hmmm…

The Mormon demographic is overwhelmingly pro-life, pro-family, anti-communist, and protective of the Constitution they believe was divinely inspired. So how do you get these folks to throw an election to Hillary Clinton, someone whom most of them revile? It’s a complex but straightforward sociological scheme. In addition to being hardworking, God fearing, Mom, Apple Pie and Baseball loving Americans, Mormons are also some of the biggest suckers in the nation.

Or maybe it’s because you (the author and fellow-travellers) nominated an adulterous, authoritarian, proto-Fascistic sex offender!?

Utah leads the nation in financial fraud schemes.

Considering Trump university, this really starts to look like its projecting. If you’re afraid of fraud, don’t vote for the fraudster!

What follows is a hypothetical extrapolation of the results of a Hillary President – one that revolves around the worst case scenario I might add. For some reason there’s no similar weighing up of the consequences of a Trump presidency, where the Alt-Right run rampant, the 1st Amendment is similarly gutted, and Trump starts a nuclear war at 3am because Xi Jinping said something less than complimentary about him on Twitter.

It’s also rather hilarious that they speak of Hillary’s spending bankrupting the nation, when Trump’s also proposing increased spending… and he’s the one with the track record of going bankrupt.

Read Dennis Prager’s excellent article ‘In Defense of Pro-Trump Christians,’ and then join the millions of other Christians who will be voting Trump to save our country from the terrible alternative.

Many of those Christians (and Dennis Prager) have sold their principles for a mess of pottage. What happened to “character matters”? What happened to principles above that of national aggrandisement? What happened to seeking for one’s nation to be good, and not merely great? Trump won’t save anyone. It verges on blasphemous and idolatrous to look to him as a Saviour. And Prager’s statement that “We hold that defeating Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the Left is also a principle. And that it is the greater principle” literally violates the first commandment.

You need to encourage the less likely voters to go the polls and you need to keep them from the conman.

Please Mormons don’t get suckered into the Con of the Century

This is grimly amusing, considering their claim McMullin is a conman is a baseless slur, while Trump is actually a defendant in a current court case involving fraud!

And sadly, I’ve seen that hypocrisy all too often. To my mind, if there’s one big reason to never vote or support Trump, it’s because almost every one of his supporters seems to lose their moral compass swiftly thereafter.


 

The above was only a brief response to an argument that I’ve sadly seen all too often, though not from LDS sources. Unfortunately, this argument – that any and every principle should be sacrificed so long as Hillary Clinton is defeated is wrong. Were I American, I would not desire Hillary Clinton as President. I’d oppose many of her policies, and be concerned at her tendency for evasion, unaccountability and dishonesty. But she’s not Hitler! But even if the document concerned was absolutely right about the dangers of a Hillary Clinton presidency, to suggest that defeating her is the highest principle presupposes that the highest good is national survival, and our greatest concern the political conditions within it.

Scripture says differently:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

(Exodus 20:3)

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 10:28)

Even religious liberty – while valuable and something we should strive to protect – is not the most valuable principle. The Church through the ages has survived and even thrived under persecution, however unpleasant it may be to experience. Apostasies happen not because of persecution, but because the people go after strange gods, in this case gods of national pride, anger and political power.

To vote for Trump would be to choose a wicked man. That would be bad enough (“When the wicked rule the people mourn”, D&C 98:9), but it also involves surrendering higher principles. To select a man who openly and pathologically lies (look up the whole “John Barron” case) is to abandon the standard of honesty. To choose a predator who not only boasts of adultery, but has boasted of sexual assault is to make any defence of the family sheer hypocrisy. To choose a man who has pledged to order torture and retaliatory killings (that is, war crimes): to follow a course that we particularly as Latter-day Saints should be aware was followed by the Nephites and Jaredites of old, for which they were utterly destroyed.

I believe one can already see some of the moral consequences of the Trump campaign clearly. There’s the sudden increase – in just five years – of Evangelical acceptance of immorality in political leaders. There’s the mainstreaming of the fascistic and racist ideals of the so-called “Alt-Right”. There’s what some of the vocal opponents to Trump are already experiencing at the hands of his supporters. I believe to support him runs serious risks to one’s sense of integrity and morality. We know it does not profit a man to gain the whole world at the cost of his soul, but to gain Trump?

I also believe, however, that there can be lasting consequences for passing the Trumpian test. LDS resistance to Trump has attracted media attention in both the US and in the UK, and doubtless elsewhere too. I believe the idea that there is something in the Church that has helped people see with moral clarity will attract the honest in heart. Resisting Trump is not only the right thing to do, but it may well attract some to the message of the restored gospel, a message that will be of far longer-lasting importance than the fate of any nation.

O ye fair ones

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

(Mormon 8:35)

I am driven to read and understand the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures for a number of reasons. Doing my doctoral thesis on the topic is part of that. But more importantly than this – and a major part of the reason I’ve been willing to spend years on this in the first place – is the fact that I’ve had a spiritual witness that it is scripture, that it is the word of God. As such I know that they contain principles of eternal worth, as well as things that are prophetically relevant to our present day.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, there are parts of the Book of Mormon that I believe have never been more relevant than they are today. While part of the message of the Book of Mormon is one of hope and deliverance for scattered Israel (including the descendents of the Lamanites), that deliverance is coupled with the promise of judgment upon the proud, the wicked and the Gentiles that have oppressed them:

For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

(1 Nephi 22:15-17)

I’ve likewise discussed before how this warning applies particularly to the Gentile nations of the West, and especially to the United States. The accounts of the destruction of the Nephites and afterwards (in the book, earlier chronologically) the Jaredites are there not just because they’re part of the story, but as dire warnings of what we risk. They’re in the book so that “ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Mormon 9:31) and “that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done” (Ether 2:11).

 

“Be more wise than we have been”

One could examine both the fall of the Nephites and that of the Jaredites at length, but even just a few of their salient features are striking. The Jaredites destroyed themselves in the last of a constant series of civil wars. And while many of those civil wars can be laid at the feet of ambitious princes (it appears it was the custom for the youngest son to inherit, which would promote strife between older sons who could be disinherited and their fathers), at the end it was the communal will of the people that pushed them on into mutual annihilation. Coriantumr, that last and complicated king of the Jaredites, had grown to regret his failure to repent, and offered to “give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people” (Ether 15:3-4). His opponent Shiz demanded Coriantumr’s own life, but we don’t even hear of Coriantumr’s response; rather it is “the people”, both of Coriantumr and Shiz, who were “stirred up to anger” (Ether 15:5-6). It is because of “the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge” that the Jaredite people perished (Moroni 9:23).

Our account of the Nephites is explicitly censored by our chief witness (Mormon 2:18), but enough slips through (especially in unedited passages like Moroni 9) to provide a sufficient picture. The Nephites faced an external enemy, the Lamanites, who by this stage were prepared to commit atrocities such as human sacrifice (Mormon 4:14). Yet despite this outer peril, it was not this which destroyed the Nephites. “Because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake” (Mormon 1:17), and they sorrowed, not because they were penitent but because “the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). They “did curse God, and wish to die”, though “they would struggle with the sword for their lives” (Mormon 2:14; perhaps we might the latter admirable, yet that is perhaps a sign of how far we have fallen). In but “a few years” they became “strong in their perversion”, “brutal”, “without principle and past feeling” and “their wickedness [did] exceed that of the Lamanites” (Moroni 9:12, 19-20).

But perhaps the most crucial turning point came after a ten year truce and the resumption of the war. Lead by Mormon, the Nephites defeated several attacks. Their response was fateful:

And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.

And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.

And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying:

Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth.

(Mormon 3:9-10, 14-15)

The Nephites fell because of their pride (Mormon 8:27, D&C 38:39), because rather than repent of their sins they desired to avenge themselves upon their enemies, and in so doing so violated God’s commandments (including those restricting warfare) wantonly. “Every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually” (Mormon 4:11), and consequently the Lord’s spirit ceased to strive with them (Mormon 5:16), and when that happens “then cometh speedy destruction” (2 Nephi 26:11).

 

“I speak unto you as if ye were present”

How can one miss the meaning of these passages? Mormon and Moroni write with one eye on their past and present, but always with one eye to the future they are seeking to warn. For the Gentiles too face the same fate unless they repent:

And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?

Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?

Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

(Mormon 5:22-24)

I have watched the US Presidential campaign with intense concern. On one side there is the increasing madness on the campuses and the anger expressed by those who claim to seek “social justice” even as they detach themselves from any concepts of objective truth. On the other, I have watched as people have embraced a figure who appears to reject every principle they claim they embraced, a man who is an inveterate and pathological liar and one who has boasted of his adulteries. I have seen that candidate advocate torture and insist he will order war crimes, and his ratings go up. I have heard even worse from some of his supporters, many of whom (even those who aren’t actual Nazis) embrace a proto-fascism. I have seen and read many of his supporters talk of their “anger”, their desire for vengeance on their perceived enemies, and their belief that everything – including any kind of moral principle – comes second to raw power and making America “great” again.

It is perhaps little surprising that the word of God says of the latter days that “at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Nephi 28:20). I have felt that temptation myself as I have seen these things. But anger and pride will destroy us, as they destroyed the Nephites who sought to make Nephitia great again.

One cannot establish justice – any justice – without truth. One cannot make a nation truly great unless you also seek for it to be good, a principle understood by at least some patriots of old. Yet these seem little understood now. On the right, a few voices still speak out speaking against Trump. My respect for those voices – figures such as the Bush clan, Mitt Romney, Senator Ben Sasse or political commentators such as Jonah Goldberg – has increased significantly. But they seem increasingly lonely as much of the ‘base’ and political establishment fall in line, and they are vilified as “evil”; truly we live in an age in which men “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Our societies are embracing evil.

I cannot claim to know with perfection what the future brings, but I am pessimistic as to the future of the United States and the West as a whole. I believe events like this present election have been a test, and a test that collectively is being failed. But I also believe there is an individual test here, and where people stand on many of these things will be remembered and accounted for. I have been very glad to see that many Latter-day Saints have rejected the siren song of Trumpism, and I hope Utah and other places continue to do so. For those members who I have seen embrace Trump’s campaign, who I have seen express the view that all acts are acceptable in warfare because the only thing that matters is winning, and who have embraced a campaign built on national aggrandizement without principle, I hope that they look again upon the Book of Mormon. I hope they look and see an all too familiar path and turn away from it, because to support these things is to pull down the wrath of God upon ourselves.

There may be little hope for the West as a whole. All civilizations are ultimately mortal. Yet there is still hope, and always is, for the souls within, which are truly eternal, and so we must continue to labour (Moroni 9:6). But this is a period in which – in many different ways – those souls will have to choose, and many of those choices will have eternal significance, regardless of where the rest of society goes. There is also a work that perhaps we should now turn to with increasing seriousness and determination, namely the work of building Zion; something, which should now be apparent, which is not the culmination of the West but its replacement. I plan to turn to that sometime in the next couple of posts. In the meantime, however, one can perhaps still mourn for the tragedy of where our civilization is and where it appears to be going. In Mormon’s words:

O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.

(Mormon 6:17-20)

Fantasy, morality and “the Tao”

Stories can be powerful things. I think it is no accident that much of our scriptures come in the form of stories; God, if he’d wanted to, could have chosen instead to give us an inspired Gospel Principles manual… but he didn’t. And in many instance I believe that – while it is important to know that such events took place (particularly with things like Christ’s resurrection) – in many instances there are messages we can learn from those stories that go far beyond the simple fact that such events took place. And I’m not alone in that: Paul writing to the Corinthians states the scriptural events  “happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11) while Alma looks upon the account of Lehi and Nephi’s journeys through the wilderness as a “type” of our journey through mortality (Alma 37:38-45).

Fiction too can teach powerful things. While fiction can’t serve the same purpose as, say, Christ’s ministry in 3 Nephi (where the text’s ability to serve as a witness depends very much on it having actually happened), I think fiction can teach of true things. I personally enjoy quite a bit of both fantasy and science fiction, for instance, but I’ve long been persuaded that – while talking of quite unreal things – they can teach of really true things like courage, justice, duty, humility and many other things. Balrogs and magic rings may not exist, but the seductive appeal of power and its corrupting effects seen in The Lord of the Rings does.

I occasionally have a desire to write some stories that have been on my mind for a long while, so I think of this sort of thing occasionally. In the last couple of years, my attention has been drawn to more recent fictional franchises, and as it has I’ve become a little more aware, and slightly disturbed, by the “moral universes” depicted in those works. What I mean by that is the morality and the moral consequences displayed in those works. This has been justified as “more realistic” or more “gritty”. But they are not. Even a godless world would be simply amoral, yet in these created worlds fate itself bends so that evil triumphs, even when said perpetrators of evil have behaved in a stupid, reckless or short-sighted manner. The accusation is that works in which good wins because it is good are naive. In some cases it is. But what then are we to make of works in which evil wins simply because it is evil? I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the postulated moral landscape of some of these universes are not godless worlds; they have a god, and he is the devil. A world in which chance itself reliably rewards the most outrageous performer of evil is one based on a thoroughly unpleasant calculus. What sort of world is that imagining? What can that inspire or teach?

So I was very interested to come across the following article by some chap called Tom Simon, who explores this whole issue in fantasy in some depth drawing upon C.S Lewis’s concept of “the Tao“. The whole thing is worth a read, but a couple of highlights:

When I turn from real life to fiction, I find a curious difference. In the stories of the past – in nearly all fiction before, say, the late nineteenth century, and all popular fiction until a much later date – the Tao is taken for granted; only there is a class of people who do not observe the Tao. These people are called criminals, or outlaws, or villains. In the older kind of fiction, the villain upsets the Tao to take advantage of a weaker party, and the hero restores the Tao by avenging the victim.

He then covers some of the directions that fantasy literature has taken, including anti-heroes such as a Conan, the supposed “simplistic” Tolkien (a critique he neatly dismantles) and then the more recent “full-throated reaction against the Tao” seen in things like Game of Thrones and Sin City. And he goes into both why such works caricature reality and why they may be so popular today as they cater “to a thoroughly jaded and desensitized audience”

However, I particularly like how he finishes. His essay is not a counsel of despair, but rather a call for “superversive fiction”:

…But people want stories about violence and criminality? Very well; let us tell them. But let us tell the whole story, with the post-mortems and the blood feuds and the vengeance. And let us contrast it with some instances of actual heroism…

There does, I believe, come a revulsion; a point where people are no longer content to be fifteen-year-old rebels even in their fantasies, but want more sustaining food for their imaginations. Let us be there to give it to them. We can produce better effects – better conflicts – with chiaroscuro, with darkness and light, than the nihilists can ever produce by layering darkness upon darkness.

I highly recommend reading it all.

 

God has spoken

Today I have came across an article, presumably by someone claiming to be a member of the Church, that makes the argument that God has never spoken on the subject of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I don’t seek these things out – I’m usually just browsing other blogs that I do like to read when I come across things like this. As it happens this article is hosted on the blog of an academic who is likewise a member, but who rejects the Church’s core beliefs and has prominent and publicly campaigned for their change. Following my general policy, I will not provide a link here to either this article or blog here, but I feel the argument itself must be addressed. This argument is based on the idea that modern revelation (including the Book of Mormon) do not address either homosexuality or same-sex marriage directly, and therefore God hasn’t said anything.

This latter claim is very wrong.

Modern revelation (at least the canonical material – the article tries to rule out both the Family Proclamation and anything said by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) indeed doesn’t address this subject directly. But that should hardly be surprising, since the Gospel encompasses so much more, and for most of us our sins, which would damn us just as surely, lie in other areas (one would think they would appreciate this sense of perspective). The only reason leaders have been and have had to have been more vocal on this issue recently is precisely because of the societal and legal pressure to deny God’s law in this area. Our personal sins, in any area, tend not to be a major threat to the Church as a whole. When people, both outside and inside the Church, do not believe that God has given commandments and campaign to change the Church’s teachings on this issue or any other issue, then the salvation of thousands is threatened. Modern scripture has plenty to say about that. But in any case it is true that our current canonical modern revelation does not comment directly on the specific issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

But that’s partly because they don’t need to. The article tries to quote the ninth article of faith, but in ignoring its first clause the author wrests the scriptures: “We believe all that God has revealed”. One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon itself is to confirm the truth of biblical teachings:

For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

(Mormon 7:9)

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

(2 Nephi 3:12)

Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

(Doctrine and Covenants 20:11)

Since said modern revelation points to the Bible, one can’t simply choose to ignore it, as the article does (a big mistake). The article tries to claim that the only comments in the Bible on these subjects are those of Paul and in Deuteronomy. Firstly, these comments – for thousands of years – have not been considered to be remotely confusing on this topic. Moreover, not only does Paul mention the issue several times (in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6), but Deuteronomy is not the sole other reference (that the author missed Leviticus’s rather famous verse on this topic indicates at the very least profound carelessness). But most importantly, Christ himself addressed the topic of marriage, including notably in the following passage:

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

(Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:23-24)

Sure Christ is using this reasoning to condemn divorce, as some commentators attempt to protest. It should surely be no surprise he’s not a fan of that either. But it is his reasons for such a condemnation that should attract our attention here: he bases this upon a divine commandment for marriage, one rooted in the fact that God “at the beginning made them male and female”, that marriage was the union of these two opposites, and such unions were intended to be permanent.

God most surely has spoken about lots of things, and will speak about many more. However, one can only conclude that God is silent upon this topic if one ignores “all that God has revealed”.

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.