“Be not troubled”

I am somewhat amused to see that people are now looking at my “Trump will not save you post”. It’s a tad late now!

As I’ve mentioned before, the US election was in many respects lost some time ago, when it became the Alien vs Predator election. However, as I happened to mention on Facebook today, I actually feel completely calm at the latest turn of events (although I am disappointed Utah ultimately voted for Trump). This is not because I believe bad things won’t happen. In fact I’ve repeatedly posted about how they will. I also believe the scriptural warnings I mention here in the Book of Mormon are especially relevant.

But as I stated on Facebook, its those same warnings that paint a bigger picture. There are certain things that must happen, to pave the way and make room for things – including good things – that are to come. And so I feel reassured when I see prophecy unfold, even if it foretells unwise choices and unfortunate events in the short term, because it shows a greater hand is involved. Human nations and civilisations may and will crumble, and politics won’t save anyone, but the human soul and divine promises are eternal. God will not save certain nations from their mistakes, but he will deliver the faithful and those who seek to do right.

On a personal and selfish note, I’d like to thank the American electorate for making the third and fifth chapters of my thesis much more relevant. 🙂

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)

The fulness of wrath and the voice of the people

It is a matter of surprise to me, that many people – who believe the Book of Mormon to be scripture, believe it was written for our day and read it regularly – never ask themselves as to why it spends so much of its time describing the death of civilizations.

The Book of Mormon itself, as far as I read it, is quite plain on the matter:

And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.

And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.

For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.

(Ether 2:8-10)

And after that ye were blessed then fulfilleth the Father the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed—unto the pouring out of the Holy Ghost through me upon the Gentiles, which blessing upon the Gentiles shall make them mighty above all, unto the scattering of my people, O house of Israel.

And they shall be a scourge unto the people of this land. Nevertheless, when they shall have received the fulness of my gospel, then if they shall harden their hearts against me I will return their iniquities upon their own heads, saith the Father.

(3 Nephi 20:27-28)

And I say unto you, that if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people—

Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.

(3 Nephi 20:15-16)

And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, 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)

Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me…

(2 Nephi 28:32)

Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you…

(Mormon 8:41).

I believe that’s pretty clear.

 

On a not unrelated note: it is to be Trump versus Clinton. I’ve made my views on that clear. Lest this be construed as anti-US triumphalism, it is not. I don’t see us heading anywhere better. And all civilizations perish. But the United States is presently the centre of Western civilization, the imperial metropole. It used to aspire to being “a shining city on a hill”. It had become instead a great and spacious building without foundation, and its prophetic fate in the Book of Mormon is clear. And the tragedy is that many people have chosen this. Some unwittingly, some out of lack of wisdom or prudence. But they have chosen it.

It is the people who have chosen to pitch a corrupt and unprincipled dynast against a boastful, lying, fraudulent philander who openly talks of violating the US constitution and ordering the US military to commit war crimes. In the words of H. L. Mencken, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” It is the people who have brought this upon themselves, and the people who will ultimately suffer. Trump’s campaign may have lied, but it is his supporters who have embraced those lies, who have ignored all truth to contrary and ignored the demands of conscience in favour of vengeance and pride. Trump’s campaign has been a morally corrosive campaign for a morally corrupt people.

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

(Mosiah 29:27)

And if they perish it will be like unto the Jaredites, because of the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge.

(Moroni 9:23)

 

2 Nephi 23

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.

(2 Nephi 23:19-22//Isaiah 13:19-22)

It’s not been unknown for believers in Western nations to see their nation as inheritors of or as a new Israel. This is perhaps best known in the case of the United States (so much so that commentators have assumed – wrongly – that the Book of Mormon is in the same tradition), but it’s also appeared in different forms in England (such as during the Commonwealth).

Yet I can’t help but feel (and believe the Book of Mormon’s own passages support this) that when the Book of Mormon quotes such passages of Isaiah as above, it is treating Western nations not as the new Israel, but the new Babylon or Assyria. Which cities, after all, are the Babylon or Nineveh of our times? Which cities are “the glory of kingdoms” today?

Such passages should and must be taken as a warning, especially against placing any confidence or finding any security in such current greatness. Nineveh and Babylon were glorious and mighty in their day, but such worldly glory and power were fleeting. It will be fleeting for us, too.

The Trumpocalypse and the fall of the West

So far in the US primary season I’ve found one thing the best predictor of results: namely to think of the very worst thing that can happen. So I’m not too optimistic about Super Tuesday slowing the rise of Trump and his supporters.

Trump himself I’d find bothersome enough, but it’s some of his supporters that I find truly frightening. Trump simply panders and caters to that crowd, and indeed my greatest fear is not that he’ll get in and then betray them, it’s that he’ll get in and continue to enable them. I object to the hypocrisy that indulges in ridiculous ideological purism about everyone else, but drops all standards when it comes to Trump, just as I find it aggravating to see self-proclaimed Christians talk about how they refused to vote for Mitt Romney but are happily embracing Trump, because while he boasts of his adulteries at least he’s not a Mormon. But it’s darker currents that I find most disturbing, as I have elaborated on before.

It’ll be bad enough if they destroy the Republic in their efforts to punish their perceived enemies by “burning it all down”. Unfortunately some Trump supporters wish to spread such burning much further: I don’t know that I’ve had quite so many online conversations where people openly talk of embracing Genghis Khan’s example, and who believe it’d be perfectly acceptable to respond to random terrorist outrages by nuking Middle Eastern cities. It’s rather dispiriting how blasé they are when you point out this would murder millions of innocent people including millions of children. Apparently murdering innocent by-standers is perfectly acceptable when faced with an opponent with little respect for human life. They haven’t thought this through: such a concept is not only monstrous, it is stupid. Why will murdering other people’s children stop terrorists? And how is anyone different from said terrorists if they pursue such approaches?

It’s funny, because in one respect I share some common ground with these Trump supporters. I too believe the West is facing an existential crisis. And I believe certain external problems, such as terrorism, have to be faced with a certain realism. But the real threat to the West is not external, it’s internal – it’s our own loss of bearings: of capacity, of purpose, of morality, of goodness. Indulging in genocidal fantasies – worse still carrying them out – does not save any of this! Such evils cannot save the West; they can only raise the question as to whether it should be saved.

This is rather a pessimistic post, but all these exchanges have brought to mind is Mormon’s lament in Moroni 9. Mormon himself censors his experiences for his latter-day audience, explaining that “upon these plates I did forbear to make a full account of their wickedness and abominations, for behold, a continual scene of wickedness and abominations has been before mine eyes ever since I have been sufficient to behold the ways of man” (Mormon 2:18). But Moroni 9 is a letter to his son that Moroni chooses to include. As a result it’s one of the most grim passages of the Book of Mormon, as we get to glance at the atrocities that Mormon has hitherto only alluded to.

But it’s his lament that gets my attention, as he contemplates how on earth his people could have ended up as the monsters they’d become:

O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization—

(And only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people)

But O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination—

How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?

(Moroni 9:11-14)

And there are times when I wonder at how far we have fallen, and how much lower we have to go.

Naivety

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.

Immigration

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.).

Reasons to read the Old Testament #3

I’ve mentioned that I’ve always loved the stories of the Bible. What I should probably confess is that I’ve had a long love of the particularly gory ones. Ehud killing the fat king of Moab (Judges 3), Jael putting a tent peg through Sisera’s temples (meaning his head, not a place of worship, Judges 4), Elijah’s epic confrontation with the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18), I loved and love them all. And I know I’m not the only one, for I distinctly remember Blood and Honey, a children’s television programme that involved Tony Robinson giving particularly vivid retellings of the Old Testament stories on location. I loved that too (sadly it doesn’t appear to be available on DVD).

But I know some people don’t quite have the same appreciation for these stories that I do, which I think is sometimes a shame (particularly when that aversion leads them to sanitize such things for youth who might actually find, as I did, such stories appealing). Yet I believe these stories and others that may jar with people’s sensibilities have value beyond that of my own entertainment. I believe, in fact, that what they offer is so valuable that they are a strong reason to read the Old Testament. While each story carries its own lessons, I believe there are three broad points that should lead even those who are averse to such tales to take them seriously:

1) Such stories have a lot to teach about right and wrong. This might seem particularly jarring considering what I’ve just mentioned, and the rather long list of unpleasant acts that can and do occur in such stories. But just because something is described in the Old Testament doesn’t mean that it is being approved by the Old Testament. And Old Testament narrative in particular can often use quite subtle techniques, such as allusion and narrative repetition, to convey its moral viewpoint. Thus Jacob’s trickery of Isaac, where he disguises himself as his brother to gain his father’s blessing (Genesis 27), appears in rather a different light when Jacob just a few chapters later is similarly fooled by Laban into marrying the wrong sister (Genesis 29). Judah’s inappropriate relations with Tamar (Genesis 38) are condemned by their juxtaposition with the account of Joseph resisting temptation (Genesis 39). These stories provide paradigms of both right and wrong doing, and have much to teach anyone paying attention.

2) Such stories can teach us about the difference between our ways and the Lord’s ways. While the above point applies to many such stories in the Old Testament, it doesn’t apply to every story that may offend modern sensibilities. In some cases acts that we may consider wrong under normal circumstances are commanded by the Lord directly, or practices may be apparently endorsed that we are uneasy with. Such stories, however, may well teach us something similar to the account of Nephi killing Laban in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 4). The Lord’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and he may on occasion command us to do things that go against our preconceived political, social and religious opinions. Indeed in many respects He seems to make a habit of it. The stories of the Old Testament can also offer a particular challenge to our social mores, those things we might consider the obviously natural and right way of doing things simply because they’re what we know and have grown up with. They may help us resist the myth of progress, and resist the temptation to consider our modern social arrangements part of the eternal Gospel – even such things, to take an aforementioned trivial example, as modern courtship rituals once we consider the stories of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24) or Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3-4).

3) Such stories are honest. This honesty can be seen in two ways. The first is to compare it with what else was being written from that time period. The records of the Egyptian Pharaohs, for example, glorify their victories, selectively remove any mention of their defeats and even remove mention of particular rulers who their successors preferred to forget (such as Hatshepsut). In contrast consider the Old Testament’s treatment of Moses and David: the great lawgiver who spoke with the Lord face to face, and Israel’s greatest king and founder of a dynasty. While Moses is undoubtedly depicted as a figure to be emulated, we are not spared his mistakes and are informed that the Lord prevented him from entering into the promised land because of just such a mistake (Numbers 27:12-14). Meanwhile David’s adultery with Bath-Sheba and his murder of Uriah is not only depicted, but fiercely condemned by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-12).

But there is another aspect to the honesty of these stories too, and one which bears on their sometimes unsavoury nature. The “horrible” things described in these stories happen. They’re not just stories, and they’re not even just a reflection of conditions in the ancient world. They happen today. We are accustomed to being comfortable in the modern West, but when one looks around the world today there are places where these things happen. Nor is the West immune to such things: some horrific things happen in dark corners out of sight, while just seven decades ago Europe was wracked with war and atrocities that make a mockery of any claims to modern moral progress. They are part of our recent past, they are (across the world, and even hidden amongst us) parts of our present, and we cannot assume they will not form part of our future. Scripture, if it is to be a saving influence on human beings, must deal honestly with the human condition. It must be able to acknowledge the horrible things they do, the horrible things they can experience and the extreme responses such circumstances might call for, in order to provide divine guidance for such times. It is this understanding, I feel, that helps us understand why certain things happen (or are even commanded) in the Old Testament, and why the Old Testament talks about them. We may feel uneasy with them in our present ease, but the time may come – and undoubtedly the time will come for some – when the Old Testament’s account of extreme times is more relevant than ever.

The ‘Crisis in Masculinity’, Addiction and ‘Dating’ (Hey, I didn’t make this connection!)

Daniel Peterson (the former editor of the FARMS review) has posted a link on his blog and some comments of his own on a newspaper piece talking of a ‘crisis of masculinity’,and its connection to excessive gaming and pornography use. I think both (the blog and the newspaper article) are worth reading and thinking about, though there were a few points that I ended up responding to in the comments, both about said crisis and about the association made in the blog with lack of dating in a singles ward. Since it ended up being a lengthy comment, I thought I might as well put it here too (with a couple of clarifications):

Firstly, I think there’s undoubtedly a crisis in masculinity: look at male suicide rates. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Men under 50 in the UK, and this appears to reflect a common trend across the West. Unfortunately that also indicates the issues involved are more deep-seated than the two suggested addictions. Addictions are very often as much a symptom of intense personal difficulties as they are the cause of them (though they undoubtedly exacerbate them), flawed attempts at escaping a situation. And thinking upon it, the suicide rates suggest the ‘crisis’ is also affecting men who are far too old to have grown up under the influence of computer gaming, which the article itself appears to suggest is a causal factor – undoubtedly other can addictions take their place, but any pervasive crisis also has deeper issues.

Unfortunately it really feels that a lot of the time men are simply berated for this, rather than actually encouraged in a meaningful way to be able to do better. There needs to be a better response (and I believe the Gospel can offer a better response).

Specifically on the dating thing though, a few observations from my perspective:

1) I was in a singles ward for three years, and know full well that the Bishopric were less than happy at the level of dating going on. But there were a range of things going on that simply telling off the males wouldn’t have fixed. The 3-1 (sometimes 4-1) ratio probably didn’t help (and unfortunately at least some of the female members of the ward I spoke to simply didn’t realise how easy it is not to be noticed amongst 120 other people, particularly if they felt they shouldn’t even go to the effort of introducing themselves to people).

2) I undoubtedly didn’t help the statistics. Truthfully I’ve only been on a handful of dates in my life. But this wasn’t from lack of desire, but the fact that I didn’t (and still don’t) have a clue. I’d been very lucky in that ward to fall in with the right group of people and had some good friends (of both genders), in a way I hadn’t really had before in my life; but that area continued to confuse me, and the few experiences I had were not positive. I always felt intensely bad after each attempt at dating and found the whole thing intensely difficult and didn’t know why. Undoubtedly part of my difficulties was a then undiagnosed case of high functioning autistic spectrum disorder, along with what might be conservatively termed a somewhat negative self-image. Under those circumstances, more suggestions that I was somehow offending people even without doing anything because of my failures in this area would not have (and still don’t) help. The idea in some quarters that this is somehow a sin is even more stressful: I have enough sins to worry about!

3) Based on observation though, everyone seems a bit confused, and not just those of us who’d find *any* social rules confusing. And I think one problem at present may be dating itself: Dating is not an eternal principle.

Dating is a particular courtship pattern from a relatively brief period of Western history, that worked because it was generally easy to harmonise with eternal principles. But the Church didn’t choose to practice it out of some sort of conscious choice – it practised it because the surrounding Western culture did too. Things went differently, not only in other dispensations (I admit I find it funny when those who assume dating is an eternal principle are shocked at arranged marriages in the Old Testament), but even simply earlier in this dispensation.

Of course, now Western civilisation is adopting patterns that are less easy to harmonise with eternal principles. And I think under those circumstances it’s difficult for Church members to consciously hold onto this earlier system of courtship patterns in the face of what Western society is doing, when really the only reason they followed them in the first place is because we’re used to following what surrounding western society was doing. Over time I think something else is going to have to develop to fill the new gap, I guess particularly as Church culture divorces from where the West is headed and move towards building the culture of Zion.

In the meantime though (as I guess that may take a while to sort out), a lot of people are going to be confused and disappointed, and I think what’s at play with ‘dating’ goes beyond a ‘crisis of masculinity’. Social changes aren’t just the result of men (and only men) failing to measure up; everyone after all, male and female, is fallen. Just holding men responsible is unlikely to fix the situation. To take the case mentioned in the blog, where apparently one YSA sister and a number of her compatriots were upset with the Elders Quorum as they regular scheduled weekend computer game nights and weren’t dating, I doubt just not permitting the EQ activities as suggested would have appreciably affected the level of dating. I can appreciate the point made in the comments about Leadership’s role in such wards in encouraging appropriate interactions between the sexes, but I suspect merely removing the EQ activities from the schedule wouldn’t be enough (I assume the issue with the EQ activities was one frequency and timing – an Elders Quorum with no activities would in my mind also be inappropriate, as it’d fail to fulfil the Quorum function of brotherhood). I’m also not sure it’s too helpful to have some people feeling they can be justifiably angry at others for not taking them on dates: it’s not a particularly encouraging view to see dates as some sort of obligated tribute, and I’m not sure people are particularly inclined to date others they’re angry at or know are angry at them.

But I could be completely wrong. This is, as mentioned above, an Achilles heel.