New blog for fiction and other less “serious” topics

I occasionally write about less “serious” topics, including fantasy, science fiction, films and other areas of interest, and I find myself wanting to write more about these, particularly as I press on in my own attempts to write fiction. However, this particular blog has developed a rather specific focus, about which I now find I’ve written over 300 posts and several hundred thousand words. Since I’m don’t want any posts on these lines to be buried under a deluge of theology, nor to act as rather jarring deviations from this blog’s usual subjects, I’ve decided to open up an additional blog at https://daverscreativecorner.wordpress.com/. That blog will now be home to my less “serious” posts, including posts about fiction, films, games and my own story-writing efforts, while this blog will remain home to my more “serious” posts about religion, politics, and particularly the Book of Mormon.

Mosiah 28

I don’t know that I have anything particularly profound to say about this chapter at this time, although there’s two important events in it: namely the setting off of the Sons of Mosiah on their mission to the Lamanites, and Mosiah’s translation of the Jaredite plates. I think that happens sometimes in our scriptural reading (at least it does for me): it’s not a continuous stream of learning and inspiration, but ebbs and flows. That shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on the chapter; indeed on other read-throughs, the feelings of the Sons of Mosiah, their anxiousness because of their prior sins and their desire to do right has struck a deep cord with more:

And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them; nevertheless they suffered much anguish of soul because of their iniquities, suffering much and fearing that they should be cast off forever.

(Mosiah 28:4)

But not so much today. On some days, and in some chapters, nearly every verse will appear to burst with possibilities. On others, a chapter (even the same chapter) may be good and worthy and say important things, but nothing will particularly stick out. And while sometimes that may be due to one’s own state or frame of mind, sometimes it just seems different. I think sometimes there’s simply a natural ebb and flow, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect it to be always “on”. I’ve referred to study of the scriptures as a “discipline” before, and I think it’s at such times that the discipline aspect becomes particularly important: to keep on reading and studying, even when nothing is particularly leaping out or appearing to address anything in our own life at the time. To keep looking so that when the time comes we are in a position to receive inspiration through the scriptures once again.

It is perhaps interesting from a literary perspective as to how there’s a “book within a book” dynamic going on. Mosiah, through the inspiration of God, has the task of translating the Jaredite plates. Mormon, our narrator, has read from his sources the account of Mosiah doing this, and is using his earlier sources to write his own work on metallic plates. And Joseph Smith relives the role of Mosiah, translating the plates of Mormon through inspiration, including this very account of Mosiah doing the same to these earlier plates. Aside from reminding one of Inception, it makes me wonder what those later in the chain (Mormon and Joseph Smith) thought as they came across these accounts and wrote or translated them. The Book of Mormon is very self-conscious about the process of writing, compilation, and translation – about literary activity – and I think much of that is because those involved in the writing it have the opportunity to reflect upon that because they in turn are reading and transmitting accounts of others doing the same.

I think verse 19 is worth noting:

And this account shall be written hereafter; for behold, it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account.

Why? Well because Mormon isn’t actually the one to end up including an account of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon. It’s his son Moroni who does, in the Book of Ether, after the (spoilers!!) destruction of the Nephites. But while it’s Moroni who adds this account, this verse suggests that Moroni is following Mormon’s plan. Perhaps they discussed it? Or perhaps Moroni was inspired so that Mormon’s statement here doesn’t fall through.

Mosiah 17

And so we come to the end of Abinadi’s story, in which he bears witness to the truth of his words by suffering a painful death as a martyr.

I find verse 5 – which is speaking of Alma, one of the priests of Noah who attempts to intercede on Abinadi’s behalf and then must flee for his life – interesting:

But he fled from before them and hid himself that they found him not. And he being concealed for many days did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken.

Alma goes to the effort to write all of Abinadi’s words, and his record is doubtless part of the reason we have them too. But I doubt Alma was giving much thought to recording these words for people thousands of years hence. This notion stood out to me. We believe scripture to be more than human words, that they are inspired by God. But the example of Alma here would suggest that the human beings involved in the writing and recording of scripture may not know that’s what they’re working on at the time. This verse made me think of the encouragement we receive to keep journals and records. While I’m sure much of what we write in journals may not turn out to be particularly significant, it’s interesting to think that the possibility exists that some bit may prove valuable, an isolated record of a pivotal event or even – as here – the unintended seed of scripture itself.

And he said unto him: Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death.

For thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me and my people.

(Mosiah 17:7-8)

In an online discussion group this morning, we discussed the charge that was laid against Abinadi, with one participant commenting on the formal charge against him: in essence they killed him for speaking something true. This drew comparison with the charges laid against Christ, and the fact that this is the formal charge I think ends up leaving Noah and his priests without excuse.

However, once again – as remarked upon in the last few chapters – there is a core of dishonesty in their approach, for they will drop the capital punishment if Abinadi retracts, not the words they claim to be killing him for, but for the prophecies he’s spoken against them. Once again they cloak their offence at the denunciation of their own misdeeds with the pretence of a more general excuse.

Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day.

And now king Noah was about to release him, for he feared his word; for he feared that the judgments of God would come upon him.

But the priests lifted up their voices against him, and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain.

(Mosiah 17:10-12)

I always wonder at bits like this, these points where one individual clearly had the option to choose one way, but ended up going the other. In many cases it’s not quite so serious – I still hope that the young rich man did later go and sell everything and follow Christ, even if that was after the Crucifixion – but in this case it’s clearly a point of no return. Yet even at this stage Noah could have chosen differently; he could have chosen to follow that impulse and that hint of belief in the judgments of God and let Abinadi go. But he let himself get manipulated by the priests around him and his anger. It’s perhaps ironic that they’re supposedly his priests: he chose them, presumably to serve his interests, and yet they manipulate him to serve their interests and do so by claiming to take offence on his behalf! Of course, this ultimately goes very much against his interests, not just in the eternities but in the fiery end approaching for him. And thinking of that episode (we’ll come to it in a few chapters), his priests don’t stick around to help him then either! False friends are they, urging down a path that will bring destruction upon him, and who will then run for their own lives. Ironically, it’s Abinadi who’s acting as the better “friend”: he’s trying to warn him.

Thus God executeth vengeance upon those that destroy his people. O God, receive my soul.

(Mosiah 17:19)

I confess I quote this verse mostly because it sounds cool. Considering Abinadi is actually burning to death at this point his articulateness is impressive, and I think it entirely understandable as to why he’d speak of “vengeance”.

Verse 20, on the other hand, prompted a bit more reflection:

And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.

It is that very last clause, about him “having sealed the truth of his words by his death”, that really stood out to me. What it prompted me to think of, however, was Joseph Smith. He and his brother would of course ultimately be murdered at Carthage Jail, an act John Taylor in D&C 135 describes as “seal[ing] his mission and his works with his own blood” (v. 3) and “a witness to the truth of the everlasting gospel” (v. 7). And what I couldn’t help but think is that this very line at the end of Mosiah 17 would have been dictated by Joseph Smith, some 15 years earlier. He would have been the very first person to speak these words in English. As he did so, did he have any notion that he would one day have to do likewise?

“An Abraham Lincoln keyed to base uses…”

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

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

The Problem at Thor Bridge, Arthur Conan Doyle

Jarom

Re-continuing this oft-paused and oft-begun series, some observations on my personal reading of Jarom.

I often get the sense that the small, single-chapter books like Jarom and Omni tend to get overlooked between the longer and more notable books of Jacob and Mosiah. Enos tends to get a bit more notice, because of the strong narrative core of Enos’ own search for spiritual succour, but Jarom and Omni are not so striking. Thus Jarom states in verse 4:

And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.

This is a pretty profound verse by itself: those who are not stiffnecked and have faith have communion with the Holy Ghost. The implication is that, on the same grounds, we too can and ought to have communion with the Holy Spirit and have revelations. We should be experiencing revelation, and if not we may be living below our spiritual privileges. But for an example of the reading between the lines that can be done, in Omni (as I note there) one of the record keepers, Abinadom, claimed to know of no revelation than what was written. This is a striking contrast to Jarom 1:4: while in Jarom’s time there were a number who qualified for such revelation, part way through the next book the record keeper doesn’t know of anyone who is receiving such.

Another thing that really caught my eye reading this book/chapter today, in verse 2:

And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation? I say unto you, Yea; and this sufficeth me.

I guess a question that sticks with me is whether Jarom was right? He was labouring under logistical limitations (he mentions here, and also at the end of the chapter in verse 14 that he was working with limited space). But he likewise seems influenced by the thought that there’s little he could write that others have not already written about, and perhaps better. He’s not in the same situation as some of those in Omni: he receives revelations and he knows of many who do, but he’s not sure about writing them for a wider audience.

This speaks to me because it’s a thought I often have, not about revelations, but about writing things in general. One reason I maintain this blog is I often feel driven to write about certain things, including gospel topics. There are several book projects I am working on because of the same feeling. But I also often wonder if its worth writing them? Have others written about the same things, but in a better way? Even if well written, will anyone read them considering the deluge of written material that’s out there? The very tagline of this blog is taken from Ecclesiastes 12:12: ‘… of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’ Even then: prior to the invention of printing, prior to the invention of paper, there were those who felt that in some respects there were simply too many books. I do wonder what the preacher would make of now, where one can find a positive mountain full of stuff appear every day, at least some of which probably shouldn’t.

But on the other hand, the Preacher clearly didn’t feel that nothing should be written, or Ecclesiastes itself would not exist. Indeed, when we read all of Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, we get a better understanding of what he was saying:

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

There are indeed many books, and one might weary out the flesh trying to keep up with them, but what the Preacher was counselling was to seek out the words of the wise, to be selective in that reading and pick rightly. Counsel that’s probably even more relevant today, when anyone can publish (including me), than it was back then.

But back to Jarom’s dilemma, I’m not sure I even have an inkling of an answer. I can certainly empathise with that feeling, since I’ve felt it, and I think it’s all the keener when one is talking about writing sacred things, as he most especially is. If space were limited, would he writing more risk us missing Omni 1:26? But aside from any immediate logistical issues God clearly felt that further writings after Enos was useful, since he continued to inspire prophets to write. Perhaps there is something Jarom could have shared, that perhaps he might take for granted, or feel that others wrote better, but which in his words could reach some people better than others’ words would have? Something to ponder about, I guess.

2020 edit:

I was struck again by the beginning of verse 2, in which it is noted that the plates are small and so Jarom must write but a little. He’s not the only record keeper who talks about these limitations of space – Mormon does so a lot – and today it caused me to think about how they prioritised what to include. Nephi and Jacob have both previously spoken about only including the most important matters on their small plates, and it caused me to reflect that what we read in the Book of Mormon is there because someone somewhere felt it was the most important thing they could include. Passages that may seem to make less of an impression or hold less importance for us may teach something invaluable to someone in a different life situation (even ourselves at a different date). Or the passage may require us to rethink: perhaps there’s something there we’ve missed.

There are several themes in this fairly brief chapter that build on what’s gone before and are continued thereafter: there’s the continuing conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites, how they are preserved by God and prosper, so long as they exercise faith and are obedient, and how the prophets must warn (verse 10 uses the word “threaten”) the people in very strict terms to avoid them falling into transgression and being destroyed as a result. By warning the people in these terms “they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance” (v. 12).

Verse 11 provoked some thought:

Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.

These people of course lived before the time of Christ; but they were taught to believe in him “as though he already was”. This is not the only time the Book of Mormon displays some temporal inexactitude when it comes to the coming of Christ. Abinadi, in speaking of the coming of Christ in Mosiah 16:7, uses the past tense and then openly admits it, “speaking of things to come as though they had already come”.

What verse 11 and 12 here in Jarom suggest is this is not mere looseness about the temporal location of events; keeping the coming of Christ as something past and present in mind, as real, helped the Nephites to believe and repent. Their salvation, after all, was just as dependent upon Christ’s atonement as ours is, even if that atonement was yet to happen. Perhaps things in the future seem less real, or not real yet to us (perhaps because we haven’t got to the point where we decide our own future acts). But the atonement was already real: as Enos found out, its effects could already be experienced, even if the time of the actual cause was yet to come.

We live at a similar temporal disconnect with two comings of Christ. There’s the one in the past, now some two thousand years ago, in which Christ conquered sin and death through his sufferings, death and resurrection. And there’s the one yet future, where he comes to make the world right, to complete his work and bringing about the final assessment of this test. It might be tempting when facing events that were long ago or sometime in the unknown future to lose sight of them or ignore them, to think of them as less real. But perhaps we too can best keep these events in mind by treating them in some way as if they were present. We have the ordinance of the sacrament, of course, to cast our mind back and remember the sacrifice of our Saviour, to take that past act and reflect on its present reality. And likewise we anticipate and need to prepare for the coming of Christ, which timing may be uncertain to us but is not to God. In either case, perhaps we too, like the Nephites, can realise that while we may be separated in time these events are still real, and we can still believe and trust in them.

2019 Re-issue

It’s been almost two years since I published my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. Since that time I’ve become aware of a few niggling errors. None of these were major, but they were annoying, so I’ve taken the opportunity to fix these and republish the book in all formats. The new version is available as a PDF from this blog, in paperback and kindle versions on Amazon (and Amazon.co.uk et al), and in hardback form from Lulu (with expanded distribution for the latter available shortly). Once again, the prices are set at cost, or in the case of the Kindle version as low as I can get them (and any royalties from the latter, as little as they are, will be donated).

The errors are minor enough that if you already have a copy, I would not suggest replacing it. Aside from typos (of which there were not many, and the majority of which had already been fixed), the two most consequential differences are the following:

On p. 331  in chapter five (p. 333 in 2017 hardback & all 2019 editions, due to additional blank pages), 3 Nephi 21:21//Micah 5:15 is quoted as ‘And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.’ This has been corrected in the 2019 printings to ‘And I will execute vengeance <in anger> and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.’ Micah 5:15 includes the phrase ‘in anger’ which is not found in 3 Nephi 21:21, and this is now properly indicated in triangular brackets.

On p. 406 in appendix one (p. 410 in hardback & 2019 editions), the word cities in verse 9 of 2 Nephi 15//Isaiah 5 should be in bold, as it is not found in the KJV. Again, this is now properly displayed.

One other superficial change is that the paperback’s cover has had to change! The original was produced via Createspace, but this has since merged with Kindle Direct Publishing. Unfortunately, their cover creation tools are incompatible, so the old cover was lost. Which is a shame, as I quite liked it, but hopefully the new one will be serviceable, and we learn by doing.

Slippery Words

A phenomenon that I have been increasingly struck by is the role that different and shifting definitions can play in debates and arguments. I’m not talking here about mere loose or imprecise language (such as the use of cowardly described by Theodore Dalrymple here; I came across his similarly titled article after the title for this post leapt into my mind). Nor am I talking simply about how the same word can carry different meanings (that’s simply linguistic fact). Rather what I am describing is the situations in which both parties may be arguing over something, but be using different definitions for the same term, even without realising it. More recently, I have become increasingly aware of how participants involved in certain debates appear to be seeking to win an argument by default by redefining the very term from a more common definition.

I’ve written before about several theological examples amongst arguments in LDS circles, namely the terms inspiration and spiritual. But similar examples appear to about in many of the political and cultural arguments at large in society today. Terms such as fairness, justice, equality, consent, racism, privilege and a host of others have been increasingly subject to different and shifting definitions. This is not entirely new (the definition of justice, for example, has been argued over for millennia), but it seems increasingly the case that some of the loudest voices in particular controversies are insisting upon their own private definitions of key terms.

While some cases may simply be the result of different definitions, others appears to be cases where people are seeking to change or even manipulate definitions to win arguments by default. The connection between the thoughts we can have and the language we possess is a strong one, and Orwell and others have warned how changes in language may be used to control political thought. Furthermore, as I observed about the public endorsement of untruths, such manipulation of language can serve to erode the sense of right and promote acts of wrong. Witness, for example, the increasing trend to define the expression of particular ideas as violence. Word are powerful (or this subject would be hardly worth worrying about), but they are not physical force. The claim that they are, however, encourages the idea that actual violence may be used to suppress or retaliate against objectionable statements, and rationalises increasing political violence on the left and on the right.

At the very least, there is often the need to clarify definitions in any such discussion. If we are conversing on the basis of different definitions, then in practice we really have a different language. Like the inhabitants of Babel, our language will be confounded and so will we, and any discussion will profit little.

Furthermore, on some occasions, we must also notice and if necessary refuse to concede to attempts to manipulate or win an argument in advance by adopting a new or alternate definition. Such definitions are often, consciously or unconsciously, loaded dice, designed to win the argument in advance. Accepting them often concedes the argument, not because we are convinced it is right on its merits, but because we’d already accepted their presuppositions and frame of reference without realising it. Such alternate definitions can also limit thought and obscure actual concepts at stake by eliminating the very vocabulary used to describe competing ideas (for example, if the “spiritual” is defined down as simply an emotional event, what term is left to describe the literally spiritual). Accepting such redefinition can thus suppress communication, rather than promote it. Confusion over such terms can also be deceptive, seeking to claim approval for new concepts by cloaking them under more generally accepted ideas. And as described above, it can be used to justify violence and other such acts.

If we are to avoid being manipulated, or to be the manipulator, or simply to avoid confusion with others, then we need to be clear in our own language. This includes, where necessary, explaining how we understand any particular terms at stake and why we understand them that way. We need to allow others to explain their thoughts too. Perhaps we are also best served by avoiding jargon where possible. Language should clarify, not be used as a battering ram against our opponents.

I am reminded of Nephi’s words in 2 Nephi 31:3:

For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

While there are occasions where less plainness may be required, clarity of communication is not just useful to man but is a divine ideal. If we are seeking to become more like him, then seeking to be likewise clear in our own communications seems to be something to strive for. Furthermore, I can’t help but feel that if we are to avoid being misled, or confounded, or caught up in some spiral of political violence or oppression, then we have a responsibility to keep language as something that illuminates rather than let it be used to blind and bind.

New Hardback Edition available!

Working via Lulu.com, I’ve managed to produce a hardback version of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, for anyone wanting a studier edition. My proof arrived today:

I can definitely say I’m happy with how it came out. It’s sadly not sewn bound, although that’s probably a bit much to expect from POD and at this price point. The hardback itself is suitably sturdy, and the text has come out well. And it has a dust-jacket and gold-lettering and everything!:

Here it is in comparison with the paperback (which I guess could henceforth be called the economy edition):

Overall, I’m very happy with it. It is more expensive than the paperback (not to mention the kindle edition, or the free PDF), but once again it is available for as close to cost as I can get it. My primary concern, obviously, is that my work is available to be read and judged for itself, and so I’m happy for people to read it via the PDF or whatever format suits them best. Should anyone find its contents informative and of value, however, and want to read it in what I feel is its best and certainly most durable setting, the hardback is now available for sale via lulu.com and will be available via other distributors.

The hardback edition is available here.

The paperback and kindle editions are available via Amazon (including the US, Canadian and UK sites).

And of course the PDF is available via this blog.

New reduced US price on Amazon for “The Book of Mormon and its …”

My principal aims in releasing my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, have been twofold: Firstly, to share what I believe are a number of original contributions to our understanding of the Book of Mormon, and how it uses and approaches the Bible, that are hopefully of interest to anyone who is interested in these books of scripture. Secondly, to seek vindication for the unfair and inadequate assessment my thesis received at the viva voce. I’ve not sought any financial gain from it (I’d think I’d be pretty silly if I’d had), and for this reason I’ve made the contents freely available as a PDF on this blog, and have sought to keep the price of the books as close to cost as possible.

Up until now, however, the US price has been kept higher due to the requirements of the expanded distribution channels I was using. Recently, however, I’ve been able to re-evaluate this, and have determined that these channels are not necessary at this time. This has allowed me to reduce the US list price of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible to one in line with the UK/EU prices, and so the book is now available from Amazon.com at a new reduced price of $11.99.

I also hope to announce shortly the availability of a hardback edition, again as close to cost as possible, for those wanting an extra-sturdy and durable edition.

Kindle edition available

For those who wish to read it on mobile devices, a Kindle edition of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible is now available:The_Book_of_Mormon_a_Cover_for_Kindle

It’s now linked up with the paperback’s Amazon entries, so can be found on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and most other Amazon marketplaces.