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Editing and Expanding

I’ve been working with the transcript of the Elijah Talk for the last week. It is expanding from what was done in the oral presentation. I had a two-hour time frame to speak in that evening. Therefore the material was adapted to be presented in that time. For the transcript, however, I don’t feel the same constraint. Therefore I have been expanding the information to reflect other related ideas which would not fit into the time allowed.

I’ve also been adding footnotes and showing the sources from which the ideas were taken. There are over 190 footnotes in the first 28 pages. Right now the paper appears to be some 37 pages long, but it has a tendency to continue to expand as I edit further into the document. When finished I expect it may grow to 43 or so pages. But then it will be edited to reduce redundancy, etc. and shrink again.

At the moment, I’m hoping to have it done by next weekend, but make no promises. It will be made available for anyone interested. Given the length, however, it cannot be put up here as a post. Instead it will either be sent as a pdf copy by email, or posted as a pdf you can either download or read on-line.

I’ve been struck by the quantity of scriptures which were relied on in the talk. It isn’t clear that the ideas come from scripture until you go back through and cite to the sources. Then the entire talk becomes a foray into the Standard Works.

This effort reminds me once again just how delightful the faith restored through Joseph Smith was intended to be for those who follow it. It is a feast that includes “all truth.” Mormons should be the most open, inquisitive, searching minds in the universe. The faith spreads from antiquity to all eternity. We are the only folks claiming to be Christian whose scriptures include Egyptian hieroglyphs, some of which are left unexplained and for the reader to search out. In other words, our scriptures raise questions which they deliberately do not answer. We are forewarned, therefore, by our own Standard Works, that we have a job to undertake for ourselves if we want to learn the truth. What a delight it is to be Mormon.

I hope those who want to cut off discussion, curtail thought, stop the search for truth, and censor differing views realize they advocate apostasy from the original vital, living, delightful religion of Christ. If they succeed, they reduce our restored faith to just another dead faith, without living root or branch, separated from the living vine, who is Christ. So long, however, as there remains even one soul willing to search for the truth in Christ, the Restoration remains alive.

Two Suggestions

There are two suggestions I’d offer to you. First, when you read the scriptural accounts of answers to prayer, ask yourself if there is additional information given by God beyond the topic raised by the prayer or petition to God, in the answer received. The prayer or petition is what the prophet wanted to know. The answer, when it goes beyond that, is what God wanted to be known.

In the First Vision, Joseph wanted to know what church to join. He learned not to join any of them. But it was the rest of the information which was the Lord’s agenda, not Joseph’s.

When the Brother of Jared asked about lighting, that was his concern. The answer solved the problem, but went well beyond that. The answer included a revelation about the entire earth’s history and destiny.

Section 76 resulted from an inquiry about “heaven” but included a great deal more.

Section 107 satisfied the inquiry about how to organize the church, but it went well beyond that.

It is the additional information which tells you what the Lord wants us to know. Where He would like our attention directed. Follow that suggestion and you’ll find a great deal of what we often overlook.

Second, I’d suggest you read Passing the Heavenly Gift as a doctrinal exposition, rather than a history. The history can be disorienting and upsetting, even though it was intended for an audience which was already aware of issues and needed to be reoriented and comforted. If you are content with the traditional story, the book wasn’t written for you. But if you elect to read it anyway, then read it as an exposition of what the original doctrine was at the beginning with Joseph Smith.

Elijah talk not transcribed yet

The talk referred to earlier today is still the “First Three Words” or the King Follett discussion.  There are people who still request it. The talk on Elijah given at Confetti Books has not been transcribed yet. 

Sorry for the confusion.

Recent Conversations

I have a few requests for the talk mentioned on this blog. I will send those out later today to the ones who have requested them.

This morning I finished reading the Book of Mormon again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it through now. Dozens, if not hundreds. It still contains new information and powerful doctrine that I haven’t noticed before. It is apparent they had the Temple rites. They were in possession of greater knowledge than we have among ourselves.

A few days ago I had a conversation with a former Mormon who became Catholic when he left the church. He finished reading Passing the Heavenly Gift and wanted to talk to me about it. It was a wonderful conversation. He talked openly about his experience as a Latter-day Saint and how much the church changed during the four decades he was a member. He talked about how much he liked being a member at first, and how he thought it was the church that changed and not him. He thought it had become increasingly dictatorial and harsh over the years he belonged, and he was at last completely alienated from it.

I mentioned the historic excesses of the Catholic Church, the terrors exercised by their priestly authorities during the Dark Ages and the atrocities of the Inquisition. He admitted their historic shortcomings, but thought these errors were now all behind the Catholics. They had learned from their mistakes, and were now keenly aware that they cannot dictate to people in a modern, pluralistic and secular society. They were now more broad-minded, tolerant and accepting of freedom to think and behave than perhaps almost any other Christian faith. There are things such as abortion and homosexuality, which the Catholic Church condemns, but despite this, whenever personal failure occurs the church’s role is to forgive and to support. There is almost no thought given to church discipline, even in the case of transgressing priests who engage in pedophilia, and homosexual abuses. They accept and rehabilitate, condemn sin, but do not cast away the sinners.

As we talked, he said he expected that Mormonism, which is still in its infancy, will make the historic errors of the Catholic Church rather than to learn from history. He believed Catholicism’s great mistakes were in the past, but he thought Mormonism’s great mistakes are still in its future. He thought it was unlikely my LDS faith would learn from what I’d written in my book and turn away from its current direction. He thought my book offered an opportunity for Mormonism to reassess itself and turn into a more open, hopeful, helpful and tolerant faith because it would be necessarily more humble if it faced down its history.

Well, there were things we could agree on and things we will respectfully disagree. But I respect his faith because it is sincerely held. And he respects mine because he knows of my devotion to it. I enjoyed the open discussion. Neither of us felt threatened by the conversation and neither of us was trying to convert the other. We respected the choices each made in their faith.

As my wife and I walked and talked later that night, we discussed the problem of fear that is often an undercurrent when discussing religion with other people. Whether consciously or unconsciously fear is a great problem when the topic is religion. We puzzled over why that is the case.

With Latter-day Saints, the idea of a “testimony” can be an impediment to increased learning. That should not be the case. A person should be able to have a testimony and learn something new, even if it has the effect of changing their testimony. In fact, it is impossible for a testimony to grow if the new things must always conform to what is presently known. If a person’s understanding is limited, incomplete, or even mistaken, then when a new idea that conflicts with these incomplete, limited or mistaken ideas is encountered, the temptation is always to resort to measuring the new ideas by the old, mistaken ones.

The Nephites followed the Law of Moses. But when Christ taught them He informed them the Law was fulfilled in Him. (3 Ne. 15: 2-4.) Can you imagine what the result would have been if the Nephites chose to measure Christ’s message against their “testimony of the Law of Moses.” They would have rejected our Savior, knowing that He was false and trying to deceive them because He was teaching something that conflicted with their prior testimony.

Fear is a tool used to limit inquiry. Fear is a tool used to keep people from repenting and facing God. The path to God can only be found when you refuse to share in the confederacy of fear held by your fellow man. (Isa. 8: 11-13; see also 2 Ne. 18: 11-13.) For those controlled by their fears, they will view Christ’s way as a stumbling block and an offense. (Isa. 8: 14-15; also 2 Ne. 18: 14-15.)

What if your testimony is incomplete? What if your understanding is wrong? How can God ever work to your satisfaction if you refuse to acknowledge His gifts among His people? (Moro. 10: 24-25.)

As our conversation continued, my wife was of the view that fear is one of the most effective ways to prevent learning. It shuts more minds and curtails God’s gifts more than any other tool in Satan’s arsenal. It takes faith to allow your beliefs to be corrected by the Lord’s continuing revelations. He always imparts things that are unexpected, and which require you to adjust what you are thinking to a new, and greater light.

Thanksgiving

I’d been thinking of putting something up about Thanksgiving and using some New Testament things I’ve been reflecting on, but it changed today when I got my mail. Now I thought I’d just put up a short comment on another matter.

The practice of law is largely just work and the means for providing for my family. I like to be able to assist in solving problems between people, but oftentimes the work involves disputes which are intractable among people who want to vent against an opposing party. It is a real privilege to work for someone whose cause is just and who has been put upon in an improper way. That, however, is not always the client.

I have a client who has spent several years in prison on a conviction of a felony which he did not commit. The system failed. I did not represent him in his trial, nor in the appeal which followed. But I was asked to assist him once the Appellate court had denied his appeal. After four years in prison there are limited options to try and get him freed from prison. He has a great deal to be angry over, and little reason to be giving thanks for how his life has been afflicted from a system which has, in his case, failed.

Nevertheless, today I got a hand-made card in the mail from him, thanking me for the work we are doing on his behalf to seek his freedom again. Tomorrow I am going to have my children read his card, sent from prison, and use it to celebrate our own many, many blessings.

We all have much to be grateful for. A man I met after he read some of my books died of brain cancer last week. I was able to talk with him before his death. I tried to cheer him, but found it was instead him who was cheering me.

Life is difficult for everyone. But every life is also filled with blessings. Whether we notice the blessings seems to be entirely optional. But what seems almost mandatory is that we notice the problems, the slights, the disappointments and the failings we each endure here. Tomorrow, however, I intend to be not only superficially grateful, but genuinely so; and to reflect on recent events and the home-made card I received from prison to remind me once again how God blesses me almost beyond measure.

Christ The Opener

Christ is the one who opens the heavens. (Ether 4: 9.) It is at His command the heavens open and close.

Those to whom the heavens remain closed and to whom angels no longer minister are practicing a faith which is vain. (Moroni 7: 37.)

Nephi warned us against a faith which claims Christ had finished His work and given His power to men. (2 Ne. 28: 5.)

Neither God nor His Gospel change. (Moroni 8: 18.)

I care nothing for men or their precepts. Man’s precepts will only condemn us at the last day. (2 Ne. 28: 26-27.) I care only about Him at whose command the heavens are opened; and for those whom He sends through the opening He causes to occur. All else is vanity– because it cannot save.

Gospel Study

There are issues some Saints believe are fully resolved which, upon closer study, turn out to be much less clear. I’m quite comfortable with investigating claims, history and doctrine even when it creates long periods of uncertainty while I research the topic. I’ve spent years following the trail on some issues before reaching a conclusion.

I’m converted to the restored Gospel. I have absolute confidence in Joseph Smith’s calling as a latter-day Prophet. His life is worth careful study. Even minute details are sometimes quite important. The available material for studying his life has greatly expanded in recent years, and is in the process of expanding further as The Joseph Smith Papers project continues.

Some Saints are anxiety ridden when something new is raised about the Prophet, the church’s history or doctrine which they thought was “settled.” But that is largely because they are insecure about the search into truth. I understand that and even sympathize with it. But I came into the faith as a convert, and therefore it required a search by me in the first place.

When I write about the conclusions I have reached the “audience” is not necessarily intended to include life-long members of the church who have a sedentary approach to their religion and who hope the church’s formal programs represent everything God wants them to know. I am pleased to leave them alone. They aren’t interested in the search, don’t care to learn anything new, and have little in common with the religion I believe. I do not write for them. To the extent my writing causes alarm for them, I understand. But I’m really not trying to tell them anything.

Those who believe the faith, want to explore its depths, and enjoy reading the thoughts of similarly motivated Saints are the only people who should have any interest in what I write.

Mormonism was (originally) intended to include “all truth.” But the available information in 1844 has now transformed. It is transforming now almost daily. But not by sampling opinions– that is completely worthless to the search for truth. It is instead through uncovering history, studying the past and opening the heavens.

The church was intended to be a repository of truth. That does not require wealth, political influence, property or numbers. Truth is alien here and will not be rewarded in this world. When the world welcomes “Mormonism” then you can know compromises have been made to enable it to become popular. The Book of Mormon sounds an alarm on that topic. It is one of the great sources of truth. And it exposes the modern world, and ourselves, to relentless criticism and warning. However comfortable others may become with their faith, I find it serves best as an alarm, warning me of the perils of life in this fallen sphere.

Bloom’s Article

Harold Bloom is a serious student of religion. He one time admired Mormonism. The article I linked to earlier today is a reflection of his disillusionment because of the changes which the faith has undergone since the 1990’s. What he once thought would be a revolutionary religion, with vitality that would revolutionize the world, is now gone.

Mormonism was designed to change the world, not to be changed by it.

Mormonism was intended to alter how people understood and relate to God; not to become an Americanized version of Roman Catholicism with a magisterial hierarchy viewed as God’s “Vicars” holding keys to heaven through which sycophants could obtain Divine favor.

Bloom laments the transition and, because of it, has let the tarnishing recent changes to Mormonism alter his earlier, much more positive assessment of Joseph and the faith founded through him.

Bloom’s conclusion that Mormonism is now just another Protestant religion is a conclusion he was disappointed to reach. But, having reached it, he does not hold back on his disappointment.

When it began, Mormonism denounced the idea of following men. It captured in rapid prose the idea that following men, even inspired men who were authentic prophets who spoke with God, merited damnation to hell alongside the wicked: “For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel… will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud. These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.” (D&C 76: 99-105.) Joseph Smith elaborated on this idea in a sermon to the Relief Society in Nauvoo, telling them: “the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church — that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls — applied it to the present state [1842] of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall — that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 238.) Today we have inverted that idea. Now if you do not “depend on the Prophet” you are considered to have a darkened mind.

It is a fundamental principle of fourth phase Mormonism that all anyone needs to do is “Follow the Prophet” (meaning the President of the church) and everything else will take care of itself. There is little else required. Tithing and some dietary restrictions, and a few meetings are needed.

Today if there is the slightest hint by someone that “Following the Prophet” as your primary faith will merit only “the wrath of God on earth” and “the vengeance of eternal fire” because we must not say we follow any man— well that is taken as weakness of faith, or worse. It can be regarded as a substantial error in doctrine or understanding. Or, worse still, as evidence that you don’t believe God at all. You are, therefore, damned.

Well, Bloom’s criticism is biting, to be sure. But it is borne from his disappointment in what we’ve become in only a few short years of transition. The pace of the changes are accelerating, too. In another two decades it will be even more difficult to recognize Mormonism as the faith restored through Joseph. The caretakers now point to change as evidence of inspiration; instead of worrying change may be provoking ire. (See, e.g., Isa. 24: 5; also Malachi 3: 7.) Fortunately, for us, there is no need to really consider the ideas which arise from anywhere other than the recognized authorities. We can always trust that God will protect us with a mighty hand. Our freedom to err has literally been circumscribed by His power and commitment to save us. We are not free to apostatize from His ways, but are instead guaranteed we cannot fall away as was the case with every earlier dispensation of God’s Gospel. Any idea we can do the same thing as every earlier era of man’s interaction with God belittles God’s power. It challenges His overriding hand which has restored the truth for the last time to the earth, and nothing can ever change His determination to keep it here. Even our neglect, rebellion, sins and stupidity is nothing compared to God’s commitment to letting us keep the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We got it. We’ve got keys that cannot tarnish. And, all of this is to the envy of every other Christian denomination; because there’s just nothing anyone can do to change that. Not even us. Right?

Harold Bloom Article

Harold Bloom has written an interesting article in the New York Times titled “Will This Election Be the Mormon Breakthrough“– it includes Professor Bloom’s observations about how dramatically Mormonism has changed from its origins.