Monthly Archives: October 2013

Religion is the Root of All Wars

I was sitting in a business conference today, and for a few moments one participant embellished a discussion tangent by making the following statement about religion:

Every single war was started by and about religion. You may think that they weren’t, but every single war was.

ReligiousWarI’ve heard that statement before, but there was one thing interesting and one thing ironic about the statement. The interesting thing is that it was accepted by the other 20+ people in the room without comment. Granted, there may have been individual rejections of the comment by some attendees–as I mentally rejected it–but nobody, including me, verbally countered the statement. (Instead, I chose to write this blog post.)

The ironic thing is that the statement was made within the larger context of participants developing critical thinking about common assumptions. Yet, there was no critical thinking evident in such a statement being made about religion.

So, what about the assertion? Has “every single war” had, at its root, religion? It is almost too easy to counter such an absolutist assertion, as a single contrary example disproves the premise. One only need to consider scholarly concepts of the bases of war to discover that religion is only one potential basis, the other two being power and economics. It would be a stretch, for instance, to contend that the American Revolution was “started by and about religion.” Countless others of the wars throughout history were demonstrably not about religion. For example, on the Wikipedia page entitled Causes of World War I the word “religion” doesn’t appear at all.

Of course, the original assertion about the causes of war could be made less falsifiable if it were recast without absolutist terms. Perhaps it is easier to sustain the assertion that not all, but most, wars are attributable to religion. Such assertions seem quite trendy in certain circles–particularly atheistic circles–but they are, at best, debatable and open to squabbles over definitions and evidentiary claims.

To me, assertions about the primacy of religious belief in the instigation of violence and war seems more a caricature or a stereotype than a principled, defensible position. If “critical thinking” is really at play, then one must dismiss such uncritical assertions out of hand.

 

Partisan Misperceptions of Chicago

Public perceptions can be a fickle thing, and a common method of forming (or reinforcing) public perceptions is in the incessant and never-ending e-mails that get composed and forwarded by partisans of whatever stripe you may choose.

Today I received one such e-mail that was obviously written by a Republican trying to demonstrate how terrible Democrats are in managing the country. Their case study? The deplorable fiscal and living conditions in the city of Chicago.

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Frolicking in Frisco

OK, so I am not really frolicking, but I am staying in Frisco. I’m not talking San Francisco here, but a small mountain community nestled in the high mountains of Colorado.

This week I’m attending a semi-annual conference for business entrepreneurs, this time being held in Golden, Colorado. I decided to stay about 60 miles west of Golden, in a condominium in Frisco.

FriscoCondoThis town is just off of I-70 and, north of Breckenridge, and a couple miles west of Silverthorne. The altitude is approximately 9,100 feet, so that’s why you are seeing snow on the condo in the above picture.

I will say, it is much nicer to stay in a condo than to stay in a hotel room. Fireplace, large-screen televisions, a couch, full kitchen, two bathrooms–in other words, all the comforts of home without the cramped-in feel of a hotel room.

The views around this area are breathtaking. Here’s a picture I took that gives a little context for the location of Frisco.

FriscoView1The town is at the right edge of the picture, about center between top and bottom. My condo is located right on the water’s edge. What is the water? It is the edge of Lake Dillon, which is a man-made lake on the Blue River. The dam was apparently built to help provide water to Denver and is the largest water source for the city.

FriscoView2I never tire of mountain vistas. Breathtaking. (And pictures never do justice to the reality and majesty of such views.)

 

Testimony of the Members

Continuing my browsing of old copies of the Conference Report, I ran across another quote by President Joseph F. Smith that struck my interest. I think it has interest for a couple of reasons. First, the complaints we often hear from critics concerning how LDS leaders deceive regular members is nothing new; it has been around for at least a century. Second, it is impossible that our leaders could mislead us. Continue reading

Figure It Out Yourself

I was browsing through some old copies of Conference Report (which used to be published by the Church up until a couple of years ago) and ran across the following quote by President Joseph F. Smith. It struck my interest, and I thought it worth repeating:

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Libraries and Dodos

I was reading an article this morning about the long-prophesied end of libraries. It raised many good points that got me, once again, thinking about one of my favorite subjects: books.

You see, I’ve been a writer for most of my adult life. I write non-fiction books, and I’ve had a wonderful romantic (is that the right word?) relationship with libraries. I love to visit them, as time allows, and look through the book stacks. I especially love special collections maintained at universities; I can (and have) spent weeks in the bowels of such facilities. I’ve donated stacks and stacks of books (literally) to libraries over the years.

Books1I’m in a minority, however. Even with my love for libraries, I don’t spend as much time at libraries as I used to. I love my town’s public library, but I don’t visit it all that often. Why? Because I don’t have time and I’ve long-since perused their collection to cull what I was, at that time, interested in. In fact, I believe that the last time I was in our local library was about three years ago, and that was simply to provide some community service with a church youth group to help dust the books on the shelves for a few hours.

I’m not alone. I can’t help but think that–particularly among young people–the number of library users is decreasing. And, from what I can see, politicians are starting to notice. That means that library budgets are continuing to decrease and there are even library consolidations taking place. The biggest draw at our local library is the fantastic collection of media–CD, DVD, and VHS–that takes up a sizable portion of the library’s physical footprint. But I have no doubt that Redbox and Netflix are eating into even that uniqueness.

It can be argued that such is the natural evolutionary result of more and more reading (for those who still read) taking place online. After all, the article that started this train of thought for me was one I read online, not in a printed journal in a library. And, of course, you are reading my musings online instead of in a printed book or periodical.

It may be that the natural end of such an evolution is the “mass extincition” of libraries as repositories of mankind’s knowledge. Were that the case, I think it would be a cultural loss. Online research is highly targeted, but doesn’t allow for “browsing.” You can’t do the equivalent of wandering through the stacks, seeing what information is tangentially associated with a desired book based on proximity to that book. You also cannot use an online library with the power off as you can with a real-world library.

Much will be lost if libraries go the way of the dodo.

Movie Day: Gravity

My life is such that my wife and I are able to go see movies during the day. I count this as a blessing; a nice perk of being completely in charge of my own schedule. So, we often go to see them during the day when crowds are smaller, parking is easier, and prices are lower. The only drawback is that often the popcorn is left over from the evening before, so it isn’t as fresh as one would like.

But I digress…

Gravity_PosterYesterday we went and saw a much-hyped film called Gravity. (And, yes, there will probably be spoilers in my comments. So if you plan on seeing the movie, don’t say I didn’t warn you.) It stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone and George Clooney as astronaut Matt Kowalski. (I probably misspelled the character’s last name.) They are part of a five-person team on a space-shuttle mission. The “outsider” on the team is Dr. Stone, who is along to do some testing on a prototype for some technological doo-dad being connected to the Hubble Space Telescope.

While they are doing their mundane space walking to accomplish their mission, a series of events leads to the onslaught of space debris traveling through their area at 22,000 miles per hour. It makes mincemeat of the Hubble and the space shuttle, killing everyone except Stone and Kowalski. Stone becomes untethered and starts drifting off into space, soon out of radio contact with Kowalski. But Kowalski, a seasoned astronaut, uses the self-contained jet-pack he is wearing to rescue Stone.

Stone and Kowalski then make their way toward the International Space Station and arrive at the bludgeoned remains of to ISS just as his jet-pack poops out and her oxygen is depleted. He sacrifices himself to the void of space to save her, and the rest of the movie details her efforts to first die and then survive. (It was noteworthy to me that an American astronaut ended up wearing a Russian cosmonaut’s space suit inside a Chinese space capsule. You’ll need to see the movie to understand that, I’m sure.)

That is the short synopsis. The movie was nothing like what I expected. That is probably because I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I definitely didn’t expect what I watched. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, as it gives me plenty of time to re-think and assess what I saw after the movie. There was very little of the movie that I would consider a formulaic treatment of an age-old story trajectory. Therefore, I enjoyed it. There have been lots of other reviews written, including one that saw deep spiritual meaning to the storyline.

The treatment of “life in space” seemed to ring true to me. This wasn’t some Star Trek or Star Wars approach to space where people have more-or-less control of their movements in a hostile environment. Nope; the space travelers in this flick were pinballs in a celestial pinball machine–if they started moving in a direction, they kept moving in that direction via frictionless inertia unless acted upon by something with larger mass moving in a different direction. If they were spinning out of control, they kept spinning out of control unless they hit something. And, true to pinball life, there was a lot of hitting things and bouncing off of them. It all added to the feeling of non-control that one would have in space. Scary, unyielding, unforgiving stuff. (What does one do when one is spinning on three axes into the nothingness of space?)

The special effects were amazing. Literally. I haven’t seen such good, high-quality, realistic special effects since 2001: A Space Odyssey. This movie isn’t nearly as groundbreaking or epic as 2001, but it is every bit as beautiful. (2001 also sticks with me because I believe the story was deeper and more complex than Gravity’s. That, and I gravitate–pun intended–toward good science fiction.)

One thing I really liked about the film had nothing to do with film making, but it made watching the movie much more enjoyable–there were really no opening credits. IIRC, the title showed up for a short time a few minutes in, but all the credits were left to the end of the movie. In my book, opening credits aren’t done for the benefit of viewers. They are done for the ego of the participants and the strengthening of the participants’ personal brands. Thus, I applaud whoever made the decision to do away with the opening credits. Thank you. Sincerely.

My recommendation: Go see the movie. Much of the beauty of the cinematography and the special effects will lose their grandeur on the small screen as opposed to the large. Bullock does a good job and Clooney plays an experienced, round-the-block, cowboy astronaut well.

 

Service to Others

In a recent installment on the On Faith blog of the Washington Post, Michael Otterson expressed some thoughts about how the year-to-year increase in the number of LDS missionaries is not only amazing, but also illustrates what “makes Mormons tick.” It was a good read, well reasoned and measured, but there was one phrase he used that struck me as I read it.

Service to others is so much more meaningful when it’s inconvenient.

To many LDS the truth behind that statement is rather self-evident. When we truly give of ourselves instead of indulging ourselves, we benefit as much if not more than the person we are serving. Jesus stated the seeming paradox this way:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:25)

Service often takes us of the couch, out our door, and out of our comfort zone. Whether it be missionary work (as Bro. Otterson was discussing), helping at a soup kitchen, sitting up with a sick friend, or tutoring a neighbor child in math, it doesn’t really matter. When we serve we trade time (and sometimes goods) for something of greater value—a sense of meaning and purpose that illuminates our life and brings us closer to those around us. It does this in a way that sending a Facebook post or writing a check could never do.

The LDS Church is focused on service. Children are taught to emulate Jesus by serving one another. Youth are given wide-ranging opportunities to engage in service projects. Relief Society sisters rally around needs within the ward under the coordinating hand of the a Compassionate Service Leader. In priesthood quorums men are taught to worthily bless the lives of others as needs arise—and provide muscle to move and work, when needed.

The service happily and cheerfully provided by so many at inconvenient times helps lift giver and receiver. Non-LDS may marvel (or scoff) at such levels of service, but they are part and parcel to being LDS.

This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith:

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation (Lectures on Faith, 6:7).

While providing a meal for a neighbor or helping to care for a widower’s yard doesn’t rise to the level of sacrificing “all things,” such service is a type and a shadow for what the Lord would have us do: Serve, sacrifice, love, ennoble.

Meaningful service—inconvenient or not—is one thing in which disciples of Christ engage.

 

October 2013 General Conference, Sunday Afternoon

Here we go with the last session of General Conference…

President Eyring conducted this session of conference.

 

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Lamentation of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage

Elder Cooks sermon dovetails very nicely with Elder Oaks’ comments in this morning’s session of conference. Here is one of many great quotes:

God intended that men and women would be free to make choices between good and evil. When evil choices become the dominant characteristic of a culture or nation, there are serious consequences both in this life and the life to come. People can become enslaved or put themselves in bondage not only to harmful, addictive substances, but also to harmful, addictive philosophies that detract from righteous living.

Elder Cook sees four kinds of bondage that are “particularly pernicious in today’s culture.”

  • Addictions that impair agency, contradict moral beliefs, and destroy good health. These include drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, and financial subjugation.
  • Addictions or predilections that while not inherently evil can use up our precious allotment of time which could otherwise be used to accomplish virtuous ogjectives. These include excessive use of social media, video and digital games, sports, and recreation.
  • Ideology or political beliefs that are inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Elder Cook indicated this is “the most universal subjugation in our day.”
  • Forces that violate sincerely held religious principles. Example given is health providers forced to choose between assisting with abortions against their consciences or losing their jobs.

 Elder Neil L. Andersen: Power in the Priesthood

I liked this:

We sometimes overly associate the power of the priesthood with men in the Church. … The blessings of the priesthood are infinitely greater than the one who is asked to administer the gift.

Elder Andersen related a personal story that I have seen repeated over and over again during my various leadership callings in the Church:

As a young couple, my wife, Kathy, and I lived in Florida. One Sunday a counselor in the stake presidency explained to me that they felt impressed to call Kathy as an early morning seminary teacher. “How will we do it?” I asked. “We have small children, seminary begins at 5:00 a.m., and I am the ward Young Men President.” The counselor smiled and said, “It will be O.K. Brother Andersen. We will call her and we will release you.” And that is what happened.

Elder Adrian Q. Ochoa: Look Up

There are some apologetic gems Elder Ochoa’s sermon. He talks about the dual-edged sword of Internet communication:

My professional life put me on the forefront of technology, so I recognize the value it has, especially in communications. So much information of man is now at our fingertips. But the Internet is also full of much that is filthy and misleading. Technology has augmented our freedom of speech, but it also gives an unqualified blogger false credibility based on the number of viewers. This is why now, more than ever, we must remember this eternal principle: “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).

I’m sure that there are some who will twist Elder Ochoa’s words so that he is characterized as saying that members should not search out information on the Internet. That is not what Elder Ochoa asserts, however. He does caution that we should not accept information from unqualified and uknown sources uncritically. We should, instead, remember that we can “look up” and seek help from God. However, we cannot expect help from God if we have not taken the steps necessary to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Decisions for Eternity

A broad-ranging talk concerning making decisions and the impact those decisions can have on us, for eternity. (This topic is a personal favorite of mine.) He focused on the miracle that is the human body and the pre-eminence of the human spirit. One point he made could just as easily have been a part of Elder Oaks’ sermon this morning:

Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the Lord’s doctrine and crucial to God’s eternal plan. Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fulness of life on earth and in heaven. God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood, or misconstrued. Not if you want true joy. God’s marriage pattern protects the sacred power of procreation and the joy of true marital intimacy. We know that Adam and Eve were married by God before they ever experienced the joy of uniting as husband and wife.

In our day, civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare, and prosperity of rising generations. But civil governments are heavily influenced by social trends and secular philosophies as they write, re-write, and enforce laws. Regardless of what civil legislation may be enacted, the doctrine of the Lord regarding marriage and morality cannot be changed. Remember: sin, even if legalized by man, is still sin in the eyes of God!

 

October 2013 General Conference, between Sunday Sessions

Those who have been to General Conference have no doubt seen the street preachers who stand in public access areas adjoining Church property and shout their message, taking advantage of the protections offered by the free-speech provisions of our Constitution. Their message typically is not about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but mischaracterizations about the LDS faith and our beliefs. They are quick to condemn and consign their listeners to hell, doing so (they believe) in the name of Christ.

The contrast between the message preached by the street preachers and the messages delivered inside the Conference Center could not be more striking.

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The above picture shows a common site, with two street preachers shouting, at the top of their lungs at the same time, about Mormons and the errors of their ways. The preacher on the left has a full collection of temple clothing–including garments–that he would pull out from time to time and mock. The one on the right is in the middle of mocking the ceremonial apron from the temple clothing. He proceeded to put it around his face, like a bandit would, and then around his neck, wearing it like a cape. He then accused Mormons of trying to be superheros.

Their actions–which are engaged in all the time during their preaching–should be eschewed by all those who hold anything in life sacred. I’m not just talking about things that are sacred to the LDS, but things that are sacred to any religious person of any denomination. There is a very good commentary by Mohamed Ghilan, a Canadian Muslim, where he recently addressed mockery. The main point, I believe, is well and justly made:

…the essence of mockery is a view of oneself in relation to the mocked. The consequence of mockery is the view of oneself as the mocker to be elevated over the mocked. It’s an assertion of superiority over the other by way of debasing them through mockery. In the process of doing so, the humanity of the mocked is stripped away from them as they become an object of amusement.

Such behavior, of course, should never be in the arsenal of a person who claims to be disciple of Christ or a preacher of His gospel.

The same street preachers used a different graphic to ridicule Mormons:

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You may not be able to make sense of the graphic on the shirt, but under the heading of “Elders Gone Wild,” there is a picture, captured in 2008, associated with three disrespectful Mormon missionaries. In the words of an Associated Press reporter in a USA Today story, the photos “showed three Mormon missionaries mocking a Catholic shrine and holding the broken head of a statue of a saint” at the shrine. The incident prompted a formal apology by the LDS Church (mocking is not what we do and the missionaries were flatly wrong) which was subsequently accepted by the Catholic Church.

The irony in the street preacher using the image is that he is using mockery to condemn someone of a differing religion who was, himself, mocking a different religion. It is an interesting double standard. Street preachers are also quick to condemn Catholics to hell, considering theirs a false religion. Perhaps the irony is lost on the street preacher; he seemed oblivious to it when I asked him about it.

Mockery is not appropriate for any disciple of Christ.