Monday, June 30, 2014

"Who Has Stood in the Council of the Lord?"

A depiction of the prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The prophet Jeremiah did not have an easy job. Besides being called to preach an unpopular message to a stubborn and wicked people, he was also confronted by plots to end his life, stonewalling and obfuscating Judahite magistrates, and false prophets who challenged his authority and predictions.

Jeremiah 23 records the activities of some of these false prophets.
In the prophets of Samaria I saw a disgusting thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a more shocking thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from wickedness; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah. (Jeremiah 23:13–14)
Concerning these malicious pseudo-prophets, the Lord says through Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, ‘No calamity shall come upon you.’ (Jeremiah 23:16–17)
What follows the fierce denunciation of these false prophets is an arresting rhetorical question and the imagery of the divine council. "For who has stood in the council of the Lord so as to see and to hear his word? Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it?" (Jeremiah 23:18). The Hebrew literally asks: "Who has stood in the sôd of Yahweh [בסוד יהוה]?" This is a good question, since later we find out that not all of the prophets speaking in Jerusalem at the time were as privileged as Jeremiah, who evidently had stood in the divine council and was thus made privy to divine secrets (as revealed in vv. 19–20). 
I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. (Jeremiah 23:19–20)
Once again, we see the Lord affirming that if these false prophets had but stood "in my sôd [בסודי]," they would've hearkened to Jeremiah's message and repented; no doubt because they would've learned that Jeremiah was telling the truth all along!

But what exactly is this sôd? It is "an assembly of divine beings over which God presides," remarks Leo G. Perdue in the HarperCollins Study Bible. "In this assembly God issues divine edicts for governing the cosmos and history." It is also the secret instructions that Yahweh gives his celestial assembly and the prophets who are invited to participate. In Psalm 82 and 89 the divine beings who make up Yahweh's "divine council" (Psalm 82:1; עדת־אל) or sôd (Psalm 89:8 in Hebrew) are called "gods" (אלהים) and "sons of gods" (בני אלים), respectively.

Evidently, then, one of the marks of a true prophet in ancient Israel, at least in the time of Jeremiah and a century or two before in the times of Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and Micaiah (2 Kings 22), is his having participated in Yahweh's sôd. This gives new significance to a favorite scripture of the Latter-day Saints: "Surely the Lord God [אדני יהוה] will do nothing, but he revealeth his
secret [lit. "his sôd"; סודו] unto his servants the prophets [הנביאים]” (Amos 3:7).

But was Jeremiah the only prophet during this time who stood in Yahweh's sôd? No. Lehi did as well, as recorded in 1 Nephi 1.

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, [Lehi] was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord. And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon. And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him. (1 Nephi 1:8–15)
Like Jeremiah, and unlike the contemporaneous false prophets, Lehi received his prophetic credentials from participating in Yahweh's sôd. Nephi's inclusion of this account of his father's sôd experience, followed by an account of his own experience of the same, makes perfect sense from an ancient Near Eastern perspective. It served to establish the credentials and authenticity of Lehi's prophetic call to warn Jerusalem of the impending Babylonian decimation of Judah. Like Jeremiah, Lehi was a true prophet, having had revealed to him Yahweh's true sôd.

[For more on this topic, see my article "The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon," Studia Antiqua 12, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 1–18. Link here.]

Saturday, June 28, 2014

First Presidency Statement on Priesthood Ordination

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–––President Thomas S. Monson, center, 1st Councilor Henry B. Eyring, left, and 2nd Council Dieter F. Uchtdorf, right.

Today the First Presidency released a statement on the question of priesthood ordination.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Office of the First Presidency
47 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

June 28, 2014

In God's plan for the happiness and eternal progression of His children, the blessings of His priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices. All service in the Church has equal merit in the eyes of God. We express profound gratitude for the millions of Latter-day Saint women and men who willingly and effectively serve God and His children. Because of their faith and service, they have discovered that the Church is a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.

We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.

Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

The Council of
The First Presidency and
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

This statement speaks for itself.

Friday, June 27, 2014

John Dehlin Doubles Down on President Monson's Alleged Dementia

On June 16, 2014, John Dehlin went on Doug Fabrizio's program Radio West and was interviewed about his impending Church disciplinary action. In the course of his interview, Dehlin was asked by Fabrizio about a possible "power vacuum" in Church leadership. Dehlin then made the following statement (around the 20 minute mark).
Yeah, I'm cousins with Ezra Taft Benson, and September 1993 when the September Six happened, there was a power vacuum. It's well known that he was not able to lead the Church. He died the year after. And I've had many people, you know I think it's fair for us to ask 'is President Monson doing okay?' I've heard many people report some form of dementia or alzheimer's, and you know the Church is so powerful today, that if it makes a misstep it can wreck havoc in the lives of individual families and in the Church as a whole. So I think as the Church has become a multi-billion dollar global corporation, can it afford to continue to having 80 or even 90 year old men be in charge of the Church, when if their health goes awry it can create a power vacuum. I'm speculating, but given the pattern here I think it's a fair question to ask.
On the day of the announcement of Kate Kelly's excommunication, Dehlin went onto his Facebook page and created a post with a distasteful (and incorrectly spelled) "monsonhasdimentia" hashtag (in addition to an equally unsavory "powervacuum" hashtag) to accompany it.


In response to my determination to hold Dehlin responsible for perpetuating this repugnant hearsay about President Monson's health, one commenter on this blog obligingly accused me of "dig[ging] through deleted facebook messages to find dirt to smear [Dehlin]."

Well, it would seem that Dehlin is up to his usual tricks, and that, as I suspected, his hashtag wasn't some fluke. Here he is just this morning on his own website.
I am also very concerned about the rumors I have heard for many years, from many, many sources that President Thomas S. Monson is currently experiencing dementia.  I absolutely believe that one’s struggles with medical or psychological conditions deserve privacy and sensitivity.  However, given that Thomas S. Monson is a public figure, the LDS church is a global church, a great deal is at stake regarding current events and the church, and given the fact that the LDS church has the capacity to cause incredible benefit or harm to its members — I believe that it is a fair question to ask if there is a current leadership vacuum within the LDS church. . . . Many reporters have asked me over the past few weeks if the present leadership vacuum caused by President Monson’s alleged dementia has created an environment that would allow for the current actions to be taken against myself, Kate Kelly and others — which many believe to be incredibly damaging to the church’s worldwide image.  I believe that these are important questions that merit consideration, given all that is at stake for the LDS church, its members, and for folks like me and Kate Kelly.
Now, maybe it's creepy and stalkerish of me to, like, you know, quote John Dehlin's public statements from his website. I'll let you be the judge of that. In the mean time, let's pick this comment of his apart, shall we?

"I am also very concerned about the rumors I have heard for many years, from many, many sources that President Thomas S. Monson is currently experiencing dementia."

How many years is "many," John? five years? Ten? Twenty? And when do you mean by "currently"? 1990–2014? 2005–2014? 2008–2014? 2013–2014? Specifics, please.

"I am also very concerned about the rumors I have heard for many years, from many, many sources that President Thomas S. Monson is currently experiencing dementia."

You may be concerned about President Monson's health, John, but you're evidently not concerned with perpetuating hearsay. Notice that every single time you have commented on this, you've helpfully withheld who these sources are that your getting this information about President Monson's health from. So, I ask, who are these sources, John? President Monson's doctor? His daughter? One of his councilors in the First Presidency? An apostle? A Seventy? Someone else, maybe? Like, maybe President Monson's secretary's friend's roommate's uncle? Who? If you're going to be taken seriously, you need to give us some indication of who your sources are that are supplying you with this information. Remember when you were on Fabrizio's program a year ago and you made this claim about Daniel C. Peterson's dismissal from the Maxwell Institute?
All I did is I made one General Authority aware of the publication. And he took it upon himself to go to the president of BYU, and to others, and to ask the question: is this the type of thing that the Church should be sponsoring? And I’m very pleased to say that these church leaders, and I understand that there was an apostle involved in the decision, they made the decision not only that that type of apologetics wasn’t welcome in the Church.
Couldn't you at least do us a favor by giving some kind of hint who your sources are? You evidently weren't afraid to reveal that an apostle was, "as [you] underst[ood] it," "involved in the decision" to fire Dan Peterson (even though this claim seems patently absurd and false), so why the sudden shyness now? But if you won't give the public any kind of indication of who your sources are, then you're guilty of nothing more or less than fostering baseless hearsay. Hearsay, I might add, that is being exploited by rabid and merciless anti-Mormons on the Internet that are determined to mock, belittle, degrade, and even drag President Monson to court on bogus charges of fraud.

"I absolutely believe that one’s struggles with medical or psychological conditions deserve privacy and sensitivity."

Okay, great. So why don't you? Why don't you afford President Monson the courtesy of privacy and sensitivity? Assuming he is suffering from poor mental health, why not be sensitive to his privacy? Why do you keep bringing this up? If you suffered from, say, Count Choculitis, and I heard rumors about it, and kept saying things like "John Dehlin deserves privacy and sensitivity," but then turned right around and kept announcing your rumored health problems whenever it was expedient for me and whatever narrative I wanted to push about you and your leadership skills at the helm of Mormon Stories, how might you receive that?

"However, given that Thomas S. Monson is a public figure, the LDS church is a global church, a great deal is at stake regarding current events and the church, and given the fact that the LDS church has the capacity to cause incredible benefit or harm to its members — I believe that it is a fair question to ask if there is a current leadership vacuum within the LDS church."

Ah! There it is. You keep bringing this up because you feel entitled to know what's going on in the highest councils of the Church. But here's another question for you, John. Why do you suspect a power vacuum at all? And why should the rest of the public? All you have offered as evidence for this conspiracy are as-of-yet anonymous "sources" telling you that President Monson has dementia, and from that you're assuming or inferring that there might possibly be some kind of "power vacuum" today because there allegedly was one back during the September Six ordeal, which you allege "result[ed] directly from a leadership vacuum."

More importantly, it seems rather obvious to me that you're not willing to give the Brethren any sort of benefit of the doubt. Why is that? Why is it that as soon as you face disciplinary action, you immediately start making tenuous parallels between an alleged power vacuum in 1993 with another alleged (and wholly unsubstantiated) power vacuum today?

"I believe that it is a fair question to ask if there is a current leadership vacuum within the LDS church."

You're perfectly free to ask this if you'd like, but I again have to ask why you think it needs to be asked at all to begin with? Do you have any other evidence to support this fantasy of yours that there is a power vacuum in the leadership of the Church today? If so, what is it? Are you really basing your entire suspicion of a power vacuum on these rumors of President Monson's health, or something else?

"Many reporters have asked me over the past few weeks if the present leadership vacuum caused by President Monson’s alleged dementia has created an environment that would allow for the current actions to be taken against myself, Kate Kelly and others."

First of all, anyone who was truly concerned with offering President Monson privacy and sensitivity would say to these reporters, "President Monson's health is not something I should publicly comment on, since it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on his health or private life." Even if you did have reliable sources on this, the appropriate thing to say to these reporters would be, "It is not my place to speak about President Monson's private life," and then refer said reporters elsewhere. But instead you've just kept repeating the same hearsay that's being exploited by enemies of the Church and enemies of President Monson. Is that the sensitive thing to do, John?

In the end, with comments like these, John, it's really hard for me not to conclude that the whole point of you bringing this issue up is to say, "If President Monson was in his right mind, he'd agree with me. Because he has dementia, there must be a power vacuum among the Brethren and one or more of them is out to get me, just like they did with the September Six! That's the only possible explanation for why I am being summoned to a disciplinary hearing."

This sort of mentality is just as egregious, I might add, as when you revealed on Trib Talk back on June 12 that while "[you] have respect for the Church leadership" you nevertheless "do not feel like God is behind this at all," or otherwise that "if Jesus lives and exists" he "wouldn't be doing this" because you "don't see this as legitimate in God's eyes at all, if God exists" (35:24–36:02).

To say it more bluntly, John, your comments here and elsewhere reveal this kind of attitude.


Frankly, John, it's nobody' business, least of all yours, what President Monson's health is. The only reason you seem to be making it an issue is because you're assuming the worst in the Brethren. If you had probable cause to be concerned about a conspiracy and a "power vacuum" in the leadership of the Church, then I'd agree that we should be asking these questions. But so far all you have presented is hearsay evidence and tenuous parallels to 1993. 

So here is my challenge to you, John. Provide your ostensibly reliable and trustworthy sources about President Monson's health, thus confirming that your suspicion of a possible "power vacuum" among the Brethren potentially has some merit (although you'll need a lot more evidence to fully establish this additional claim), or stop speaking ill of the Lord's anointed.

[N.B. President Monson's alleged suffering from poor mental health in and of itself doesn't bother or disturb me. It would be very unfortunate if true, and I hope it isn't true, but because I have confidence in the inspiration of the leadership of the Church and don't buy into any claims of a "power vacuum," I would not be worried about the ability of the Church to fulfill its mission if these rumors about President Monson were true. Instead, I am deeply disturbed by Dehlin's selfish motives for bringing up President Monson's alleged health problems and turning them into a public spectacle.] 

Praise to the Man

Joseph and Hyrum Smith. "In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!"

Today is June 27, marking the 170th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum.

As is my annual custom on this day, here I will provide some materials dedicated to preserving the memory and greatness of the Prophet and his brother.

First, here is D&C 135, penned in 1844 shortly after the martyrdom.
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. . . . He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!
Second, here is a poem written by William W. Phelps in 1844 that we now include in our hymnbook as "Praise to the Man":

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

Praise to his mem'ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav'n while the earth lauds his fame.

Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.

Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know "Brother Joseph" again.

(Chorus)
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.


Third, here is a poem written by John Taylor in 1845.

The seer;—the seer;—Joseph the seer—
I’ll sing of the Prophet ever dear:
His equal now cannot be found,—
By searching the wide world around.
With Gods he soared, in the realms of day;
And men he taught the heavenly way.
The earthly seer! the heavenly seer,
I love to dwell on his mem’ry dear:—
The chose of God, and the friend of men,
He brought the priesthood back again,
He gazed on the past, on the present too;—
And ope’d the heav’nly world to view.

Of noble seed—of heavenly birth,
He came to bless the sons of earth:
With keys by the Almighty given,
He opened the full rich stores of heaven,
O’er the world that was wrapt in sable night,
Like the sun he spread his golden light.
He strove,—O, how he strove to stay,
The stream of crime in its reckless way—
with a mighty mind, and a noble aim
He urg’d the wayward to reclaim:
‘Mid the foaming billows of argry strife—
He stood at the helm, of the ship of life.

The saints;—the saints; his only pride,
For them he liv’d, for them he died!
Their joys were his;—their sorrows too;—
He lov’d the saints;—he lov’d Nauvoo.
Unchanged in death, with a Saviors love
He pleads their cause, in the courts above.
The seer;—the seer—Joseph the seer!
O, how I love his memory dear,
The just and wise, the pure and free,
A father he was, and is to me.
Let fiends now rage in their dark hour;—
No matter, he is beyond their power.

He’s free;—he’s free;—the Prophet’s free!
He is where he will ever be,
Beyond the reach of mobs and strife,
He rests unharm’d in endless life,
His home’s in the sky;— he dwells with the Gods,
Far from the furious rage of mobs.
He died; he died—for those he lov’d,
He reigns;—he reigns in realms above,
He waits with the just who have gone before,
To welcome the saints to Zions shore;
Shout, shout ye saints—this boon is given,
We’ll meet our martyr’d seer in heaven.


Fourth, this eyewitness description of the martyrdom by Willard Richards, who was present in Carthage on the day of the martyrdom. (Published in the Times and Seasons in August 1844. The paragraphing is my own.)

TWO MINUTES IN JAIL.

Possibly the following events, occupied near three minutes, but I think about two, and have penned them for the gratification of many friends.

Carthage, June 27th, 1844.

A shower of musket balls were thrown up the stair way against the door of the prison in the second story, followed by many rapid footsteps. While Generals Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Mr. Taylor, and myself, who were in the front chamber, closed the door of our room against the entry at the head of the stairs, and placed ourselves against it, there being no lock on the door and no ketch that was useable [usable]. The door is a common panel, and as soon as we heard the feet at the stairs head, a ball was sent through the door, which passed between us, and showed that our enemies were desperadoes, and we must change our position. Gen. Joseph Smith, Mr. Taylor, and myself sprang back to the front part of the room, and Gen. Hyrum Smith retreated two thirds across the chamber directly in front of and facing the door. A ball was sent through the door which hit Hyrum on the side of his nose when he fell backwards extended at length without moving his feet. From the holes in his vest, (the day was warm and no one had their coats on but myself,) pantaloons, drawers and shirt, it appears evident that a ball must have been thrown from without, through the window, which entered his back on the right side and passing through lodged against his watch, which was in his right vest pocket completely pulverizing the crystal and face, tearing off the hands and mashing the whole body of the watch at the same instant the ball from the door entered his nose.

As he struck the floor he exclaimed emphatically; "I'm a dead man." Joseph looked towards him, and responded, "O dear! Brother Hyrum!" and opening the door two or three inches with his left hand, discharged one barrel of a six shooter (pistol) at random in the entry from whence a ball grazed Hyrum's breast, and entering his throat, passed into his head, while other muskets were aimed at him, and some balls hit him. Joseph continued snapping his revolver, round the casing of the door into the space as before, three barrels of which missed fire, while Mr. Taylor with his walking stick stood by his side and knocked down the bayonets and muskets, which were constantly discharging through the doorway, while I stood by him, ready to lend any assistance, with another stick, but could not come within striking distance, without going directly before the muzzle of the guns. When the revolver failed, we had no more fire arms, and expecting an immediate rush of the mob, and the doorway full of muskets-half way into the room, and no hope but instant death from within: Mr. Taylor rushed into the window, which is some fifteen or twenty feet from the ground.

When his body was nearly on a balance, a ball from the door within entered his leg, and a ball from without struck his watch, a patent lever, in his vest pocket, near his left breast, and smashed it in "pie," leaving the hands standing at 5 o'clock, 16 minutes, and 26 seconds-the force of which ball threw him back on the floor, and he rolled under the bed which stood by his side, where he lay motionless, the mob from the door continuing to fire upon him, cutting away a piece of flesh from his left hip as large as his left hand, and were hindered only by my knocking down their muzzles with a stick; while they continued to reach their guns into the room, probably left handed, and aimed their discharge so far around as almost to reach us in the corner of the room to where we retreated and dodged, and then I re-commenced the attack with my stick again. Joseph attempted as the last resort to leap the same window from whence Mr. Taylor fell, when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward exclaiming, "O Lord my God!" As his feet went out of the window my head went in, the balls whistling all around. He fell on his left side a dead man. At this instant a cry was raised, "He's leaped the window," and the mob on the stairs and in the entry ran out.

I withdrew from the window, thinking it of no use to leap out on a hundred bayonets, then around Gen Smith's body. Not satisfied with this I again reached my head out of the window and watched some seconds, to see if there were any signs of life, regardless of my own, determined to see the end of him I loved; being fully satisfied, that he was dead, with a hundred men near the body and more coming round the corner of the jail, and expecting a return to our room I rushed towards the prison door, at the head of the stairs, and through the entry from whence the firing had proceeded, to learn if the doors into the prison were open.-When near the entry, Mr. Taylor called out, "take me;" I pressed my way till I found all doors unbarred, returning instantly caught Mr. Taylor under my arm, and rushed by the stairs into the dungeon, or inner prison, stretched him on the floor and covered him with a bed in such a manner, as not likely to be perceived, expecting an immediate return of the mob. I said to Mr. Taylor, this, is a hard case to lay you on the floor, but if your wounds are not fatal I want you to live to tell the story. I expected to be shot the next moment, and stood before the door waiting the onset.

WILLARD RICHARDS.

Fifth, and finally, this dedication, "Prophets and Martyrs," written by Hugh Nibley.
There is nothing accidental just as there is nothing devised in a martyr's end. He assumes the obligation to be a witness, knowing full well what that dangerous duty entails. The Prophet who was put to death [170] years ago was a true martyr and a true prophet in the strictest and holiest sense of the word.

Time to Relax . . . With Dragons!

Keeping up with the maelstrom that is the Internet's reaction to Kate Kelly's excommunication, as well as some other stuff going on in my life right now, has wiped me out. So tonight I had to watch something that would take my mind off of stuff and let me escape everything, if only for a few hours.

Accordingly, tonight I re-watched what has to be my all-time favorite animated movie–––How to the Train Your Dragon.


If you haven't seen this movie yet, I'd strongly recommend you drop what you're doing, grab a bowl of popcorn, and just let your inner child squeal with delight as you soar through the clouds with Hiccup and Toothless.

As soon as you're finished watching it, you then need to immediately go to your local theater and watch the sequel that came out a few weeks ago.


Honestly, there's really nothing I can think of to criticize with these two films. Every time I watch them I just switch off my critical thinking, forget everything that I learned in my film class about critiquing motion pictures, and enjoy the fun. There's nothing wrong with that, right?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Where do I Stand?

Just FYI.

The Results of Kate Kelly's Disciplinary Council

As reported by the Ordain Women website.



Over on his Facebook page, John Dehlin is begging, "Someone send me a banner/image that I erect on FB to express my mourning for, and solidarity with Kate Kelly."

How's this for a banner/image, John?



John Dehlin, ladies and gentlemen; promoting gender sensitivity and awareness since 2005.

Then there's this gem from Dehlin's Facebook page, which he quickly deleted. I wonder why.

Dehlin wonders "who's next"? I'll tell you who, John–––people who use idiotic and shameful hashtags like "monsonhasdimentia."

[For more on this, see my latest post here.]

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Joseph Smith's Polygamy

Did you know that Brian C. Hales has a blog? It's called Joseph Smith's Polygamy, and covers . . . wait for it . . . Joseph Smith's practice of plural marriage.

He also has a blog that you can read here. On his blog he has a new post about an encounter he recently had with John Dehlin. It's titled "The June 9, 2014, Anti-Mormon Message of John Dehlin," and you can read it here.

Make sure you read Hales' comments in the comments section. It is very, very telling that Hales:

A) sent Dehlin a list of problems he had with Alex Beam's treatment of Joseph Smith's plural marriage in his new book American Crucifixion;
B) addressed all these issues in his own podcast with Dehlin, which Dehlin followed up on by doing his "aw shucks, I never heard that" routine when it came time to interview Beam;
C) was going to have a reply to Beam but Dehlin has now decided he doesn't want to do it because he didn't like that Hales' wife grilled Beam after the presentation.

That's as succinct a summary of Dehlin's modus operendi as you're likely to find.

Abraham the Monotheist?

Abraham's Departure (1849) by József Molnár.

James L. Kugel has some interesting comments on the account of Abraham's call and journey as recorded in the Book of Genesis. In his volume How to Read the Bible, Kugel explores how ancient and modern interpreters of the Abraham narrative(s) in Genesis portray the patriarch's relationship with God. "Abraham came to acquire a specific image among ancient interpreters, and one that has carried through even to the present day," Kugel remarks. "[H]e was thought of as the discoverer of monotheism, the first person to figure out that there is really only one God, and that worshipping many gods and the things that they were identified with . . . was useless, the practice of an illusion" (p. 92).

This venerable tradition can be found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and Kugel devotes a few pages exploring these later portrayals of Abraham as the pioneering monotheist of the ancient world.

Except, Kugel says, there's a problem. "Was Abraham truly an exponent of the belief that there is only one God in the world?" he asks. "This idea . . . appears to have been wholly the creation of the ancient interpreters." In other words, according to Kugel, this portrayal of Abraham as a great monotheist is anachronistic. "When it comes down to cases, not a single verse in the book of Genesis actually says that Abraham believed in the existence of only one God. It is hard to see how he could have. If there even was an Abraham . . . he lived and traveled about in a polytheistic world. There is nary a hint, even in the Bible's much later depiction of him, that Abraham's beliefs differed in kind from those of the people he encountered or even that this was ever a subject of discussion. He is presented as worshipping his own God (and perhaps worshipping others as well), but not as an exponent of monotheism" (p. 103, emphasis in original).

After I read this, my initial reaction was to compare these comments with the Book of Abraham. Does the Book of Abraham describe the same seemingly anachronistic depiction of the patriarch that later Jews, Christians, and Muslims have?

A surface-level reading of the Book of Abraham might support this. After all, Abraham 1 follows later Jewish and Christian tradition of depicting Abraham as an iconoclastic polemicist. And Abraham 2–3 has Abraham being an evangelist for Jehovah, winning souls in Haran (Abraham 2:15) and going on a mission to Egypt (Abraham 3:15).

However, this surface-level reading is quickly unseated by Abraham 3–5, which depicts the divine council and uses the plural "Gods" in describing the agents that carried out the creation. So odious is the Book of Abraham's polytheism to classical theists, in fact, that I've encountered plenty of sectarian denunciations the text as blasphemous.

As such, I welcome Kugel's remarks, and think they align closely with the Book of Abraham's depiction of the patriarch. Yes, the Book of Abraham does present Abraham as a polemicist for his God over other deities (specifically Egyptian deities), but it never goes so far as to argue for strict monotheism as later interpreters anachronistically did. In this sense there's a bit of irony in the text, as we'd assume to expect there to be radical denunciations of polytheism, yet such denunciations never materialize, and instead we're quickly treated to a rather stark polytheistic depiction of God.

This also raises in my mind questions about the historicity of the Book of Abraham. If depicting Abraham as a strict monotheist is anachronistic, as Kugel argues, and belongs in later post-biblical tradition, then what does this say about the possibility of the Book of Abraham being a Greco-Roman or 19th century pseudepigraphon rather than a text composed in the Bronze Age levant, the "polytheistic world" spoken of by Kugel? I'm not going to definitively argue that the Book of Abraham's polytheism is evidence for its historicity, since other complicating issues, such as the influence Joseph Smith's study of Hebrew had on the text, are still under discussion, but I do want to raise the point. It is, I believe, something to seriously consider.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Republican's Modest Proposal Risks Eviction From Party

[Written by a friend of mine and posted here with permission.]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Scranton (New Jersey) Tribulation and Coupon Saver, A-1

(REUTERS) Pamela Printzmetal, a member of the Republican Party, has cried foul over reports that the party may expel her.

Printzmetal has been a long and vocal advocate for the addition of a plank—advocating the forcible collectivization of agriculture—to the Republicans’ party platform.

Party leaders and rank and file have been overwhelmingly opposed to the notion. Undeterred, Printzmetal assembled a small group of self-declared “party delegates,” and announced her intention to seek access to an October 2013 delegates’ meeting during the party caucus. When informed by the Republican Party that she would not be admitted, Printzmetal vowed to come anyway, declaring that she and her unelected fellows intended to “demonstrate that we are ready and able to be caucus delegates,” though none have been elected to that post according to party regulations. Printzmetal, her followers, and several television cameras which just happened to be in the area were turned away from the meeting.

As the April 2014 caucus meeting approached, Printzmetal again indicated her intention to attend the delegates’ meeting. She encouraged other non-delegates to also attend, and distributed colorful posters reminding them that this was an excellent opportunity “To face down class enemies and running dogs—both literally and figuratively!”

In a public and private messages from party leadership, Printzmetal was asked to cease and desist from her plans. Republican leaders indicated that her plank was currently an unacceptable option, and urged her to avoid creating a disturbance at the delegates’ meeting and distracting from the important party business to be conducted. She ignored these requests, and now says she inexplicably faces ejection from the party.

“It caught me completely by surprise,” she declared, adopting the look of a deer about the meet the blade of a snowplow during a solar eclipse. “My local party chairperson told me that I was no longer allowed to spread my economic theories using party buildings or stationary, and I wasn’t to represent myself as a member of the Republican party in good standing. He told me if I didn’t disclaim my public calls for the forced collectivization of all farmland in the United States, I might be ejected from the party.”

“So,” she concluded, “I thought we’d simply agreed to disagree about economic theory. I could never have seen this coming.”

Printzmetal has declined to meet with party leaders to discuss her status, saying that although she was happy to make the journey twice from Snowflake, Arizona to attend the delegates’ meeting in Scranton, New Jersey to which she had been told she would not be admitted, it is simply too costly for her to travel from Scranton to Snowflake to meet with party leaders. “That’s an awfully long way to go for something with a predetermined outcome,” she observed.

“I’m heartbroken,” Printzmetal confessed. “I was born into a Republican family, and I’ve been a Republican all my life. I believe deeply in the principles of Republicanism, including the violent nationalization of the means of production and the need for the Worker’s State to raise all children in kibbutzim.”

“After all,” she continued, “This attempt by a jack-booted party leadership shows they simply can’t tolerate differences of opinion. Being a Republican isn't about accepting a certain view of the world and its economic relationships. It's not about a philosophical stance toward right and wrong in human affairs. It isn't an organization where participation is voluntary. It’s really more of a genetic sort of thing. Next they’ll be telling me I don’t have an inalienable right to be a member of Sam’s Club. It’s crazy talk.”

Other agree with Printzmetal. Julia Ramsey-Hunt, director of what she calls the People’s Republican Center for Dialectical Materialism, called the Party leadership’s threat to Printzmetal’s membership “medieval.”

“It’s a sad day,” said Ramsey-Hunt, “I mean—except for the fact that this is a private entity instead of a government church with unchecked power, the multiple public and private warnings to her of the consequences of her continued protesting, the complete absence of the risk of economic disenfranchisement if she’s expelled, the lack of any real possibility of vigilante acts to get her to comply, the freedom to speak for herself and provide evidence in the party disciplinary process, the right for her to call witnesses in her own behalf and examine the witnesses and evidence against her, the fact that Printzmetal could form her own party if she wanted to, the reality that the Republican Party can’t compel her to meet with them or even acknowledge their instructions, the fact that they have no right or intent to seize her property or money, and the near certainty that there will be no judicial use of torture—except for all that, this scenario is exactly like the Middle Ages. The parallels are chilling.”

Printzmetal sees the case as a clear threat against her right of free speech. “I haven’t taught false economic ideas,” she said. “I haven’t taught economic ideas at all. All I’ve done is speak the truth: the bourgeoisie need to be put up against the wall when the world Proletarian Revolution comes to usher in a Workers’ Utopia. I thought we were supposed to speak the truth in the Republican Party. What are they afraid of?”

Printzmetal also noted that, given the well-known stranglehold monopoly which the Republican Party has on the media, the Internet, social media, and all the nation’s printing presses, she didn’t see much chance that her right of free speech could be salvaged if she is, in fact, excluded from the party’s membership rolls.

J. Swift contributed to this report.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mondnacht

I'm kinda sick and tired of reading and hearing about John Dehlin and Kate Kelly and the Sturm und Drang that the Internet is going through over all of this stuff, so here's something pleasant, nice, soothing, beautiful and not related to them in any way.

Mondnacht - Joseph von Eichendorff

Es war, als hätt’ der Himmel
Die Erde still geküsst,
Dass sie im Blütenschimmer
Von ihm nun träumen müsst'.

Die Luft ging durch die Felder,
Die Ähren wogten sacht,
Es rauschten leis’ die Wälder,
So sternklar war die Nacht.

Und meine Seele spannte
Weit ihre Flügel aus,
Flog durch die stillen Lande,
Als flöge sie nach Haus.

I'm not going to translate this poem, since the German is just too perfect for me to bastardize through translation. Just listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and enjoy.

President Benson on Apostasy

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994).
A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I want to repost it here.

President Benson once taught:

"Sometimes we hear someone refer to a division in the Church. In reality, the Church is not divided. It simply means that there are some who, for the time being at least, are members of the Church but not in harmony with it. These people have a temporary membership and influence in the Church; but unless they repent, they will be missing when the final membership records are recorded.

"It is well that our people understand this principle, so they will not be misled by those apostates within the Church who have not yet repented or been cut off. But there is a cleansing coming. The Lord says that his vengeance shall be poured out “upon the inhabitants of the earth. . . . And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me. . . .” (D&C 112:24–26.). I look forward to that cleansing; its need within the Church is becoming increasingly apparent.

"The Lord strengthened the faith of the early apostles by pointing out Judas as a traitor, even before this apostle had completed his iniquitous work. So also in our day the Lord has told us of the tares within the wheat that will eventually be hewn down when they are fully ripe. But until they are hewn down, they will be with us, amongst us…

"Yes, within the Church today there are tares among the wheat and wolves within the flock. As President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., stated: “The ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep’s clothing because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood. . . . We should be careful of them. . . .” (Conference Report, April 1949, p. 163.)

"The wolves amongst our flock are more numerous and devious today than when President Clark made this statement.

"President David O. McKay said that “the Church is little, if at all, injured by persecution, and calumnies from ignorant, misinformed, or malicious enemies. A greater hindrance to its progress comes from faultfinders, shirkers, commandment-breakers, and apostate cliques within its own ecclesiastical and quorum groups.” (Conference Report, October 1967, p. 9.)

"Not only are there apostates within our midst, but there are also apostate doctrines that are sometimes taught in our classes and from our pulpits and that appear in our publications. And these apostate precepts of men cause our people to stumble. As the Book of Mormon, speaking of our day, states: “. . . they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Ne. 28:14.)" ––– Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country, 253-263.

"Apostate cliques." I like that. Sums up Ordain Women and Mormon Stories pretty well.

BTW, one blogger, apparently with a straight face, incredulously asked, "What exactly has John Dehlin done wrong?"

That's a good question, and one that has been thoroughly answered.*

*And this only covers stuff Dehlin had been doing up to 2012. I have in my possession another document (that will hopefully see the light of day sometime soon), almost as long, synthesizing Dehlin's attacks on the Church since 2012.

"Have Nothing to do With Them"

One of the frescoes on the ceiling of Karlskirche in Vienna (completed in 1737) depicting either: (A) an angel burning the heretical works of a Protestant theologian or (B) Moroni torching the collected transcripts of John Dehlin's podcast interviews and Kate Kelly's "Six Discussions."
It has just been reported by the New York Times (and picked up by the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune) that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly are facing Church disciplinary action, supposedly "for pushing their church to ordain women to the priesthood and to accept openly gay members." (See the Church's response to this new ordeal here.) Actually, I have a feeling that the reasons run much deeper than this, given the fact that, you know, John Dehlin is not only no longer a believer in the foundational claims of the Church, but also that he's otherwise fostered (if not eagerly promoted) an environment for people to leave and dissidents to attack the Church, and that Kate Kelly, despite repeated requests by the Church to cease and desist in her activism, continues to push her agenda for the ordination of women to the priesthood.

But I digress. What has caught my attention (besides the lugubrious melodrama of certain denizens on the Bloggernacle) is the reaction of especially Kate Kelly's fans at such places like the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog. One poster, for instance, has a lengthy homily (of sorts) on 1 Corinthians 12. The apparent thrust of the post is that the excommunication of Dehlin and Kelly would be terrible, since, as the body of Christ, all believers in the Church–––"[t]he feminists, the primary teachers, the intellectuals, The Quorum of the Twelve, the gays, the PR Department, the Ordain Women"–––should be unified and kind to one another. Because of the pending discipline of Kelly and Dehlin, "today our body is wounded, we have cut ourselves and we bleed, and we cry, and we mourn."

I found these comments rather bizarre. I mean, really, does this poster have any actual idea of what Paul thought about disciplining members that were acting out of sync with church leadership?

Well, let's have a look.

Where better to star than 1 Corinthians itself? In chapter 5, after expressing his shock at the reports he'd heard about sexual immorality in the church, Paul directed the community to handle the offending party accordingly: "When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. . . . Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened" (1 Corinthians 5:4–6). Later in the same chapter, Paul informs members of the church at Corinth "not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one" (v. 11).

Along the same lines, here are Paul's concluding remarks in 2 Thessalonians. "Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us." Not only that, Paul goes on to direct, "Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers" (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15).

You will recall that some time ago I wrote a humorous post on Paul's use of salty language. As it turns out, Paul could also be highly sarcastic. In Galatians, for example, Paul vents his frustration over the so-called Judaizers in the church who opposed his teachings on circumcision. Concerning these dissidents, in 5:12 Paul tells them to go ἀποκόψτονται themselves. This verb (infinitive: ἀποκόπτω) means to "cut off," as in to either physically cut something or to excommunicate someone, but here is a double entendre that also means "to castrate." In other words, Paul was so fed up with those members of the church who challenged his theology concerning the fulfillment of circumcision that he told them to go "excommunicate/castrate" themselves if they think circumcision is going to help them gain favor in the eyes of God.

To the saints at Rome, Paul sent the following instruction: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences [lit. "scandals"; σκάνδαλον], in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded" (Romans 16:17–18).

Finally, here is Titus 3:10–11. "After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions [in the church], since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned."

Pretty blunt stuff, wouldn't you say? Not only should we disassociate from dissenters or those in open rebellion against the standards and beliefs of the church, but we should also "clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch," meaning we should employ excommunication when necessary to preserve the church.

Or at least according to Paul we should.

Before I go any further, let me make a few things absolutely clear. I do not think Kate Kelly or John Dehlin are as bad as adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, thieves, idol worshippers, etc. I strongly, strongly disagree with a lot of what they do and advocate, but I am not casting moral judgement on them personally. The examples of sinful behavior cited above come from specific things Paul was addressing that were facing the saints at the time of the composition of these letters. Nevertheless, the general principle of conducting church discipline against apostates is the same. The point of this post is not to cast aspersion on the character of Kelly or Dehlin, but rather to point out the fact that Paul, whose writings the poster at Feminist Mormon Housewives appealed to in her apologia for Kate Kelly, was not one to tolerate apostasy and dissension and was not afraid to use very strong language in advocating church discipline when necessary. I thus find it highly disingenuous to appeal to Paul in some sort of defense against enacting church discipline.

Let me also point out, lest I am misunderstood, that I am not advocating shunning or excluding those who are disciplined. Paul says to do so, but I won't go that far. I believe, of course, that we should show kindness and friendship to everyone, including those who may face church discipline. However, there come certain times when it is necessary to enforce the disfellowship or excommunication of members "to save the souls of transgressors, protect the innocent, and safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church" (source). Dan Peterson said it well over at his blog: "I recognize and believe in the right of the Church to determine the bounds of acceptable behavior and teaching among its members, and to excommunicate those who choose not to accept those boundaries. The Church is a voluntary association, and that works both ways."

These are precisely my sentiments.

So, to summarize:

1. Paul was not some love dovey, live and let live kinda of guy who would just let apostasy and division slide. He had some very harsh things to say about those who rebelled against church authority and on a number of occasions advocated formal discipline of errant members, including excommunication.

2. I do not think Dehlin or Kelly are evil or morally degenerate. Paul blasted fornicators and drunks in the examples given above, but I do not believe Dehlin or Kelly are on the same level as these degenerates spoken of above with their own apostasy. (Although, to be frank, I think Dehlin's efforts in giving voice to dissidents and ushering people out of the Church do amount to what Alma was talking about in Alma 36:14.) Rather, I think the general principle communicated in these citations is applicable, i.e. the church has a right to discipline those who wantonly disregard church standards or teachings or the counsel of church leaders.

In short, yes, we are the body of Christ, and, yes, we all have diverse gifts and talents and perspectives. It is also true that we, as individual members of the body of Christ, should be cautious in zealously proclaiming "I have no need of you" at one another. However, there also comes a point where "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:30).

P.S. for anyone who thinks the word "apostate" is too strong, may I point out the fact that, at least in her case, Kate Kelly has specifically been charge with "apostasy," per the letter sent to her by her bishop, or otherwise with "openly, repeatedly and deliberately acting in public opposition to the Church" (source).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Familie Baal

I found this headstone in the Wiener Zentralfriedhof a year ago when I was exploring Austria. I rediscovered my picture of it last night as I was digging through my files.


I really wish I could be a member of the Baal family. Seems to me that being the son of a Canaanite storm god would have its perks.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Die schöne Müllerin (Part 9)

"Der Tau in euren Äugelein, / Das sollen meine Tränen sein."

Still reluctant to directly open to his lover, the miller now sings of his desire to enlist a strand of blue flowers growing by the brook in his attempts to win over the heart of the maid. We read of his loving scheme in our next song–––"Des Müllers Blumen."

Am Bach viel kleine Blumen stehn,
Aus hellen blauen Augen sehn;
Der Bach, der ist des Müllers Freund,
Und hellblau Liebchens Auge scheint,
Drum sind es meine Blumen.

By the brook stand many small flowers,
Which see with bright blue eyes;
The brook, he's truly the miller's friend,
And as the bright blue eyes of my darling shine,
So it is with my flowers.

Dicht unter ihrem Fensterlein,
Da pflanz' ich meine Blumen ein,
Da ruft ihr zu, wenn alles schweigt,
Wenn sich ihr Haupt zum Schlummer neigt,
Ihr wißt ja, was ich meine.

Underneath her little window,
There I'll plant my flowers,
There you'll cry, when all is still,
When she lays her head down in slumber,
You'll truly know what I intend.

Und wenn sie tät die Äuglein zu
Und schläft in süßer, süßer Ruh,
Dann lispelt als ein Traumgesicht
Ihr zu: Vergiß, vergiß mein nicht!
Das ist es, was ich meine.

When she closes her little eyes
And sleeps in sweet, sweet peace,
Then whisper as a dreamy vision
To her: O, forget me not!
That's only what I want.

Und schließt sie früh die Laden auf,
Dann schaut mit Liebesblick hinauf:
Der Tau in euren Äugelein,
Das sollen meine Tränen sein,
Die will ich auf euch weinen.

And when she opens up the shutters,
Then look up with a lovely gaze:
The dew in your little eyes,
Is nothing less than my own tears,
Which I will cry upon you.

Something about the childishness and simple naiveté of this scheme is endearing and heartwarming. I can't help but smile at the imagery of the miller whispering his secret plans to his spying flowers, who will lull the maid to sleep with quiet promptings to not forget her secret lover.