Thursday, August 21, 2014

Christians Feeling The Spirit in Face of Atheism

I have been actively engaging a few friends of mine who are repeatedly yelling about the lack of proof for the existence of God.

What has been fun is to see all those Christians who attack Mormons as irrational because they base their testimony upon spiritual experiences, now have to use their own version of spiritual experiences as their ultimate proof.

Let's face it, all Christians remain Christians because they feel better being a Christian.  They leave because they don't feel the Spirit.  This is true of Mormons and non-Mormon Christians.

But when non-LDS Christians try to engage Mormons, they attack the "burning in the bosom" as self-delusional wishful thinking by Mormons.  Something Mormons "hide behind".

I have gone to Christian book stores for many years, and you could always find books on receiving answers to prayer, spiritual experiences, personal revelation and the like.  But critics of LDS beliefs conveniently ignore those members of their own faith traditions.  Instead, they try to substitute historical or scholarly information, as if you could study your way into knowing Christianity was the only true faith.

That is an exercise in self-authentication.

Only through experiencing the Holy Spirit can you realize that ultimate truth is not a set of hypotheses which you can ever completely test.  It is not something which can be studied and arrived at without divine assistance.  Jesus is truth, because God alone can know all things, and therefore can know all truth.  He can confirm our faith.

I have been blessed with a few spiritual experiences which have provided actual proof to me of the life after this life.  I was informed of the passing of a relative in a dream, told my family of the message, and then got the phone call 20-minutes later that it had happened.  The message was delivered by three of my deceased relatives, and a voice spoke to me, audibly but in my mind while sleeping.

I don't know the truth of all things.  But I know their is a God who knows the past, present and future, and there is a life after this life.  That is enough to know that atheism is false.

I was accused of suffering from cognitive dissonance the other day because I accept science yet have faith.  But the basic premise of cognitive dissonance is that you have two philosophies which take you in opposing directions, and therefore require you to irrationally avoid information which conflicts with one of the beliefs, and you eventually become so uncomfortable with the dissonance, you eventually reject the view which makes you uncomfortable.

I can tell you I am perfectly at ease with faith/supernatural existence of God, and science.  I don't believe there is a God or a life after this one, I know there is.  So my discomfort, were I to have one, would actually be striving to get the theoretical world of science more in line with ultimate truth, that there is a God.

Because I know God cannot be found in a telescope or a Petri dish, the lack of scientific proof for God is about as important to me as calculus is to a dog.  Because the world cannot understand it does not make it untrue.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Update on Gay Marriage

This is just a quick FYI to my post that I thought the "gay marriage" issue is a relatively small social issue, so long as something is done to deal with children rights to have access to biological parents.  The main points of update are as follows:
Today the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released their annual nationwide survey, and for the first time they survey sexual orientation.  What they found was 1.6% of the population identify as being homosexual, 0.6% identify as bisexual, 1% refused to identify or said they were "something else" (interesting!), and 96.6% said they are heterosexual.  This is considered a gold standard survey due to the large sample size (over 33,000 people) and their surveying method of face to face interviews with telephone follow-ups.  Aside from the headline issues, the rest of the survey is worth reading.

2.  A recent extremely small survey in Australia (315 parents, 500 children) is being touted as "the Largest Survey of Gay Parents" and the like, and concludes the kids are better off.  Well, not so fast.  The survey is not one which actually measures anything.  It simply asked the parents how their kids are doing.  It is also worth noting the author of the study is raising two children with his own homosexual partner, which is not an insignificant issue given the overall weakness of the supposed data, and the vastness of their claims.  Instead, I have cited an actual quantitative study of a U. of Texas researcher, which demonstrated entirely different results, and concluded children raised by same sex parents are not better off.  Here is a good summary article to review addressing both studies.  Because the U of Texas authors results were so politically incorrect, his results were challenged as doctored by his critics, who even made a formal complaint to the University.  Well, be careful what you ask for as a critic, because the U of T did a thorough review of his data and evidence, and said there is no evidence of doctoring or fraud.  As is usual of touching such a political third rail as rejecting politically correct views, the U of T announcement did note that his study could still be seriously flawed, there is just no evidence of fraud or data doctoring.  Way to back your guy, U of T.
Here is a blogger's analysis of the controversy.  The results are still attacked by critics for the small sample size they studied.  But the problem is that if you apply a scientific standard to comparing apples to apples, as I noted, it is nearly impossible to find any families in the USA where two same-sex involved domestic couples have been together for 18 years or more raising children together.  This is not hard to find among heterosexuals, though the pool is sadly getting smaller.  But instability of relationships in same-sex couples that you will not find "thousands" of such relationships for a survey.  The actual Family Structures survey is here.  I could not find the U of Texas study in full, so here is a very lengthy presentation of its content by the Family Research Council.

As anyone knows, these are very touchy issues.  As I have stated, I think the impact of allowing gay marriage is almost zero, though I would prefer the name 'civil union' or something similar, as I think marriage has the traditional understanding of being between a man and a woman.  However, I think the current research, combined with basic common sense, tells us children have better outcomes with both genders of parents active in their lives.  Homosexuals feel attacked as bad people or a social pariah if their parenting is seen as being less than perfect for raising children.  But it is actually no different than the myriad of studies which show children of divorce or other single parent families or step families tend to have more issues as adults or children than kids from intact two parent families. There is a range of real outcomes in those groups, including great adults from abusive divorced parents and horrible adults from seemingly solid two parent families.  But we don't try to put the worst of one group against the best of another.  Kids deserve to have access to their two biological parents, because they need role models.  If those parents are unfit,then we protect the kids.  But kids are not pets, and are not an accessory.  If a person chooses to live in a downtown apartment, they can't complain they don't have a lot of private yard space.  It is politically incorrect to acknowledge the biological differences of people, and to note the different roles men and women play in life.  I think much more study on this subject needs to be done before we assert as a fact there is no impact on children raised in same sex couples as compared to other relationship models.  It would be refreshing if we could have a study of all same sex couples with children who have been together for 18 years or more, and we end up with data both sides can agree upon.  Typically liberals want to run with the most conservative approach to environmental issues or personal care issues.  Think about the ideas around giving money to too many people including people who are living off the system, as opposed to too few people, and seeing some folks suffering.  Think of environmental issues which are always erring on the side of preservation of habitat or species, or dealing with cutting down on carbon emissions to try to head off a possible problem with global warming.  Yet we ignore both studies which are considered "controversial" because they buck Politically Correct views and our vast academic data of unstable homes negative impact on children, simply because the unscientific views on this issue are not popular.  My experience with homosexuals is they are absolutely like most anyone else in terms of interacting with me.  That is the same with divorced people, single moms or married couples.  But I know statistically single families and step-families are not as good for children.  In a perfect world, kids should have a right to their bio parents.  That right should not be excised from a child simply because homosexual couples want kids.  Maybe the best way to keep both parents involved is to require people wanting to donate a child to their friends to have some financial obligation for that child, regardless of the financial position of the same-sex parents.  It is true that where your treasure is, there you will find your heart. Children deserve the hearts of their biological parents, so barring that, they deserve their parents treasure.  For most people, the love of a child they are involved with will eventually melt the heart of even those who think children are gifts, like a bottle of wine, they can give away to show how much they like their friends.  Kids in same sex parent homes have a much higher probability of being on welfare or other social services due to the fact same sex families tend to separate at much higher rates than heterosexual families.  So putting money aside for those children is not a bad idea.  That is, if you care about the children.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Manti Mess(ages)

I sneaked  down to Manti on Thursday and Friday to visit with the annual pageant Anti-Mormon outreach.  Thursday was spent speaking the whole three hours to about 5 different people in what I think was productive.  Productive is a loose term, but I feel good when people I have made feel sort of misinformed about pretty much everything they believe about Mormonism still like me and shake my hand when we are done.
I have a brochure I created for Manti this year which focuses on several non-LDS scholars' statements around the reality of the Hebrew belief in real plural gods.  It also discusses the mis-translation of John 1:1, which should say "and the Word was a god"(or words to the effect that the Word had the same nature as The God, but is a different member of that class of beings)and how the way most Christians interpret it actually make the verse a modalist or Sabellean heresy.  Finally, it also provides extensive statements by early Christians that people can become gods, with a list of references to the concept in the Bible.  If you would like a copy, send me your email as a comment.  I won't post your address, I will just email you the brochure.  No minimum donation required :-)

Friday night I had several very positive conversations with folks, and I circulated more.  I was speaking with one gentleman from England when some guy name Jason walked up, listened for about 10 minutes or so, then started asking questions but not waiting for answers.
"Didn't Joseph Smith order Gov Boggs killed?"  "Weren't the Mormons stealing land in Missouri, so they were not really victims?"  "Didn't having a standing militia violate federal law?"  "Didn't Joseph print his own money and steal the real currency?"  "Isn't that illegal?"

These questions, and potential exchange, looks easy on the surface.  You think, he is asking a question, he wants an answer.

Truth is, Jason was giving his answer in the form of a question, and did not care to hear my answer or response at all.  He wanted me to answer yes or no, and if I disagreed with his conclusions, he called me deceptive.  He eventually started in with personal insults ("You're a mile wide and an inch deep, aren't you?"), so I said to him I would not talk with ignorant insulting people, and turn away from him.  What was helpful was he did this in front of two other gentlemen whom I had previously had excellent exchanges with, and they were embarrassed by their "Christian Brother's" behavior.  I then apologized for calling the guy stupid, and then gave them the answers to the assertions:
1.  Joseph did not order the Boggs assassination attempt.  No evidence of it.
2.  Porter Rockwell was a suspect, but he calmly stated that if he had wanted him dead, he'd be dead.  A grand jury agreed, and Rockwell was never indicted.  It is commonly believed the would-be assassin was a political rival, though he was never found.
3.  I explained that the LDS had organized a protective force, consistent with the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution, under their right to keep and bear arms for self defense.  However, the US Government refused to intervene, with President Martin Van Buren famously saying to Joseph Smith, to the effect, "Your cause is just, but I cannot help you."  As we know, Joseph prophesied their government would be destroyed, and within 20 years the Whig party was, in fact, completely destroyed.  The Republicans emerged, and the Whigs are now just an historical footnote.
4.  Related to three, the 10th amendment to the US Constitution was the reason Van Buren could not intervene at the time.  After the Civil War the Constitution was amended to allow far more Federal involvement in state issues.  Keeping the peace and administering the domestic affairs of the states were seen as exclusively a state's rights issue at the time, and so Van Buren felt he could not take action.  Having a standing militia, if in a state of insurrection, would have been a violation of federal law.  Arming your people to defend against criminals is not.  There was no violation of federal law, and they did not steal land from anyone.
5.  The great depression of the late 1830's, which was brought on largely because the Gold Standard limited the amount of money which could be printed, thus limiting the velocity or circulation of money to create new capital, brought hundreds of communities around the country to create their own banking societies.  As I mentioned to the guys in Manti, if you have ever seen the movie "It's a Wonderful Life", there is a scene where there is a run on the bank.  Jimmy Stewart has people demanding their money.  He explains that he cannot give it because it is in someone's home, or another person's business, etc.  This is the concept of cash reserve ratios.  If a bank takes in $100, but lends out $95, then if everyone comes in asking for their money, it is not in the bank, it is in assets and out in the community circulating.  In Kirtland, they created a banking society.  They basically issued IOU's to people, which everyone agreed to accept, in exchange for some cash deposits so they could meet the "hard currency" requirements they all would have.  It worked great, until hard currency reserves disappeared.  In 1837, the year the Kirtland Bank failed, the US entered a 5 year depression where nearly half of all banks failed, and many other similar banking societies as Kirtland also failed.  The crazy land price increases collapsed, so the assets underlying the notes disappeared.  Not good for anyone.  Joseph left, but I have seen research which shows eventually all were repaid.  Joseph left Kirtland with his 6-month pregnant wife the first week of January 1838.  It took two months, two winter months, with nearly no money, to get to Missouri.  Far from living a rich life, Joseph and Emma suffered too.
6.  Finally, was it illegal.  Yes, it was.  Joseph paid a $1,000 fine for setting it up.  But it was also common, as the lack of currency was a problem everywhere on the frontier.  It also failed because of the lack of trust and cooperation between members of the Kirtland Safety Society, and under captitalization.

History is not simple, and it is not black and white.  If we believe that all Presidents of the LDS Church are always inspired, then we will always be disappointed.  They were looking for solutions.  At times they felt inspired.  Other times they just did their best.  At all times they were human.  Don't trust humans with your salvation, trust God.  But you still have to work with humans for everything else.

Final point.  I was walking to leave on the road from the food court to the pageant area.  I saw a girl about 10 years old passing out brochures, so I stopped and handed her one of mine.  She looked like she was being baited by a child molester.  I didn't get it at first, and I laughingly said "If you are going to pass out brochures to the Mormons, why don't you take them too?"  She backed away, and a pretty dark haired little girl, also about 10, very nervously said "We have been told not to talk to you."  I said, "What? Why is that, because I can answer your questions?"  She said no, her daddy had said I was not nice to Christians, and they should not speak with me.  She was nervously shaking as she said that, so I said "who is your daddy?"  She replied "Keith Walker."  I said he was with some ministry, and by now three young men in their twenties had walked over, and they said "Evidence Ministries".  I said I would love to talk with her daddy, that it is not true that I am mean to other Christians, and I had even done a short video about her daddy because he had some things wrong about the Mormons.  She said she knew I knew him.  I jokingly said to one of the Christians I had spoken with earlier in the week who was walking by, "Am I mean to Christians?"  Which she just laughed about.  The little girl walked away.

Funny thing is, I literally bumped into Keith Walker earlier in the evening while passing through the crowd.  If I had known he was telling people to be afraid of me, I would had asked him about it.  Next year I will have a friend take a camera, and we will have a conversation.  People can then determine if I am mean to even those anti-Mormons who disparage me personally.  Not that I care what people judge about me.  God knows my heart.  But when one's living is based on attacking other people's faith, maybe telling a story about me is better than getting caught on video.  Maybe I can help change that for Keith.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Classic Endings to Hubris

OK, the recent exchange with the "anonymous" writer I suspect is over.  We just received the following two responses:

 Anonymous said...
There is an old saying in the south that we say when someone just doesn't get things. That saying is "bless your heart". Bob, bless your heart. Let me ask you a question. Do you want me to bow down to you because of your intelligence and because you will be a "god" someday? Do you want me to tell you how smart you are and that I wish I could be like you? Despite your education, you are a very foolish man when it comes to your knowledge in the Bible and faith.
I could care less how much greek you speak. I could care less about your mormon text that was inspired by a man that has no knowledge of Spiritual matters. What you speak about is of this world and not based on anything Spiritual. You are not knowledgeable in the Bible and I certainly trust what Ryrie says over your blasphemous beliefs because he is grounded in the Spirit. You my friend Bob, are just like the Pharisees Jesus is referring to in the Bible. Read Matthew 23:13-39. Woe unto you Bob.
You are prideful. You will not admit your wrongdoings. You keep mentioning the things I won't answer and I told you that if you were of the Spirit you would understand these things. But you are not, therefore you won't. Why won't you answer me about Galatians 1:8-9. Why won't you answer me about whether or not you sin. Bob, you are a sinner. There is NOTHING you can ever do to save yourself. You are an awful sinner. Works don't save. Not only are you a sinner, but I am too. I am just man enough to admit it because I believe I need Jesus and that He is Lord and that He saved me from my sins. He is all I need because I can't save myself.
You are a man with a hard heart Bob. Despite your claims of being smart, you are nothing but a fool to me. Your education will never impress me. The only thing you can do that will make me respect you is to put aside your heretical mormon texts, the ridiculous and unfulfilled doctrine and covenants, the so-called translated papryi of the book of Abraham, and read the New Testament to teach you about the real Jesus.
You are NOT a Christian. We need to make that clear. I have mentioned there is only one heaven and one hell and the only way to heaven is by accepting the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, believing that He was raised from the dead, and working out this salvation. You must accept Grace, God's unmerited favor.
Face it Bob, your education is just like the Pharisees. You are to prideful to recognize who Jesus really is and because you have not received His Spirit, you are not able to discern these Spiritual matters. It is really sad. I feel sorry for you. But, I have not stopped praying for you.
I can't help but think that in a couple of weekends, I will be going to Eldorado, TX to visit some family. If you recall, there was a mormon temple built in Eldorado where these men practiced polygamy and married young women. These men were so-called prophets and said they received a "call" from your god. Explain to me, BOB, how these men are not a part of your false faith. Explain to me how they are not following "true mormon texts". Polygamy is in your doctrine and covenants and this is an outright heretical teaching. Warren Jeffs was a prophet, wasn't he? Don't you agree with what he believes because it is ALL in your mormon text?
Because of your educational background, it sounds like you like proof. Your ridiculous explanation regarding how the American Indians did not have any Jewish DNA was just laughable. Get over it Bob. Your religion is a farce and your founding father was a man that needed serious mental help.
You need Jesus. I will continue to pray for you and your hard heart. I really feel sorry for how out of touch with reality you are but anything is possible with God. Remember, the truth hurts, but the truth also sets you free.
6/12/2014 8:09 PM
Anonymous Anonymous said...
And by the way, there are NO modern day prophets. Your prophet within the mormon faith is a phony.
If you need someone else to start up another modern day religion, maybe you can become a pretend prophet yourself and profit from your propheting.
So, it starts off insulting.  Somehow I am a bad person because I refuse to submit to his obvious superior spiritual endowments.  So the obviously denigrating comment that he should "bow down because of [my] intelligence."  Well, if that is what he normally does when he meets people who out work him to understand the Bible, OK, but keep it modest.  I blush easily.

So let's recall that his original charges included that Mormons in general and me in particular don't understand the scriptures, and he cited several which he said supported his position.  He was wrong, and as you can see for yourself, I was able to systematically dismember his position using only the finest academic sources, none of which are LDS.
This has resulted in another insult and illogical appeal to his own authority as the source for religious truth:  "I could care less how much greek (sic) you speak... you are nothing but a fool to me."

So he asks why I won't admit I sin.  I have, many times, including in these posts and responses.  He asserts I claim that we can work our way into heaven.  Sorry to let him know, but I have written extensively on that story line that it is impossible to save ourselves.  We are saved through grace.  It is impossible to be saved without grace from God.  But, we have an obligation to be obedient.  That is the obligation we have as recipients of Christ's grace.  I quoted the definition of grace, (Greek Xaris) as found in the foremost Bible Lexicon, BDAG 3rd edition, and as I put into a response to his statements on May 31, 2014:
 "Almost a technical term in the reciprocity-oriented world dominated by Hellenic influence as well as by the Semitic sense of social obligation expressed in the Hebrew term (checed, Strongs H2617). In the active sense, that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory. Especially of the beneficent intention of God. Compare secular writings of xaris to denote beneficent dispensations of the emperor: and of Christ who give (undeserved)to people; (from BDAG, page 1079, entry Xaris, 2 and 2a. These definitions include Eph 1:6ff, Rom 3:24, etc. In other words the commonly used passages to describe the Evangelical understanding of "grace".)
 So the LDS concept of grace coupled with obedience and repentance is the most Biblical approach compared to the practice of other faiths.

Now he asked why I would not respond to Galatians 1:8-9.  I have before, but what the hey, let's do it again. 
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before ,  so say I now again,  If  any  man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received , let him be accursed. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trinity Troubles

Kind of a mini-theme at the moment, but discussing the Trinity is highly illustrative of the sheer avoidance followers of the Trinity display.

First, they will attempt to resort to the "historical" reality of the Trinity, and more broadly with the concept of monotheism in the Bible.  Except this approach is logically and factually flawed on at least three levels:

1. Monotheism is not the historic understanding of the Bible or the New Testament in particular.  As Trinitarian Michael Heiser wrote:
Monotheism as it is currently understood means that no other gods exist. This term is
inadequate for describing Israelite religion, but suggesting it be done away with would no doubt cause considerable consternation among certain parts of the academic community, not to mention the interested laity. Henotheism and monolatry, while perhaps better, are inadequate because they do not say enough about what the canonical writer believed. Israel was certainly monolatrous, but that term comments only on what Israel believed about the proper object of worship, not what it believed about Yahweh’s nature and attributes with respect to the other gods.
Likewise, as we have demonstrated in the previous post and abundantly elsewhere, the existence of many real gods is taken as a given.  Jesus and God the Father are immediate examples.  But 1 Cor 8:5-6 or Acts 17:18 ("strange gods", Gk daimonion, a technical term used by the Greeks, here by philosophers to describe the relationship of Jesus to salvation and the resurrection, indicating their perception of Jesus as a second god as described by Paul), or Romans 8:16 make it clear that real, divine beings, plural, do exist and more will exist as mankind is saved.  Jesus himself quotes Ps 82:6 in his preaching in John 10:30-38, referencing the OT teaching that men can become gods.  His argument is only valid if they really do become gods like God, or else he is in fact guilty of blasphemy in his equating of himself with God.

2.  No single scripture or passage can be used to explain the relationship of the heavenly beings ("host of heaven", a phrase firmly built upon the Ugaritic terminology defining the Council of Gods, wherein Elohim presides) or relationship of Jesus and God the Father as being of one substance.  By contrast, passages such as John 17 or Philippians 2:5-9, or especially John 1:1 are all clearly written to explain the relationship of Jesus and God, and from these passages there is no hint of some kind of sharing of essence.

3.  It is impossible to maintain "monotheism" when the early Christian writers explicitly teach the salvation we seek is to become divine ourselves.  Nearly without exception 2 Peter 1:4 is used by every early Christian writer, including the Father of the Trinity Athanasius, to state that men will become gods, just as Jesus was god and became man.

Secondly, the number of scriptures teaching the real existence of multiple real gods are so many as to be overwhelming.  I looked up in a searchable online Strongs Concordance the following: "host/s of heaven"(20+), "Lord of hosts"(285), gods, in a real sense, not idols, (about 10), angel of the Lord, which was often a divine being (64), angel of God (10 times).  Don't forget that Jesus himself is called an angel in Rev 10.
Of course, there is Deut 32:8, 43 where the text was plainly altered to attempt to conceal the fact there are the 70 sons of God, just as in the Ugaritic texts, given authority over the various areas of the Earth, and Jehovah is given Israel as his portion by the Most high God.

The proof of the lack of proof is the insertion of the bogus text of 1 John 5:7-8, which attempts to describe the workings of the Godhead in Trinitarian terms.  Problem is it was added to the Latin text 250 years after John penned the words, and 1500 years later in the Greek.

So I would invite people to throw down their best two or three Trinitarian proof-text verses, and I will interact with them.  But I will require they explain Deut 32:8-9, Ps 82/John 10:30-38 and John 1:1.   No outside commentaries or sources, other than grammatical or lexical sources to accurately explain the text.  I am sick to death of hearing the ignorant phrase "the passage must be examined in the broader context of the entire Bible."  No, not so much.  There was no compiled Bible until the 4th Century.  The OT was much more fluid than it is today as well.  And if we want to go to the "broader context", then Trinitarians can make this really short, because nearly all scholars of all beliefs, Christian, Catholoic, Jewish, Evangelical, atheist or Mormon, acknowledge the context of the Bible is for a form of henotheism, meaning many real gods, but only one to be worshiped, which is monolatry.  Scholars such as Michael Heiser may argue about the nature of those gods in terms of how they came into existence, but there is no doubt the Hebrews and early Christians believed in a plurality of divine, meaning godly, beings.  And we haven't even touched on the fact the Hebrews fully believed that God had a wife.

So send me some passages and be willing to interact a little bit.  It will only hurt your Trinitarian pride.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Retreads On the Godhead

I have been bombarded of late by questions from an anonymous individual who thinks he has discovered the true Christian theology in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity.

There is sort of a natural arrogance in the exuberance of youth, so I am not offended that anonymous thinks I am up in the night.  I probably am about some stuff.  But I am pretty sure about most of the stuff here.

I have written extensively on this blog in the past about issues such as salvation and the nature of God and Jesus and the Spirit.  I have also written extensively about the nature of the Council of the Gods, and the historical fact that the Hebrew faith held as an orthodox view that there were many real gods, yet their God was the only one they worshipped.

This view is explained in great detail by the Evangelical scholar Michael Heiser at his website .  He also has some amazing Youtube videos where he explains issues of ancient Hebrew belief.  I also strongly recommend Mark Smith's The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, William Dever's Did God Have a Wife? (which the answer is "Yes"), Frank Moore Cross' seminal work Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, the anthology by Becking, et al, Only One God?, Raphael Patai's The Hebrew Godess, Hess' Israelite Religions, or for some light reading on this subject, the excellent abbreviated account by David Penchansky Twilight of the Gods:  Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible.  I happen to own all of these titles and have read them.  None of them are LDS authors.  Their conclusions, which once for Patai and other pioneers were considered left field and perplexing, are now squarely in the mainstream of Biblical scholarship.  Coupled with the continuing archaeological finds and the various libraries of early writers from as long ago as 3,000 B.C., I can assert without fear that the Biblical narrative is far closer to an LDS document than an Evangelical tome.  Everything from the nature of creation, which is now understood to not have been an "ex Nihilo" event (matter out of nothing), but rather that creation occurred using pre-existing materials; to the plurality and existence of real divine beings besides Elohim or Jehova; to the ultimate destiny of man, the very purpose of humanity's creation, is to become like God.

These are Mormon themes, which turn out to be Biblical fundamentals.

The fact is anonymous is well meaning yet ignorant of the Bible's teachings.  When someone such as himself cites John 1:1 as proof that God and Jesus are one and the same being, I know he has neither studied the Biblical text in the original Greek language, nor has he sought out scholars who can correctly explain the text.  He cites Charles Ryrie, an excellent Biblical scholar, for his systematic theology.  Yet Ryrie's work fails to interact with both the historical issues of the Doctrine of the Trinity, or the textual problems of simple interpretations of passages like John 1:1, which he surely knew is not supportive of a Trinitarian view of scripture.

In November 2008 I went into detail on John 1:1.  You can find it here.  The verse describes the Word communing, in contact, in the presence of God, and having also the characteristics of God.  So there are two gods present.  I note there are dozens of translations which bear this out, and that scholars from Daniel Wallace, who teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary like Ryrie, and the Translators Handbook On the Gospel of John both affirm this idea.  Wallace attempts to soften the blow and explain God is the Father in John 1:1, but it still fails to explain why John would say the Word was with God if he really meant the Father, since, by logical deduction, the same nature he is describing of God as the Father would be conveyed to the Word.  You would be forced to conclude that the Word is the Father, if you are asserting God actually is intended to mean the Father.  Neither solution really solves any Trinitarian issues.

On the other hand, the excellent work by Jason BeDuhn, Truth in Translation, dedicates chapter 11, pages 113 to 134 to a thorough discussion of the grammar and theological prejudice found in most translations.  He demonstrates conclusively through examination of the use of "theos" (Gk: god) with both the definite article (ho theos, the god) and the far rarer use of the anarthrous (meaning without the definite article) nominative nouns.  He employs the survey of the topic by Phillip Harner in his 1973 article "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1" (Journal Of Biblical Literature, 1973, Vol 92 p. 85).  After summarizing the 53 instances where John uses a predicate nominative construction, he notes Harner's conclusion that 40 of them are "qualitative", and writes: "In most of these cases a translator will be forced to choose wheher to use "the" or "a."  It simply cannot be avoided.  Harner does his best not to directly challenge "Colwell's Rule," but in the final analysis one must do so in order to communicate the qualitative sense Harner argues for to an English-speaking audience." (BeDuhn, pg 121)

Earlier BeDuhn notes:  "In this subject ("nominative") form, the definite article is really indispensable for making the noun definite.  Its absence makes theos quite different than the definite ho theos.  This is fairly clear not only from the distinct forms the word takes, but also from the context in which those distinct forms are used.  John says on the one hand that the Word "was with" ho theos, "God," but on the other hand that the Word "was" theos, "a god."  It is striking, therefore, that most of the translations we are considering take no notice of this careful distinction, and translate the different words as if they were exactly the same." (BeDuhn, pg 115)

The quote from the Translator's Handbook On the Gospel of John, page 8, which is definitive in explaining this as well I just love:
He was the same as God appears in most translations as "the Word was God" (RSV, JB, NAB)  NEB renders by "what God was, the Word was" and Mft "the Logos was divine" [Goodspeed (Gdsp) "the Word was divine"].  Zurcher Bibel (Zur) has "the Word was God," with a footnote indicating that this means the Word possessed a divine nature.
These many differences in translation are due to the Greek sentence structure.  In this type of equation sentence in Greek (A=B) the subject can be distinguished from the predicate by the fact that the subject has the article before it and the predicate does not.  Since "God" does not have the article preceding it, "God" is clearly the predicate and "the Word" is the subject.  This means that "God" is clearly here the equivalent of an adjective, and this fact justifies the rendering he (the Word) was the same as God.  John is not saying that "the Word" was God the Father, but he is affirming that the same divine predication can be made of "the Word" as can be made of God the Father, and so "the Word can be spoken of as God in the same sense."(Underlining in the original, bolding mine.)
This is a stake through the heart of the Trinity.  In every instance where Trinitarians try to make a claim that "theos" is used without the definite article, it is not in the nominative position or it has a clear modifier.  Nothing like the fake, made up Colwell's rule trying to explain away the grammar of John 1:1c.

Here is a clear statement of God and the Word being both divine, having the same characteristics, and yet being totally separate.  The Word cannot be fully God as God is God, and be in association with him (kai theos en pros ton theon, and the word was with god) and there not be two beings present.  Since "theos" is used as an adjective describing the class of beings to which "the Word" belongs, the Mormons are right.

Got that.  The Mormons are right.  It's a scripture thing, not just an opinion thing.

So far from being uninformed or a novice about the true understanding of the doctrine of God in the Bible, I deeply understand it.  I came at it originally as a Trinitarian, btw, since I was raised as a Lutheran.  The doctrine of the Trinity is just wrong.

I will hit more of anonymous' points as time permit.  But I have put five or six hours into this post to make sure I have my documentation correct, and it is just easier for anonymous to spout off uninformed, poorly reasoned talking points he got from someone else than for me to answer them with an original post, when I have responded to most of his questions previously.  If he would take the time to read before he attacks we could have a more focused discussion.  But I don't want to leave the impression that these are somehow new or disturbing concepts.

He is so ignorant of the actual meaning of the text that he doesn't understand that the big sword he thinks he is wielding actually sliced off both of his arms and legs like a Monty Python script.

He can keep saying "It's just a flesh wound, come back I'll bite your legs off," but he has nothing.

The Mormons are right.  [Cue coconuts clapping as we ride off.]

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Letter to CES, Follow-up

Update:  September 2014  FAIRMormon has expanded its responses to Jeremy Runnels quite dramatically.  I strongly recommend them, as they really cut through what I think is largely a false justification for his actions.  FAIRMormon truly devastates his arguments.

I had a nice conversation the other night with a friend of mine about my last post concerning the Letter to a CES Director.  I had mentioned in my original post that not all evidence is equal, but after discussing it with my friend, I realized I had failed to really make the point about the logical implications of the evidence.  So let's make the point a little more explicit:

It is a fact that in September 1827, Joseph Smith brought something home, and allowed everyone in the home to both hold and touch that something.  At least two of those present at that 1827 first encounter would later go on to become witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

So, what was this something?  That Joseph Smith actually had some real, tangible object is evident from the fact that critics, such as Dan Vogel, go to great pains to explain how Joseph Smith could have purchased tin from a local supplier, and crafted plates during his annual trips to Hill Cumorah. (Vogel, Joseph Smith, The Making of a Prophet, pages 98-99 and the corresponding footnotes on pages 599-600, #63, #64, #65 and #66.).  Vogel even speculates that Joseph's dislocated thumb occurred finishing the rods which were binding the spine of the plates (Vogel, pg 99 and footnote 66 on page 600).

Vogel therefore concedes that Joseph had something cut to the 6 x 8 inch plates, six inches thick and with rods holding the plates together.  While he makes a novice error in postulating the tin was "pure tin" in order to get to the approximate weight he believed they weighed, ("pure tin" is actually a powder, so his calculation based on the density of tin are wrong, but nice try), he is in any event contradicting the now popular line of attack which says that Joseph Smith was the world's first mass hypnosis master and caused everyone to hallucinate their experience of seeing the plates.

So what do we have?  We have everyone who is at least trying to reconcile the evidence acknowledging plates existed.  So now deal with the logic of the positions:  If Joseph bought the tin from a local source, or had used 60 pounds of tin from the Smith family stocks used in their coopering work, someone would have noticed.  During the time when E.D. Howe's "Mormonism Unveiled" was collecting statements from every neighbor and acquaintance of the Smith's, surely the first place they went was to the local blacksmiths and metal suppliers.  We don't have any direct evidence of Howe talking with the local craftsmen or suppliers, but if you were trying as Howe to pile disrepute on the reputation of the Smith's and to provide a naturalistic explanation, that would be the first place anyone would go.  The lack of such interviews actually silently speaks to a lack of support for a tangible alternative explanation.

But here is the problem for the alternative theories:  By Joseph allowing people to handle and feel the plates, it would be completely silly for the witnesses to be aware of their physical existence and then lie about actually seeing the plates.  In fact, the Eight Witnesses make it clear they saw and handled the plates in broad daylight.  And they maintained that position throughout their lives.  It is particularly unsatisfying to think they saw and handled gold painted tin plates, considering the quality of paints was such as to provide instant recognition the plates were painted, if that were Joseph Smith's attempt.

Therefore, the best evidence is that Joseph Smith had gold colored plates with inscriptions on them.

If this is true, and the best evidence is that it is true, then speculation about whether the stuff on the plates is real or correct is actually irrelevant.  There is only one way the story can go if the plates are real:  Joseph Smith received them from an angel named Moroni who helped to write the plates and lived in ancient America.

The only point Mormons should be arguing with non-believers is over the reality of the plates.  If the plates are real, then Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and God's Church has been restored.  The alternative positions, that Joseph either manufactured the plates himself or with some help, or the plates never existed and he used some form of mass hypnosis or suggestion to trick a dozen folks into thinking they saw something they would then stake their lives on for the remainder of their lives, is illogical.  Such positions only exist in the desires of non-believers and detractors to not believe that God was in the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  They don't want to accept the reality that God can and does actively work miracles on the scale we find in the Bible, and their unauthoritative self-serving interpretation of scripture and creation of false doctrines is not acceptable to the true God in heaven.

Wanting something to be false does not make it false.  Evidence and rational conclusions based on the evidence leads to the conclusion the plates existed.  Deal with that before you change the discussion to the content of the Book of Mormon or the character of LDS Church leaders.  If the plates existed, the Church is true.  Thus, as Dan Peterson said, the plates stand as a thumb in the eye of the critics, since failing to deal with how the plates came into Joseph Smith's possession after admitting he had some plates, is the same as conceding the plates came from Moroni, the prophet whose name and writings are in the Book of Mormon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Letter to CES and Responses

I had a reader submit a question about responding to the "Letter to a CES Director".  He wanted a response.  FAIR Mormon has done a great and thorough response which you can find here.  But I want to talk about things that matter, and not just the multitude of details which tend to lose sight of important issues.

The Church did engage in covering up perceived weaknesses of leaders in the past.  Typically these efforts were led by people and sometimes leaders who feared for the impact of certain issues on members' faith, or on public perception of issues.

No one should lose faith because past members or leaders lacked faith in the ability of members or non-members to fairly process the issues involved.  It is however easily demonstrable that current leadership does not feel that way.  The Joseph Smith's Papers project sits front and center as the most thorough and transparent publishing effort around an historical figure ever.  You don't do that if you are afraid of what will be discovered.

But there are a lot of issues, and I will only discuss a few.  First, most leaders were ignorant of indepth historical matters.  Thus you get a statement from Harold B. Lee that based on information from Joseph Fielding Smith that Joseph Smith never did ordain any black men.  With the documents we now know exist, such a position is simply not true.  But ask where Joseph Fielding Smith got his info?  Well, at some point the first Presidency in the early 1900's reaffirmed the Brigham Young ban on ordinations, which Brigham Young attributed to Joseph Smith.

So did JFS look at every document?  Probably not.  Even as the Church Historian, he had little time and no training to go through the Church's records.  It was enough that he knew that his father had endorsed the ban.  And in the 1960's, the Church did not have resources or inclination to challenge Brigham Young's ban which had been reaffirmed by nearly all Church presidents down to that time, unless they received a revelation.

If the Church leaders could only sit for a year or so and get a crash course on LDS history from original documents and eyewitness statements, and then get deeply versed historians to walk them through it, then we could claim that General Authorities are also well informed historians.  But that is not now nor has it ever been their roles.

But there is a second point, much more important to consider.  That is, not all evidence is of equal value.  So understand this point clearly.  Someone may want to say the evidence for the Book of Abraham or Book of Mormon geography, or First Vision documents is weak.  I personally am fine with it, but let's pretend you are critical of those topics.  Those are truly secondary.  Primary evidence is physical and spiritual about the Book of Mormon.

I have written extensively on the physical evidence and witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  As a whole it is excellent.  In detail, it is amazing.  Try as critics like Jeremy do to attack the reality of the Book of Mormon, their arguments inevitably lead to accounts from secondary or tertiary sources because the primary sources are consistent and supportive of each other.  There can be no doubt the Eight Witnesses saw and handled something.  In 1827, when Joseph brought the plates home for the first time, more than a dozen folks handled the plates, though they did not see them.  At least several of them would later become witnesses.  It requires one to believe JS had in a finished form the plates in 1827, at a time when he was newlywed and flat broke, because they could feel the engravings, handle the spine, etc.  Keep asking the question:  How could he do that?

I once heard Dan Peterson say the purpose of the plates was to be a thumb in the eye of the critics.  You must, if you choose to lose your faith, explain how Joseph Smith could have put the plates together without anyone being aware of it; having the skills to forge and punch and craft them into their shapes; to paint them in a way that the primitive paints of the early 19th century would be unnoticeable to close scrutiny; and to convince people who in many cases left the Church and were offered significant fortunes to tell the "truth" about the plates.  In all these things they fail.  The current attempt to discredit the witnesses by saying the plates were immaterial and only viewed spiritually requires one to twist what the witnesses actually said.

Secondly, there is the spiritual witness.  The Bible is replete with statements that God is received and perceived spiritually.  There is no way to come to a knowledge of truth by study alone.  When I discuss the problems with leadership, the Bible, the Book of Abraham or other issues, there is no intent to make people think these are not trustworthy.  I usually discuss such things due to the double standards imposed by critics.  My personal problem with the critics usually comes down to two issues:  Their hypocrisy in what they consider evidence, and their lack of effort in finding balanced evidence.  When you hear Richard Bushman discuss Joseph Smith, he discusses every aspect of him, good and bad.  The critics will only discuss the bad, and only occasionally throw a bone at acknowledging there was some good.

People may rightly say there are things which could cause one to think twice about the Church.  But such conversations miss the only point where God has said in the scriptures he will provide proof to the faithful:  A witness of the Book of Mormon.

My personal experience, which I have outlined elsewhere, goes beyond this.  But it started here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Atheists are so Godless

I sort of get tired of atheists and their demands for getting god out of everything.

First of all, they are bitter.  So they lack faith, not really my problem.  Cut the nasty attitude, show some humility, and you can get where believers are too.  But they don't really want to.  I am cool with that too.  Just leave me alone.  And don't call me names.

Second, they are illogical.  Not because they don't believe in god.  But because they think because they don't have a relationship with him, he doesn't exist.  Sort of like their fathers (ouch, did I say that?).  But seriously, if they would think it through, god, if he does exist and is all powerful, can choose how to interact with the world and beings he creates.  So when they don't see him or experience him, they want to conclude there is nothing wrong with their approach, so it only can mean he doesn't exist.

But here is the deal, for me anyway:  I have experienced him, and I documented it.  In the Bible god declares the proof he is god is found in telling the future.  We are not talking about "Taurus is an angry sign" kind of prophecy.  Cyrus is mentioned by name.  The return from exile.  The blessings of Abraham.  The restoration of Israel.  Pretty specific stuff.

And for me, he told me my grandfather had died.  And when it happened, I was immediately awakened by a phone call, so before I answered I woke up my wife and told her what I had just been told, thinking I was being called to be notified.  It was actually my home teaching companion.  So I then started to cry, because I knew it was true. Then mom called, told me grandpa had died, and I told her I knew, and how I knew.  She was stunned. 

Now, my wife and I could be liars.  That's the risk an atheist is going to have to take to be true to their faith.  But I am not a liar.  It happened.  I told this story to an atheist I met once, and he only said "Probably just a lucky guess on your part."  Really?  That is what it comes to?

It turns out I am not irrational about my supernatural beliefs and faith in a God that others have difficulty encountering.  I have met Him.  He is real.  When he decides it's time to meet you, be ready to drop your nets and follow.  He really doesn't appreciate when he gives you proof and you thanklessly throw it away. 

But my faith was reinforced by knowledge and experiences, and grew, and so now as miracles and inspiration happen in my life, it is just exactly that:  My life.  It is normal to me.  Because I know Him, and I see His work everywhere, and He shows off constantly.  It's freakin' awesome.

I know a man with children whom I know better than his kids do, because they have rejected him due to family issues.  It doesn't change whether he exists just because they want to pretend he doesn't any longer.  I think I understand why he is in my life, too.