May 30, 2008
May 26, 2008
Being married to a non-member, as I am, has its challenges but it can also be an excellent opportunity to re-examine one's faith and to challenge it. Only then do I know how strong (or weak) my faith really is. I remember my husband commenting after a fast and testimony meeting that he wondered how everyone could get up there and say things like "I KNOW the Church is true, beyond a shadow of a doubt, etc." This got me thinking and I started to re-examine my faith and questioning what I knew vs. what I believed. I came to the conclusion that a more honest testimony, at least for myself, is that "I BELIEVE the Church is true, I HOPE that it is, if I had to bet my life or money on it, I would bet that it is true and there is a lot of good in the Church. However, there are a lot of troubling things in the Church's past and present, so I am open to the possibility that it's all a fraud. I BELIEVE in a lot, but I KNOW very little."
May 22, 2008
I was curious about that talk by Packer and so I read it in its entirety here: http://byustudies.byu.edu/shop/pdfSRC/21.3Packer.pdf. I actually think that he makes some very valid points and that his concerns are legitimate. I will give President Packer this: if you're going to write a history about your purported faith, it's certainly difficult to remain objective, impartial, scholarly, and still uphold that faith -- although I think Bushman came pretty darn close in Rough Stone Rolling. Given that Packer's address dates back to 1981, I'd be curious to know what he really thinks of Rough Stone Rolling and whether that criticism could apply to a work such as Bushman's. Have times changed or would Rough Stone Rolling still be considered too "objective, impartial and scholarly?" I now quote directly from Packer's talk:
I wish to use Rough Stone Rolling again because I think it's an excellent example. I'm certainly not implying that Bushman "delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties" of Joseph Smith, but RSR certainly did point out his weaknesses and frailties. Depending on the circumstances and mindset of the reader, RSR can either destroy or build faith. Though it left me struggling to accept certain things about Joseph, my personal experience after reading it was more of the latter. So, my question to all of you is do you think that Bushman is "in spiritual jeopardy" as President Packer put it? He continues:
"In the Church we are not neutral. We are one-sided. There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. It is the war between good and evil, and we are belligerents defending the good. We are therefore obliged to give preference to and protect all that is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we have made covenants to do it. Some of our scholars establish for themselves a posture of neutrality. They call it “sympathetic detachment.” Historians are particularly wont to do that. If they make a complimentary statement about the Church, they
seem to have to counter it with something that is uncomplimentary."
Loyalty is a virtue that I appreciate and so I can appreciate President Packer's call for loyalty here. But what is this "war" that is going on and who is the enemy? Is it Satan? Is it historians? Intellectuals? Or even the common member who has anything negative to say about the Church or its history? I'm not a historian, but if I were, I know I would find myself in a huge dilemma. When Bushman said that he has to fight a war on two fronts, he was right and I don't envy the guy.
I really feel very torn because I want to be loyal and faith-promoting, and yet at the same time my conscience compels me to acknowledge that Joseph Smith and the other prophets were not superheroes and that Mormonism has some skeletons in its closet in regards to things like Mountain Meadows, polygamy, and the treatment of blacks, etc. Does wanting to know more and discussing the non-so-faith-promoting aspects of my religion make me a traitor?
There is no doubt that searching for truth carries a certain degree of risk. As Packer said in that talk, some members lose their faith because of these so-called neutral historians. It's sad that that happens, but I tend to think that having faithful members of the Church, such as Bushman, approach Mormon history in an objective sort of way is actually in a way, faith-promoting in itself. Why do you have to be a bitter apostate in order to be objective?
I have to admit, knowing that President Packer is next in line gives me all the more motivation to remember President Monson in my prayers. (Shame on me.) But I guess that's my own problem and nobody else's.
May 14, 2008
Perhaps it works the same with the scriptures. I've always been amazed, and sometimes frustrated, by how I can read a scripture and get a totally different meaning out of it than someone else -- if I get any meaning out of it at all.
I'm one of those few people who can say that they've read the "Quad" from cover to cover. However, I'm a very sporadic scripture reader and my success in being a daily (or even weekly) scripture reader has usually been short-lived.
I'm not good with symbolism or poetry. To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed studying Shakespeare in high school, if you gave me the choice between re-growing my 4 wisdom teeth and having them re-extracted vs. having to read and memorize Merchant Of Venice again, I might just choose the 5 minutes of excruciating physical pain over the hours of excruciating boredom. The sad part is that that's maybe not far from an exaggeration. And as for poetry, well, let's just say that the boys of my youth had to take a different approach if they wanted to romance me. At the same time, however, I can respect and appreciate the fact that certain people are mesmerized by Shakespeare or poetry.
The scriptures, for me, actually fare a little better than the above mentioned. I appreciate the historical background and symbolism behind the parables of Jesus. Nevertheless, reading the scriptures and applying them to my personal life is a struggle for me.
In the Spring 2008 issue of Dialogue, I thought that Kathleen Petty put it well when she said:
"The problem with allowing people to find their own meaning in the scriptures is that they will find their own meaning in the scriptures."
This has always been a concern of mine and since I'm the type of person who needs clear and explicit instructions, getting advice or answers from God via the scriptures is not exactly comforting. If I interpret a scripture one way and someone else another, who's right?
We had a family discussion a few days ago about vegetarianism. Some of my family members like to tease me about being a vegetarian, but I take it all in stride. So we put the scriptures to the test on the subject. Here is a good example of how it's possible for people to interpret a scripture differently and both can swear that they are right.
In D&C 89:13 it says:
“And it is pleasing unto me that they [the flesh of beasts and fowls] should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”
Now, a vegetarian would read that as they should NOT be used, and ONLY in times of winter, cold, or famine is it acceptable. (Interestingly, one source says that the comma after the word "used" was added to D&C in 1920.)
On the other hand, a meat-lover's-pizza-lover would say that they should not be used ONLY in times of winter, cold, or famine. And if this meat lover wants an even stronger argument, he can turn to D&C 49 where it says:
"And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance."
I've heard some members use this scripture as justification for vegetarianism being "evil." In my view, the problem is that they don't read further on because then it says:
"But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto that man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need." (D&C 49: 20-21).
Anyways, my point is that I think it can be problematic to find an "answer" in the scriptures and know that you're right. Anyone who has an experience or opinion to share, I welcome ideas.