Sep 26, 2008

Murder: As Bad As We Think?

I've always been under the impression that premeditated murder is an unforgivable sin. Is it?

The Bible is full of great examples of really bad people who did really bad things. The type of things that we're supposed to avoid doing, with the biggest no-no being murder. So that's why I have problems with a couple of important Bible figures.

The first one is King David and his arranging the murder of Uriah in order to score with Bathsheba. In the Bible Dictionary it says:

"Like Saul he was guilty of grave crimes; but unlike Saul, he was capable of true contrition and was therefore able to find forgiveness, except in the murder of Uriah. As a consequence David is still unforgiven, but he received a promise that the Lord would not leave his soul in hell. He will be resurrected at the end of the Millennium. Because of his transgressions, he has fallen from his exaltation (D&C 132: 39)."

In D&C 132: 39 it says:

"David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord."

So, King David had to be a pretty corrupt fellow in order to kill an innocent man and steal his wife. I would say that Uriah's murder should fall into the category of "premeditated murder" because he certainly had time to think it over and come up with a plan to get rid of him. It doesn't get much more evil than that. David has apparently not found "forgiveness," but did he receive a special promise from the Lord about not leaving his soul in hell? Did he do something special to get a "get of out jail card," or will all murderers have a chance at that same "promise?"

Perhaps more troubling to me is the Apostle Paul (aka Saul -- but not the same Saul mentioned above in the story of David) and his involvement in the stoning of Stephen. As we all know, Paul was once the ancient equivalent of an anti-Mormon, but took it to the extreme. Some of his actions against Christians would have done the Taliban proud. In the Book of Acts, we read:

"And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:58-59)

"And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison." (Acts 8:1-3)


The Bible doesn't say that Saul (Paul) was the one who personally hurled the stones at Stephen. However, it appears that he played pretty much the same role in Stephen's murder as David played in Uriah's. Paul "consented" unto Stephen's death, on top of throwing men and women in the slammer (for all we know, they could have been executed as well). The fact that "the witnesses laid down their clothes" at Saul's feet indicates to me that he was probably the leader who had the power to make sure that this execution was either carried out or stopped. Even if he didn't cast any stones himself, is he any less guilty than David or any other murderer?

So Paul repented and was converted to Christianity. If anyone ever turned their life around for the better, it was him. Although not confirmed, evidence suggests that Paul was martyred himself, when he was beheaded under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. But these are the things I'm wondering about Paul:
  • Was he not guilty of murder in the stoning of Stephen? And worse yet, premeditated murder?
  • Even though he became an apostle, was turning his life around enough to erase his past?
  • Should he have even been eligible to be an apostle in the first place if he was guilty of the murder of Stephen?
  • Why does King David remain unforgiven and fallen from exaltation, while Paul went on to become a revered apostle of Christ?
  • How does this apply to modern-day murderers in society? Should they have any hope of forgiveness or is premeditated murder unforgivable?

Sep 19, 2008

What's Your Mormon Patronus?

Those who know me well know that I love Harry Potter. OK, I love Severus Snape more, but I just love the Harry Potter series in general, I don't care how evil Jack and Rexella van Impe think it is.

Those of you who are familiar with Harry Potter books or movies will know what a Dementor or a Patronus is. For those of you who don't, here's a very quick summary, courtesy of Wikipedia:
  • A Dementor is a wraith-like creature who can suck the happiness and soul out of a person, make them feel like they will never be happy again, feed on peoples' happy emotions, and force them to recall the most horrible memories they have had in their lives.
  • A Patronus is conjured as a protector, and is a weapon rather than a predator of souls: Patronuses shield their conjurors from Dementors, and can even drive them away. A Patronus cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so Dementors can't hurt it.
Spiritually speaking, I seem to be getting regular visits from Dementors in my life right now. I have my ups and downs and I always get through them, but the Dementors keep on coming back no matter how much chocolate I eat (chocolate is the Harry Potter remedy for getting your strength back after a Dementor attack). The problem is that these Dementors are very sly and they know that they can't really get to me the same way when I'm out in the world as when I'm at church, reading General Conference, the Ensign, or reading other church material.

I've been reading The Bible For Dummies. Even if you're a well-read Bible enthusiast, you'll probably enjoy this book because it's not just for dummies like me. It actually has some very useful, in-depth information about the Bible and its history. For me, it's been a very useful tool to absorb the messages and symbolism in the Bible that I just don't get when I read the Bible itself.

I like simplicity. When I read Christ's teachings, they seem brilliantly simple. If I could just stick to Christ's teachings, then perhaps I would truly feel that "(His) yoke is easy and burden light" (Matthew 11:30). But I get so easily distracted and consumed by all the nitty-gritty details at Church that I feel more like I'm on a bridge to nowhere (Oh man, I just quoted Sarah Palin. Help.) I find that I think less about Christ's teachings and more about details. I'm not saying that the details aren't important. Or, on second thought, maybe I am. Stuff like whether or not my husband ever gets baptized, whether or not I have kids, what political party I vote for, what political system I prefer, how many earrings I have in my ears, whether or not I have a tattoo, whether I'm gay or not, whether I use birth control or not, whether I go swimming on a Sunday or not, how I wear my bra, or whether I wear pants or a skirt to church on Sundays. These are all things that Mormons (myself included) can obsess about. I don't think any of these things are bad. I just wonder how important they are in the grand scheme of things.

I'm sure that I'm not the first Mormon who has felt a bit like a misfit. For starters, I'm very liberally-minded by Mormon standards, married to a non-member, no kids, and I live in a place I can only describe as a spiritual desert. For the most part, I actually welcome these challenges and deal with them just fine. But sometimes, the guilt and pressure from within weigh on me very heavily. Without going into every detail about my personal life, I can just sum it up by saying that I've known for as far back as I can remember that I'm very different from other Mormons in a variety of ways. Yes, as a fellow human being, I have many similarities with them as well, but the differences create a distance between myself and others. No, I'm not gay, but I see certain parallels between the struggles of gay Mormons and my own struggles, so that is perhaps why I'm aways so quick to defend them and encourage compassion and understanding. I know what it's like to try to shape myself into the Mormon mold, fail, and feel guilty about it. I'm trying not to turn this into a "woe is me" session because I know that some of you probably struggle with things even greater than I do. Therefore, I would like to know how you accept yourselves without feeling tortured by guilt.

I believe that there is room in the Church for people like me and even those who are way more "out there" than me. I believe that we should all be focusing on molding ourselves into a disciple of Christ, instead of molding ourselves into someone that we can never be. I believe it, but I have a hard time feeling it and that leads to doubt. Is being a conservative-heterosexual-temple-married--Republican-voting-mother/father-of-five-who never-doubts-or-questions the only way to Christ? I don't think so, but it often feels that way. (By the way, I don't think there's anything wrong with being the above. I just can't be that person.)

So what's your Mormon Patronus? What's your charm for chasing away the Dementors that suck the fun out of church, when you feel like you have no place there, or when some well-meaning member gives you an unsolicited recipe to happiness? What about that miserable Dementor that makes you feel lonely? And what about those nasty Dementors of guilt that discourage you when you study Church publications or watch General Conference and get the feeling that that you're never doing enough?

Sep 15, 2008

An Odd Question. Do You Know The Answer?

OK, this is going to sound kind of odd, but my parents were discussing a hypothetical situation and wondered whether the Church would approve or not. They said this is a question for The Faithful Dissident. Problem is, I have no idea. :)

Let's say you have a married Mormon couple who can't conceive. The problem is with the mother. Her eggs are not viable, or they are too old. The father's sperm is OK.

So this couple wants to have a baby but has to use a donor egg to do so. Is this OK for an upstanding, moral Mormon couple?
  • Mom says yes because it's basically like adoption, except the child shares DNA with one of the parents. The difference is that the mother will be giving birth to the baby.
  • Dad says no because it's "going outside of the marriage." Even if in a non-sexual way, the egg is coming from a stranger and being fertilized with the husband's sperm. It's immoral.
I know that the Church doesn't approve of single sisters going to sperm banks, but I figured the reason for that is that you have single sisters raising babies without fathers. In this case, the baby will have two loving, married parents.

What do you think?

PS: I can assure you, my parents, who are in their 50's, are NOT thinking of doing this. Thank the Lord for that! :)

Sep 10, 2008

Is God A Mormon?

Or is He non-denominational?

Sounds like a stupid question coming from an active, practicing Mormon like me. If God isn't a Mormon, then what the heck am I doing here?

But in all seriousness, is God a true-blue Mormon?

Let me first examine my reasons for being Mormon in the first place. Here's a brief summary:
  • I was born into the Church.
  • Although much about God is still a mystery to me, I have felt His presence in my life and this makes me want to stick around in the Church.
  • A lot of things about Mormonism make perfect sense to me. (On the other hand, there are a lot of things about it that make no sense to me.)
  • I believe that living the Gospel and following the example of Christ makes me a better person. Without it, I think I would be more selfish and less compassionate.
  • I believe that Mormonism is an excellent road-map to lead me to God and Eternal Life. I haven't investigated all of the world's religions, but I've yet to find anything better.
  • To be 100% honest, my activity in the Church is partially fear-motivated. If I leave it or start doing things that I've been taught are wrong, I'm afraid of the consequences that may follow -- not so much from the Church, but from God.
  • Although I don't proclaim to know, I do believe very strongly.
This post is a sort an expansion of a discussion we had earlier about Mother Teresa and whether God was really speaking to her or whether she was deluded. You can read that here.

As religion has evolved and split off into countless denominations, many consider themselves to be non-denominational or even agnostic. I used to kind of scoff at agnosticism. I think I looked at it as a fear of commitment to live by any principles, or a watered-down version of religion. Now, although I haven't abandoned my Mormon denomination for agnosticism, I think I'm starting to understand what motivates people to go that route. I sometimes feel very sad, disillusioned, and confused by Mormonism and religion in general. My eyes have been opened to the realities of hypocrisy, pride, persecution, feelings of superiority, ignorance, judgment, and lack of compassion -- all among the members within my own Church. I am not guiltless of all these ugly traits either and sometimes I feel like I'm losing the war with myself and all the other Mormons who proclaim that God is on their side. Sometimes I wish that I could escape to a sort of "spiritual Woodstock," where everyone respects and validates everyone, everything is good, and love is all you need. No judging, no hypocrisy, where no one is any better than anyone else, and everyone is just getting high on God's love for us all.

Everyone wants to claim God as their own. Whether we're Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim, we all believe that God is on our side and that we are doing His will. Could it be that God really is on all our sides, as long as we are doing what is "good" and "praiseworthy?" For the Catholic nun who is visited by The Virgin Mary; for the Buddhist who reaches Nirvana; for the atheist who one day has a spiritual epiphany and becomes a born again Christian; if God is a Mormon, then why doesn't He lead all who He is talking to, to the Mormons? With the Church being worldwide and so many meetinghouses and missionaries spread throughout the globe, the Mormons are only a few steps away for many.

I was recently having an online debate with a Mormon who found it presumptuous of me to say that God had never told Mother Teresa to become a Mormon. How did I know He hadn't? I replied that I was confident in my assumption because I knew that Mother Teresa had never denied God anything that He asked of her. As a young nun, she made a vow to never hold back anything that He required of her. I also believe that she had a closer and more personal relationship to Christ than most of us. Perhaps all of us, for that matter. If God had said to her, "Find the Mormons and become one of them," then I'm confident she would have done so.

So, to answer my own question: is God a Mormon? I don't know. But I do believe that Mormonism is the path that He's directed me to for one reason or another and I don't intend on giving it up. On the other hand, I don't believe that Mormons have a monopoly on real, true, meaningful spiritual experiences. By believing that other religions don't have "the fullness of the Gospel," even if this is true, we tend to make it sound as if non-Mormons are not getting "the full spiritual experience." Some people of other faiths will convert to Mormonism if they feel that it gives them something that their old religion wasn't. That's a reality and it's the main reason why missionaries have success. But others are so strong and satisfied in their respective faiths, who am I to say that they are missing something? None of us will ever have the time to try on the different hats of all the world's religions. We have to remember that when we proclaim our Church to be the only true Church of God, it's based on our individual faith and spiritual experiences -- not because we've been able to eliminate all the others through trial and error.

If God is a Mormon, then perhaps we should follow His example and start validating the spiritual experiences and paths along which He seems to be leading all his non-Mormon children who ask in sincerity -- even if these paths He leads them down are just detours to the ultimate One and Only True Gospel that we believe in; detours that may last a lifetime and look very different from Mormonism, but will lead them home to God in the end. I think that the Mormon religion makes more allowance for this than most others, especially because of the temple ordinances we do by proxy, but many of us seem to have a hard time remembering it.

"For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." (Matthew 7:8)

Not just for the Mormons.

Sep 3, 2008

Where Are All The Prophetesses?

I've been reading a book about the Bible and I was reminded of a question that I've always had but have never had answered.

What happened to prophetesses?

As we peruse the Bible and other historical books, it's easy to see that women's rights have come a long way. Back then, women had little say in anything and therefore I find it ironic that there were a few who held the status of "prophetess" (such as Anna, pictured at right), while today we have none. Why is that?

According to bible-history.com, "Women were not excluded from the prophetic office in the Old Testament, and were honored with the right of prophetic utterance in the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that women like Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Jdg 4:4) and Huldah (2 Ki 22:14) were not credited with the seer's insight into the future, but were called "prophetesses" because of the poetical inspiration of their speech. Among others mentioned as having the prophetic gift we find Hannah (1 Sam 2:1), Anna (Lk 2:36) and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8,9)."

"Prophetess" is not listed in the LDS Bible Dictionary. However, "Anna" is, and she is called "prophetess," although no specifics in regards to her office are given.

Some things to consider:

a) Should prophetesses such as Anna and Hannah be held in the same regard as prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, or even Thomas S. Monson? Or did they hold a "lesser" office or authority than these men?

b) Are prophetesses only needed if there isn't a man around who can be prophet?

c) Are prophetesses a thing of the past? If so, what made them irrelevant?

d) Could we have prophetesses in these modern days? Why or why not?

e) Are the General RS, YW, and Primary presidencies modern-day "prophetesses?"

Sep 1, 2008

Patronized by Palin

I will admit it. Sarah Palin is the type of person that irks me. Perhaps it's the "avid hunter, lifetime card-carrying NRA member," gun-touting image that makes my skin crawl. Maybe it's the way that she and McCain patronize Hillary supporters by kissing up to them, when in fact they have probably not much more in common than a skirt. Oops, on second thought, Hillary prefers pantsuits.

I don't need to go into this big discussion over experience and who has more and who has less. Yeah, Obama's resume of experience isn't exactly a mile long and it's fair game. So is Palin's and so are her politics. This isn't an "Obama-is-better-vote-for-him" post. What I intend to focus on is her ultra-conservative approach, how it relates to her family situation and how something like a teenage pregnancy can be used as political gain among people who are naive enough to buy it.

So Palin's 17 year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. In today's world, even in conservative Mormon country, I think most of us can get over the "shock." I've seen the best of parents lament over their teenage children's pregnancies.

According to ABC News, "Palin is an outspoken opponent of abortion, opposing the termination of a pregnancy in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger. Palin also opposed sexual education programs in schools, other than an abstinence-only curriculum, during her 2006 Alaska gubernatorial campaign."

So Bristol Palin decided to have sex. Is that her parents' fault? Probably not. But let's say she had decided to be responsible and wanted to make sure that it didn't lead to an unwanted (and certainly ill-timed, politically inconvenient) pregnancy. Was she being informed about how to use birth control at home? Certainly not from her mother. Was she getting it at school? Not if her mother had anything to say about it.

"Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who leads an influential weekly meeting of conservatives, reacted to the news that Gov. Sarah Palin's, R-Alaska, 17-year old daughter plans to keep the baby and marry the father by saying that the GOP's pro-life base is "over the moon" because it re-enforces that the Palin family lives its pro-life values."
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Story?id=5701331&page=2

So now the pro-lifers are "over the moon" that a couple of 17 year-old kids are getting hitched and going to raise a baby happily-ever-after. "This is absolutely the best thing they could do," said Oklahoma delegate Angie LaPlante, 46, of Bristol Palin's decision to keep the baby. "This is the best thing, pro-life decision and it shows Palin is being supportive," she said. I just have to wonder: how "supportive" is Palin going to be when every-day Americans in their 40's and 50's, who don't live in a governor's mansion, are faced with the prospect of raising their grandkids? How "supportive" is she going to be when one sexually-ignorant generation living in an extremely sexualized society is irresponsibly giving birth to the next generation? How "supportive" is she going to be when America's girls develop cervical cancer later in life because they had never heard of the HPV virus, how to prevent it, or that there is a vaccine for it? How "supportive" is she going to be when more of America's teenagers are having babies because they weren't raised by parents who taught the value of abstinence and don't know how to use a condom?

I am also happy that Bristol "decided" to keep the baby. No, I don't think that abortion would have been right in her situation, unless she had been raped. Of course, though, her mother would have had something to say about that. But just how much of "Bristol's decision" was it? When your mother is running for VP on the GOP ticket, how do you say, "I want an abortion," (no, I'm NOT advocating that) or "I want to put this baby up for adoption," when you know the media is going to hound you, the baby, and any potential adoptive family. Yeah, I'm sure that Bristol really weighed all her many, many options.

I honestly wish Bristol Palin the best. The odds are stacked up against her big time, but maybe the father and her are a match made in Heaven and they will be able to provide their baby with everything that it deserves. Only time will tell, but my bet is that Sarah Palin is going to be raising her 6th child.

It's too bad really, that Obama's daughters aren't old enough to get pregnant and heroically raise their babies. The resulting enthusiasm from conservative Christians could have been enough for him to secure the presidency.

So if John McCain wins, he better throw Bristol Palin one heck of a baby shower.