Oct 30, 2008

Ezra Taft Benson vs. Democratic Socialism

As someone who is living happy under democratic socialism, I'm really starting to get sick of this "distribution of wealth" = socialism = communism stuff. I consider myself to be someone who is generally quick to anger. Now I'm starting to get angry. Not because people disagree with socialism, but because they are twisting the facts and using them as scare tactics -- particularly when they start bringing God into the picture.

I just came across this video from Ezra Taft Benson speaking out against socialism on April 12, 1977. Now, I'm not trying to demonize President Benson here. I understand that his views were his own and this was from a different time. He was a staunch Republican, adamantly opposed to communism (which I am too!) and he was entitled to his Republican views. However, what bothers me is that by using a blanket label such as "socialism" Mormons today are using this as a means to demonize the modern, DEMOCRATIC version of socialism, which we see in most of the countries of the world that have the best standard of living: Canada, Scandinavia, and much of western Europe. And, by doing so, Mormons are now finding yet another thing to add to the column of "Satan's plan." In Norway, and Europe in general, we have less poverty, less crime, less homelessness, less class distinctions, and everyone has health care. A quick summary? Life here is friggin' good!!! And we have freedom to boot!!! So quit using God's name to spread messages built on half-truths and misrepresentations!! I don't claim democratic socialism to be "God's will," so please don't tell me that what's going on in America right now is "God's will." Maybe God's blood pressure is as high as mine right now.

For the love of Pete, President Benson, SOCIALISM DOES NOT EQUAL COMMUNISM!!! Every single country of the world -- including the USA -- that collects taxes from its people and uses it to pay for the stuff that a society needs is, essentially, "redistributing the wealth." So my government "takes" my money through taxes and gives me health care and loads of other things that I need. I'm perfectly happy with this arrangement and so is virtually every other Canadian and European.

The thing that makes me burning mad is not that individual members have their political opinions. I don't even mind that people who really understand democratic socialism disagree with it. Everyone should be entitled to have their own political beliefs, just as everyone should be entitled to have their own religious and moral beliefs. That's a good thing and I don't believe there is a perfect system. What I don't appreciate is seeing LDS leaders use the pulpit as a means to further their personal political agendas and using God's name to misrepresent something that is essentially good for me and my fellow human beings.

President Benson says in that clip:

{Americans have always been committed to taking care of the poor, aged, and unemployed. Charity must be voluntary if is to be charity. Compulsory benevolence is not charity. Today's socialists, who call themselves egalitarians, are using the federal government to redistribute wealth in our society not as a matter of voluntary charity, but as a so-called matter of right. One HEW official said recently, "in this country, welfare is not longer charity; it is a right. More and more Americans feel their government owes them something."}

I don't know what things were like back in 1977, but in 2008, Americans are NOT "committed to taking care of the poor, aged, and unemployed." Benson is absolutely right when he says that "compulsory benevolence is not charity." But I'm not looking for charitable people to pay my medical bills or provide me with sick leave. No individual can take upon themselves that financial burden for everyone who needs it, no matter how charitable they are. I'm looking for the most efficient system, operated by the people for the people. And so far, if we are going to use peace, prosperity, stability, and safety of human beings as an indication of success, then the system under which I live is doing a better job than whatever system Benson had in mind. And to me, welfare is a right. Whether I'm a crack junkie or simply someone who is out of a job, I am entitled to have a roof over my head, food on the table, and access to medical help when I need it. To say otherwise goes against the fundamental principles that every Christian professes to believe in. So yes, my hard-earned tax dollars go towards helping the junkies on the street corners of Oslo and the dysfunctional single mother of three living in government-subsidized housing who can't hold down a job. And guess what: I'm happy about it. Why? Because I and any one of us are always just a heartbeat away from being one of "those people."

The way I look at it, people should be able to do what they want with their paycheques -- after taxes. They should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to donate their earnings to a charity or go on a shopping spree at Louis Vuitton. But a socialist system -- the modern, democratic form that we see being implemented in Canada and Europe today and NOT the USSR or North Korea -- is the best way to ensure that my fellow countrymen's greed won't have the power to take away my right -- yes, my right -- to see a doctor or have a roof over my head if I become disabled -- among other things.

PS: Since everyone is so caught up with this "distribution of wealth" term, it's interesting to look back in time to July 1875 when the First Presidency released "A Proclamation on the Economy:"

To The Latter-day Saints -

The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice.

To read the rest, please click here.

Oct 25, 2008

Election Fatigue

I've heard a lot of people say how happy they'll be once the US election is over with. As a political junkie, a part of me doesn't want to see it end. It's entertainment at its best! But I think that even though I'm thousands of kilometres away from America, I can sense that things are getting ugly and, at times, even scary.

The past couple weeks, it seems that we've seen an increase in racial tensions. Whether it was the lady from the McCain rally referring to Obama as an "Arab" (which, sadly, is automatically understood as being something negative), or Rush Limbaugh's assessment of Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama as being "all about race," sometimes it's hard to believe that things really are getting better in this world. Today on CNN there was a report from a small town in Pennsylvania where even some life-long Democrats admit that they will not vote for Obama because "black people leave a bad taste in (their) mouths." Even the neighbour lady of my parents back home in Canada -- who hates Bush -- commented that "If Obama wins, it will be a dark day for America." No need to wonder what she meant by that.

My husband and I just watched the movie The Pianist this evening, which is the true story of a Jewish pianist who survived the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto. Every time I watch a movie like this, I'm reminded about just how much I hate racism. I am reminded that racism, even in its smallest, most subtle forms, is a deadly cancer that can mestastasize to something as big as the Holocaust -- or something as seemingly insignificant as denying fellow Mormons certain privileges and ordinances.

Racism's faithful companion is bigotry and if we think we are immune to it even in our own church, we are wrong. While I was reading this article about the Church and Prop 8, I was deeply saddened to read about the tension and divisiveness this issue is causing in the very place where we should be most unified -- at church. Morris Thurston, an LDS attorney in Orange County, CA, says, "The general church authorities I have spoken to have been understanding and compassionate. They counsel respect and civility toward those who may disagree with the church's position." However, the backlash that some members who disagree with the Church's position are experiencing from fellow brothers and sisters seems to indicate that they are not heeding that counsel. Sadly, I think that we're going to see a lot of good, strong members with strong testimonies end up leaving the Church when the pressure of having their faith and loyalty to the prophet constantly questioned becomes too much for them to deal with, or when they get tired of having to defend their position or loved ones who happen to be gay.

I've expressed my doubts and questions about many things on this blog. There is, however, one thing that I have no doubt about: racism and bigotry are two things that have no place in any society or religious organization -- and certainly not in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sooner we can stop rationalizing and justifying these things, the sooner we'll realize that eggs are eggs -- whether they're white or brown.

Oct 20, 2008

How I Co-Authored Barack Obama's "The Audacity Of Hope"

Before anyone accuses me of being a pompous liar, let me explain what I mean by the title of this post.

I've been reading The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I've mentioned in previous posts that I like Obama. I've thoroughly enjoyed his book and look forward to reading Dreams From My Father when I get the chance. As I've read The Audacity of Hope, I've thought many times that if I had the knowledge, experience, and gift of words that Obama does, not to mention a real talent for writing and not just a hobby for blogging, if I were a political scientist instead of just a political spectator, then I could have written much of this book myself. There was one chapter in particular that "spoke" to me, as if I was recognizing my own words that I lack the ability to articulate and express; the thoughts and ideas that swirl through my head so quickly on a daily basis that they are often gone before I'm able to pick up a pen or turn on my laptop. And since much of this whirlwind of thought of mine usually has something to do with politics, religion, and how to reconcile the two, I guess it's no surprise that the chapter of this book that appealed to me most was the one titled Faith.

I'd like to share a few excerpts that really appealed to me, as a liberal-minded Mormon who often feels torn between the tenets of her faith and a desire to allow every human being the freedom to worship -- or not worship -- how they please. The parts that really rang true in my mind are highlighted in bold.

"Surely, secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square," he says. "Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. --indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history -- not only were motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue their causes. To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public-policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it is grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teaching of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

Admittedly, the most troubling thing about Obama for me is his pro-choice stance. So although I'm perhaps not as liberal as he is, I see that his position has come after careful consideration and lacks the traditional "it's my body, my choice, stay out of my uterus" attitude. When confronted by a man that had come to protest against abortion at one of his rallies, he says, "I told him I understood his position but had to disagree with it. I explained my belief that few women made the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually, that any pregnant woman felt the full force of the moral issues involved and wrestled with her conscience when making that heart-wrenching decision; that I feared a ban an abortion would force women to seek unsafe abortions, as they had once done in this country and as they continued to do in countries that prosecute abortion doctors and the women who seek their services. I suggested that perhaps we could agree on ways to reduce the number of women who felt the need to have abortions in the first place."

Closely related to the problem of abortion is the problem of poverty. Of this, he says:

"After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are also rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness -- the desire among those at the top of the social ladder to maintain their wealth and status whatever the cost, as well as the despair and self-destructiveness among those at the bottom of the social ladder. Solving these problems will require changes in government policy; it will also require changes in hearts and minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturer's lobby. But I also believe that when a gangbanger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we have a problem of morality. Not only do we need to punish that man for his crime, but we need to acknowledge that there's a hole in his heart, one that government programs alone may not be able to repair... I think we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor boys and girls, and give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help ensure that every child is loved and cherished. But I also think that faith can fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and the sense of reverence all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy."

Wow, did a LIBERAL DEMOCRAT write that last sentence???

In reference to the success of evangelical churches, he says:

"There are various explanations for this success, from the skill of evangelicals in marketing religion to the charisma of their leaders. But their success also points to a hunger for the product they are selling, a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause. Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds -- dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets -- and coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness are not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift them above the exhausting, relentless toll of daily life. They need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them -- that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness. If I have any insight into this movement toward a deepening religious commitment, perhaps it's because it's a road I have traveled."

Obama then goes on to tell about the way he was raised, that it was not a religious household, and yet he was exposed to different religions through his mother, who "viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well." He continues:

"And yet for all her professed secularism, my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person I've ever known. She had an unswerving instinct for kindness, charity, and love, and spent much of her life acting on that instinct, sometimes to her detriment. Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice, and scorned those who were indifferent to both."

Obama learned through his conversion that, "You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away -- because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey... It was because of these newfound understandings -- that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved -- that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

I felt a particular connection to Obama, when he told about his 2004 Senate race against Alan Keyes, a conservative Catholic Republican who was not afraid to bring religion into the picture in order to challenge Obama. "Christ would never vote for Barack Obama," Mr. Keyes proclaimed, "because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved. Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but he supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life." Obama admits that he "was mindful of Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation -- that I remained steeped in doubt, that my faith was adulterated, that I was not a true Christian."

This was something that I experienced as recently as last night while I was discussing Prop 8 in an LDS online forum. I've said before that I still remain undecided on the issue, but the fact that I could even possibly question the Church's policy or involvement in politics is enough to call my testimony or reason for being a member into question. Of course, as a liberal Mormon, I know that I'm outnumbered. Sometimes I thrive in this position, but sometimes the burden feels very heavy and I have asked myself many times whether I really am a good Mormon, whether I really have a place in this church, and whether I'm really a disciple of Christ. As one blogger that I came across put it, "a vote for Barack Obama is a vote against Christ himself." Since I would vote for Obama if I were American, would I really be voting against Christ? I have my low times when I could be spiritually battered into believing that that is true.

Going on to tell about how he was able to shed some of his skepticism and embrace the Christian faith, he says:

"For one thing, I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation. It had to serve as the center of the community's political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life; it understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. In the history of these struggles, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world. In the day-to-day work of the men and women I met in church each day, in their ability to "make a way out of no way" and maintain hope and dignity in the direst of circumstances, I could see the Word made manifest. And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world."

Prior to the Church's involvement in Prop 8, I was pretty satisfied with the Church's silence on political issues. To be honest, I think I looked down upon churches, such as Obama's, that got involved in political matters or used the pulpit to further a political agenda. But since morals and politics are so difficult to separate (even for our church, in the case of gay marriage), then I wonder if perhaps the Church has made the right decision in getting involved in this matter that it deems moral, even though it affects the political. The problem? By getting involved in this one moral issue, one that is proclaimed to have dire consequences for children and families if gay marriage is legalized, then I want to see the Church get involved in other moral matters in the world that have equally large consequences, if not even larger. The Church has been silent on matters such as the Iraq war, torture of prisoners of war, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, class inequality, sex slaves, etc. By staying silent as a Church, does that mean that it's understood that we're supposed to be fighting against such moral evils? If so, then it seems to me that many members aren't getting the implied message. Why do we need explicit instruction on gay marriage, but not on other moral issues? I'm starting to think that the black churches, megachurches, even conservative evangelical churches, are actually setting an example for our church when it comes to social justice, equality, and the welfare of every family -- not just in their sexual morality, but in their fight for their physical well-being as well. Our church has now opened the floodgates by getting involved in one matter that is deemed moral but crosses into the political. Now that it's gotten involved in one, I'd like to see it get involved in others -- particularly since the leaders of our Church later found themselves on the wrong side of history in another political matter that they deemed a moral one: the fight for black civil rights during the 1960's.

Regarding the difficult subject of gay marriage, which contrary to popular conservative belief, Obama personally opposes, he says:

"All too often I have sat in a church and heard a pastor use gay bashing as a cheap parlor trick -- "It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" he will shout, usually when the sermon is not going so well. I believe that American society can choose to carve out a special place for the union of a man and a woman as the unit of child rearing most common to every culture. I am not willing to have the state deny Americans a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex -- nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps I am sensitive on this issue because I have seen the pain my own carelessness has caused. Before my election, in the middle of debates with Mr. Keyes, I received a phone message from one of my strongest supporters. She was a small-business owner, a mother, and a thoughtful, generous person. She was also a lesbian who had lived in a monogamous relationship with her partner for the last decade. She knew when she decided to support me that I was opposed to same-sex marriage, and she had heard me argue that, in the absence of any meaningful consensus, the heightened focus on marriage was a distraction from other, attainable measures to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians. Her phone message in this instance had been prompted by a radio interview she had heard in which I had referenced my religious traditions in explaining my position on the issue. She told me that she had been hurt by my remarks; she felt that by bringing religion into the equation, I was suggesting that she, and others like her, were somehow bad people. I felt bad, and told her so in a return phone call. As I spoke to her I was reminded that no matter how much Christians who oppose homosexuality may claim that that they hate the sin but love the sinner, such a judgment inflicts pain on good people -- people who are made in the image of God, and who are often truer to Christ's message than those who condemn them. And I was reminded that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights. I must admit that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus' call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history. I don't believe such doubts make me a bad Christian. I believe they make me human, limited in my understanding of God's purpose and therefore prone to sin. When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must be continually open to new revelations -- whether they come from a lesbian friend or a doctor opposed to abortion. That is not to say that I'm unanchored in my faith. There are some things that I'm absolutely sure about -- the Golden Rule, the need to battle cruelty in all its forms, the value of love and charity, humility and grace."

If Obama becomes president, he brings an insight and experience to the table that no other president before him has been able to do, simply because of race. He continues:

"Those beliefs were driven home two years ago when I flew down to Birmingham, Alabama, to deliver a speech at the city's Civil Rights Institute. The institute is right across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site where, in 1963, four young children -- Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair -- lost their lives when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded during Sunday school, and before my talk I took the opportunity to visit the church. The young pastor and several deacons greeted me at the door and showed me the still-visible scar along the wall where the bomb went off. I saw the clock at the back of the church, still frozen at 10:22 a.m. I studied the portraits of the four little girls. After the tour, the pastor, deacons, and I held hands and said a prayer in the sanctuary. Then they left me to sit in one of the pews and gather my thoughts. What it must have been like for those parents forty years ago, I wondered, knowing that their precious daughters had been snatched away by violence at once so casual and so vicious? How could they endure the anguish unless they were certain that some purpose lay behind their children's murders, that some meaning could be found in immeasurable loss?.... Friend and strangers alike would have assured them that their daughters had not died in vain -- that they had awakened the conscience of a nation and helped liberate a people; that the bomb had burst a dam to let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. And yet would even that knowledge be enough to keep you from madness and eternal rage -- unless you knew that your child had gone on to a better place?"

It's words like this from Obama that I find so appealing. His Christianity lacks the scary fanaticism that leaves a bad taste in your mouth for religion. His liberalism lacks the disdain for religion and spiritual that is typical of some Godless progressives. He gets both sides and he sees that not only can the two sides work together, they belong together.

It now looks pretty much like a done deal. Obama is most likely to become the next President of the United States. As with all presidents and politicians, he's going to disappoint us someday, somehow, one way or another. Nevertheless, if he at least tries to live up to the ideals that he has presented in his book (which is certainly possible, but will no doubt be extremely difficult to do under the pressure of reality), then I think the world has reason to be optimistic. In my last post, I discussed being unsure of whether politics and religion should ever mix. I questioned whether religion should have a place in the political sphere. I also mentioned how in Canadian and European politics (the only political regimes I have personally lived under), religion is less of an issue, a non-issue, or even an issue that should never even be brought into the picture. Seeing how things have been in America, particularly after the past few years, and the cultural and religious wars that seem to always accompany any US political election, not to mention the hate, ugliness, and distractions as a result of religious extremism -- particularly among many so-called Christian sects and the influence they try to wield on political parties -- I have to say that I was becoming more and more convinced that 100% secular politics was the way to go. However, Obama's bridge-building approach is not just one that is realistic and, in my opinion, acceptable to both believers and non-believers if they are willing to actually work together for the sake of their country. It's simply superior to any other alternative.

Oct 10, 2008

President Of The United States: Called Of God?

I'm fascinated by the relationship between politics and religion. Particularly interesting is the political culture of Mormons and how they view their political leaders. I'm speaking specifically about America because I think in a way, it's an American phenomenon. Religion is not usually a hot topic in Canadian politics and in Europe the discussion of religion in the political sphere is very limited and generally discouraged. I still haven't decided what I think is best, but there's certainly no question of which one makes for the most interesting politics.

I'm currently reading a book about faith and politics in the US. I'll tell you at the end of this post what book and who said this quote. But first, read it and consider its significance since it was said by someone who decided that he was going to run for president.

"I feel like God wants me to run for president... I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen and, at that time, my country is going to need me. I know it won't be easy, on me or my family, but God wants me to do it... I know the price... I know what it will mean... My life will never be the same. But I know God wants me to do this and I must do it."

What would you think if I told you that it was said by Barack Obama? Would it sound surprising that God would be leading someone who is liberal and pro-choice? Some of you would be skeptical, wouldn't you? But perhaps to some of you, his world vision fits yours.

What would you think if I told you that it was said by Bill Clinton? You're probably thinking, "yeah right, like God would want a skirt-chaser to be president!" But some of you would recognize that he had the gift of diplomacy and is regarded as one of the best presidents in recent times.

What would you think if I told you that it was said by Abraham Lincoln? Hmmm... sounds a bit more right, doesn't it? The president who fought slavery, "Honest Abe" was a good guy and must have been called of God.

What would you think if I told you that it was said by George H. W. Bush? Perhaps God was able to foresee the role he would play as the Iron Curtain collapsed and the values of democracy and capitalism were spread throughout eastern Europe.

What would you think if I told you that it was said by Mitt Romney? Would you doubt a fellow upstanding Mormon?

I've gotten the impression from most Mormons that they would only vote for a candidate who is, in a way, "called of God." Not in the same sense as a prophet, but as a political leader who would carry out what they regard as God's will in America, whatever they believe that to be. And in the eyes of most Mormons, that means it's a job for a conservative Republican. (My husband likes to say that G.O.P. stands for "God's Own Party.")

The person who uttered that quote was none other than George W. Bush. It was included in a chapter summarizing the different approaches to faith by some of America's politicians in the book, "The Faith Of Barack Obama" by Stephen Mansfield. It's a fascinating, insightful, and well-written book that I recommend, most of all, for the thought-provoking chapter about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a man that most of us regard as a flaming lunatic. I still think he's a flaming something, but I'm not sure that lunatic quite cuts it.

So, in light of the change that has occurred in America and in the world the past eight years:
  • Do you believe that God was speaking to George W. Bush, telling him to run for president?
  • Do you think he has fulfilled the role that God intended him to do as president?
  • And how will it impact your feelings in the future about any politician who claims to be inspired by God in any degree?
And last but not least, maybe you can help me make up my mind. God and religion in politics: good thing or bad thing?

Oct 5, 2008

A Review Of Russell M. Nelson's Talk: How I Got My Husband Off The Clearance Rack

It's late and the second session of General Conference isn't quite done. I doubt I'm going to get to the rest of the talks, because I'm still stuck on Russell M. Nelson's talk about marriage and how it's like shopping.

I guess we all knew this talk was coming, in light of Proposition 8. But what surprised me was that I felt more attacked as someone being married to a non-member than I think even homosexuals would have felt after hearing this. (But they can answer for themselves.)

This is one of those talks that uses such loaded language, as to make one feel doomed and filled with guilt, for choosing to marry outside of the temple. I realize that temple marriage is important and needs to be talked about. But isn't there a nicer way to say it? This talk reminds me of a George W. Bush attempt at international diplomacy.

There were two parts of the talk that stung a little.

The first one was when he talked about reading in the newspaper an "obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when in fact, they did not choose the eternal option... Heavenly Father had offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it and in rejecting the gift, they rejected the giver of the gift."

Is it always as black and white has he has expressed it here? Did I really "refuse" the gift of eternal marriage and have I "rejected" Heavenly Father? Apparently so. And as for dead spouses being "reunited," I'd like to believe that they will be together with their loved ones, even if they aren't "married," but I suppose I'm wrong about that as well.

The second one was in regards to cheapness. I guess this isn't the first time I've been accused of being a penny-pincher. :) He said:

"Some marital options are cheap, some are costly, and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. Beware of his options, they always breed misery. The best choice is a Celestial marriage. Thankfully, if a lesser choice has previously been made, a choice can now be made to upgrade it to the best choice."

My personal analysis of this quote? The first part is about me, the middle part is about gays, and the last part about upgrading from something "lesser" is something that very few of us will attain and don't need to have leaders keep rubbing it in.

All I can say is, thank goodness my husband wasn't watching General Conference with me. The last thing I would want him to think is that I got him off the clearance rack.

On a brighter side, after Nelson's talk, Boyd K. Packer may have just moved up a notch in my book. :)

And just for the record, I've never told anyone that their obituary was wrong.

Oct 2, 2008

Pope vs. Prophet

Now that I've finished reading The Bible For Dummies, I've moved on to Catholicism For Dummies. Last night as I was reading about papal infallibility, I was doing a mental comparison of Catholic Pope vs. Mormon Prophet and on a few points, it was hard to tell them apart.

Many Mormons would answer "no" when asked whether the prophet is infallible like the pope. They will tell you that comparing the pope to the prophet is inaccurate and I thought I agreed, especially after reading this interesting essay by FARMS (Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research) entitled "What Is Official LDS Doctrine?" Regarding infallibility, it says:

{Infallible means “incapable of erring.” While Catholic’s believe that the Pope is infallible in matters of doctrine, and while some Protestants believe that the Bible is “infallible,” Latter-day Saints do not believe that Prophets—neither past nor present—are infallible. President Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency, for example, once wrote: “We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President has claimed infallibility.}

But now I'd like to quote a bit from Catholicism For Dummies, which is written by Rev. John Trigilio Jr., PhD, ThD and the President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (in other words, I consider it to be a reliable source). My personal thoughts are in bold:

{Catholicism maintains that the pope is infallible, incapable of error, when he teaches a doctrine on faith or morals to the universal Church in his unique office as supreme head. When the pope asserts his official authority in matters of faith and morals to the whole church, the Holy Spirit guards him from error. Papal infallibility doesn't mean that the pope can't make any mistakes. He's not infallible in scientific, historical, political, philosophical, geographic, or any other matters -- just faith and morals. It boils down to trust. Catholics trust that the Holy Spirit protects them from being taught or being forced to believe erroneous doctrines by preventing a pope from issuing them. Whether it's as subtle as getting him to change his mind to as drastic as striking him dead, in any event, Catholics firmly believe that God loves them and loves the truth so much that he would intervene and prevent a pope from imposing a false teaching upon the whole Church. It doesn't mean that personally and individually the pope is free from all error. He could privately be wrong just so long as he doesn't attempt to impose or teach that error to the universal Church, because the Holy Spirit would somehow stop him from doing so.

Everything the sacred authors wrote in the Bible is inspired, but not everything every pope says or writes is infallible. Infallibility means that if the pope attempts to teach a false doctrine on faith or morals, the Holy Spirit prevents him (even by death) from imposing such an error on the faithful. So, for example, no pope can declare, "As of today, the number of commandments is nine instead of ten." Nor can he declare, "Jesus was not a man" or "Jesus was not the Son of God."

(Doesn't this sound familiar? Mormons believe that the prophet, only when acting as prophet, will never say or do anything that will lead them astray and if he tried to do so, he will be removed, even if it means being struck dead by God.)

Infallibility also doesn't mean perfect. Infallible statements aren't perfect statements, so they can be improved so that subsequent popes can use better or more accurate language. Yet infallible statements can never be contradicted, rejected, or refuted. (In other words, how most orthodox Mormons seem to regard doctrine in the LDS Church.)

So according to Catholicism, an immoral pope (you'll find several in Church history) can sin like any man and will answer to God for his evil deeds. However, as supreme head of the Church, the pope retains his infallibility on matters of faith and morals as long as he remains pope.

(Does not Mormonism make the same allowance for prophets who sin in their personal lives and yet are incapable of leading us astray in matters of Church doctrine?)

No pope in 2000 years has formally and officially taught an error of faith or morals to the universal Church. (Do not most Mormons claim the same of their prophets? Most maintain that the prophet has always taught true and correct doctrine and principles, even the ones that are hard to accept such as polygamy and the priesthood ban.) Individually, some may have been poor or inadequate theologians or philosophers, and some may have had erroneous ideas about science. That has nothing to do with papal infallibility, however because the main objective is to preserve the integrity of Catholic faith for all the members at all times and in all places.}

Once again from the FARMS essay:

{Joseph Smith understood that he was fallible when he wrote:
“A prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” On another occasion he said: “I am subject to like passions as other men, like the prophets of olden times.” He also declared: “I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect..."}

Joseph seemed to recognize his infallibilities as a man. But did he think he was infallible when he was acting as prophet? And do we?

So, call me dense, but what's the difference between the Mormon prophet and the Catholic pope when it comes to leading and guiding their respective churches? If I am to believe what the Mormon majority says, it sounds to me like a prophet who is "acting as such" is pretty darn infallible when it comes to not leading the Church astray. And yet they will tell you that he isn't.

So which one is it?