Saturday, July 12, 2014

What if it isn't true?

I was asked this question by a friend, when I was in College. My first year in college, I had been back from my Mission for... maybe 6 months. I think it came up in part because he had been proselyted by a group of religious atheists - I have always found that aspect of Atheism a bit humorous. They eschew religion while being a religion themselves - In the sense that a religion is an organized collection of beliefs, or world views relating to humanity, and providing some sort of structure. I am not referring to atheists in general, but rather that group of zealous atheists who preach with conviction that science has proven the non-existence of God. Science can neither prove, nor disprove the existence of God at the present time, nor is it likely to be able to in the foreseeable future. You may be able to make a case regarding certain qualities of an intelligent being, but not dis/prove one.

But back to the question. "What if it isn't true?" At the time I was grossly incapable of answering the question. Fresh from a mission, I was still positively brimming with missionary-ness. I could not even comprehend "It" not being true. I have matured somewhat in the ensuing years (probably not much), and thought I would take a stab at answering that question now.

So, what if it isn't true? What if there is no God? What if all those we have been following over the years, believing they were "men of God" were all part of an elaborate conspiracy, or more likely (applying Hanlon's Razor), were men with an incredible abundance of imagination, and an incredible lack of ability to distinguish between fact and fancy? Well, then I have part of an enormous fraud, which has been perpetuated through millenia. I have been giving up 10% percent of my income, untold hours of my time - I've been following a bunch of rules and guideline's - all for no reason.

But what does that really mean for me? Ignoring the human frailties which are part of any organization run by humans, whether founded by a divine being or no, what are the actually fundamental implications of my devotion to this fraud? What are the actually tenets and objectives which the Church itself - not individuals within the church - has attempted to instill in me?

At the core, it is all about aspiring to something greater.  The most fundamental, core doctrines are love, and personal accountability.  Seriously, take some time to pick it all apart, lay it out, and look at the big picture, recognize the influence of stupid, which is part of all human endeavor and distill the core meaning. It is all about taking responsibility for my actions, accepting my faults, and seeking to overcome them, it is about not blaming others but recognizing that I am responsible for me. And then, in what seems to be a contradiction of the former, it is about recognizing the influence which I have on others. About understanding that what I do can influence others, can shape others. And because of this core belief that we are the offspring of a deity, Those "others" are literally my brothers and sisters. All children of a Loving God and all therefore of infinite worth to him. If that is the case, then why would I not do all in my power to help them to achieve their full potential?

Putting that in simple, temporal terms, If I have a dear friend, who I know is a recovering alcoholic, am I going to pressure him to go to the Bar with me? NO! To do so, to put my friend at risk of Jail, of Death... it would be unconscionable! So in that same vein, if all around me are my brothers and sisters, it makes sense that I should do what I am able to help them to be happy, healthy... the best they can be.

And that is the core of what I have belonged to. The gospel of Jesus Christ fundamentally is about improving myself, being responsible for myself, avoiding things which could lead to addictions, and embracing things which improve my knowledge, health, happiness and overall well-being, and helping others as best I can, or at the very least, not being a roadblock to their improvement.

So, I try to avoid things which are harmful for my physical body, I try to eat good food, get sufficient sleep (I said try), I try to treat other with respect, to keep my anger and selfishness and pride in check. I give money and time to my church, to build church building where people can gather together to fast and pray together, to share messages of hope and faith with one another, to inspire each other and "bear one anothers burdens". I give money to my church to help build schools, to help provide resources to those who have fallen on hard times; see to their immediate needs and help them get back on their feet.

I have invested considerable time in an organization which has encouraged me to follow the example of one who spent his life seeking to help, to heal, to lift, and to love.

What if it isn't true? What I have gained far exceeds what I have lost.

What if it is true?

A Musing on the Book of Abraham

This post is a specific response to a thread which started on facebook, as a result of this post by the LDS church regarding the Book of Abraham, a portion of LDS scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price, and this subsequent article by the Salt Lake Tribune. The SLTrib article rubbed me the wrong way, due to it's rather sensationalist feel but lack of any real substance, and due to the fact that they didn't bother to reference the original article they were writing about (what can I say working fro 8am to 2am for a week had me in a cranky mood).

At any rate, a recurring question appeared around the pictographs contained in the Book of Abraham (which can be found here). The question in essence being, since these pictures are common pictures found in Egyptian Funerary texts (Known as the Book of Breathings or the Book of the Dead, and since present day scholars (and presumably scholars in Joseph Smith's time, given that the debate over the veracity of the Book of Abraham goes back to the early 1800's), does this not at the very least discredit the Book of Abraham, as a literal translation, and possibly even exposes Joseph Smith as a fraud?

First let me wade through a few points I already discussed for the sake of completeness. I am not aware that the Church at any time has taught as doctrine that the scriptures are a literal translation. The Joseph smith was relatively uneducated, seems to suggest that they were not literal translations.

Let me also for completeness include the definition of a literal translation as one which is a word-for-word rendering in another language, and point out that literal translations are frequently not useful, as a word-for-word translation fails to convey the correct culture, and often ideas or meanings the author intended. And since some scripture is poetic in nature, it is often necessary to translate non-literally in order to maintain the flow, which can be just as important as the words in presenting the intended meaning.

I would further point out that this makes accurate translation a very tricky business, since it is meaning which is most important (spend a little time at song and you will get an idea what I mean. just one example is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, it is interpreted as everything from dealing with depression (the most likely, given that author of the song said it was this) to drug use, to a promotion of new age religion).

So, that out of the way, let me come back to the facsimiles. First, since the recovered portion of the scrolls from which the Book of Abraham is said to have been translated represents roughly 12% of the entirety of the scrolls, what we have represents no real proof of anything. Insufficient data.

But that aside, and based on what little information we actually do have, let me propose one alternative which fits.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to become acquainted with a man who was a Freemason, of relatively high rank - I do not recall the title now. In our conversations, he shared with me some details of the Freemason ceremonies. While not wishing to divulge detail around what he shared, as it is considered secret/sacred. I will say that I found a curious number of similarities between it, and certain ceremonies performed in LDS temples, including specific clothing, hand shakes, hand gestures...

In fact some have claimed the Joseph was  Freemason and that he borrowed from their ceremonies to create the temple ceremony. But where did the Freemasons come by it? There history, as explained to me traces it back to one of three origins. The first is that it was an organization of craftsmen founded in the middle ages. This is based on the earliest known documents related to the Freemasons.

Freemason tradition however points to an earlier source. Many indicate that its origins are tied to the Temple of Solomon, where workers who constructed the temple gleaned the rituals of Solomon's temple. Others however indicate that it predates Solomon's temple, and in fact traces back to Egypt. In either of these cases, the constant is that it was tied to, or gleaned from ancient Israel (referring to the progeny of Jacob, Son of Isaac, son of Abraham).

Now, going to Jacob and moving forward: Bible history says that Jacob had a Son, Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt, and then rose to power, as the Pharoah's right hand man. This was accomplished through Joseph's interpretation of a dream which Pharoah had, predicting a seven year period of abundance, followed by a seven year famine. this foreknowledge allowed Pharoah the opportunity to prepare for the famine during the prosperous years. These events culminated in Jacob and his family migrating to Egypt and reuniting with Joseph.

Now consider: This event would have made the Pharoah quite prosperous. It is reasonable to assume that, at that point, Joseph, and by association Joseph's family - were held in relatively high regard by the Pharoah, and those around him.It is also reasonable to assume that Joseph, being devoutly religious shared his religious views and history with Pharoah and others within his circle of influence.

So then, is it possible that the book of the Dead, an Egyptian text, did in fact originate, or at the very least was influenced by Joseph, and his Family? I have a friend who had the opportunity to see parts of a Book of Breathings on display in the Musee du Louvre. I have not had the opportunity to personally  study the book of the dead, or its translation, so I am trusting my friend at his word, but his description of the Book of the dead  and translation offered included parts which again bore striking resemblance to portions of the Masonic ceremonies, and LDS temple ceremonies.

As such, it seems  possible that the Book of the dead may have in fact been influenced by Abraham's progeny. It seems possible that portions of Abraham's writings may have found there way into Egyptian texts.

I don't offer this as fact, I have never heard anyone else pose this theory, this scenario is entirely my own creation. It is not offered to prove or disprove any point in particular, only to point out that there are other alternatives to the extremes being offered by the media, the religiously or intellectually overzealous on either side of the debate.

It goes back to a point I have made before, that we humans are not nearly as smart as we think we are. We are incredibly bad at keeping an unbiased view, and are therefore quite often blinded to many possible scenarios which fit the limited data we have to work with. Frequently I hear arguments that "God doesn't exist because (insert fact) is a contradiction". Well, no. (fact) doesn't disprove the existence of an intelligent being, it only calls into question certain assumptions about the characteristic of said being.

We assume too much and understand too little. We all too often place on a pedestal, and blindly accept as infallible, "prophets" of either a spiritual or intellectual nature. And where one worships, another seeks to dethrone by exposing their malice. We would be much better served by a general tendency to trust, respect and the liberal application of Hanlan's razor ("Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance or incompetence").

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Using the Law to Push a Moral Agenda

I have heard this phrase several time recently, and have had some thoughts rattling around. I thought I would give them some place else to rattle.

Warning - This is very likely to be offensive, Dark, and Disturbing.
Yeah, we should totally get rid of all the laws on the books that are there merely to push some group's moral agenda.

Let's start with drugs and alcohol. What is it with age limits? Why can a 21 year old have a beer, but a 19 year old can't? Most of the rest of the world has a lower age limit; some have no limit. Clearly there is nothing universal about it. And why do I have to get a note from a doctor to get prescription meds? The drug store has it for sale, I have money, and a need. Why does the government get involved in the middle? Who am I hurting (other than possibly myself) if I take a little codeine every night, to help me sleep? If I want to do heroin in my house, and I can afford it, who are you to tell me I can't?

Now about theft. Is stealing really wrong? You say so, but that is just your moral opinion. There have been cultures which celebrated, even revered thieves. Isn't robin hood considered a hero to most? It's human nature to take what we want. Look at little babies. They see something, they want it, they take it.

What about rape? I understand they have found a gene that makes some people prone to this behavior. We have accepted the gay gene, why not the rape gene? Why does it get treated differently?

And again with age or relation limitations - with respect to sexual behavior. The rest of the planets animals don't seem to care. I've raised chickens long enough to know the rooster doesn't treat mom, sister or child any differently than any other hen. We throw the term "Pedophile" around. Why not pedo-sexual? It has a genetic marker as well, so it is apparently a natural phenomenon.

And so many laws regarding killing... Let's be honest. killing is as natural as it gets. In fact it serves several beneficial purposes. The stronger, faster, smarter, creatures prey upon the slower, weaker, dumber creatures. It serves to improve the overall genetic quality of the survivors, it serves to control the population size... Death is part of a healthy ecosystem. And by artificially preventing death, we allow inferior humans to propagate their inferior genes. It is a necessary function of evolution.

And let's face it, we humans do take to it quite readily. When in all of history has there NOT been at least one war going on somewhere? When we aren't at war, we involve ourselves in the wars of others. If that option isn't available to us, we come up with other ways to engage in conflict. We create gangs. We divide into conflicting groups over almost anything, and then push the boundaries of violence in spite of all the laws put in place to restrain our natural urge. Why just last week a woman at a gathering that was all about peace and love and taking care of the environment stabbed a man who asked her to stop honking her horn like a crazy for 30 minutes.

And if we can't participate in war or burgeoning violence we spectate violence. Football, WWF, MMA, Boxing... We yearn for the conflict, we chafe at the laws which suppress our instinct to kill. Even the old sports - running, javelin, shot put, wrestling.... They were just ways for warriors to practice, and stay conditioned for the next war.

Some of course will try to argue that "God said..." Which God? Mars is the God of war, I don't think he cares. You mean the Old Testament God who arbitrarily gave commands to one nation of people to entirely wipe out another nation?
If you find yourself agreeing with any of the above, get your head checked. Please.

ALL laws are "someone Pushing some moral agenda". Life is precious because we as a group collectively decided it was so, or because we as a people collectively believe in a God or gods who have "told us" it is so. Drugs are regulated because we collectively have decided that they must be regulated in order to protect the young, the less fortunate, the less educated, the innocent bystander, or those more prone to addiction. Theft is wrong because we, or our deity of choice said so. Families are supposed to look act and function in certain ways because we believe it benefits us as a collective group, or because that is our religious doctrine.

Regardless of where the line is drawn, unless you live under the rule of a dictator, or tyrannical regime, the line is drawn where the group chose to draw it. Yes, they "pushed their morals" in exactly the same way that you are trying to "push your morals".