Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is the world more wicked now than it once was?

Is the world more wicked now than it once was? I think I may just about have set off a riot in Sunday School when I suggested that it is not. CS Lewis once said something to the effect that the theological questions that we struggle with the most will turn out, once we have a better perspective, to make as much sense as asking “What color is a mile?” or “What does yellow smell like?” That is, they are questions that can’t be answered because they are based on irrational premises. I believe that inquiring into relative wickedness across time is one of these. In fact, the Preacher counsels against such questions: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

There are several things that disturb me when people begin complaining that current times are so much worse than the good old days. I’m not so bothered by the idea that the current times have an abundance of evil; that is obvious. What bothers me is the premise that the times past did not have an abundance of evil, or were somehow less evil that the current times. Emerson said, “Behind us, as we go, all things assume pleasing forms, as clouds do afar off. Not only things familiar and stale, but even the tragic and terrible, are comely, as they take their place in the pictures of memory. The river-bank, the weed at the water-side, the old house, the foolish person, – however neglected in the passing, – have a grace in the past. ” There are several reasons for this. One is that our memories of things past fade, and those things that do stand out in our memories tend to be the good things. Another is that troubles (or evils) never look as big once they have been conquered as they do during the battle; it is always the unsolved problem that looms largest. Yet another reason is that there are many things that we now consider evil that once were never talked about, or were not considered evil at all. Take for example various forms of child abuse. There are actions that we now consider abusive that were once commonplace, and others that were never talked about that we now take proactive measures to prevent. Because these actions were either common or hidden they don’t stand out in our collective memory. Now that we are better at recognizing these evils of course we will see them more— it is not the “quantity” of evil that has changed but our capacity to recognize it.

The next disturbing aspect to inquiries about increasing amounts of evil is the assumption that evil is measurable. How do you measure evil, and (for another day) how do you even define evil? Do we measure evil by the number of sins committed, or the “size” of the sins; some combination of both, or some other way altogether? How much foul language equals a murder? How much fornication equals a lynching? How many insincere compliments equal an unjust war? I think that inquiries into relative evil are unanswerable and ultimately pointless. It is the evil that is before us that must concern us not how it compares to times past.

The third problem is that comparing evil across time focuses us on others, but not in a good way. There are, of course, ways in we which should be focused on others, but attempting to gauge others’ righteousness with our memory or dreams of the past isn’t one of them. Engaging in pointing out the evil of others and comparing it to some standard (either the past or some other standard) is pointing out the sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own (Matthew 7:3-5). It is our own sins that we need to be worried about, not those of others, past or present, and it is our own separation from God that should be our concern, and not how the Gross National Righteousness Index stacks up to historical trends.

Lastly, the question is ultimately pointless. How the evil of today compares to that of yesteryear is totally and absolutely irrelevant to my salvation, or anyone else’s. One of the great doctrines of Mormon theology is what it teaches concerning the Justice of God. The 2nd Article of Faith teaches us that each individual is responsible for their own transgressions. As moral agents, each of us is responsible for our own actions and how we respond to the actions of those around us. We are taught that individuals who did not have a legitimate opportunity to accept the gospel in this life will be found acceptable before God, if they would have received the gospel while in life (D&C 137:7) The same principle needs to hold true in reverse: we cannot be permitted into the Kingdom of God if the only thing that kept us from sin was luck of circumstance. In other words, if we would have sinned given the opportunity, but were never given the opportunity, we are damned, just as if the only thing that prevented us from increasing in righteousness was being born in a time and place where the gospel was unavailable. To have righteousness judged on any principle other than our own actions, governed by whatever light we currently possess, is to make salvation dependant on luck, or worse: on the actions of others. If the world is more wicked today than it was 50 years ago I will be judged by how I relate to the world as it currently exists. To say that the state of the righteousness in the rest of the world impacts our chances (either negatively or positively) for salvation is to accuse God of allowing the actions of others to determine our salvation. If we assume that the forces of evil are stronger today, that they slow our progress to God more now than they did in the past, then smaller gains become more significant. Like the widow offering her last mite, it is more important that we do our best, whatever the circumstance we find ourselves in, than what our best is; the Lord will then make up whatever remaining distance is required. We each have our own unique strength and our own unique weakness. We are each presented with a unique set of problems; our judgment will be based only on how we respond to our problems with the tools we have. If other tools were available to people of other times that allowed them to respond differently to their problems they will be judged on how they used their tools—we will be judged on how we use our tools. If the circumstances that we face today are different from the past then we will be held to account for how we respond to our circumstances and not compared to people in the past living with different circumstances. People of times past hold no special advantage over people of today when it comes to righteousness. The complaint that “these times are more wicked” is a complaint that God is unjust and that we have been placed at a disadvantage because of the behavior of others. It walks hand in hand with the false belief that God will hold us guilty by association, or that we can somehow be “contaminated” by associating with those whose beliefs and actions are different from our own. In short, it expresses a fear that we will be punished for the sins of others.

The world is constantly changing—in one generation the danger may be ignorance; in another, apathy; in another, fanaticism. I would choose no other day to live than ours. Given the choice between public acceptance of gay marriage and lynchings, I’ll take gay marriage. If I have the choice between a world full of hate and rejection of others and one that is so loving and accepting that we end up accepting and loving some things that we should not, I’ll take an excess of love. If the choice is between government-, culture-, or society-mandated righteousness and freedom I’ll choose freedom even when freedom means that some people will be wicked.

We need to spend our time trying to understand how to navigate the world, not complaining about how it isn’t the way we wish it was.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A response to comments

First of all no need to apologize; it’s the nature of blogs (and email and texts, etc.) to make people sound harsher than they are. I really don’t get offended very easily; negative comments mostly make me curious as to why other people don’t think I’m as smart as I think I am. I’m obviously the most brilliant person alive, if only the rest of the world would realize it and hand me the reins of power. (Or the rains of power, I’ll take whatever, I’m not fussy.)

Let me respond to your comments one at a time:

You said “I don't think that anyone is arguing that gay people want marriage rights so that they can bring down the institution of marriage from the inside out…” Actually there are some people who believe exactly this. Most Church members are not this extreme, but some are. And there are some non-LDS groups that we were allied with that do believe this view, or similar ones (i.e. there is a great gay conspiracy attempting to trick us all to hell, or other such nonsense.) When we make common cause with groups like that sometimes we are assumed to agree with all of their viewpoints and this obscures our message. It also allows some of their ideas to bleed into ours.

“I think when people use the word "destroy" it means more along the lines of making marriage less sacred.” This is still the same argument, only said in a nicer way. The underlying assumption is that gay people are inferior and they would spoil marriage (“make it less sacred.”) The point isn’t to learn to use nicer words, but to actually talk about, and understand the issues in a way that the gay community would accept as fair. Offensive attitudes are still offensive even when they are delivered with kind words.

“I think both sides need to understand that, while their are extreme fringes, most people on either side are just good people, trying to make sense of their world, and make decisions that will make the world a better place for them and their kids.” I agree, but even good people can have bigoted attitudes. Nowadays we like to think of racists as pure evil, but the fact of the matter is that 50 years ago there were a lot of good, honest, nice people who really in their heart of hearts didn’t believe that black people were as good (clean, wholesome, intelligent, etc.) as whites and thought it entirely unfair that black people couldn’t stay in their own specially designated black zones. They believed that desegregation was a violation their rights because they should have a right not to be in the same stores, or share restrooms with people they thought of as dirty or inferior. They really believed that giving blacks equal rights threatened their rights. Just because someone is trying to do what they think is best doesn’t mean they are doing what’s best, and that is why it is so important to deal with people on the basis of respect and equality rather than on the assumption of their inferiority or unworthiness.

“For some people that means marriage as Christian religion has traditionally defined it- between a man and a woman.” I addressed this form of the argument in my original post. If I were to look up marriage in the dictionary we would all think it strange if it said “Marriage= between a man and a woman.” Such a definition doesn’t make sense. Marriage does not mean “between a man and a woman.” Marriage is what is between them, or in other words it is a type of relationship. If we focus on defining the type of relationship that marriage is, and the role that it should play in society then who can enter into such a relationship will flow from that definition naturally. I also believe that from a public attempt to create such a definition would flow other types of relationships that are beneficial to society, and thus would be worth giving official recognition to. As would the recognition that it is the relationship that is sacred, not the word “marriage”. This would also leave the question of rights denied, or religious beliefs threatened, out of the issue.

I believe that the debate on marriage should not be about who should marry (and especially not about who we deem “worthy” to marry), but what marriage is, and its role in society. These issues go way beyond the issues of gay marriage and begin to incorporate the much larger issues and problems facing marriage that the current debate is obscuring (casual divorce, poverty, marriage-like cohabitation, unrealistic expectations, adultery, selfishness, etc.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A response to comments

Last things first: I’m not sure where I’m being smug. (Unless it is the fact that I feel strongly that I’m right ;-) ) And where is the line between thoughtful evaluation and judgmental anyway? I surely don’t know. I do try to be fair, but still give honest expression to what I see and how I fell about it.

Next question: “Does "the other side" recognize our arguments in terms we recognize as accurate, fair, and respectful?”

Answer: That should not be relevant to our behavior. Poor behavior on the part of those we disagree with is no excuse for poor behavior on our part. I could do a whole post on this, but I think that what you’ll find is that most of the time what we think of as “the poor behavior” of others is, in fact, due to misunderstanding and not malicious intent, and that assuming malicious intent only contributes to the problem.

Which ties into your first question: What does this even mean to “acknowledge the arguments on the other side in terms that they would recognize and accept as accurate, fair, and respectful?”

Headway on this problem (or any other problem, really) can only be based on relationships founded on trust, love and respect (see D&C 121:41-42) not accusatory rhetoric. If “the other side” feels like they are misunderstood or constantly being maligned, that trust will not be able to develop and as a result our ability to impact events will be greatly reduced or even reversed. Example: There are those within the Church who have said that the goal of gay-rights groups’ attempts to legalize gay marriage is an effort to destroy marriage. When you think about it, such an argument is silly, but also extremely offensive. First: it accuses gay activists of lying (because what they are saying explicitly is that they want to be married, not that they want to destroy marriage.) Next: it accuses the activists of pursuing destructive goals rather than constructive goals, and while I cannot say I’ve heard from every gay-rights activist, I haven’t heard any that would classify their goals as an effort to destroy the very institution they want so badly to join. But worst of all: it carries with it an assumed point of view that homosexuals are so toxic that their very presence in the institution of marriage would destroy it. Can you imagine being told time and again that you are so toxic that you mere presence is destructive? That you are so evil that something you believe to be beautiful, wonderful, and valuable would be destroyed by your proximity, and not only would it be ruined for you but that you would ruin it for everyone else? Would you trust someone who told you things like that? Would you listen to anything they had to say? You would have to ignore them just to keep you self-respect intact. And if you think that gay community doesn’t hear those unstated messages you need to listen closer – they hear it loud and clear. The same thing can hold true when members assume or accuse gay people of devaluing marriage or otherwise having nefarious intentions. I could go on, but learning to see this is the type of thing that I mean when I say we need to recognize our bigotry.

Until we as an organization can come to truly understand that what gay community is attempting is something that they see as constructive (whether or not we agree with it), communicate that understanding, and then deal with the issue (and the people) on that basis we will not only be ineffective; in the long run we will be counterproductive.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

One Small Step…

I literally leapt from my seat with joy when I surfed over to the Church’s web site this week and read that the Church was coming out in favor of a civil rights law protecting homosexuals against discrimination. While we still have a long way to go, it filled my heart with joy to see us taking the fist steps down the path toward more Christ like concern for our fellow men.

In my initial post on Gay marriage I gave the church a C+ for the way in which they were addressing the issue. A part of the reason for the low grade was the failure of the Church to directly repudiate the bigotry that was being carried out under the banner of marriage defense. In the general “battle” to protect marriage the Church had aligned itself with some groups that had more far-reaching and bigoted goals than the protection of marriage (and some of these goals have begun to bleed though and color church members’ thoughts and actions), also some members of the Church were using the Church’s stand against gay marriage as a justification for denying homosexuals other basic rights and legal protections (take as an example the repeated inability of the Utah Legislature to pass a workable hate crimes bill because the supporters insist on including sexual orientation as one of the categories against which a hate crime can be committed.) Even though the Church had specifically stated that they were “not opposed” to extending basic (non-marriage) rights to homosexuals, this message wasn’t loud enough to be heard over much of the bigotry on the right.

Last week that changed. Although I first heard the news on the Church’s web site, it was on the front page of The Oregonian, and reported in the New York Times (also here) as well. The Church’s official public relations spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the Church, explicitly stated the Church’s support for a measure before the Salt Lake City Council granting civil rights protection for homosexuals in housing and employment. While this was presented as being in harmony with earlier statements (and in a sense it was), it represents a radical change. The Church went from being “not opposed” to being in “in support of,” and not just abstractly “in support”; they took active steps to support the civil rights of homosexuals in the face of opposition from groups with whom they were previously allied.

While I still think that we have a long way to go as a church when it comes to gay rights issues and learning to see homosexuals as our brothers and sisters, this is a very welcome step in the right direction. It tells the critics on the far left and the extremists on the far right that we actually do mean what we say and that the position on gay marriage isn’t part of a larger agenda to marginalize homosexuals. Hopefully both the statement itself and the language in the statement will serve as reminder to Church members that bigoted words and ideas are not part of the Gospel of Christ.

If this represents an actual change in position leading to a real sustained effort (as a recent follow-up statement by Elder Holland indicates), in my mind this would move the church from a C+ to B-. Among other things, we still need to admit that there are bigots in our own ranks and address them. We need to help people to understand what bigotry is, why it is dangerous and how to recognize it. We need to learn to acknowledge the arguments on the other side in terms that they would recognize and accept as accurate, fair, and respectful. We need to address our arguments using independently verifiable, universally acceptable, objective data and not pick and choose among studies (we can’t ignore the ones we don’t like and blindly generalize from those we do.) And we can refuse to align ourselves with people and groups using this issue to further agendas of bigotry.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A response to comments

First a mea culpa- I was posting on another blog about Gay Marriage and rather than try and cram my thought into a response section I referenced my post here, so if that is why you’re here I’m flattered. But my wife told me that I really should have linked directly to the post, not just my blog. Sorry guys my bad. It is right here.

Russ- It sounds to me like you are understanding point perfectly. When my understanding of a commandment conflicts with my understanding of Justice, Justice wins. But this is really a fairly simplistic way to explain it. It isn’t so much that I would expect my understanding of a Justice to allow me to just ignore commandments. As I see it what really happens is that I use my understanding of Justice to help me understand how the commandment is intended to be applied. Let me use an example that I’ve used in church before. There are several scriptures that say things along the lines of “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I’m not sure that that is an exact quote, but something along those lines. When my wife was working at a school she was given a copy of a book called “No Greater Joy.” Basically, it advocated, based on the scripture above, and others, beating your children (it even gave suggestions as to which kinds of sticks worked best.) I would suspect that the authors of this book would say that beating children doesn’t violate the attributes of God. Because if God is Just and he commands you to beat your children then beating your children is Just. Beating children in my mind violates several of the attributes of God (Justice, Compassion, Teaching, etc.) Therefore the commandment is not to be interpreted literally, what it means is teach your children discipline, God’s attributes let me know that this is to be done in the best way we know how. Maybe back in the day when the Old Testament was being written the best way that anyone new to teach discipline was beating, so when whoever wrote those scriptures wrote them he was directing the people of his time to follow what God wanted (discipline) in the best way he knew how (beating.) But now we know that beating isn’t the most effective way to teach discipline so we teach it in other ways. What it is that “lets” us interpret the commandments in this way (rather then following them literally as the authors of the book suggest) is that, as Joseph Smith taught in Lectures on Faith, we first have a correct understanding of the attributes of God.

The mental construct of a conflict that I used in my original post was to help illustrate my point. Of course if we see a problem we should seek study further, and to refine our understanding of both the attributes of God and his commandments. If we pursue a path based on developing and understand of Gods attributes, then we can take that and develop an understanding of the commandments that he has given. By developing a better understanding of his attributes we develop a better understanding of his commandments. But if we pursue a path that that put obedience to the commandments first, without checking them against the attributes, in the hope that by obeying the commandments we’ll then understand the attributes there is no check – if we get a commandment wrong there is nothing to stop us from living it anyway.

I know that because I am human I make mistakes and there will be times, as you say, when I misunderstand the attributes and so end up living a commandment in a way that God did not intend. You are right I err on the side of assuming that my understanding of Justice is correct. Because we can’t go through life without making mistakes I think that it is just as important to choose the types of mistakes we’re going to make. Would I rather fail at obedience or justice, would I rather be too much mercy or not enough?


I think you are making my point exactly. Let us run thought the step by step logic using the Spanish inquisition as our example. If I have what I’m calling a conservative approach, I read the scriptures and find a record of God telling people to destroy those not of the faith. Now I know that God is Just so I tell my self, it is Just of me to destroy people not of the faith, and off I run to chop off heads, or burn Jews or whatever. But if instead I understand that God is Just and I read those same scriptures, I can then know that they do not give me permission to run around chopping off heads. It is our understanding of the attributes of God that helps keep us from over generalizing. Putting the attributes in the prime position doesn’t invalidate the commandments, it helps us to understand and apply them correctly. Like you said it is not the commandment that is wrong it is the application.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Tripartite Dilemma

There are three components to the dilemma. Three statements, not all of which can be true at the same time. If we want to discuss them in an abstract way they can be stated like this: God is X. God has commanded Y. Y is contrary to X. Obviously at least one of these statements is false. I believe that how we resolve this conundrum is one of the key differences between a religious liberal and a religious conservative. But to really understand this we need to fill in the variables.

Let us fill them in thus: God is just (any attribute of God would fit here, Merciful, Loving, etc.) God has commanded genocide (1 Samuel 15:3). Genocide is unjust.

There are a vast number of ways to resolve this type of conflict, but I believe that they can all fall into three basic categories: the atheist resolution, the liberal resolution, the conservative resolution.

The atheist resolution is this: if God has commanded genocide and genocide is unjust then God is not Just, therefore God is not God (or God does not exist), this is a fascinating argument for another time and nowhere near as simple as it sounds from this brief description. I’ve made my choice, God exists. What I really want to explore is the liberal and conservative resolutions.

The conservative resolution is this: God is Just, God commanded genocide, and therefore genocide is just. In other words Justice is defined as being God’s will, so whatever God wills becomes Just because God wills it, or alternately in a less harsh interpretation God would never command anything that was unjust, therefore when it appears that he has commanded something unjust we in our error-prone human ways simple don’t understand or don’t have all facts and when we do we will see that God was right to command as he did and therefore we should follow what he has said without further question. One simplistic way to think of it is that God outranks justice and can tell justice to be whatever he determines it to be. Conservatives worship obedience, and conformity to God’s word. The conservative view puts the commandments of God in a primary position, and the attributes of God in a secondary position. Obey the commandments and you will be just. The commandments limit Justice.

The liberal resolution is this: God is just, Genocide is unjust, and therefore God did not command genocide. In other words God is defined as being Just, so whatever is Just is God’s will. Therefore when there is a conflict between what we believe is God’s word and what we believe is Justice, Justice wins. In our error-prone human ways we are apt to misunderstand or even occasionally willfully distort God’s words for our own ends. To use the mental simplification from above Justice outranks God, God is God because he Just. The liberal view puts the attributes of God in the primary position. Be just and you will keep the commandments. Justice limits the commandments.

What do I mean by limits the commandments? By limits I mean that no commandment can be understood in a way that would violate Justice. So if there are 10 ways a commandment could be understood, and 4 are unjust I throw those interpretations out. I use my understanding of the attributes of God in order to help me understand what he means by his commandments. Contra wise some people advocate using the commandments to understand the attributes of God. Often these people will claim not to interpret at all; they just follow what God says. In reality they are interpreting too, choices are being made about how best to live the commandments and what they mean, but without rooting that interpretation in something larger than the words themselves the interpretations can quickly start to violate the true fundamentals (justice, mercy, love, hope) In the extreme this unanchored “Good is what God says it is” has been used to justify things like the Spanish Inquisition. This attitude it is what is at work when religious today people use the words of God to justify religious intolerance of Muslims (or when extremists of any faith use the words of their God to just bigotry), or dehumanizing attitudes toward homosexuals.

The liberal reasoning makes conservatives very uncomfortable- it sounds as if one is trying to replace God’s Justice with one’s own, and this seems to be the height of arrogance. It can appear that we are placing our own view of what is right above that of God’s. In essence the liberal view is that we understand the principle of Justice better than we understand God’s word. What conservatives do not appear to understand is that the conservative approach is just as arrogant, their underlying assumption is that their understanding of God’s words trumps their understanding of Justice.

We were watching a movie that briefly featured Gandhi, I don’t know if this quote is actually from him or was from the writers of the script but it lays out the problem nicely. It was something like this “For too many years we have believed that God is Truth, when we should have believed that Truth is God.” This same thing could be said of Justice, Mercy, Hope, Love or any of God’s other characteristics.

Without an understanding of the underlying structure-the true goodness of God- and the way that that structure informs and lights the commandments, we cannot understand the commandments properly. It is not possible to work backwards and still get the right answer. We can’t say that because God commanded something it is Just, because we could be misunderstanding the commandment.

This world is an imperfect place, and so it is possible that we will make mistakes. There will be times that we misunderstand what justice really is. They question is what kind of mistakes do we want to make? Not- how can I make no mistakes? We stand before the judgment seat of God would we rather be saying: “Forgive me I tried to be just, I didn’t think that what I was asked to do was just, I was wrong and I’m sorry.” or “Forgive me I knew that what I was being asked to do was unjust but I did it anyway because that’s what I thought you wanted.” As for me I’d rather try and be just (or merciful, or full of charity) and fail occasionally on obedience, than succeed on obedience and fail on justic

Saturday, September 26, 2009

On Faith: The Parable of Quartus

There once was an old man who had four servants, whom he wished to reward before his death. So he gathered the servants around him and told them of a great treasure that he had placed in a keep in a far country. He had the servants pack his belongings and lift him into his chair. As they journeyed he told them of the wondrous things he had in store and the measures he had taken to protect them. He told them of jewels and gold, silver and pearls, and of great collections of books, all the wisdom amassed since the world began. He told them of the walls and pits, obstacles and traps, and wild beasts that surrounded his storehouse. Some he had placed to keep his treasure safe, others had been placed by his enemies to prevent anyone from reaching the treasure; still others, because of the harshness of the land, existed naturally.

Soon the party crested a hill, and spread out in the valley below them they could see a large wall stretching east and west from horizon to horizon and behind it a dark forest, and far off, almost to the northern horizon, they saw the keep where the Master had stored his treasure.

As they journeyed down into the valley they quickly lost sight of the keep. Then they lost sight of the forest as the wall began to fill their view. For days they traveled, and the wall continued to grown in their vision. As they approached the base of the wall, the top became lost in haze above them. Soon they came to the single gate, the height of a man and just wide enough for one person to pass through.

“Now my servants, we have come to a place where I can go no further. From here you must travel alone. It will take three days’ journey to pass through the wall, and inside the wall the trees have grown so tall and so thick that most often it will be too dark to see. I give each of you a gift: I have traveled these paths many times in my younger days and so I can guide you, if you will let me. If you need my direction just ask and the wind will carry your words to me and it will carry my words back to you. As you pass through this gate continue in the same direction and the keep will be directly ahead”

The first servant entered through the gate. As he walked the way began to grow dark and as it grew dark the servant began to be afraid, and as his fear grew he slowed down. The more fear he felt the slower he walked until finally he stopped altogether.

“What is this place? I’ve not even made it through the wall and already it is too dark to see. I will be killed by something I cannot see before I can even begin the journey. The old man is crazy, nothing is worth this.” And he turned around and left.

When he reached the others he told them of his conclusions and tried to talk the other servants out of making the journey. But they refused and the first servant left.

The second servant listened to the words of the first and said to the Master:

“I trust you – I know that you love us and so would never send us some place that could cause us harm.” And he began his journey down the tunnel to the forest. After a time he too began to be afraid. As he journeyed through the dark he thought about calling to his Master, but decided that the Master’s instruction had been given: “Continue down the tunnel and straight on to your reward.” The darkness must a test, he decided and so, to avoid the unnerving sensation of walking in the dark while unable to see, he closed his eyes, faced his goal, and ran. He left the tunnel at a jog, with his eyes tightly shut. As he ran he became more and more confident. The more confident he became the tighter he squeezed his eyes shut and the faster he ran until he was running faster than he ever had, when, without notice, he ran off the edge of a pit and he was crushed on the rocks below.

The Master and the other two waited for many months for the second servant, but he didn’t return, and the Master said that he had never called. And so they presumed that he would not return.

The third servant began his journey down the tunnel. He too was unnerved by the dark and closed his eyes, but unlike the second servant he was carful to keep his hand on the tunnel wall. After days of travel he felt the tunnel end on each side of him. It was still too dark to see so he called to his Master to ask for direction. Faintly, faintly on the wind came the Master’s reply. And the second servant took one step forward. He called for is Master and again the reply, and one more step. Call, reply, step, call, reply, step. For days and weeks this went on: prior to each step the servant would check with the Master and do exactly what the Master had told him to do. He made it further and further into the forest, much further that the second servant. He avoided obstacles, scaled walls and was directed around pitfalls and traps. But soon he began to hear another faint voice on the wind. At first it told him the same things that his Master was telling him, so similar were the voices that servant could not tell them apart. Soon one of voices began to get a little louder and other voice began to fade, and the servant found that when he listened to the louder voice the way was easier and when he listened to the fainter voice the way was difficult. “I am getting better and discerning my Master’s voice.” he told himself. And so he began to follow the louder voice and as he did it became easier and easier to hear, and his confidence increased, and the path became easier and easier to follow. Until the loud voice led the servant into a den of lions where he was torn to pieces.

The fourth servant began his journey down the tunnel. He too was discomforted by the dark, but unlike the other servants he kept his eyes open. He too kept his hand on the tunnel wall; he too called to his Master when the tunnel opened up. But his question was different. Instead of asking his Master which way to go, he asked him how to make a light.


The Master provided an answer, and so the fourth servant stopped for many days and fashioned a light as his Master directed him. This light let him see his way through the forest. The fourth servant’s trek was still difficult. He still encountered the counterfeit voice that attempted to lead him into danger, but when the attempts came, because the servant had his eyes open and had light to see, the counterfeit was never able to fool him for long. At times he found himself in new situations, facing obstacles he had not encountered before, at these times he would call for his Master and ask for tools rather than step by step instructions. Then he carried these tools him for the next time he encountered a similar obstacle. And as he went on the light allowed him to see similarities between obstacles before him and those he confronted in the past and he was able to use the tools he had fashioned in the past or, if he needed to, would request instructions to forge new tools. Because he had a light he was able to make better time and was more alert for the most difficult problems. Occasionally he would come to the top of a rise and find himself in a clearing from which he could, for a moment, catch a glimpse of his goal. But most often he trudged through the dark guided only by his light, his past experience, and the voice of his Master carried softly on the breeze. Until after many months of travel he walked into a clearing to find himself standing at the foot of the keep that contained the treasure his Master had promised.

A response to comments

First why respond as a new post? Because it is fun that way, also it is a good way to keep the discussion at the top of the page so to speak.

Unsurprisingly there were a number of comments on my Gay Marriage post. Hopefully I can address some of them here.

First several of you cautioned me to show tolerance even to intolerant Church members. I could not agree more. Everyone has weaknesses and one of the great things about being in a large organization is that we are exposed to others’ weaknesses and strengths. Intolerance is definitely a weakness (and it just happens to be one of very few that drives me up the wall.) Tolerance however is one of those principles that must be handled with care, it should never be confused with condoning bad behavior, nor should it be a reason for staying silent in the face of destructive behavior. What it means is that disagreements should be handled with respect for, and charity towards, those you are in disagreement with, not silence. Tolerance of the intolerant means that I accept that they are children of God, as I am, and are in need of the atonement of Christ, as I am, and that they are deserving of my love. It does not mean that intolerance masquerading as righteousness should remain unchallenged or unnamed.

Several of you recommended that I read the interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman. I have several times, in fact I linked to it in my post and it was one of my main sources of information on the Church’s position on gay marriage. This interview I think address the easy to moderately difficult questions about the Church’s position on homosexual behavior in general (this was a pleasant surprise to me because I expected an interview of Church officials by a Church reporter to only ask the easy questions.) The discussion on gay marriage is several years old at least (the first time I saw it was when the amendment to the U.S. Constitution was proposed.) The interview really only states the belief that accepting gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage because it would redefine it (an argument that mostly leads nowhere because the real question isn’t should we redefine marriage but is the new definition better or worse than the old one.) Its main contribution is that it defines the threat as against the institution, not individual marriages. It is in the statement on Prop 8 that the Church more clearly explains why it believes such a redefinition is a problem. And I believe that the reason laid out in the post accurately reflects that position. (If you still think otherwise please let me know what the other reasons are, I really would like to know.)

The interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman I believe was intended primarily as a statement of religious belief, not policy. That is not true for the statement on Prop 8. That statement is an argument made in an attempt to change public policy. And as such it would have been more effective had it been addressed to a wider audience or helped give Church members the tools to talk to a wider audience. The statement was written in such a way that it sounded like an attempt to show the rightness of the Church’s position, but because of the way it mixed the religious and secular reasoning it could not be used in any attempt to persuade a fence-sitter or someone who was in disagreement. It could only reinforce the beliefs of those who already agreed with it. In other words, I could not send it to someone who was not already a Mormon and did not already believe in the Church's teachings and position to that statement and expect them to come away convinced.

This ties into the comment made by Anonymous at 7:06. I have no problem combining secular reasoning with religious belief— in fact I think that it is vital! The point I was making when I talked about the intermingling of the two making the statement useless was not that intermingling was wrong or that the Church was wrong to do it. The point was that it made the statement unusable as a tool to promote public policy. If we want to impact national (or state policy) it cannot be based on religious reasons- that would cause the state to become an instrument of religious enforcement. It can only be based on universally demonstrable truths. Take smoking as an example. If the only reason that we can give for not smoking is that God said not to do it, then those who believe can use that belief to govern their own behavior, but they cannot use it as reason to have the government force people who do not believe to change their behavior. If, on the other hand, we can do an objective study and show that secondhand smoke increases other people’s risk for lung cancer then we can make a strong case for banning smoking in public places. The same holds true for gay marriage. If the only reason for homosexuals not to marry is that God said not to, that is insufficient grounds for using the government to prevent them from marrying. If, on the other hand, it can be objectively shown that gay marriage would be harmful to society (not very likely) or that unique recognition of heterosexual marriage would benefit society (much more likely) then that would be sufficient grounds on which to base public policy.

Carrie: about Elder Wickman’s statement. Your question brings along with it a lot of assumptions. First, doctrinally what he is saying is an interpolation (and a very logical one) from our current state of knowledge about the pre- and post- earth life, it is not revelation. As far as I can recall, nowhere in scripture is this taught. There have been other times in the history of the church when ideas were taught that were then overturned as new revelation came forward. One that relates specifically to the pre-mortal life was the teaching that people of African decent were fence sitters in the war in heaven (they refused to support Christ, but didn’t join with Satan either) and thus withholding the priesthood from them was justified. This teaching has now been specifically condemned as false by Elder Holland. Similar situations can be found regarding other doctrines, such as polygamy or the changing of the temple ceremonies. My point is that there is always the possibility that the Lord could provide us with additional knowledge that would overturn earlier assumptions, just like what has happened in the past. Also, let’s be clear in what I was saying, I was not declaring that someone who engages in homosexual behavior will be in one of the lower levels of the Celestial Kingdom, only that that is one possible way that I can see that God could allow for homosexual marriage, without needing to overturn the idea that a continuation of posterity in the next life requires men and women working together in an eternal marriage. I’m sure there are other ways and I’m sure that if that’s the way He’s going God’s already got it all figured out.

John and Pamela: I think you have touched on one of the great (and not entirely unjustified) fears of the religious right with this issue. There are some gay rights activists who are attempting to use the government to force changes in religious doctrine. Just because someone is on the political left does not make them a liberal.

Anonymous at 7:33: Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog, and for leaving comments! (I’m not being sarcastic, I really am glad you took the time to read!) I have seen many members of the Church with similar beliefs about the incompatibility of Mormonism, Liberalism and Democratic politics. In fact that is one of the reasons why I decided to start this blog. In my experience the belief that Liberalism and Mormonism are incompatible stems from one of several things: a misunderstanding of Mormon teachings, belief and doctrine, or a misunderstanding of Liberalism, or some combination of these. One of my goals is to help correct those misunderstandings. Because you are anonymous I can’t really speak to your level of understanding of Mormonism, as to your understanding of liberalism- let me use an analogy.

I assume that at some point you have stumbled across descriptions of our church and faith made by enemies of Mormonism. Not just people who are ignorant, but people whose goal it is to tear down the Church and our people. They tell outright lies, and they twist the truth so hard it turns into a lie. Such statements aren’t really all that dangerous to those who know the truth; we see them for what they are. Imagine, however, that all you had ever heard about the Church had either been filtered by or explained by its enemies. What would your opinion of the Church be then? If all I knew about the Church came from its enemies I surely would think it was a terrible organization and I’d want nothing to do with it. The same holds true for political discourse. So many people have gotten their entire understanding of liberalism from the conservative media, people like Limbaugh, Beck, and Savage. These people make millions by making conservatives angry at liberals. If you’re not angry they’re not getting their ratings. People like this are a very bad place to get information about what liberals believe. If all I knew about liberalism was from these sources I would not believe that it was compatible with Mormon belief. Fortunately, for conservatives, these guys have just about talked themselves to the point where their silliness is almost universally apparent (death camps for the elderly, from Democrats the defenders of the defenseless and the authors of Medicare? How much more ridiculous can you get?) Hopefully for conservatives real leaders will start to emerge soon. My point is that if all you’ve ever heard about Liberals and Democrats is from people like this or has been explained to you or framed for you by people like this then you don’t actually have any real idea what it is we believe.

I hope that you will take the time to browse back through some of my older posts (I did several posts that dealt with liberalism on a general level rather then on an issue specific level.) Also helpful would be to read about Harry Reid (Democratic Senator from Nevada, Senate Majority Leader and active Church member.) He said that he believed that it was easier to reconcile Democratic values with Church teachings then Republican ones. President James E. Faust (former member of the First Presidency) was a Democrat and served in the Kennedy administration. Elder Marlin K. Jensen (a current member of the Quorum of the Seventy) is also a Democrat. In fact “On April 22, 1998, Jensen was sent by the First Presidency to give an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune in reaction to a recent First Presidency statement and to explicitly state that someone could be a devout Mormon and a member of the Democratic Party.” (from the Wikipedia article on Elder Jensen and footnoted to a transcript of the interview) Further back in the past Elder Marion G. Romney (former member of the First Presidency) served in the Utah state legislature as a Democrat.

I’m with Harry Reid; I think it is much easier to combine Mormon beliefs with Democratic liberal beliefs then with Republican conservative ones. Although I would be thrilled if I was able to convince some people of the value of Liberalism, I’d be quite satisfied with increasing their level of understanding of the issues and helping them to see that despite what Rush Limbaugh and his cronies say Liberalism is not a synonym for evil.

Anonymous at 7:06: I addressed the main body of your comment above. As for the PS, I would be careful about arbitrarily placing limits on God. From what I can tell the only limits on God are those imposed universally by Justice, Mercy, and Love. I would recommend taking a little time to study the history of polygamy in the Church. Remember than many people define marriage as only between ONE man and ONE woman and thus marriage to a second women while still married to the first is not valid and thus adulterous. Adultery is exactly what Joseph Smith was accused of by his detractors. In essence, the Lord allowed for a time what many people believe was adultery.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Gay Marriage Post

I’ve been working on this post over the course of many months (like six), and so if there is anyone who happens to track such things this is NOT in response to any one event, person, e-mail, blog post, sacrament meeting talk, newspaper article, or any other world event. I understand that there are some who read this that will disagree strongly with my point of view; that’s fine with me. Also nothing in what I have said below should be interpreted as a personal attack on any individual.


The whole gay marriage debate seems a bit strange to me. It is almost like we missed a step along the way somewhere. Like most of the “great” debates of the day, each side seems to be plugging its ears and shouting at each other rather than actually sitting down and thinking though the issue. This is clearest in the way the “traditional” marriage supporters talk about the issue. They say, “Marriage is defined as between a Man and a Woman.” Okay…that sounds nice, the problem is that it is only half a definition, and without the other half the whole debate floats away to a strange never-never land. The real debate needs to begin not with who can marry, but what marriage is. Who can marry is completely irrelevant until we have an understanding of what it is they are doing and the impact that it has on society. In other words: if marriage is to be only between a man and a woman, what is it that is between them? As I see it there are three main facets of marriage that are relevant to the discussion before us. They are: marriage as a personal relationship, marriage as a legally recognized union, and marriage as a facilitator of biological reproduction.

Marriage as a personal relationship

One way to define marriage is as a lifelong relationship between two individuals entered into for mutual support and companionship on the basis of love and respect, and which assumes the partners have exclusive sexual access to one another. I think that most modern Americans would agree with this definition of marriage.*

The above definition is completely independent of government, society, or what the neighbors say or think. Without intruding into the personal lives of its citizens to a degree that most Americans would find appalling there is nothing that government can (or should) do to stop such relationships from forming between any individuals whatsoever, gay or straight. Everyone in this country should have the right to pursue happiness wherever they think they can find it, so long as one individual’s pursuit does not unreasonably interfere with anyone else’s, and surely your relationships and living arrangements have no real direct impact on me at all. We all have this right regardless of whether or not others think that the path we are pursuing is moral or not or whether it conforms to their belief systems or not. This means that if two men want to live together in a long term, mutually supportive relationship, change their last names, exchange rings and throw a party to celebrate the official start to their new lives together, that is completely their business and not anyone else’s, regardless of whether or not others think such a relationship is a good idea.

The trouble is that while the personal aspect element of marriage is important, left standing by itself it is incomplete.

Marriage as a legally recognized union

If marriage is purely a personal relationship, why should the government be involved in marriage at all? In fact, I have heard it suggested by people on both sides of the issue that the government should just get out of the business of marriage altogether and the whole issue would then just go away. Marriage would then become a purely private affair with no legal ramifications at all. I suppose individuals could then write their own contracts regarding things such as distribution of property and other such issues normally assumed in a marriage relationship.

I do not think that this is a good idea. Currently marriage has a larger role in society than just official recognition of a relationship between individuals, though that relationship is at the root of it. Stable monogamous relationships provide society with a myriad of benefits, everything from lessening the spread of disease, to home health care, to increasing worker productivity, to reducing anti-social behavior, to fostering a commitment to the stability of the community. In other words individual marriages benefit society as a whole, not just the individual members of society who are married. Therefore society has a stake in marriage, its success, and the roles it plays.

By formally recognizing such relationships we can encourage them, and we can provide individuals in such relationships benefits that are designed to strengthen, maintain, or otherwise assist such relationships. For example providing hospital visitation rights reinforces (among other things) the role of the spouse as primary caregiver, the responsibility that they have for their partner, and clearly identifies (hopefully) an individual who is responsible for the health of the patient.

Formal recognition of private relationships is an important tool that society can use for its betterment. The benefits above are independent of the genders of the persons involved in the relationship. If both heterosexual and homosexual relationships provide society with these benefits then both types of relationships should be officially recognized.

Questions still remain: “Do either homo- or heterosexual relationships benefit society in a way that the other does not?” and “If such a difference is found is the benefit large enough to merit distinct recognition?”

Marriage as a facilitator of biological reproduction

While there may be many disagreements as to what constitutes the best environment for raising children I believe that there would be almost universal agreement on the importance of long-term family stability as a vital part of the mix. With the assumption of sexual access as part of marriage, good marriages become an optimum place for the birth and raising of children. A relationship that has the positive interpersonal characteristics enumerated above and has the capacity to extend that stability and love to the joint biological offspring of the participants is a unique benefit of most heterosexual marriages. The only (constitutionally legitimate) difference that I can see between a heterosexual relationship and a homosexual one is the potential for the partners to reproduce together. Is this biological difference a strong enough reason to provide heterosexual relationships with unique recognition? What about heterosexual relationships where the individuals choose not to have children, or are unable to? Should these relationships be recognized with the same status as fertile relationships? What about adoption, which allows those in infertile relationships to raise children?

There have been studies done to determine how having homosexual parents impacts children. It is these studies that have lead the American Psychological Association (see also here) to conclude that having a homosexual parent is not detrimental to child development, and thus that arguments against homosexual marriage based on concern for child development are unfounded. In other words (to debunk a few of the more hatful lies of those who oppose gay marriage out of ignorance and /or bigotry) children of gay parents are no more likely to be abused than children of straight parents, are just as likely to develop socially accepted understandings of gender roles, and while they are slightly more likely to report having experimented with homosexuality they are no more likely to self-identify as homosexual than children of straight parents.

To my mind, while these studies are sufficient to show bigots for what they are, they are not asking quite the right questions. The studies that I looked at, at least, focused mostly on the sexuality and sexual development of children and additionally they focused almost exclusively on the biological children of homosexual parents. This most often meant that the children had lesbian mothers or gay fathers who were separated from the child’s other biological parent, and thus for the purposes of the studies the legitimate comparison group would be the children of divorced parents or single parents. And while no one would argue that single parents or divorced parents cannot be excellent parents, it is clear that both divorce and single parenting have a negative impact on children.

Does biology matter? I’m not a social scientist, but I would suspect that this is a question that can be answered through the right kind of research. Does being raised by both biological parents provide any advantage to a child? I hypothesize that, when other factors are equal, it does. Many traits, from personality types to health conditions, are passed genetically from one generation to the next, and along with these genetic traits can come the family traditions that can direct, control, and explain them in positive ways, or provide other coping strategies.

Appropriate future studies should focus on the adopted children of homosexual couples and compare them with both the adopted children of straight couples and the biological children of straight couples, and then measure them not only on the direct impact of sexual or gender identity development, but on all aspects of child development. This would help to confirm or detract from the earlier studies, and help to establish the relative importance of biological parents. My hypothesis is that little difference would be found between the two groups of adopted children, but that there would be clear differences between adopted children and biological children. This is not because I believe that adopted parents are not good parents (in fact, given what it takes to be approved to become an adoptive parent I believe that they are much more likely to be better parents in terms of skills, financial and emotional stability, desire for children, and willingness to appreciate the chance to parent.) But being given up for adoption can have an impact on the child, independent of anything their adoptive parents can do. Some children are able to see their adoption as a positive, as “someone wanted me badly enough to work hard to find me.” Unfortunately, others have a hard time getting past the idea that someone didn’t want them and gave them away (however legitimate the reasons).

It is for this reason that I believe that in an ideal world children would all be born into homes where both biological parents are in the same stable, committed, long term relationship (marriage) and are willing and able to take care of them. I understand, however, that as long as we are living in an imperfect world this will not be the case, and so I salute adoptive parents and their children. But my point remains; I believe that biology, in terms of parenting, matters.

All of this strengthens the idea that society has a legitimate interest in recognizing and promoting long term, stable, healthy, relationships that are capable of producing biological offspring.

The “threat” posed by eliminating any distinction between heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage is not that any individual relationship would be weakened, it is the fact that such a definition would define marriage purely in terms of the participants’ relationship to each other, thus leaving out the role that marriage has traditionally played of providing official recognition of a legitimate means of biological reproduction. (note the difference between the traditional role of marriage and traditional marriage.) When the Church says that acceptance of gay marriage is a threat to “traditional” marriage, this is the threat that they are talking about: the threat that biological reproduction has either been reduced in importance or defined out of marriage altogether. Or, in other words, the threat is that marriage moves one step closer to being seen as purely an interpersonal relationship with less and less of a larger social purpose.

The question arises, how do we maintain a hold on the ideal while accepting that it is not possible in every condition or for every person?

If we accept that reproduction is an important role for marriage and that officially refusing to recognize that the capacity for reproduction is, in fact, a loss to society, we need to ask what it would take to prevent that loss from occurring and if we are willing to pay that price. The way the debate appears to be going now is that the cost seems to be reducing the gay and lesbian members of our society to second class citizens, undeserving of the same rights and freedoms as their straight neighbors. Many in the “traditional” marriage camps seem all too willing to accept this, some with regret and, unfortunately, some with relish. Is this an issue worth hating your neighbor over, or stirring up hatred, or strife? I don’t think so.

Proposition 8 and other “Protect” Marriage Initiatives

This brings us to a specific instance of the debate, the Proposition 8 debate in California, one of the very few instances where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has actively played a role in a political campaign.

There are few things in life that make me truly, deeply angry, to the point of being furious. One of the worst is when individuals or groups use religion as a cover for bigotry, hatred, meanness, or violence. Only one thing makes me angrier – when the people doing this are members of my own religion. It is completely and utterly inexcusable. It is for this reason that I have had such a hard time writing this post; the things that I have seen and heard from some of my fellow Church members have been appalling. While I think that some comments are based on ignorance, to me that is no excuse; for members of the human race, and especially for those that claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, ignorance is no excuse for intolerance, bigotry or meanness.

The Church

If I had to give the official Salt Lake City-based Church organization a grade on how they did entering into this debate (based primarily on this statement and this one on the Church’s web site) I’d give them a C+. They avoided bigoted and untrue attacks on those who opposed their position, they spent the time to address the issue in a nuanced way, and they stated that they were not trying to interfere with existing homosexual relationships or rights, and that they were not opposed the rights then granted to homosexual couples elsewhere in California law (including civil unions, a statement that Utah gay rights groups are hoping to leverage to get those same rights for same-sex couples in Utah.) They reminded members to speak their positions with love and respect for those they disagree with and they expressed their respect. And they tried to present the position as pro-marriage rather than anti-gay.

There were, however, several problems with the statement. One was the complete intermingling of secular reasoning and LDS theology. This (at least to me) made the statement unusable as a tool to promote public policy. If your main basis for supporting a position is “because God said so,” that is fine for governing personal behavior and the behavior of fellow believers, but it doesn’t fly for promoting policy. The reason is that all it takes is for someone to say, “No, he doesn’t,” and you’re in the business of using the government to enforce religious belief or dictate religious doctrine, clearly a violation of the constitution. Additionally, because of the way that religious doctrine was intermingled throughout the statement I believe that attempting to use it as a tool for persuading someone who didn’t already agree with the doctrine would be futile.

The next problem was one of omission: while the statement did express respect for those with differing opinions and asked Church members to do the same, it seemed evident (to me anyway) that this was not said clearly enough, nor defined well enough (more on that below.) To me this was the greatest failing of the statement. They could have clearly condemned the use of misinformation and lies in the pursuit of their objective. I deeply wish that more time and effort had gone into explaining what respectful conversation meant and that specific examples of bigotry had been raised and repudiated. For example the Church could have raised the falsity that homosexuals are more likely to be pedophiles or abusive and then clearly stated that this was not true and that for Church members to play a part in the creation or spreading of such scurrilous lies would be diminishing for both the individual and the Church. They could have called on Church members to get to know their gay neighbors better, not for the purpose of conversion or to change their minds on the issue, but just to increase the amount of good will and good faith the country. In short I believe that they should have recognized the amount of bigotry and ignorance in the Church, the tendency for people to hear what they want rather than what is said, and recognized that some people would use the Church and its position to excuse their own bigotry.

My last concern was that there was some (though not much compared to some other statements/ emails that I’ve read) use of fear of homosexuality as a motivator. This was evident in the using of the Catholic Charities of Boston’s cessation of adoption services (in response to Gay rights lawsuits which required placing children with homosexual couples) to motivate participation. While concerns about those that will attempt to force the Church or its members to participate in activities that they feel violate their beliefs is legitimate, the ignorant and bigoted have seized on the few examples and exploded into a state of irrational panic. Take for example the case of the Catholic Charities in Boston. They did voluntarily remove themselves from the adoption business in response to a lawsuit that they lost which would have required them to place children with gay couples (the issue at stake being should the government be able to force someone to violate their religious beliefs, a great question for another time.) However, the Catholic Charities only went to court once, even though they certainly had grounds for appeal based on the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Many groups that supported them were disappointed that they chose to capitulate rather than pursue such an appeal. The ability and limits of government to control and regulate religious groups is certainly a question that could benefit from a look by the Supreme Court. Additionally, no other Catholic Charities in Massachusetts have closed or stopped facilitating adoptions, nor have they begun placing children with gay couples in violation of their religious beliefs. Another example is what if (God forbid) the courts should require that gay couples should be aloud to live in married student housing at BYU. My response is, so what? How many gay couples do you really think there are that would want to go to BYU let alone live in the married student housing (I’m suspecting very few, bordering on none.) But let’s imagine that there was such a couple. What would happen? There are several possibilities: 1) They would come to get to know their neighbors and their neighbors would get to know them and everyone would learn that we’re not really that different and that we should all love and respect one another even when we disagree, and they would leave the school with a positive view of the Church and its members. In other words it would give Church members the opportunity to practice what they preach. 2) They would experience the hatred and bigotry that many in the gay community have come to associate with religion and leave the school with a negative view of the Church and its members. In other words it would show Church members as hypocrites. Either way it would be positive, even in the second instance, because then we would learn where we need to focus our efforts in order to become more Christ like.

My last concern is not with the statement itself but with the Church’s implicate endorsement of resolving the issue though a ballot initiative in the first place. The issues involved are numerous and nuanced – they will require great care and the development of long-term relationships and understanding to resolve. Trying to resolve them through the ballot initiative process to amend a state constitution is like trying to perform brain surgery with a baseball bat. It just isn’t the right tool for the job, and could very well cause more problems then it solves.

Church Member Response

I don’t live in California, so I can’t say that I have a lot of direct experience with how members of the Church there responded. I have talked to, heard from, seen email from, seen blog posts by, etc. Church members here and around the country and based on my observations I would (with a few exceptions) give Church members somewhere between a C and a C- for their responses to Prop 8.

Too many missed, misunderstood, or ignored altogether the requests of the Church to treat those we disagree with with respect. Many were clearly anti-gay, or homophobic, and were using the cover of the Church’s position to justify their bigotry. I remember talking to one individual who said (in essence) that if the Church wants us to say something and reminds us that we are a respectful people then however we say it it is automatically, by definition, respectful (kind of like the Nixon defense “if the president does it, it’s legal.”) And I saw in words and actions of many others this same attitude. I saw fear mongering, incomplete and twisted representation of facts, and pride and glory taken in what were framed as “strong” comments, but were actually hurtful or rude. Vile rumors and hearsay was passed around with no effort at verifying truthfulness. Excitement was found at the prospect of taking action that would obviously hurt others (“only” emotionally, fortunately; I have not heard that Church members participated in any violent or destructive protests.) I saw no effort to reach out to others and little effort taken to be respectful. I saw Church members excuse this behavior by saying, “well, the other side is doing it too,” as if the meanness of others (and there was meanness on the gay-rights side) somehow absolves you of your obligation to follow Christ’s teachings. I read the comments of one prominent Church member, who I believe should have known better, where he accused those he was attempting to debate with of lying because they did not agree with him.

Whenever I wonder how it is that people like the Pharisees and Sadducees could have risen to such prominence at the time of the New Testament, or how people that claim to be followers of Christ could consent to and participate in some of the worst autocracies of our time, I only have to see the words spoken by some of my fellow Church members to see them fearing deviance and valuing conformity more than love and respect for others and their agency. I see them starting down a path that could, if followed to its extreme end, lead them to crucify their Savior, rejecting Him because He preaches love for individuals above ritual, doctrinal purity, and societal conformance.

Mormon Theological Possibilities for the Recognition and Acceptance of Same-Sex relationships

(A note to those who worry about such things: This is not an attempt to dictate doctrine to the Church or its leaders. I speak only for myself and claim no authority to change Church doctrine, nor am I attempting to claim that my statements below are Church doctrine. Like everything else on this blog the speculations below represent only my own personal opinions.)

I believe that the best course for society with regards to the gay marriage question is to recognize gay unions, and give homosexuals clear access to equal civil rights, while at the same time recognizing the unique role of heterosexual marriage. But that doesn’t change the fact that as a point of Mormon religious doctrine homosexuality is still condemned. Is it possible that that could ever change? I would like to think so. After decades of officially denying priesthood equality and semi-officially backing it up with doctoral teachings and justifications the Church was able to reverse course and allow black members to be full participants. There are still traces of lingering racism, but we are moving further and further from that.

It is important to note that the Church, right now, recognizes many different types of marriages, some very different from the “traditional” marriage model. To understand the significance of these it is important to understand the Church doctrine of eternal marriage. This is the belief that marriages that have been blessed by the right people and in the right place (currently temples) do not end at death but continue forever. This implies that marriages that took place 150 years ago are still valid, still in existence and still recognized by God and, inferentially, by the Church. In the early days of the Church a variety of relationships were recognized, and thus are presumably still recognized. (Meaning that those that were authorized and performed historically are still recognized, not that members could enter in to some of the relationships below today and still expect recognition.) This includes the following types of relationships:

 Temple Marriage – the highest form of marriage, marriage for eternity
 Civil Marriage – recognized by the Church (i.e. the Church does not consider those in a civil marriage living in adultery) but not considered equal to temple marriage, nor is it considered still in effect after the death of either of the spouses.
 Polygamy (no longer practiced) – Clearly a part of Mormon history. Authorized marriages performed before the practice was officially discontinued sometime between 1891 and the first decade of the 1900’s are still considered valid.
 Polyandry (the marriage of a woman to more than one man, no longer practiced) – much rarer in Church history, although there are a several recorded instances in the Nauvoo period of the Church.
 Serial polygamy (current practice) – Currently the Church doctrine (as I understand it) is that when a man’s wife dies, he can remarry and be married for eternity to another women; thus in eternity he will be married to two (or more, I suppose) women. While officially the same belief does not hold true for women whose husbands die (the typical reply I’ve heard is that “God will work it out”) I suspect that given the existence of polyandry in Church history that polyandry, too, will exist in eternity
 Marriage for eternity only (no longer practiced) – at times in the early history of the Church marriages were preformed for “eternity” only. That is, the spouses would not be married during their lifetimes, but would only be married in eternity.
 Other sealings (no longer practiced) – The Church also practiced so-called “adoptive” sealings, in which adult members were sealed to other members in non-marriage “parental” relationships. From what I have seen in my research this was conducted so that members would be adopted into the families of the Church leaders. Thus a person could be sealed to Brigham Young as his son, and would be counted among his family in eternity even though his parents might be alive and well (I have no idea how this was expected to work out if the son was also sealed to his birth parents, but I think that they also were then connected into the prophet’s family; a fascinating tangent, we’re so boring and conventional nowadays.)

Another Church doctrine that provides us with an entry point is the very unique Mormon understanding of the afterlife. Unlike traditional Christianity, Mormons do not believe the standard Heaven/Hell duality. Instead we believe there is a continuum of glory or reward, and each person will be assigned to a place on the continuum based on the way in which they’ve lived their life and the extent to which they have accepted Christ and His teachings. Mormon scripture divides this continuum up into three categories (called kingdoms), the worst of which is to be so wonderful as to surpass all understanding. The highest level (the Celestial) Mormons typically equate with the more standard Christian Heaven. This highest level is further sub-divided into three more parts. Entry into the highest of these is possible only for married couples (presumably the work that goes on there is possible only by the combination of male and female working together.) This leaves us with the result that we have two levels in heaven that do not require marriage between men and women for entry. Interestingly enough Mormon doctrine is utterly silent regarding the two additional levels, what they mean, and who goes there.

To my mind, given the vast array of marriages (some very nontraditional) already recognized, the already existing belief in several “unknown” levels of heaven, and the Mormon belief that God will continue to teach His children about His ways, there is plenty of room for theological recognition of homosexual relationships, even without a radical change in doctrine.

For comparison, the shift in Church policy regarding allowing members of African decent full participation required the overturning of a vast amount of folklore and tradition. The denial was based on traditional beliefs (some of which have yet to die out completely, despite official instruction to put a stop to them) that justified the practice based on scriptural teachings. As was the case when the Church abandoned polygamy, social pressure was brought to bear on the Church, which set off a chain of events that led to what at the time appeared to be a radical change in Church doctrine, but in retrospect was clearly the right thing to do.

I don’t believe that it would be beneficial for Church members to lobby their leaders for such a change. In fact I would suspect that such an effort would backfire. However, we can go over their heads and take the case straight to God. I certainly would not expect a radical change anytime soon, but we can pray, hope, and trust in the Lord and his power to make all thinks right.

However life ends up working out, we can be absolutely certain that we respect the thoughts, feelings, rights, and beliefs of others.


*Though to call it “traditional” seems a bit of a stretch to me, it is only in our fairly recent history that love, or the physical attraction that often accompanies it, have had a significant part to play in the selection of a spouse. Traditionally things such as family connections, wealth, dowries, or the acquisition of other property were much more important. Nor was the relationship mutually supportive in the way we would think of it today. Women were often poorly treated, it was considered within a man’s rights to beat his wife, and at times women were assumed to be the equivalent of her husband’s property. We have moved beyond such things, to the betterment of society. In a debate with as much riding on it as this we need to be clear. And clearly the terminology “traditional marriage” is not clear.

Response to comments

Okay guys on the gun control thing, I’m not really that shallow. The sound bite “logic” was mostly tongue in cheek, and deliberately over simplified and exaggerated. The gun control/gun right is one of the debates that I actually care about least. My main objection to guns is the underlying assumption that violence, or the threat of violence, is good or necessary as a solution to societal problems. The point being that if we value life we should question all violence and value all life.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Points to Ponder

Right-wing gun rights advocates (or at least some of those I’ve spoken with or read) claim that guns are needed to defend their home and property from violent intruders. In other words, they claim that a human life (that of the intruder) is worth LESS than their property (say, a DVD player.)

The right wing also claims that a human life is worth MORE the right of a woman to control access to her body.

The only logical conclusion is that the right wing believes that a woman’s right to control access to her person is worth LESS than a DVD player.

What are your values?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gay Marriage, some sanity finally

This isn't my post on this issue but I found this as I was posting the post below. It is worth the read, and moves the conversation in the right direction. See the link here.

Science and Religion

For those of you waiting for the blog entry on gay marriage, it’s on the way. In the meantime here is an entry that I had written some time ago. Before I could post it to my blog my wife suggested that I submit it to the Ensign. Haven’t heard back (and now that I’m rereading it I can’t say I’m that surprised) so now I’m going to post it here.

I think that it is finally time for me to come out of the closet. I believe in the Theory of Evolution.

Earlier drafts of this article included numerous direct references to the Theory of Evolution. These were removed at the suggestion of some of my reviewers in the hope that it would make publication more likely. Even though addressing evolution was the primary reason for the article, the principles also apply to other “contradictions” between faith and science, such as DNA evidence (or the lack thereof) for a historical reading of the Book of Mormon.

Now that I’m rereading this the flow seems kind of stilted in places. I think that those are places that I really had to force myself to be PC. Anyway, enjoy!

(Note that unlike other posts, because of my attempt to publish this I’ve written it more directly to Church members. For those of you who are not members of our church…well I’m sure you’ll figure it out.)

[so when I first posted this the footnote links worked, now they don't go figure]


Science and Religion

What is the proper relationship between science and religion? Can they work together? Do they contradict each other, and is it a problem if they do? Many people seem to believe that they do contradict one another and thus that belief in one necessarily excludes belief in the other. As members of the Church we have access to the additional light and knowledge brought by the Restoration. The truths of the Resorted Gospel can help us to understand the role that science plays in bringing forth and understanding truth. It can also help us to understand the underlying cause of what, to some, seem to be irreconcilable contradictions, and give us the tools we need to overcome those apparent contradictions.

In an October 1938 Improvement Era article entitled “What is the Attitude of the Church Toward Science?” the Church issued this statement:

The Church, the custodian of the Gospel on earth, looks with full favor upon the attempts of men to search out the facts and laws of nature. It believes that men of science, seekers after truth, are often assisted by the spirit of the Lord in such researches, indeed, whenever they appeal to the Lord for help. It holds further that every scientific discovery may be incorporated into the Gospel, and that, therefore, there can be no conflict between true religion and correct science. The Church teaches that the laws of nature are but the immutable laws of the Creator of the universe.

Likewise, the Church holds the methods and means used by science to discover truth to be legitimate. Indeed, all instruments and means developed for the exploration of nature are welcomed

Joseph F. Smith taught:

We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure. ... True science is that system of reasoning which brings to the fore the simple, plain truth.[2]

He went on to teach:

The laws known to man as the "laws of nature," through which the earth and all things on it are governed, as well as the laws which prevail throughout the entire universe, through which heavenly bodies are controlled and to which they are obedient in all things, are all circumscribed and included in the gospel. Every natural law or scientific principle that man has truly discovered, but which was always known to God, is a part of the gospel truth. There never was and never will be any conflict between truth revealed by the Lord to his servants, the prophets, and truth revealed by him to the scientist, who makes his discoveries through his research and study.[3]

It is my observation that many faithful Christians of other denominations hold the view that science and religion are incompatible. It appears to me that this stems, at least in part, from four religious doctrines: 1) God created the world from nothing, 2) the Creation took place over the course of 144 hrs (6 days), 3) that this 6-day creation process began 6,000 years ago and 4) God is unbounded by law. All of these ideas conflict with the state of science today. And each of these doctrines conflict with Gospel teaching[4]. Brigham Young expressed a belief that some religions’ inability to accommodate scientific knowledge was causing problems for people.[5] As members of the Church we need to take care that we do not allow ourselves to follow down the paths that incorrect teachings will lead.

There are, however, some Church members that still object to science. Some feel threatened by, or are uncomfortable with, one scientific theory in particular, others Satan in his craftiness has caused to generalize their discomfort, which has led them to discredit, devalue, or dismiss science as a whole. A close look at the doctrines of the Church, however, will bring us the reassurance that fears of incompatibility are unfounded.

There are several doctrines of the Church that can help to calm fears and relieve discomfort cased by the apparent contradiction between science and the Gospel. While these doctrines are intertwined, they may be broken out as follows: the Lord’s standard of truth, the promise of continuing revelation and eternal progression, and the awesome power of humility and faith. For the sake of clarity the implications of each of these will be reviewed independently, but hopefully their interconnectedness will become apparent.

The Lord’s Standard of Truth

Science and religion are both concerned with Truth. Both seek to find and teach it. So it can be distressing when it appears that they contradict one another. What is the ultimate standard that should be used in determining the truthfulness of any particular idea? According to the Doctrine and Covenants, “…truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come; and whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.” (D&C 93:24-25) In other words, the test of truth is, “Does the conception accurately depict the way things are, were, or will be?” If so then it is true; if not then it is false. This standard bases the truthfulness of an idea on the accuracy with which it conforms to reality For example, Einstein developed a theory that made certain predictions about the way that gravity would impact the path of light, and he suggested observations that could be made to confirm his theory. Several years later the observations were made and Einstein’s theory was shown to be a more accurate description of gravity that the prevailing theory of the day.

Unfortunately, some have been deceived into using a different standard of truth. Their standard seems to be, “Do the things that I’m hearing confirm what I already believe?” To use one’s own understanding as a standard of truth is an example of the sin of pride. The Deceiver flatters individuals into believing that they already posses a perfect understanding. He tricks us into believing one or both of the following: that we have a correct understanding of the science, or that our beliefs (understanding of Gospel teachings) are perfect.

How can believing that our understanding of the Gospel is perfect be a problem? First, and most troubling, assuming that the we are already in position of the totality of truth can lead us to deny the truth of anything new, and thus progression or growth becomes impossible. Those who are thus deceived assume that they have all the truth already and don’t need any more. Second, making the mental processes of an individual the standard against which truth is judged makes truth subjective and accessible only to the one doing the judging. And third it places truth at the mercy of the whims, frailties and blindness of the individual doing the judging.

The errors of using any individual’s knowledge as standards of truth are further exposed by the next set of doctrines.

The Promise of Continuing Revelation and Eternal Progression

The Prophet Joseph Smith said the following (emphasis added):

When you climb up a ladder, you begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave. [6]

The 9th article of faith says the following (emphasis added):

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

Brigham Young taught:

I want to say that we are for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; we are pursuing the path of truth, and by and by we expect to possess a great deal more than we do now; but to say that we shall ever possess all truth, I pause, I do not know when. We receive light and truth from the fountain of light and truth, but I am not at liberty to say and do not know that we shall ever see the time when we shall possess all truth. But we will receive truth from any source, wherever we can obtain it.[7]

Scientific knowledge also progresses. Each discovery or improved understanding either builds on or overturns the ones that came before. There are very few ideas or theories that will not be improved upon, have detail filled in, or be completely overturned in the future. For example, the mechanical physics of Newton appeared to be absolute truth, and all that was needed to explain all of the physical properties of the universe, and they are still very useful. However, as science continued to progress and more and better observations were made, it became apparent that Newton’s laws were not adequate to explain what was being seen. The work of Einstein and the follow-on work by many others have lead to quantum mechanics, which more accurately describes the workings of the universe than Newton’s laws.

The doctrine of eternal progression highlighted in Joseph Smith’s statement that “… it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” and the obvious nature of scientific progression point to another fundamental flaw in the way Satan has attempted to get Church members to reject the truth of science. The first flaw was highlighted above; he tries to trick us into believing that we have a perfect understanding of both science and gospel doctrine at the point of the apparent conflict. The second flaw is that, even if we grant that we have a correct understanding of the current state of both, according to both the gospel and the principles of scientific reasoning our understanding is incomplete.

So in the worst case we are worried that our misunderstanding of a partially revealed doctrine is conflicting with our inaccurate understanding of incomplete scientific theories. And best case is that we have a condition where the current state of revealed religion and the current state of science appear to lead to differing conclusions. This leads us to the next set of doctrines, Humility and Faith.

The Awesome Power of Humility and Faith

After all of this we may still be left with what appear to be irreconcilable differences between the teachings of the gospel and a few aspects of some scientific theories. This is where the real power of humility and faith come in.

Humility in this context is a proper understanding of the limitations of both our own mental capacity, and the incompleteness of science and revelation. Humility allows us to drop the false pride of broad statements of absolute knowledge. Humility allows us to know the true limits of our knowledge. It takes a lot of humility to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” and even more to say “Maybe I understand much less than I thought I did.”

This type of humility can be found in the Book of Moses. Moses sees a vision of the creations of God, including all of the stars and planets. After which he responds, ‘Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” [8]

When the brilliant theoretical physicist Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in God, his answer showed an example of true humility:

I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.[9]

In the Book of Mormon the Prophet Alma addresses the relationship between knowledge and faith. He asks that those listening to him try an experiment. They should plant the word of God in their hearts, and then if it begins to enlarge their soul or enlighten their understanding their knowledge will be perfect, but only in knowing that the word is good. He then goes on to say “…after you have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? ...nay neither must you lay aside your faith for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might…know if the seed was good.” [10] In other words we may have knowledge that the word is good, but that doesn’t mean that we automatically have a complete understanding of all of the workings of God.

Humility allows us to recognize the limits of our knowledge, and faith allows us to be comfortable with those limits. Humility allows us to say, “I don’t know.” Faith allows us to add to the end of that sentence, “but someday I will.”

Joseph Smith taught that faith is a principle of power. [11] Nowhere is that clearer than when it is combined with humility go give us the sentence “I don’t know, but someday I will.” Children are the perfect example of this type of faith and humility; they have no problem holding all sorts of contradictory ideas, because they don’t live with the delusion that they are all-knowing.

This combination of faith and humility is what allows us to hold ideas in our minds that by the light we currently posses seem contradictory. It is what allows us to simultaneously pursue knowledge by “learning and also by faith.”[12] It allows us the confidence that someday, somehow, all truth, both religious and scientific, will be circumscribed into one great whole. It allows the faithful scientist to not only study, but defend and further theories that at present appear to contradict gospel doctrines, because she knows that her work is a stepping stone bringing us closer to that day when our understanding will be complete. It gives us the assurance that through further scientific discovery and future revelation, eventually the courses of science and gospel doctrine will converge. It frees the scientist to pursue wherever the science leads her without wasting time trying to force-fit current scientific data to reconcile with incomplete revelation, because she knows that one day, someway, faithfully following the path of truth will lead to the ultimate truth. It also frees the scientist to continue to believe in religious ideas and teaching that, for the moment, appear to conflict with her science for the same reason, because one day she knows that the conflict will be resolved.

In our impatience to see all conflict resolved today, and our desire to have all knowledge and all answers right now, we can forget that the Lord is the source of all knowledge and that all will come to be known in His time, not ours. Apparent contradictions between the Gospel and science should not trouble us; indeed given where we are on the path to eternal life they should be expected. Our impatient demanding of all answers now reminds me at times of my children, who, ten hours into a twelve-hour car trip decided that they’d been in the car too long and wanted to turn around and go home. It is only by going forward through the wilderness of apparent conflict and incompatibility that we can reach the promised land of resolution and reconciliation.


[1] Evidences and Reconciliations . ..., Improvement Era, 1938, Vol. Xxxi. October, 1938. No. 10.

[2] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939],. 1, 6.

[3] Ibid. 86.

[4] See below for instances when each of these doctrines has been disputed by modern day revelation:

God created the earth from nothing:

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught “Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship.” Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 350.

Creation took place over the course of 144 hrs:

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 14: 116 - 117.

See for example the creation story as related to Abraham in Abr chapter 4 where Abraham refers to the periods of creation as “times” rather than days. Also from the encyclopedia of Mormonism: “On the basis of the above passage, which clearly excludes the possibility of earthly twenty-four-hour days being the "days" or "times" of creation, some Latter-day Saint commentators have argued for one-thousand-year periods as the "times" of creation as well as the "time" of Adam's earthly life after the fall; others have argued for indefinite periods of time, as long as it would take to accomplish the work involved. Abraham's account does contain the interesting passage, in connection with the "organizing" of the lights in the "expanse" of heaven, "The Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed" (Abr. 4:14-18).”
(Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 342.)

See also John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era], 146-149, and Henry Eyring, "The Gospel and the Age of the Earth," Improvement Era 68 (July 1965): 608-9, 626, 628

This 6 day creation process began 6,000 years ago:

That this is a false doctrine can be extrapolated from the preceding statement. If the creation process took any amount of time over the six days claimed then it must have begun further in the past than 6,000 years. See also Brigham Young as sited above.

God is unbounded by law:

Alma 42:13, D&C 82:10

Joseph Fielding Smith stated:
“This is an age when faith and the power of God should be greatly increased, but to the contrary it is diminished and men boast in their own strength; yet we see every day of our lives, the greatest of miracles. The flying of the airplane, the voice on the radio, the picture on the screen and television. There are thousands of miracles performed today, wonders that would astound our grandfathers could they suddenly see them. These miracles are as great as turning water into wine, raising the dead or anything else. A miracle is not, as many believe, the setting aside or overruling natural laws. Every miracle performed in Biblical days or now, is done on natural principles and in obedience to natural law. The healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, giving eyesight to the blind, whatever it may be that is done by the power of God, is in accordance with natural law. Because we do not understand how it is done, does not argue for the impossibility of it. Our Father in heaven knows many laws that are hidden from us. Man today has learned of many laws that our grandfathers did not understand. It is small business for the critics to condemn the miracles in scriptures as though all the laws of God have been revealed, and there could be no powers which they do not understand. “
( Joseph Fielding Smith, Man, His Origin and Destiny [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 484 - 485.)

See also:
Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 433.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 27.

Elder Orson F. Whitney., Conference Report, April 1911, Second Day—Morning Session 50 – 51
Orson F. Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1921], 271

Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 500.

An excellent summary of the LDS view of divine law can be found in: Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 810.

[5] “I am not astonished that infidelity prevails to a great extent among the inhabitants of the earth, for the religious teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science, and which are generally understood…In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular.” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 14: 116 - 117.

[6] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 348.

[7] Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 14: 197 - 198.

[8] Moses 1:10

[9] Cited in: Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe [New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2007], 386.

[10] Alma 32:35-36

[11] Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 1:13.

[12] D&C 88:118