Thursday, July 29, 2010

I gave a talk in church. Topic: Holy Ghost

Mood Gorning Sothers and Bristers, I mean Good Morning Brothers and Sisters. Aubry and I really like first-letter transpositions so I thought I’d try one to see if anyone else finds them funny. Anyway, I’ve been assigned to talk to you today about the Goly Host. So here goes…

I’d like to begin my talk with a salutation. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians ends by saying: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen.” Paul’s goodbye offers insight into the unique roles and characteristics of the three members of the eternal Godhead. First, Christ who made intercession with the father and without who’s grace we are doomed. Likewise, it was thanks to God’s love for us that he sent his only begotten to die for us. And finally while both Christ and God kept are from us by a veil, the Holy Ghost has been sent to the Earth to be in communion with man. This is the unique role of the Holy Ghost.

However, I think we sometimes forget that the Holy Ghost is a God like Jesus Christ and God the Father. So when we talk about the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost we are talking about the constant presence of a God – one of the three most powerful beings in the Universe can be your best friend. This is a pretty far-out concept. In Sunday school I’ve heard the Holy Ghost compared to Jimminy Cricket; and this is a cute analogy; but the reality is the Holy Ghost is no cricket – He is like the most awesome force in the Universe. This is why it is so desirable to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. You and I want (or at least should want) this awesome powerful presence guiding our decisions here on Earth. However there is a price to pay to hang with this guy (the Holy ‘G’ if you will): The Spirit will not bear an unclean vessel. This is why we strive to keep the covenants we have made with God the Father. Keeping the commandments can secure you the power to draw insight from the Holy Spirits deep celestial aquifer.

The knowledge of the Holy Ghost is not of man. In fact, in his talk entitled the Cloven Tongues of Fire, Boyd K Packer says that the “supernal”, or supernatural, insight of the Holy Ghost is often “obscured” by our Earthly, human activity and “meetings”. Therefore, in order to receive other-wordly knowledge, we must set aside time for meditation and communion with the Holy Spirit of truth. Moments of quiet repose are critical to keeping open and receiving the vital lines of communication from the Third member of the Godhead.

Not only is the Holy Ghost great to have around, but the witness of the Holy Spirit is also absolutely crucial to our entire system of belief. Let’s face it, if we are honest, I think most of us would admit that the Gospel is not altogether rational. The plan of salvation isn’t something you’d simply arrive at logically by studying the creatures of the Earth and the motion of the stars. The Churches contemporary publication True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference confirms that the Holy Ghost works outside the normal rational modus operandi. It says, “His communication to our spirit carries far more certainty than any communication we can receive through our natural senses.” The communication from the Holy Ghost is not a phenomena of this Earth, it is spiritual and beyond our powers of observation and ratiocination. I would argue that anyone who tries to encompass the entirety of the Gospel into an objective, pseudo-scientific analysis with known logically derived boundaries, is necessarily a charlatan because they deny the importance of faith in God’s plan. This also points to the fact, though, that without the witness of the Holy Ghost our belief system is rather dubious. Otherwise, it would be silly to believe something so fantastic as the story of the First Vision or Christ’s atonement for mankind. There’s certainly no scientific explanation for what Joseph saw in that grove of trees. Therefore, I’m afraid if you’re testimony isn’t based on the transcendent witness of the Holy Ghost, then you’re standing on metaphysically shaky ground. I therefore beseech anyone who has not sought the confirmation of the spirit to pray mightily unto the Lord for that fiery witness from beyond the veil. There is no hope to convince anyone of the truth of the Gospel without relying heavily on the testimony of the Holy Ghost. This is why pseudo-logic Bible-bashing is such wasteful enterprise. In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 42 verse 14 it says, “And the spirit shall be given you by the prayer of faith, and if you receive not the spirit ye shall not teach.” The Holy Ghost must be present to teach the things of God. So hopefully the spirit will bear a portion of my words to you. Otherwise, I’m not teaching.

In Matthew Chapter 3 verse 11 the testimony that comes through the Spirit is described as a “baptism by fire”. Like a fire, it burns a place in one’s being. “Once you have felt it, you can never forget it,” says Glenn L. Pace of the Quorum of the Seventy. This sensation has been described as both rapturous and sublime, both of which point to something beyond the words themselves. It is something Other. In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 121 verse 26 it is described as an “unspeakable gift”; Meaning it cannot be described. The sublime sensation of God’s infinite Love and infinite wisdom is an irrational sensation, in the sense that it is simply beyond rational discussion – it is awe-some in the original sense of the word – as in that which causes an eye-popping, jaw dropping feeling of awe. The absolute Otherness and Other-worldlyness of the Holy Spirit helps explain why many people find it difficult to describe those moments when the windows of heaven are opened and things are seen with the spiritual eye.

Now, we know from Christ that one of the reasons he left the Earth was for us to have a chance to exercise our faith; to grow and progress. In John Chapter 16 verses 7 and 8 Christ says, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin…. ” So according to Christ the Holy Ghost was always a necessary component of his plan. He had to leave so people could learn to follow the Spirit without him. I imagine it would be difficult to progress very much while in Christ’s immediate presence. Being around the perfect source of goodness and light would likely make sin seem incredibly unappealing. So Christ had to leave so that we could be tempted, and for a guide through this tempestuous sojourn he sent the still small voice of the Holy Ghost. It recently occurred to me that this makes good sense, because if Christ sent the Holy Ghost as a loud, obvious voice we wouldn’t have as much opportunity to make mistakes and learn to actively seek spiritual guidance.

Therefore the Holy Ghost was sent to be a still small voice and a teacher while Christ is gone, to “reprove” us of our sins, so that we can learn what we must do to return to God the Father. So if you’re interested in going to the Celestial Kingdom – anybody here interested in going there? – the personage Christ sent to help you get there is the Holy Ghost. Train yourself to listen to what He says and you’re journey home will be much easier.

To return home, each person will receive specific, tailored instruction as to what course is best for him or her. The personal nature of our relationship with the Holy Ghost gets a lot of emphasis in this Church. Personal revelation is a gift that all members are entitled to and expected to earnestly seek. So I challenge you that are here today to pray for personal and specific guidance from the Holy Ghost this week, and then act on the promptings you receive.

Along with the obvious advantages of personally tailored instruction from the Holy Ghost the principle of personal revelation also creates a wonderful dynamic in the Church between orthodoxy and personal, subjective understandings of the Gospel. We do have the orthodox interpretation of certain scriptures; given to us by the Prophets – and the Holy Spirit will bear witness of the truth of their words – but the Brethren are not the only source of divine revelation and Gospel truths.

For instance, A common story goes like this: I had a question or a problem that was really bothering me a lot. I thought about it and prayed about it for several days. Then one day while reading my scriptures a particular passage struck my attention and suddenly took on meaning that I had never seen before. I applied this scripture to my specific contemporary situation, according to the new insight I received from the scriptures and have felt blessed as a result.

For LDS people the scriptures are saturated with meaning. Any one scripture can mean hundreds of things, depending on the person and the timing and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures are very much alive. Through the Spirit they can be a constantly evolving story that lends itself to new and more interesting perspectives the more they are read. This openness in the Gospel allows for a variety of perspectives and leaves room for a variety of people in the Church who working together can enrich each other’s overall understanding of God’s plan. For this reason salvation through the Holy Ghost is a communal process. Or else my giving this talk is futile because everyone in this room already understands the Gospel the exact same way I do and there is really no reason for us to talk about it.

Finally, a quote from Boyd K Packer:
“We need not live in fear of the future. We have every reason to rejoice and little reason to fear. If we follow the promptings of the Spirit, we will be safe, whatever the future holds. We will be shown what to do.” There seems to be a general sense that the sky is falling in the United States today, but a Prophet of the Lord has told us that we need not fear. Everything will be fine so long as we just keep doing what we’re supposed to and follow the Spirit.

I’d like to tear my bestimony… Ha Ha just kidding. Honestly, I’d like to bear my testimony that Christ lives. He sent the Holy Ghost to Earth to testify of Him and the truth of his Gospel. I have personally felt the fiery witness that comes from the Holy Spirit of the truth of God’s existence and the truth of the Book of Mormon, which is the cornerstone of His Church. Despite feeling at times that a belief in God cannot be rationally defended, I nonetheless cannot deny the witness of the Holy Ghost. I cannot deny the impact on my life the presence of the spirit has made and I cannot justify my existence without appeal to a higher authority. I love this Church and its prophets and I love the emphasis they place on personal revelation. I love the richness of the Gospel and the never-ending potential for new insight and deeper understanding of Gospel concepts and stories. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. And I’ll leave you with the salutation of Paul: May “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why Mormons should accept an expansive view of the meaning of the US Constitution

The US Constitution holds a special importance among members of the LDS faith. President Benson has said in an official church publication that not only was the Constitution "inspired" by the spirit of God, but that it is in fact a "holy document." This elevates the US Constitution to the level of scripture in the Mormon faith. However, for some reason LDS people don't seem to treat the US Constitution the same way they treat other scripture. For some reason, while the general LDS cannon is considered very open to deeply subjective readings, which can be applied to specific contemporary situations; the US constitution is considered thoroughly decided and unopen to new interpretations or insights based on changing circumstances.

I often hear my LDS peers talking about the openness and expansiveness of scriptures that speak to them in new ways according to their circumstances. A common story goes like this: I had a question or a problem that was really bothering me a lot. I thought about it and prayed about it for several days. Then one day while reading my scriptures a particular passage struck my attention and suddenly took on meaning that I had never seen before. I applied this scripture to my specific contemporary situation according to this new insight that I received.

For LDS people the scriptures are saturated with meaning. Any one scripture can mean hundreds of things, depending on the person and the timing and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Study of the scriptures is not limited to the bare text, either, but is very holistic process involving synthesis with outside sources of inspiration as well as introspection into the intention of the words beyond the simplest most bare meaning of the words. However this wealth of meaning is not very well transcribed to the Constitution. For many Mormons the Constitution is a closed document whose meaning is fully understood; and is therefore, not open to the same kind of new and personal spiritually guided interpretations.

This contradiction has recently troubled me after reading, Yale Law Professor, Akhil Reed Amar's book The Constitution: A Biography, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the saturation of meaning in the words of the constitution. While reading his book, it was impressed upon me that the most important inspiration contained in the Constitution is the Democratic idea of openness and flexibility in the face of changing circumstances.

The Constitution was a deeply democratic document - meaning that among its authors and contributors we can include, not only Washington and Jefferson, but also the entire corpus of the fledgling United States' people (or at the very least the men). Be the legal legitimacy of the US Constitution is based on popular sovereignty (the idea that the people as a whole should choose the government), each and every individual interpretation of every person then living in the United States is a legitimate interpretation (because they are all authorities on the meaning of the founding text for which they voted). This creates a huge patch-work quilt of meaning! Every sensible interpretation of the document is a legitimate, because there are an infinite number of ways that it may have been understood at the time.

Furthermore, we know from the documents that have survived from this period that there was a litany of disagreements as to what specifically the constitution permitted and prescribed and as to how to implement it into a functioning government. All this amounts to a lot of built in flexibility when interpreting this document, which goes a long way in explaining why the Constitution has been able to last for 200 years despite massive changes in society.

Likewise, the Founders had the beautifully democratic insight to leave the document open in a very literal sense. The US Constitution is unfinished. It is open in the sense that it is still being written. The original founders devoted a rather large section of the document that has become fundamental law to describe the process of amending - or adding onto – the unfinished Constitution. This means that they left it up to us to find out for ourselves what the Constitution should say and how it should be applied. In a beautiful gesture of trust from one generation to the succeeding generations they asked us to take up the mantle where they left off and finish the work they began. We should continue to write their story as progress and democracy marches forward.

This openness and potential for new insight, is what Mormons should focus on when designating the Constitution as scripture. Otherwise you're stuck defending some of the uglier aspects of the original document - such as the designation of black slaves as counting for 3/5's a person for the purpose of the census, and other passages explicitly defending the institution of slavery. The spiritual significance of the US Constitution may be great, but those who voted for its passage in the spirit of progressing the vision of Democracy made a deal with the devil by compromising with the dominant power brokers in the South - the slavocracy. This compromise on justice and democracy came at an excruciating cost, and was ultimately paid for in blood and almost led to the undoing of the US Constitution. The original Constitution failed to deliver the promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to the quarter of US people who were held in bondage in the South. Furthermore the original constitution failed to hold together a "more perfect Union" and was no longer operative during the period of Civil War between North and South.

However, to a great extent the spirit of Democracy has continued to lead the writing of this Document. Among the authorities of the US Constitution we can therefore also include Lincoln, who insisted on a "new birth of freedom" in the United States. The amendments to the Constitution are as important to the original document and contain new and dynamic insights that do not necessarily perfectly jive with the words of Madison, Jefferson and Franklin. Only by including the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th ammendments do we see the fullfilling of the democratic promise of universal suffrage. These words should be given the weight they deserve as scripture, and not disregarded from our understanding of the Constitution of the United States.

Future generations have continued to add to the Supreme Law of the Land. As LDS people, an open reading of the Constitution and search for new and possible additions to the document should make perfect sense - as it mirrors our search for personal revelation and continual inspiration. We don’t believe that the Lord has been silenced in regard to prophetic revelation – likewise I think the Lord still has something to tell us about Democracy and how to manage power in an increasingly large and diverse society. A closed and limited version of the constitution is an interpretation devoid of the spirit of inspiration. Likewise, it is silly to complain about the lack of spirituality in government, if mormons are not willing to take the possibility of contemporary political inspiration seriously. This is why I think mormons should adopt an open, and expansive, interpretive lens as to the understanding of the US Constitution as scripture.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Andrew Breitbart is despicable

I just read the transcript of Breitbart's conversation with Hannity on Fox News. This is an after the fact interview - it had already been shown that Shirley Shaddron's remarks were not racist, but actually quite the opposite, so Brietbart should be looking apologetic, yes? He posted a purposely misleading video that got a woman fired.

However, Andrew is completely unapologetic throughout the interview. The closes Breitbart and Hannity get to apologizing is when they keep saying that the edited-video he released is "not about" Shirley Sherrod. But I don't how the video can be perceived as not about Shirley - she's the one in the video! Furthermore, she's the one who's been affected by Brietbart's deception and race baiting. She's the one who lost her job and was personally accused of being a racist by her peers.

Rather than apologize, however, Brietbart excuses his actions by saying that the same thing is being done to the Tea Party. However, the personal harrasment Shirley endured is not comparable or even remotely close to the very general and reasonable NAACP resolution saying that the Tea Party as a group - and particularly its leaders - should reign in racism among its corpus. And furthermore, there is rather conclusive evidence of racism among Tea Party activists.

So lame excuse Brietbart.

The tragic irony is that Brietbart will prolly become a regular on Fox News - advancing his own career by sabotoging an honest woman's job. His lies will endear him to the extreme Right who want reasons to hate - while Shirley Sherrod (who was attempting to fight racism by honestly discussing her own inner struggle with prejudice) gets thrown under the bus by the Left, who - as it has now been proven - will not even tolerate the appearance of racism.

This Breitbart makes me sick.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A response to Jon's Criticism

I think you're correct in asserting that both Liberals and Conservatives have a pretty bad track record in not delivering assistance to most African nations when it has been needed. (As another aside it also bugs me in cards book that Africa is uniformly an awful, god-forsaken place which ignores the fact that there are many areas in Africa which are really quite stable politically and pleasant to live.)

You're also winning that Bush was one of the best Presidents for Africa ever - however its not something that I often hear Conservatives touting, usually its the Liberals who will give Bush some conciliatory Kudos for this. Furthermore, I don't think you're going to win that aid to Africa is an area consistently pushed by Conservatives and their politicians. Finally, in the book everyone is happy with dropping aid into the quarantined continent, so government aid is not necessarily the main conflict - rather the conflict is over direct assistance in the forms of boots on the ground which goes against the governments quarantine of the African continent.

Now, You are winning that christian conservatives - hopefully a great many - would be interested in going to Africa and helping people in the case of a massive epidemic. However, I find it insulting that it is only Christian Conservatives that are advocating this policy. Card clues us in to the fact that its a conservative thing - and not just a Christian thing - by having Fox News as the only compassionate network willing to fairly air and discuss the wholly Christian demonstrators. I feel strongly that both secular and non-secular Democrats should be represented among the compassionate protectors seeking to bring further aid to Africa. Liberals are probably more likely to be rallying outside the Whitehouse to protest a cruel international policy. Honestly, when have conservatives ever rallied to protest against any US foreign policy? High levels of state security (which in the book is the President's justification for the quarantine that prevents direct assistance) is not something that you typically hear conservatives railing against.

Furthermore, while conservatives do donate more money to charities the strongest correlation for charitable donations isn't along the conservative liberal access - instead it's along the lines of religious, non-religious.

So more charitable donations by conservatives really translates to more church donations. Now, while churches do a lot of good things in the world, concern for sick and dying people is not necessarily the reason people donate - motives such as feelings of piety and social status in the church community probably figure more prominently.

So ya, I still think it's lame for Card to make-out the Left to be so completely apathetic in the face of a cruel international policy toward the continent of Africa. I know Chomsky would be against it - and all us psuedo-intellectual lefties are gonna follow what Chomsky writes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Card is not even subtle in his support of Conservative ideology

Card is not even subtle in his support of Conservative ideology
Okay. So I'm reading Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card and I am constantly oscillating between really enjoying the plot and being totally pissed-off at Card's obvious political biases in the telling of his story.

First of all, Fox News is the brave network whose reports most accurately reflect reality, in his ridiculously rendered political landscape. Hopefully, I needn't spend any time explaining how silly (more likely insulting to the reader's intelligence) this idea is. Bashing on the media is unsurprising (And there are some really good criticisms to be made about the media's failure to properly educate the public; privatized media will never do anything as boring as explain complicated sociopolitical and socio-economic realities; although there is room for misinformation and wild supposition; hence the success of Beck's pseudo-educational talk-show); However, elevating Fox as bastion of truth in his story is so wantonly irresponsible it makes me sick to my stomach.

Then, when a massive plague of airborne Ebola starts eradicating 50% of Africa the response from the Christian Right is to send Aid, while the Left idly sits by and accepts the deaths of entire continent. As much as I'd like to think that Christian sentiments of charity ruled the right, their track record has left much to be desired. Not that the Left is perfect, but when you think of epidemics in Africa you don't need to look to far for examples of how the political ideologies will align themselves on the issue - AIDS.

The AIDS epidemic is one of the most politicized natural developments I could imagine. Both sides rushed in with their own solutions to try to prevent and treat the disease. However, if anyone didn't give a hoot about people dyeing from AIDS it was fundamentalist Christians in the US who saw HIV as the 'gay disease,' The manifestation of God's wrath against sinners - sodomists, fornicators and adulterers caught AIDS, not good Christians, as per Jerry Falwell.

Fortunately thanks to the efforts of doctors, educators and community organizers - predominantly people who might be called those with a Leftist agenda - we now understand that anybody can fall subject to HIV and that transmission occurs largely intravenously through needles. One would look very stupid indeed to suggest that we should not assist African nations in slowing the spread of the virus.

To reiterate; while I applaud the idea in Card's book that the predominantly Christian Right would rush to the aid of African nations in case of an epidemic, because it is - ultimately - the Christ-like thing to do; I find it appalling that the Left is portrayed as a bunch of apathetic sociopaths who would let African people rot; when in reality the Left has a track record of reacting more quickly and with greater empathy to epidemics in Africa than the Right does.

So ya, Card's understanding of American politics is bonkers. This book is billed as being an allegory of the dangers of political extremism, but Card so obviously favors the Right in such an unbelievable and silly way that he completely undermines his credibility in political moderation. I'm afraid Card is wearing the same political blinders that he is supposed be subverting with this book. A blind man isn't going to be much help leading another blind man. I liked Card's science fiction better when he kept his writing a healthy distance away from contemporary society. He's obviously better at creating imaginary universes than representing our current reality.