Wednesday, January 31, 2007

LDS Articles of Faith: 10

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

I'd just like to skip this one altogether, but that would be cheating.

Operation: Desert Storm had a huge impact on my life. I like to refer to myself as an Army Brat. My dad was fortunate enough not to go to Iraq at this time, however I went to a school on a military base, and most of my friends had a parent in the Middle East during the conflict.

I remember being very excited because I thought the Gulf War was a precursor to Armageddon and the Second Coming. It was one of my favorite church topics. As a youth, I gave a talk on the Second Coming that could have put a High Councilor to shame, it was so long, researched and boring. However, I loved the topic. I thought the Second Coming was right around the corner. I even wrote a poem about how I was looking forward to it in one of my English classes.

I no longer feel the same way. This is one of the subjects that falls into my "I don't know" category, along with the Atonement and the divinity of Jesus Christ. I have an easier time accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Atonement, than I do accepting the Second Coming.

I wish there would be a Millennium. I imagine a utopia with peace, justice, equality, and universal health care. But I think it is up to humanity to make those things for themselves, instead of relying on Divinity to do it for them.

As for the other aspects of this Article of Faith:
I believe that Israel has gathered. The State of Israel is an example of this. I am strongly opposed to Zionism, however.
As for the "restoration of the ten tribes," I think the Genographic Project at National Geographic is an example of this. However, I don't feel that its important for a group of people who were displaced around 2500 years to suddenly embrace that aspect of their heritage more strongly than the rest of the culture, and go marching back to the Middle East, claiming their lands.

As for Zion being built on America.. I think it shows a strong United States-centric aspect of Mormonism. That the United States is the promised land, and since we live in the United States, we are the promised people and more special than the rest of the world. I think this mindset is damaging and exclusionary, and I don't believe it. But, since the Church keeps calling itself Zion, and since members consider Salt Lake Zion, and since the early Saints called several places Zion, its possible this prophesy has been fulfilled. However, I don't think its an important aspect of theology.

I don't think this Article of Faith has an guidance about how to live or act. I think it is a statement associated with the Resorationist movement shown amoung the early Saints who strongly believed that the Second Coming was right around the corner. I think that having such a strong belief in the Second Coming can be irresponsible, because it can lead to people focusing more on their own personal worthiness, as opposed to working on making the world a better place.

LDS Articles of Faith: 9

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.

This is one of the Articles of Faith I like. A lot.

I see this as saying that revelation is continuing. I agree with this. I believe that God has revealed things in the past, does so now, and will continue to do so. I agree with the saying "line upon line, precept upon precept." I strongly feel that God shares his Truth with people and societies in small steps, giving them Truth in a way that fits with their knowledge and understanding. I believe that all religions have an element of this Truth, and no religion has a monopoly of it. And I think this Article of Faith shares that.

LDS Articles of Faith: 8

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

What does "word of God" mean? Its difficult to address how I feel about this Article of Faith without defining the parts of it. Does "word of God" mean literal truth? Does it mean elements of truth or inspiration? Does it mean God is literally the author and all aspects of these books are His words?

If the answer to that last question is "yes," then I don't believe this Article of Faith. If this Article of Faith is saying the Bible and Book of Mormon are inspired, then I do believe this Article of Faith.

I have not read the Old Testament completely, and I slept through that year of seminary. Its hard for me to come to any conclusions based off personal experiences. I can say that Genesis is a good read. I like the stories that are found in that book. Exodus is a pretty amazing story as well, and helps unify a group of people with a shared history dealing with hardship and persecution. (You see this same theme in early Mormon history as well.)
I don't view the Bible as a literal history of the entire earth. I see it more as a combination of stories and folklore for a group of people who were in the middle east. I don't believe the flood covered the entire planet. I see the Tower of Babel (and other Bible stories) as allegories more than true history.

I do feel that the New Testament is about the life and teachings of Christ, as well as the early Christian Church. I don't believe every single word is either from God, or mistranslated. I do believe Christ was a real person. I do believe leaders in the early Christian church wrote most of the New Testament, but I don't believe they wrote it all as inspiration. I believe personal views were slipped in and blended into doctrine. I haven't come to a conclusion yet about Christ being the Savior of the world however.

To me, the Bible is a lot like Watership Down. They both have wonderful, powerful and strong messages, but they aren't literal truths. I've felt the Spirit while reading Watership Down, and I do see Hazel (the protagonist) as a Christ-like character. I cried several times while reading the book, and I do remember feeling a "Truth" about it. Not a truth meaning that there were in group of sentient rabbits in England, fleeing from their home to a new home. But a "Truth" in the defining the meaning of life and treating others. There is the same type of "Truth" in the Bible.

I feel the same way about the Book of Mormon. I want the Book of Mormon to be true. I think that makes me different from a lot of the people in the DAMU, and one reason I can't consider myself a NOM. I see the Book of Mormon in part as a collection of journal entries written by a group of people who left Jerusalem and sailed to America. However, I don't believe the Nephites/Lamanites are the forefathers of the entire American continents. I believe they comprised a small subset of people, and they blended with other occupants of the Americas.

I started rereading the Book of Mormon (for the first time in at least 3 years). Its one of my on the side reading projects, but I am reading it to look for hints in the text regarding whether or not the Nephites/Lamanites are the sole forefathers of the continent. I've only gotten through 1 Nephi so far, however.

Both these topics are subjects for endless debate.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

LDS Articles of Faith: 7

We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

On the most part, I do believe this. I believe in prophetic dreams and inspiration. I believe people can be healed by having great faith. The gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues is in the weird area for me though. I believe that you can communicate with people who speak a different language, but I don't think that is what is meant.

I know some religions (I don't know which) have people jump up during a meeting and start talking in words that aren't easy to understand. That phenomenon is weird to me and I don't understand it, and I can't say I believe it comes from God. I do plead ignorant about this subject however.

LDS Articles of Faith: 6

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

I've always found this Article of Faith odd, even when I was a active, pretty much TBM. There aren't pastors or evangelists in the LDS church. The Priesthood office of Teacher is held by boys from 14-15, and they don't teach anyone.

As far as my own beliefs go, I really don't believe strongly in organized religion anymore. Organizations are run by men, and men aren't perfect. Any organization is going to be flawed.
I also believe that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. People at the top of organizations do have a lot of power, and even if their intentions are good, there is some level of corruption. It can be something like: "Oh, its alright if I pad my pockets a little bit, I deserve it because I work so hard." Or corruption can be less well intended. Also, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I do believe in watching out for eachother, and I honestly believe the LDS Church has a good system in place to do that, however there are unnecessary pressures involved with that. Ask anyone who doesn't want to be contacted, or people who feel overburdened by their callings how they feel.

I remember a talk with a wonderful bishop, back when I was the ward single adult representative. We discussed similarities between the church organizational structure and the military organizational structure. We discussed chains of command in both organizations, and how they are designed to make sure that everyone is accounted for. It is good to have someone to go to when you need help. And the support structure within the Church is good, but so much of it is mandatory.

Also, I don't believe someone can be selected to received revelation from God. I believe that everyone can receive revelation, and I believe that personal revelation is the most important, because no two people or situations are a like, and the right thing for one person isn't going to be the right thing for everyone.

LDS Articles of Faith: 5

We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

I do believe a man (or woman) must be called of God to preach the Gospel. However, I believe that calling comes as inspiration to that person. Again, I don't believe in ordinances, beyond being symbolic teaching messages.

I don't believe the laying on of hands is important. I don't think one man can give this type of authority to another man. I believe that teaching truth comes from the inside and is directly between you and God.

LDS Articles of Faith: 4

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

I don't believe in the importance of ordinances. I do see them as symbolic teaching moments, however I don't think they are a necessary step in perfection.

As for principles, I believe the first principle is love. Love for all people, love for ourselves. And I think to really love others, you need to love yourself first.

Some times it may be easier to love others after having faith in Christ. Because if you have that much faith in Him and try to immulate Him, then you will love others. That was His greatest message, in my opinion.

Repentance is important because it is a step in perfection. It is assessing mistakes and learning from them, correcting them, and building upon that new knowledge. True repentance is a change of heart. I believe repentance is between you, God, and whomever you wronged. I don't think Bishops or clergymen need to be involved in that process.

I don't believe in the importance of Baptism.

I don't believe you need to be given the Holy Ghost through a blessing. I believe anyone can have the Spirit at anytime, and they need to learn to focus on it and listen for it. I don't think someone putting hands on your head and praying is going to suddenly make you more attuned to feeling the Spirit.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Church my Freshman year

At one point in my life, I was pretty happy as a TBM -- My freshman year at BYU. I'm not exactly sure why that year was better than my other 2.5 years there. Maybe it was the novelty of being away from home. Maybe it was that my GEs were easier for me than my major classes.
I really think it was my Freshman ward though. It was a great group of people. There were a few couples within the ward, but most of us were just a large group of friends having fun and enjoying college.

One thing that was special to me that year was taking the Sacrament.
Sacrament meetings were quiet, since it was a singles ward. There weren't children running around, or crying, causing distractions. This gave me an opportunity to think more about what the Sacrament was, as well as the Atonement.
It was also the first time I noticed people not taking the Sacrament, and it made me sad to see some of my friends not participating in this part of the meeting. This also led to further contemplation of that act.

I thought about this today, because there is an interesting thread at New Order Mormons that discusses forcing children to be reverent, and it made me start thinking about the effects of reverence in meetings. I remembered how much more I enjoyed Sacrament meetings that year because of the reverence. But I also missed the vitality and children in a "family ward."
I find it strange that I didn't get the same feelings out of Sacrament meeting my other years at BYU. Maybe I was tired of the bubble by then, or maybe church seemed too much like a meat market at that point. I could never get into the RM/Off Campus wards like I was into my safe Freshman ward.

I liked my Freshman ward because there was very little pressure. We were off at school, away from home for the first time. Most of the people in the ward were at the same point in life. Even though we had classes to study for, life was carefree. We went out a lot as friends, and there was no pressure to be in a relationship or get married. The guys were headed off towards their missions, which was unthreatening to those of us that knew we weren't ready for marriage.
After that year, I was in off-campus wards, around RMs. I felt the pressure of dating for marriage, and I knew it wasn't something I was ready for. But by the time I graduated, I felt like something was wrong with me: I was still single; I didn't have a boyfriend my entire time at college; I hadn't even been kissed for over 3 years.

I'm not completely sure what my point is, in all of this. Its an experience I want to share. I guess what it boils down to, is that the LDS church pressures to conform. Whether its the primary children being forced into "reverence" or its the young single adults being forced to confirm to marriage.

And for a brief one year period, there was less pressure to conform. We were naturally reverent and happily single.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Driving through a school zone

Every morning on my way to work, I drive through three different school zones, while children are headed to school. Two of them are on less busy roads, but one is on a main road to the downtown area.
A few weeks ago, I saw students holding up signs reminding drivers to slow down on that main road. Since then, I've been a lot more conscious of my speed, however I'm still not driving the slow enough.
Recently, while I drove through that school zone, I thought about why I drive as fast as I do through that area.

Peer pressure. I feel guilty because I know I'm upsetting other people.

I usually drive 34 in a 30, on my way to work. It's roughly the same speed as traffic. Most cars don't slow down for that school zone; they zip on through at 34, when the speed limit is actually 20. I drop my speed down to 28, and notice that I'm starting to hold up traffic as the gap between my car and the car in front of me widens relatively quickly. I start to feel bad as I realize I'm holding up traffic.

This made me think about other areas in my life where I do the wrong thing because of guilt.
I have an online role-playing game addiction. There are weeks where I play that game for about 40 hours. Fortunately, there's also weeks where I'll play a couple hours. I'm in a army and play regularly with about 50 other people. With the help of these other people, I've gotten some pretty nice gear for my character.
Lately, I've been enjoying the game less. This is a good thing, since it helps me spend time doing other things, instead of wasting time on a computer game that doesn't matter. I think, maybe I should stop playing so much and drop out of my army. And then I start to feel guilty because I'd be letting down the 50 people that have been helping me in the game. I realize I haven't helped them nearly as much as they've helped me, and I need to even out that score before I quit playing. But then, I get another item and I owe them again, and I feel guilty and keep playing.

Peer pressure can have so many different meanings. Growing up, peer pressure seemed to be about approval and the coolness factor. Now, I feel peer pressure from trying not to upset or hurt other people.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

LDS Articles of Faith: 3

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

I don't believe this.

I don't know if I believe in the Atonement. It is a concept I have a hard time understanding and contemplating.
I don't know if I believe in being saved. It is another concept I have a hard time grasping. I don't know if I believe in heaven or hell. I haven't figured out the afterlife yet, so I don't know how I feel about it.

I definitely don't think the "laws and ordinances of the Gospel" are the way to be saved though. I don't think a person can go down a checklist and say "Yep, I'm good, I did all this stuff so I'm going to be saved now." It doesn't work that way.

The ordinances of the Gospel are exclusionary. They include going to the temple, which isn't an option for everyone who ever lived. Granted, the catchall for this is the Mormon temple work for the dead, but this still doesn't apply to everyone who ever lived. And I strongly feel that the time spent on temple work and genealogy would be MUCH better spent on serving people who are living now and making those lives better.

The God I believe in doesn't love his Mormon children more than the rest, but saying someone has to be baptized and married in the temple sure does imply that Mormons are the only ones who get to be saved, and that everyone else is SOL. I think the most important thing for living a good life is how you treat others, not whether or not you were baptized or married properly.

LDS Articles of Faith: 2

We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.

I like this one. A lot. I think this belief is one strong reason I can't switch to many of the mainstream Christian beliefs.

I believe this Article of Faith truly and completely. I believe children are born pure and perfect. People's sins come from their own choices, and eventually they will have to pay for their wrongs.

On the flip side, I don't believe all hardships in life come from sin. I do believe the saying "What goes around comes around" but I don't believe in karma. I think that bad things can and do happen to good people and good things can and do happen to bad people. Being perfect doesn't protect you from pain and suffering.

LDS Articles of Faith: 1

This is the beginning of a series I've been contemplating for at least a month now. I plan to tackle each LDS Articles of Faith, then move to statements of belief by other religions, such as the Five Pillars of Islam.

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Honestly, this is a hard one for me to tackle. It falls into the area of things I haven't figured out yet.

I do believe in God. I believe in Him as a Creator. I look at the world around me, and can't contemplate the possibility that it all happened on accident. There is too much order and beauty for it to have happened as part of a Big Bang. I see him as a Father figure -- a perfect father. Perfect in kindness and understanding, looking on the heart.
My God loves all his children equally, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion. He doesn't play favorites.

I believe Jesus Christ was a man who was a great leader and great teacher. I strongly believe his teachings will make me a better person. I don't know how I feel about the divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. I haven't figured this part out yet. I don't believe he is the same as God.

I believe in feeling the Spirit, and I could label this feeling as the Holy Ghost. However, I don't take on the LDS view that the Holy Ghost is a spirit, like I have a spirit. I don't believe the Holy Ghost is an intelligence of its own. I believe it is more a manifestation of beauty, good, and truth.