18 September 2012

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Atheism and Wiley Coyote

Adherence to atheism stuns me.  I have empathy for the individual who struggles to find God as there have been plenty of times in my life where I, too, have felt spiritually bereft and alone; however, I have genuine trouble accepting one of the core tenets of the atheist worldview that is born out of its original God-less premise:  If we are solely a product of cosmic randomness, then there is no inherent purpose to our existence.

Many folks around the world wonder what will happen to them when they die.  They (we) also want to know why we are all here.  The former question doesn't intrigue me as much as the latter because if I cease to exist after I die then there won't be any of my consciousness around to continue wondering the question.  If there is an afterlife and that afterlife is governed by God, then really the more important question is the latter and its corollary:  What does God want me to do while I'm alive? What is the purpose of my existence?

In an atheistic worldview, there is no inherent purpose to life.  In atheism, you define the purpose of your existence, which sounds nice and empowering.  Really, though, such an approach to our daily endeavors is the same approach that Wiley Coyote takes to be able to run off the cliff without falling.  Eventually, he looks down and realizes that there is nothing there to hold him up.

An interesting case is that of Richard Dawkins, a renowned biologist and atheist.  He stated in a recent interview that the answers that science gives to how the kangaroo came to be is much more interesting than the idea that God spoke and there it was.  (By the way, I as a believing Latter-Day Saint agree with him on this point.)  Manifested in his religious works like The God Delusion is the irony that Mr. Dawkins's purpose in life is to demonstrate that there is no purpose to life.  How long will a man like Dawkins be able to not look down and see that the purpose he has derived for himself is not sustaining?  What happens to any of us who trick ourselves into believing that a finite purpose is worth it only to find that it is only the case so long as we are able to compartmentalize our purposeful thinking away from our eternal nature?

The frightening conclusion to the principle that life here on earth has no supernatural origins and thus no purpose is that should the entire human race give up right now and engage in a nuclear holocaust, or otherwise make Earth inhabitable for life, then it wouldn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things.  The universe may never create life again and it wouldn't matter.  Maybe it will, but that wouldn't matter either.  If a supernova tree falls in the universal woods and no one is there to hear it, and all of that.

And, yet, it feels wrong to go blow up the Earth, doesn't it? The evolutionary biologist explains this by stating that the reason that humans are here right now is because of inherent survival mechanisms in our genes.  We wouldn't be here if we didn't have an overwhelming urge to preserve our own race.  But, how long can intelligent, conscious beings be satisfied and motivated by self- or other-preservation when science states that it doesn't really matter either way?

Interestingly, though, Mormonism gives an nod to the concept of self-derived purpose, though it isn't tied to self- or other-preservation.  As mortals and as spiritual offspring of an Eternal Father in Heaven, we derive purpose encapsulated within His dominion.  With eternal purpose in mind for His children, He places them into mortal bodies with the intent that a mortal experience is vital to our eternal progression.  In Mormon theology, the ultimate destination for an individual is to become like God.  And where does God derive His purpose from? He derives it from Himself, and if we are to become like Him, we will one day derive purpose solely from within ourselves just as He does.

The finite motivation of self- or other-preservation, though, is not present for beings who are eternal in nature.  The motivation, instead, is self- or other-improvement or self- or other-progression.  Only from an eternal standpoint can purpose be derived from within an individual; otherwise, the universe will just snuff it out in its unimaginable expanse.  Only infinite circumstance can matter in infinite time and space.

Of course, science deals with the finite as nature itself is finite.  Science itself cannot be considered a faulty system, especially as it has done so much for our society as a whole to this point.  However, to consider a system that can only answer "how" questions and not "why" questions as complete is faulty.  As Victor Frankl pointed out, people need a "why" to get through the "how", and unfortunately all atheism can offer is that the "why" must come from "within".  If we are truly soulless, though, our within is finite and cannot possibly contain a "why" big enough to truly matter, even if that why is family, friends, or the mission to prove to the world that the why must come from within.

Do folks that declare themselves as atheists know what they are saying? I believe that what most people mean is that they are agnostic (they don't know) or even maybe apatheistic (they don't know and they don't really care).  I believe that one of our greatest challenges in society over the next few decades will be growing apathy, so the latter one does bother me, but overall, I can empathize much better with these two than straight-up atheism.  In fact, I believe that a healthy amount of agnosticism in everyone will go a long way towards establishing peace in the world.  Wide-spread atheism, however, is a somber and dim future for the human family that will hinder our progress for lack of a "why" big enough to bear us through.

Theism, however ineffable you may perceive your higher power to be, gives us a "why" that is bigger than the finite universe and its infinitesimal human race.  God is my reason, my purpose, and my motivation, and it is my goal to align myself with His will, because it is the only will that is big enough to matter.  Theism is what carries me through the times in my life that seem too easy as well as the times that seem too hard.  To me, atheism just says, "hey, your alone in this, now get over it and move on."  That's just not big enough for me.

13 September 2012

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Does President Clinton make it to Heaven?

I read an article today about President Clinton's investigation of Mormonism where he said he:
"admires the church for its high ethical standards and belief in a celestial kingdom but said the idea of being in heaven without his non-Mormon friends was too much to give up."
Fair enough.  I'd probably give it up, too.

Sometimes missionaries get it wrong.  Sometimes investigators misunderstand.  However, one need only go so far as the common misinterpretation of who can attend LDS worship services to remember that we Mormons have a reputation for being a pretty exclusive group.

(To set that record straight for the three people who read my blog:  Anyone can attend.  Services are every Sunday morning in LDS chapels, most of them are buzzing with believers by 9am.)

Anyway, what about heaven? Do our scriptures bear out the idea that President Clinton's "non-Mormon friends" won't be in heaven with him?  Let's check it out.

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76 - What is Heaven shaped like?

This is a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith about the "topology" of heaven (among other things).  Specifically, it goes into detail about the characteristics of three kinds of people:  Those that fit in the Telestial Kingdom, those that fit in the Terrestrial Kingdom, and those that fit in the Celestial Kingdom.

The very idea of "fit" might bother some folks.  I suspect that God would like all of His children to reach their highest and best potential.  It saddens me to know that some of my children might not reach their full potential, but wherever they are in relation to that, my love and relationship with them will accommodate.  I suppose it is the same with God.

Anyway, Christ taught Abraham that such is the nature of our spirits.  They are independent beings with free agency, which God will not strip from us.  Thus we have in Abraham 3:19 (note that the word "intelligence" here roughly refers to spiritual growth):.
19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
Given that, I don't see anything in section 76 nor Abraham that preclude someone from another faith getting into heaven.

C.S. Lewis compared the topology of the afterlife to the size of our spirit.  In The Great Divorce, hell is a very, very small place where only the smallest of spirits can fit.  The protagonist of the book, as he grows spiritually in the afterlife, finds that hell gets smaller and smaller to his eyes, but it is actually he who is getting bigger and bigger.  Spiritual growth is ultimately up to the individual, and all options are open to him as to whether he would like to ascend or descend.

I think this description of heaven fits pretty well with LDS doctrine.  It certainly isn't a perfect fit, but it offers a good rationale behind the idea of a hierarchy in heaven.

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88 and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 356 - Who can go there?

Section 88 is called "The Olive Leaf" by many Latter-Day Saints because Joseph Smith referred to is as "an olive leaf...plucked from the tree of paradise".  I'm no scholar, but this has always been one of my favorite sections of the D&C.  In fact, it holds my favorite D&C verses, D&C 88:63-64.

In this section, I believe we find the overarching qualification in verses 22-24:
22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide celestial glory.

23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.

24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.
I like these verses because they plant the individuals ultimate destination back in his hands.  To what degree did you use this mortal life to prepare yourself to follow these heavenly laws? Depending on your own abilities there is a kingdom prepared for you by God.  Again, it depends on your own choices whether you ascend or descend.

To go further, Joseph Smith explains in a discourse found in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
All sin, and all blasphemies, and every transgression, except one, that man can be guilty of, may be forgiven; and there is a salvation for all men, either in this world or the world to come, who have not committed the unpardonable sin, there being a provision either in this world or the world of spirits.
The plan the Lord has for his children is big.  It is much bigger than what religion you are.

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 21 and 128 and Alma 34 - Then, can't I just be a good person?

There is a corporate part to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are doctrines, but there are also covenants.  To be able to "abide the law" in any land, it is important to understand the law, but citizenship in that land is also important.  While covenants are much richer, more meaningful, and more nuanced than a simple driver's license or social security card, these serve my purpose for the time being.

Christ asks from us that we exhibit faith, repent, are baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  The last two are related to covenants that we make with Christ, which act as evidence of our membership in the body of Christ.  Christ requires these of everyone (John 3:5), lest they not be able to enter the kingdom of God (the Celestial Kingdom, in LDS terminology).

While LDS doctrine expands on this common Christian belief, I think it is good to note here that it is the Bible that states that the covenants made at baptism are the gate by which all must enter the kingdom of heaven, if they are to enter at all.

So, what about Latter-Day Saints? It comes down to a question of authority.  C.S. Lewis talked at great length about the importance of authority, which I really appreciate, but is not my topic here.  You can find a good rendering of it in The Weight of Glory.  For brevity's sake, please accept my notion that authority or permission to do something in God's name is important.

Anyway, Doctrine and Covenants 22 states that baptism must be done by proper authority in order to be valid.  The main premise of the LDS Church's existence is one of Restoration; the authority to baptize was lost, and it was restored to Joseph Smith by God.  Doctrine and Covenants 1 teaches that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the one church with that authority.

Does that mean that President Clinton (or those missionaries) were right? It is true that we need to be baptized by property authority, which narrows the options, especially for those who were born before the LDS Church existed or those who never heard Christ's message.  Fortunately we have D&C 128 which teaches the doctrine of vicarious ordinances.  It means that one person can perform the physical ordinance for someone else when they are not able to.  LDS doctrine teaches that when a person has already passed, but did not get baptized, an individual may be baptized on their behalf.

We believe in an afterlife and in a soul's continuing agency in that afterlife.  After a living person has been vicariously baptized for a deceased person, then that soul can make the covenant with Christ which allows that person through the same heavenly gate.

So, why not just let the Mormons baptize everyone vicariously and stop bugging everyone with missionaries at the door? There are several reasons, but the main one is because it is everyone's duty as a child of God to do their very best with the time that has been given them here.  A Book of Mormon prophet, Amulek, said:
32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
So there you have it.  Latter-Day Saints teach that you need to be baptized by proper authority, that there is a contingency plan for the imperfection of our mortal missionary efforts, and that we all need to
do the best we can to get there each day.

Do LDS say that only they will be in heaven?

No, though there is a bit of confusion, I think.  Everyone needs to exhibit faith, repent, be baptized by the proper authority, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end; Christ said as much, and I believe Him.

I think the confusion comes in because the modern Latter-Day Saint culture has embedded within it a high level of work ethic, productivity, and community involvement.  To be a Latter-Day Saint is hard but rewarding work.  Because of that, we as Latter-Day Saints will fall too much on the side of works every once in a while.  I think if you were walking along the straight and narrow path and saw someone whiz by on a bicycle, you might think that such is the way to get there.  Some Latter-Day Saints might inadvertently demonstrate that if you don't can veggies every year, do your family genealogy, and like BYU football, that you won't be saved.

God doesn't ask for that, though (thank heavens, cuz I went to the U).  He asks that we exhibit faith, repent, be baptized by the property authority, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  He asks for endurance in our belief in Christ thereafter, which implies willingness to obey His commandments (e.g. you can't just get baptized and then lift all the candy bars you want from the Kwik-E-Mart).

So, I'll get baptized in all the faiths, and then I'll be covered, right?

This is kind of a silly side note since I'm not sure if anyone has seriously considered actually doing it, but to come full circle in this post, there is a qualification for the kingdom of God apophatically defined  in Doctrine and Covenants 76:79:
79 These [in the Terrestrial Kingdom] are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.
I'm definitely not the right guy to judge whether you can be valiant or not with this sort of an approach, but joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is hard work (see James 2:17-18).  I'd be pretty doubtful of a person's chances who go baptized for the "checklist" aspect of it.

Does he go to heaven or not?

Happily, that isn't up to me! The qualifications are faith, repentance, baptism by proper authority, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endurance to the end.  The road is the same for everyone however you may have gotten there in the first place.

It does occur to me, though, that we individual Latter-Day Saints might inadvertently put some Country Club gates in front of "Heaven's Gate" that communicate an air of exclusivity that simply is unattractive to the onlooker.  Really, Christ's banquet is big enough for everyone to sit down and feast at.

I think President Hinckley summarized it best when he said:
This must be our great and singular message to the world. We do not offer it with boasting. We testify in humility but with gravity and absolute sincerity. We invite all, the whole earth, to listen to this account and take measure of its truth. God bless us as those who believe in His divine manifestations and help us to extend knowledge of these great and marvelous occurrences to all who will listen. To these we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.
Sounds pretty inclusive.  May we all do the very best we can today on our journey home.  May we find each other there at the end.