Category Archives: Belief systems

Rethinking the Flood (part IV)

I’ve previously expressed my opinion (here and here, plus here) that the classic (conservative Christian) view of the Noachian flood — a worldwide immersion of liquid water, likely between 3000 and 2000 AD — is implausible due to a complete lack of geological, archeological, and ecological evidence for such an event (cf. this Dialogue article by Clayton White and Mark Thomas). On the other hand, as I explain in my posts, I do believe a major climatic shift happened that gave rise to the Flood narrative in the Old Testament as well as in many other cultures and traditions. However, I believe it had to do with event surround the end of the last ice age, in which a very sharp warming period was followed by a brief ice age resurgence (the Younger Dryas period), which in turn was followed by another sharp warming period. This climactic whipsaw appears to correlate with some significant human and fauna declines, especially in North America (where LDS doctrine places the pre-flood patriarchs).

I bring all this up because I ran across a diagram today, based on the Greenland GISP2 ice core data, that shows just how dramatic that climactic whipsaw was compared to climate changes since then (the temperature scale to the left represents a reconstruction of the temperature on the Greenland icefield based on oxygen isotope ratios; click on the image to read the original paper explaining the use of this ratio as a ‘global’ proxy):

Greenland GISP2 ice core reconstructions

Many debates are still going as to what triggered the sudden up-down-up shifts, each of which occurred very quickly. But I suspect the antediluvian and Noachian events occurred in this time period.  ..bruce..

Interesting commentary on the US District Court ruling on DOMA

The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by the US Congress in 1996, defines marriage as being solely between “a man and a woman”. Judge Joseph Tauro of the US District Court of Massachusetts just issued a ruling striking down the DOMA as unconstitutional. In so doing, he apparently stated that

DOMA marks the first time that the federal government has ever attempted to legislatively mandate a uniform federal definition of marriage – or any other core concept of domestic relations, for that matter.

Charles Lane, over at the Post Partisan blog of the Washington Post, responds by saying, in effect, “Uh, no.”

During the 1856 presidential campaign, the Republican Party platform had accused the Democrats of countenancing “those twin relics of barbarism–polygamy and slavery” and declared it the “duty of Congress to prohibit” both evils in the territories. Buchanan’s expedition was intended to prove the Republicans wrong. It succeeded only in provoking a few inconsequential clashes between armed Mormons and U.S. soldiers.

Congress subsequently adopted three increasingly harsh criminal bans on bigamy and polygamy in the territories: in 1862, 1882 and 1887. The Supreme Court upheld these laws repeatedly against Mormon challenges alleging, among other things, that they violated religious liberty. The 1887 law, the Edmunds-Tucker Act, abrogated the Mormon Church’s corporate charter and confiscated its property, on the grounds that its leaders encouraged polygamy.

The Supreme Court said that was okay, too. Echoing the majority opinion of the day, the court recoiled in frank horror at a practice the Mormons believed was ordained by God — but which the justices considered a “crime against the laws and abhorrent to the sentiments and feelings of the civilized world.” They compared it to human sacrifice. . . .

So it is a bit misleading to say, as Tauro does, “every [historical] effort to establish a national definition of marriage met failure.” Washington’s triumph over Mormon polygamy, made permanent in a national statute, would seem to qualify as a federal definition of marriage, at least in the sense of what marriage is not.

To be sure, Tauro emphasizes that the states have always had exclusive authority over marriage. Utah was a territory at the time of Washington’s effort to stamp out polygamy, and the constitution gave the federal government paramount authority over territories, including their domestic legislation. (That is why, technically, the anti-polygamy laws aimed at Utah also applied to Arizona, Oklahoma, Alaska and the District of Columbia.) Congress functioned, in effect, as the super-legislature for each territory.

Yet what is noteworthy about the Utah case is that Congress leveraged its power over Utah the territory into power over Utah the state. As a condition of admission to the Union, Utah’s people gave Congress a permanent veto over their marriage laws – a veto that remains on the books to this day. The fact that today’s Mormons are proponents of heterosexual monogamy and opponents of same-sex monogamy, is deeply ironic, but legally irrelevant.

What’s more, Utah is not the only state in which this situation obtains. The language of the Utah Enabling Act was repeated, word-for-word, in the laws that admitted New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma as states in the early 20th Century. In short, the federal government has shared authority over the marriage laws of four U.S. states.

Now, I have long been amused by those who state that efforts to allow gay marriage would have no impact on efforts to allow plural marriage. It has always struck me that any successful legal argument allowing gay marriage would have to, of necessity, allow plural marriage — I have yet to see a convincing argument to the contrary, particularly since plural marriage has a much deeper and broader history worldwide (including current active practice, particularly in Islamic and African cultures) than gay marriage does.

If Judge Tauro’s ruling is upheld, it would be interesting to see whether legal challenges to the Federally-mandated Arizona laws might arise from one of the polygamous religious groups therein (Arizona being, in my opinion, the most likely candidate for such an effort). Since Judge Tauro’s ruling does indicate that states can define marriage on their own, such an effort could be quickly ended by a de novo state law banning plural marriage (and for all I know, such a law already exists). But we continue to live in interesting times.  ..bruce..

Feeling mortal

As usual, Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest not only comes up with ‘net gold, but gives wonderful commentary on it as well.

This video is for me more haunting than any of the post-apocalyptic films Hollywood has pushed out. The video itself, a homemade production, was shot back in 1977. There’s a good chance that at least one of the people in the video is dead by now; it will likely only be a few more decades until they all are, along with me — I’m roughly the same age as the players in this film. I’m not bothered by my own mortality, but this video makes me reflect upon that of my entire generation.

And a good Monday morning to you, too. 🙂 ..bruce w..

A twist on “The Box”/”Button, Button”

The reviews I’ve read of “The Box” (now in theaters) confirm my concern: it’s hard to make a 2-hour film from a 2,800-word short story (“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson) without throwing in a lot of stuff that doesn’t really fit (warning: plenty of spoilers at the link).

On the other hand, I ran into the short (7-minute) film above that takes the same basic concept and turns it into something a bit different.  Enjoy.  ..bruce..

The first sin: hiding from God?

The Anchoress is one of my favorite bloggers, because she manages to mix pointed political commentary with pointed spiritual commentary.  She takes her religion (Catholicism) very personally and very seriously, and I gain insights every time I read her thoughts.

Today, she talks a bit about Adam, Eve, and the Fall and puts forth the following observation (emphasis mine):

Their awareness of their vulnerability might have led to their excuse-making, too. Until that point they had enjoyed a blissful relationship with the Creator – there would have been no reason to fear and yet, suddenly attuned to their vulnerability, they feared enough to hem and haw and blame anyone else around, and aside from the serpent there was only each other.

Was the first sin, then, simple disobedience? That doesn’t really seem likely. Obedience, like anything else, must be learned.

Rather, I think the first sin was humanity not trusting in God but trying to guard themselves by hiding from him; humans covering themselves up both physically and metaphorically – with fig leaves and with the sloughing off of blame onto others – rather than revealing themselves and taking responsibility for their actions.

The taint of Original Sin: God has been trying to get us to trust Him, to reveal ourselves to Him and to be vulnerable (open) to Him ever since.

For those who have been through the temple, this observation carries even more weight in light of who makes the suggestion.  Food for thought; read the whole thing.  ..bruce..

Another reason I’m glad we’re not “Christian”

Of course, by “Christian” I mean “Traditional Christianity”, which is the phrase often used by Evangelical and Catholic churches to define Christianity in such as was as to exclude the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And as far as I can tell, “Traditional Christianty” tends to start with the first Council of Nicea, so as to avoid all those pesky beliefs and practices of early Christians which suspiciously resemble LDS beliefs and practices.

But I ramble. Here’s my latest reason why I’m glad we’re not “Traditional” Christians:

Let’s look at all the ways that this cartoon does not apply to LDS doctrine and beliefs:

First, we don’t believe that Earth is the only planet on which God has placed His children. Instead, we believe that He has created “worlds without number” and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” So God didn’t wait “14 billion years” for anything, but started populating planets long ago.

Second, we were all around back then, when this universe was being created. We knew why is was being created and what our role in it would be.

Third, even on our specific planet, Earth, God didn’t wait until Abraham or Moses and then “tell some desert people how to behave.”  He started with Adam and continued with Enoch. Furthermore, we believe that God has spoken to various groups at various times throughout human history, not just those recorded within the Bible.

And, of course, fourth, God is not a glowing ball of lightHe is our Father and we are His children.  ..bruce..

“Could Pat Robertson Be Mormon?”

Paul Abrams over at the Huffingon Post has a snarky and somewhat ill-informed article in response to comments that Pat Robertston apparently made about heaven. To give you an idea of the silliness of Abrams’ piece, here’s an excerpt (the bracketed, italized section is in the original and seems to suggest that Abrams didn’t exactly quote Robertson accurately in the preceding sentence):

Without hesitating a nanosecond, Robertson half-chuckled his answer, telling the viewer in no uncertain terms that if he thinks he is just going to spend eternity lying in a lounge-chair on a cloud, well, he’s got another thing coming. The Lord has a lot of work for him to do, he might give him (the viewer) a planet to manage, there are 200-300 million of them. [Btw, this is not an exaggeration, Robertson actually talked about lounging on a cloud and millions of planets to manage, and lots of work the Lord has for him].

Robertson knows this (and all else) because, as you all know, once a year Robertson spends a day with the Lord. Now, I must admit that I have always found it curious that the Lord, who is the Lord of the entire universe, measures time-cycles by how long it takes for one of his stars, the sun, to orbit the Earth, oh, I mean the Earth to orbit the sun–sorry, I forgot that we have revised that certitude–but I am not surprised that the Lord created exactly one planet for every US citizen, so each of us knows that there is an eternity of work in Heaven (and, let’s face it, not all of you are going to get there, and some of you are illegal immigrants, and the Lord will be damned if those people are going to get a planet to manage!–although, Lord knows, they do work cheaply.). . . .

Come to think of it, God himself (or herself, or itself?) is not exactly doing a hot job of managing this planet, so how could lowly me, or even Heavenly me, be expected to do any better? We’ve got wars, piracy, diabetes, cancer, poverty, drug-resistant superbugs, John Boehner handing out tobacco-lobbying checks on the House floor, socialism and the prospect of Arnold Schwarzeneggar making another film when his time as Governor expires (can’t you get him a third term, or a US birth certificate—anything?).

Illegal immigration? US citizens only? I’m not sure how Abrams made that leap, particularly given the fact that — whatever criticisms I have of Evangelical Christianity — they are most definitely a world faith and do vastly more humanitarian work in developing nations than Abrams and his ilk ever dreamed of attempting. Abrams then goes on to point out that “I always thought that it was the Mormons who received planets to manage in Heaven”, making Robertson a “closet Mormon.” Abrams then decides that this means that Robertson must be planning to support Romney in 2012, after having supported Giuliani in 2008.

I think that Abrams was trying to write a witty, satirical piece, but mostly he comes across as someone who is mostly interested in scoring cheap laughs by mocking others without learning enough to say anything really clever or actually applying any semblance of logic to his leaps.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note that I actually appeared once on “The 700 Club” and was interviewed by Robertson. It had to do with Year 2000 issues (I had testified three times before Congress on the matter and was working with Fannie Mae on its corporate-wide Y2K remediation efforts). That, of course, is not to be construed as an endorsement of or agreement with Robertson or “The 700 Club”, either their collective theology or their approach and operations, and I’m sure Robertson would feel the same about me. But at least in my experience he took the time to learn what he was talking about.  ..bruce..