Category Archives: World Religions

Christmas as a Jewish holiday

I ran across a spoof of what Christmas would be like were it enshrined in Jewish law. Here’s (just) the start:



1 This contrasts sharply with Shabbos, for the mitzva of honoring Shabbos applies all week long. For example, if one finds a particularly good food during the week, one should save it for Shabbos even though it is now only Sunday and Shabbos is a week away. However, Xmas preparations may not begin too far in advance, in order to fulfill the dictum, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Xmas.”
2This is because of the principle that two festive occasions should not be mixed into each other. Note the decree of the great R.H. Macy, who established that Santa Claus may not appear in the Thanksgiving Day parade until after all the other floats have passed.
3 There are some who begin preparing for Xmas as early as Halloween. This is wrong, and they will be called upon to account for their evil ways.
4 Such as setting up the Xmas tree (some say even buying one,) or playing holiday music on the Muzak.
5 Such as buying gifts or buying the Xmas dinner turkey. Cooking the turkey may not be done before Thanksgiving because it will appear to be a Thanksgiving turkey.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Hat tip to The Jury Talks Back.  And Happy Boxing Day, everyone! ..bruce..

Utah prophet predicts nuclear holocaust

No, no, it’s not an over-the-pulpit First Presidency letter that you somehow missed or yet another rumored fast & testimony meeting talk. The prophet in this case is Leland Freeborn of Parowan, Utah, as reported by the LA Times:

Reporting from Parowan, Utah — Our trip to the Parowan Prophet began with a letter to the St. George Spectrum. It was set among missives proposing that oil companies bail out Detroit automakers, that county inmates be forced to winter in tents, that lawyers be barred from public office. A rough crowd.

This particular letter to the editor in the St. George, Utah, newspaper carried the headline ” ‘Prophet’ shares grim forecast,” and it was signed by one Leland Freeborn of Parowan, who wrote that he was known to many as the Parowan Prophet.

After establishing his bona fides as an international talk radio guest and proprietor of a survivalist website that has “passed more than 100,000 hits,” Freeborn wrote:

“I think that you should hear what my opinion about the Obama election is: that he will not be the next president. I said on my home page in August that if he lost to expect to see the ‘riots’ that 2 Peter 2:13 tells us about. He didn’t lose. But the story is not finished yet. I still think they may begin the riots before Christmas 2008, as I said.”

These riots, according to his prophecy, will encourage the “old, hard-line Soviet guard” to seize the moment and rain down nukes on the United States, killing at least 100 million of us.

“Prepare now,” Freeborn’s letter concluded. “We are downwind from Las Vegas. I hope you can survive.”

Here’s Freeborn’s letter, along with several others that make for interesting reading as well. Ah, those wacky Southern Utahns! Hat tip to the Drudge Report.  ..bruce..

LDS International Society Conference Proceedings

The proceedings of the 19th Annual LDS International Society Conference are available online as a PDF file.  This was held last April at the Hinckley Center at BYU. Here’s the table of contents:

  • “Building Bridges: Ambassador Hosting Program” — Panel discussion and presentation
    • Moderator: Jeff Ringer, director, Kennedy Center
    • Panel members: Ann Santini, manager, Public and International Affairs, Washington DC office, LDS Church;
      Erlend Peterson, associate international vice president, BYU;
      Elder Ben Banks and Sister Susan Banks, directors, Church Hosting, LDS Church
  • Keynote Speech: “The Church in the Twenty-First Century: Public Perception and the ‘Man with the Stamp’
    • Speaker: Elder Lance B. Wickman, Quorum of the Seventy and general counsel, LDS Church
  • “Strengthening Relations via Diplomatic Outreach” — Panel Discussion
    • Moderator/Introductions: William F. Akin, associate general counsel, LDS Church
    • Panel members: Olene S. Walker, former Utah Governor;
      M. Kenneth Bowler, director, Public and International Affairs, LDS Church;
      Elder Ralph W. Hardy, Jr., Area Seventy
  • “The Perfect Storm? LDS Media Events and the Foreign Press”
    • Speaker: Joel J. Campbell, assistant professor of communications, BYU
  • “Public Perception and Humanitarian Initiatives” — Panel discussion and presentation
    • Moderator/Introductions: Daryl K. Hobson, former president, Cape Verde Priaia Mission
    • Panel members: Sharon Eubanks, manager, LDS Charities;
      Warner P. Woodworth, professor of organizational behavior, BYU

In the aftermath of Prop 8, I’ve seen plenty of postings around the blogosphere suggesting that the leadership of the Church “blundered” into this situation and clearly didn’t think through the political and public perception ramifications. As I’ve said before, hogwash; I believe the Church knew full well what the likely ramifications would be.

Here’s a great quote, from Elder Banks (he and his wife are responsible for hosting foreign ambassadors, consuls, and other state officials who come to or live in Salt Lake):

One of the more interesting ones was Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. President Hinckley asked him, “Why can’t all you guys get along over there?” And I waited for the Prince’s answer, and he said, “Well, President, it goes back to the Ottoman Empire when France and Britain made all of the countries in this part of the world colonies, and they didn’t want to have anything to do with us, because we didn’t have anything.” And President Hinckley said, “Yes, and now you’ve struck oil, haven’t you?” And the Prince said, “Yes, and now we don’t want anything to do with them.”

Here’s one from Erlend Peterson (BYU):

The important link is Ann Santini and the work she does in Washington, and with Elder and Sister Bans and the work they do in public affairs. Ann’s working with the ambassadors on a regular basis. It creates an opportunity for us probably no one else has. As we’ve talked to ambassadors, they say that they don’t know of another state or university doing what we’re doing. . . . We’ve now hosted 157 ambassadors from ninety-one countries.

And from Jeff Ringer (Kennedy Center):

Years ago, when I first began at the [Kennedy Center] and had some hosting responsibilities, we were hosting a noted Jewish rabbi from New York. At the conclusion of his visit, I was assigned to take him back to Salt Lake City and get him on his flight. I was doing that — this was before increased security — so we had walked back to his gate, and I had wandered off to grab him a drink or something. He was sitting in his chair with tears streaming down his face, and as a new employee at BYU I thought, well there it is, I’ll turn in my card, I’m fired. I somehow managed to ask him what was wrong. He said, “Look around. This is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen.” I’d become used to it, so I hadn’t paid attention, but it happened to be one of those days when missionaries are coming and going. There were families saying goodbye, and families saying welcome home. He went on to tell me it was the most remarkable thing he had ever seen, and he wondered how we created such a sense of service and sacrifice among our people.

Read the whole conference report. It  shows just how carefully and thoughtfully the Church deals with political relations and public perceptions, not just here in the US but around the world as well. ..bruce..

Money-back tithing guarantee, ATMs at church

Here’s an approach to tithing we probably won’t see from Church HQ any time soon:

Here’s something different., the church with locations in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and online is offering a three-month tithing challenge. Give for three months. If God doesn’t deliver on his promise to provide for you, you can ask for your money back. All of it. No questions asked.

The same article points (through a few hops) to this article as well:

It is a bid for relevance in a nation charmed by pop culture and consumerism, and it is not an uncommon one. But Baker has waded further into the 21st century than most fishers of American souls, as evidenced one Wednesday night when churchgoer Josh Marshall stepped up to a curious machine in the church lobby.

It was one of Stevens Creek’s three “Giving Kiosks”: a sleek black pedestal topped with a computer screen, numeric keypad and magnetic-strip reader. Prompted by the on-screen instructions, Marshall performed a ritual more common in quickie marts than a house of God: He pulled out a bank card, swiped it and punched in some numbers.

The machine spat out a receipt. Marshall’s $400 donation was routed to church coffers before he had found his seat for evening worship.

What makes this last item particularly funny is that the print edition of the Sugar Beet (the late, lamented LDS equivalent of the Onion) had an article several years ago about the Church installing ATMs in ward buildings for making donations, doing automated tithing settlement, reporting home teaching, and a few other functions. I remember showing the article to the bishop (I was one of his counselors), and — after chuckling — he observed that it really could be useful.

Actually, I don’t think the Church would go in this direction. Instead, I think the Church at some point is going to really make a push into having members of a ward carry out functions via the ward’s web site (highly underused by most wards). I think the success of the system (which really is pretty remarkable) points out the future direction of Church technology involving members. ..bruce..

Let’s hear it for atheists!

No, really. Over in England, where the government has been drifting slowly towards a de facto Sharia law, a group of atheists has started a cheeky public ad campaign, stating that there probably is no God:

The sides of some of London’s red buses will soon carry ads asserting there is “probably no God,” as nonbelievers fight what they say is the preferential treatment given to religion in British society.

Organizers of a campaign to raise funds for the ads said Wednesday they received more than $113,000 in donations, almost seven times their target, in the hours since they launched the project on a charity Web site. Supporters include Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins, who donated $9,000.

The money will be used to place posters on 30 buses carrying the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The plan was to run the ads for four weeks starting in January, but so much money has been raised that the project may be expanded.

In a global climate where Mozart concerts are cancelled, novels are pulled from shelves, and video games are recalled over fear of offending Muslims, it’s nice to see a group exercising free speech — what of it remains in England.

“Tablet ignites debate on Messiah and resurrection”

The “debate” cited in this New York Times article is triggered by a stone tablet — apparently predating Christianity — that talks of a Messiah rising from the dead after three days:

JERUSALEM — A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

Of course, that’s not going to faze Latter-day Saints much, since we believe that Jewish prophets were fortelling the Messiah’s death and resurrection (after three days) several centuries before Christ’s birth. Worth reading the whole article.  ..bruce..

P. S. Sorry for the lack of posting; it should be picking up a bit more this week.

Deep religion and deep logic

Orson Scott Card has an outstanding column over at Mormon Times on what he calls “deep religion“:

I had unknowingly tapped into their religion at a level so deep that they didn’t even understand why my comments made them so upset. Yet they didn’t think it was their religion — they thought Plato was just a philosopher, and that their religion was founded on scripture.

What I learned at that point was that people aren’t always aware of their real religion, the deep beliefs that they hold with such intense faith that it doesn’t occur to them that other people might not share them.

Be sure to read the whole column; it’s both excellent and relevant.

Back in 1971, as a freshman at BYU in the Honors Program, I was (thankfully) required to take — in place of the usual ‘freshman English’ class — a five-credit class on ‘Composition and Reasoning’. We met 3 days a week with an English professor, studying composition and writing, and 2 days a week with a Philosophy professor, studying logic, reasoning, and philosophy. Our major papers were graded by both professors — that is, they were graded not just on how well we wrote, but whether our logic was sound. One of the most important lessons I learned in that class was the importance of going back to fundamental premises — and how often, in regular human discourse, those fundamental premises are unvoiced, unexamined, and often simply unconscious, as per Card’s observations in his column.

This insight was of great use for me in subsequent years in the intense discussions (read: flame wars) that took place on the pre-Web internet/online communities (USENET news groups, bulletin board systems, and on-line services such as BIX). I found that by pushing the topic back to fundamental premises, I could usually uncover the real sources of disagreement. Of course, I also found that a lot of people didn’t like to go back to their fundamental premises, usually because (a) they had never thought about them and didn’t want to start thinking about them now, and/or (b) they began to realize that their fundamental premises were not logically consistent with each other and/or with some of their more conscious beliefs.

Likewise, through the decades of raising our 9+ children (the ‘+’ being our ‘semi-adopted’ daughter, the daughter of a close friend who lived with us for a full school year while in high school), my wife Sandra and I naturally had many, many discussions about religion with them. Some of our children, as they grew older, drifted (or ran) away from the Church and the Gospel, usually saying that they had no need for ‘religion’. My rejoinder was that whether they were LDS or not, whether they were Christian or not — heck, whether they were atheist or not — they all still had ‘religion’ of some kind, viz., their answers (or lack thereof) to the ‘terrible questions’:

  • Who (and what) am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What happens after death?

I told them that whether they accepted the Gospel and/or the Church, their lives would be better off and more cohesive if they consciously answered those questions for themselves and then lived accordingly.

Even today, I find that much of what passes for political, religious, and even scientific discourse suffers from the same problem: lack of discussion of the fundamental underlying premises (which may well be what led Card to write this particular column). Without such discussion, the discourse usually becomes futile, unproductive, and often quite nasty. Yet I often find that people don’t want to go through the effort (and sometimes pain) of determining their fundamental premises and/or reconciling their espoused and conscious opinions with those premises.

I have long thought that logic and reasoning should be a required class no later than middle school and should be repeated in high school and college. We worry (and rightly so) in our educational system about literacy and numeracy, and even about computer skills, but fail to realize that the ability to construct — and take apart — a logical argument, as well as to recognize the variety of logical fallacies, is every bit as important, particularly in today’s world. (And as a side note, the training I received in logic and reasoning in that Honors class was of tremendous value when I switched my major to computer science later on in college.)

Logic and reasoning are also, in my opinion, important in religion. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing inherently illogical about religion or religious belief itself; all belief, all knowledge, all logic and reasoning goes back to fundamental and axiomatic premises (such as the ‘terrible questions’ above). Indeed, many attacks on religion themselves come from unexamined, unvoiced, and/or undefended premises (“One just doesn’t get gold plates from an angel” — “Why not?”) or from a foundational premise that can only lead to a reduced set of conclusions (e.g., Fawn Brodie and Dan Vogel both having as an a priori assumption that Joseph Smith could not have been a genuine prophet).

This, of course, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of sloppy and/or illogical thinking within religion and religious belief, including within the Church. But my own training in logic and reasoning has only served to strengthen my testimony over the years and, I believe, has left me far less susceptible to the “Oh, I just learned something unpleasant about [name major Church figure, doctrine, program or local leader here] and now I’m leaving the Church” syndrome. Beyond that, in my examination of other religions, I have found LDS doctrine and thought to be more logically consistent and cohesive, and that it just makes far more sense.

The anchor of my personal testimony comprises the fundamental spiritual experiences, occasionally profound but usually mild and quiet, that have filled my life starting at the time of my conversion over 40 years ago. But the chain that holds me to that anchor is forged from the steel of logic and reasoning — and a strong and firm chain it is. ..bruce..

Rapture Index hits 168; film at 11:00

The Rapture Index is one of my guilty pleasures and has been on my bookmarks list for a few years now. Being a computer science geek with professional experience in simulation and modeling (not to mention computer game design), I’m fascinated by the idea of someone trying to judge our “end times” status by assigning values to 45 different factors (“False Christs”, “Occult”, “Unemployment”, “Inflation”, “Ecumenism”, etc.). As the author says:

The Rapture Index has two functions: one is to factor together a number of related end time components into a cohesive indicator, and the other is to standardize those components to eliminate the wide variance that currently exists with prophecy reporting.

The Rapture Index is by no means meant to predict the rapture, however, the index is designed to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture.

You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we’re moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture

  • Rapture Index of 100 and Below: Slow prophetic activity
  • Rapture Index of 100 to 130: Moderate prophetic activity
  • Rapture Index of 130 to 160: Heavy prophetic activity
  • Rapture Index above 160: Fasten your seat belts

I admire the author’s efforts at quantification of prophecy. Still, as a computer science geek with modeling and simulation experience, I could point out all the actual and potential flaws of such a model (selection of factors, weighting of factors, non-objective measurement of factors, applicability and predictive nature of model, presumptive biases, etc.), but then I’d end up also explaining why I remain a skeptic of most current claims regarding anthropogenic global warming (hint: for exactly the same reasons). ..bruce..

Modern-day polygamy…in Iraq

A report from the frontlines:

Some of these guys are very active.  One old toothless sheik has a very young son from a very young new wife.  While I suspect it is possible that there might be more men on the job, nobody is particularly surprised by this.  A local mayor mentioned in passing that he had three wives and fourteen kids.  He also said, perfunctorily, that he was getting married next week.  When I pressed him on the fact that he didn’t seem that excited, he explained that he was just marrying his sister in law.  His brother had died and somebody had to take care of her.  He got the job to keep it all in the family. 

The extended family is one of the pillars of the polygamy.  We tend to project the system into the American context of a nuclear family just with a couple additional women.  That is not really how it works here.  It is more of a welfare system married (literally) to a system of tribal or dynastic alliances.  Tribal affiliation is the key to success for individuals.  You can be born into a tribe or you can marry into a tribe and if you are particularly clever you can marry into up to four tribes.   This both complicates and simplifies genealogy because after a few generations there are lots of overlaps, so you have fewer family lines but a lot more permutations among them.

Just out of curiosity, have there been any scholastic papers comparing and contrasting historical LDS polygamy with contemporary Islamic polygamy?  ..bruce..

Is there a Mormon concept of ‘the’ AntiChrist?

I use SiteMeter to track hits and traffic to this blog. One of the things SiteMeter lets me do is to see the search words and phrases that lead people here. I was looking at that just a few minutes ago and saw that someone had arrived at this blog by doing a Google search on the words “Mike Huckabee and the Mormon Anti-Christ” (this post, which I wrote some weeks back, was the second entry listed by Google). The phrase “the Mormon Anti-Christ” I interpreted to mean the person that the Latter-day Saints might consider to be “the” AntiChrist mentioned in the Epistles of John in the New Testament (and hinted at in Revelation, some Pauline epistles, the Gospels, and Daniel; see this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia). In other words, I suspect the person was wondering if Mormons might think that Mike Huckabee could be the “AntiChrist.”

Simple answer: no. That’s because Mormons, unlike many Evangelicals, don’t really have much of a concept of there being a single, literal human (or demonic) “AntiChrist” prior to the Savior’s second coming. The concept (much less the actual phrase) does not show up at all in the various passages in LDS-specific scriptures that deal with events surrounding the Second Coming (e.g., relevant portions of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price). The term itself does appear twice (in a short span of verses) in the Book of Mormon, but it’s used as an adjective to describe a known individual (Korihor) in Book of Mormon times (~74 BC) who denied and preached against the idea of the Son of God coming to earth as an atoning Messiah.

Donald and Jay Parry, in Understanding the Signs of the Times (Deseret Book, 1999), spend a few pages (pp. 211-214) discussing the LDS concepts of “antichrist” and note “that there are many antichrists in every age”. They see the “man of sin, the son of perdition” spoke of by Paul as being Satan himself. They see the descriptions of the beasts in Revelation as being “in the likeness of the kingdoms of the earth” (citing the Joseph Smith revision of Revelation 13:1) and go on to conclude “both the beasts and the antichrist are individuals, nations, and philosophies.” That sounds about right, but I’m interested if other Latter-day Saints have run across different concepts regarding the AntiChrist within LDS literature, discourses and/or folk doctrine. ..bruce..

A brief postscript: I get the impression from what little research I’ve done that Catholics are much more skeptical about the idea of there being a literal, individual, powerful AntiChrist as a precursor to the Savior’s second coming — probably because, as the Catholic Encyclopedia entry cited above states, Protestants have been claiming for centuries that the Pope is the AntiChrist. What makes that so interesting is that in most horror movies about the rise of the AntiChrist — e.g., “The Omen” — it seems that it’s almost always the Catholics who are fighting against him. On the other hand, it seems like there’s often a group of renegade or corrupted Catholic priests and nuns who are supporting and protecting him. So for all us Mormons who complain about media bias, realize that it could be a lot worse — no one’s made a movie that shows the AntiChrist being born in Spanish Fork, attending BYU, and serving an LDS mission, before going to work for the Marriott Corporation, all the while being protected by a 21st century band of Danites. Yet. Hmm…maybe I’ll write a screenplay.

I even have a title for it: “Oh My Heck!”