Monday, October 29, 2012

Grace and Works

In many conversations I have had about LDS beliefs, one of the most commonly believed and unchangeable accusations I have encountered is that Mormons "work" their way to heaven.

Let me put this as succinctly as I can.

It is only by the grace of God that we are able to return to Him, and not by anything we do.  Period.  End of statement.  Full stop.

Mormons do not do good works to earn their way to heaven.  There is no heavenly scoreboard keeping track of who has the highest score, and admitting those that have enough points.  To even suggest this is to completely misrepresent LDS beliefs.

Now, let's step back and see what the kernel of truth is that is used as the basis for this fabrication.

To clarify this let me quote a scripture from the Book of Mormon:

23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
-- 2 Nephi 25:23
 "After all we can do"  does not mean that we can work our way to heaven.

I understand this to mean that Heavenly Father wants us to do everything in our ability to do the right things, and make our sins right.  Obviously we will fall short of perfection.  No one can attain that other than Christ.  But He expects us to put forth our best efforts.  In so doing, he makes up the difference through the atonement.  It doesn't matter if it is an inch or a mile, when we put forth our best effort it shows the faith necessary for the atonement to be applied.

Is this working your way to heaven?  No.  If it were, then we wouldn't need the atonement.  We would just do lots of good things, and there you go.  Done.

That isn't what we believe though.  We believe that no matter how hard you work, you will never get yourself to where you need to be.  It cannot be done.  It is a defining feature of this existence.  Thus the atonement of Christ is the only thing that can bridge that gap between us and God.

So when someone tells you "Mormons work their way to heaven", you can now confidently tell them that they are misinformed, and correct them.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Claim The Right to Define My Own Beliefs, Thank You Very Much!

This is the first in what will probably become a collection of articles that debunk some of the fallacies out there that are being perpetuated about LDS (Mormon) beliefs.

Let me explain:  Since the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (as it should properly be called) there has been a tension with other Christian sects.  In their zeal to castigate, isolate and drive the "Mormons" from their midst, salacious tales of fabricated acts and beliefs were commonly spread.  Some, were true.  Most were either taken so out of context as to be unrecognizable to those who believe, and many, many were outright lies.

Strangely, no matter how fervently members of the LDS faith denied these falsehoods, they were branded liars and charlatans and told how they really believe.

Think about that, told how and what they believe.   No matter how it is misrepresented, I know what I believe, and only I should have the right to define that.  You have every right to disagree with me, but you cannot define what I believe. 

Often obscure and isolated passages from talks by church leaders are used as justification for their pronouncements of falsehood.  This is often at best a misunderstanding, at worst a misrepresentation of how revelation and doctrine are promulgated in the LDS faith.  When these are debunked, often the response is to call those responding liars and to say they are misrepresenting what they believe, while quite the opposite is true.

To have a much better understanding of how any item becomes "official doctrine", I highly recommend you go to this article:

http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-doctrine-of-christ?lang=eng

In it Elder D. Todd Christopherson, an Apostle or member of the Quarum of the 12 Apostles, the second highest body in our church leadership, describes how doctrine is established.  There is a specific process, and when something is outside that process, it is not official doctrine.  As he states it, it is one's "well considered opinion".  The actual "doctrine" of the LDS church is very finite, and is very easily accessible on LDS.org.

In fact, one of the best summaries of LDS beliefs is contained in a manual for the Gospel Principles class taught every Sunday at almost every LDS meeting house.  You can find it here:

http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles?lang=eng

Without that foundation, nothing else that is done in the LDS faith will make any sense, and in some cases can be quite foreign.

One other point that I think is worth noting.  Often LDS doctrine is left somewhat vague intentionally.  For instance, let's look at tithing.  Do you pay on the gross or net of your wages.  A strong argument can be made either way.  There are members who have a very strong belief that you should pay on the gross, and would never even consider otherwise.  "Do you want gross blessings, or net blessings" is their statement.  Others say as the commandment is to pay on your increase, and taxes are not part of your increase, to pay on the net is not only acceptable, but well in keeping with even the spirit of the law.

Both are right.  This is left to the individual to work out between themselves and God, and should not be interpreted by leadership in any further detail.

Another example would be drinking Coke.  Our Word of Wisdom forbids drinking coffee or tea.  Some people interpret this to mean that caffeine is bad, and thus include Coke in that category.  It is not expressly included though, and because some members have taken this interpretation too far, leaders have actually had to clarify this both privately and more rarely publicly.  Now, that doesn't mean that as an individual member you cannot continue to live by that belief, but it does mean that it is inappropriate to judge others either informally or more formally based upon that belief. 

Is it good to avoid caffeine?  Probably yes.  But it is not doctrine, despite the number of people who live by that standard.

As an aside, I drank Coke, and more specifically Dr. Pepper by the gallon for years.  I just decided it wasn't healthy and gave up all soda wholesale.  My choice, and one I don't impose on others.  I pretty much drink water and the occasional glass of milk.  Oh, and I do get a cranberry slush from Sonic with some regularity, but who wouldn't?

So with all that said, what I think I will be doing is taking some of the traditional complaints and misconceptions about Mormons, and give my take on it.  I cannot speak for the church as a whole, but as a 6th generation member, I have a pretty good idea what is going on and can speak for myself reasonably well.  I will try and distinguish between what I believe is "doctrine" and what is my "opinion", but I will attack them to the best of my ability.

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Take on the Abortion Issue

Never let it be said I'm not willing to have an opinion on a controversial topic.

My opinions have run the gamut on abortion from keep government all the way out, to no abortions at all.  Sometimes the swings were pretty violent as new ideas or concepts were presented to me.

One that caught me by surprise was watching a show where Kathy Ireland for whatever reason was giving an opinion on abortion.  Her argument was very compelling, and made me begin to rethink some more liberal (or frankly, more libertarian) thought processes.  Her argument was pretty simple.  When you look at the genetics of the embryo are they generic? Are they chimpanzee?  Are they dolphin?  No.  In fact it is human DNA.  Not just human DNA, but DNA that is novel from both the father and mother.  In other words, while this life was still dependent on the mother to survive, it was still an independent human life.

Who would have thought Kathy Ireland would be the one to put that forward?

This really got me thinking and in the end I ended up someplace I think is somewhat different than most, but is relatively easy to explain.

I am pro-choice.

Not in the liberal sense of the phrase, rather, I believe we all have agency to make choices.  I believe that we have that right so long as it doesn't harm another, and that is where our choices solidify into consequences.

What?

Let me put it this way:

The main purpose of sex is not fun.  It is procreation.  I don't care if you are religious or a strict Darwinist, the purpose of sex is to make babies.  The fun, bonding and emotional gratification are all secondary to that point.  We all know this.  We also know that even the best birth control is not 100% effective.  So, there is a calculated risk we all take into consideration at some level when engaging in sex.  You have, by definition, made a choice.

Occasionally that choice brings unwanted consequences such as a pregnancy.  To suggest this is a surprise is to insult the intelligence of most people.  Most people know this is a real possibility, and they choose to take that chance.  They may be unhappy, but they cannot be truly surprised.

So now your choice has created a situation. The woman now has a wholly separate human life within her that is dependent on her for development and sustenance that was created by the choice of both partners.  In my opinion, generally, the decision was made at the time of intercourse, and you were willing to live with the consequence.  To abort this person at this point is to try and undo a choice made at the expense of another life.  Therefore one cannot morally abort the child under normal circumstances. 

There are exceptions to this though.  Rape, incest, or the health of the mother each bring in outside influences that are not of the mother's choice.  In the case of rape or incest, this was not the mother's choice.  She must be allowed that option, even at the expense of the life within her.  This is the time where the mother should have the option to make her choice.  She should not have to live with the concequences of someone forcing their choice on her.

Likewise when the mother's health is severely at risk, it does not necessarily make sense to have the mother sacrifice herself for the infant within her.  This one is more tricky, and certainly should not be used as a "loop hole" as it has at time in the past.  But to lose the mother risks losing the child as well, better to save the one and see if a different choice is needed going forward.

In each case above, the parents and specifically the woman have had an opportunity to make a choice that determined the outcome.  Once that choice is made, there really is no going back.

Anyway, it peeves me that the left has co-opted the "pro-choice" title, because it really is the "pro-change-your-mind-after-the-fact-at-anothers-expense" platform.  In the end it really comes down to us each just needing to be willing to accept the consequences of our actions, and morally work through them to the best of our ability.

Hopefully that makes some kind of sense to you.  It does to me.