Saturday, April 26, 2014

Making Sense of the Word of Wisdom

While addressing the saints in his day, the apostle Peter referred to those belonging to the Christian faith as a "peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9). Perhaps this is one of the more misunderstood verses in scripture due to translation. The word "peculiar" is only used in the King James Version of the Bible and meant something different back then than it does now. If you were to say the word "peculiar" today, you would think of synonyms such as "weird" or "strange". However, the word originally meant "belonging to someone" when it was originally penned. Thus, the followers of Christ belong to him, but that does not mean that they should be strange in any sense.

Mormons tend to think of this verse out of context, thinking that this means that they must be markedly different from other people. While it is true that Christians should be "In the world, but not of the world" (John 17:16), they can generally do the same things as unbelievers so long as the practices are not sinful.

One way that Mormons mark themselves as different is their adherence to what is known as "The Word of Wisdom." For people not familiar with the term, it means that Mormons do not smoke or drink alcohol, use tobacco products, eat meat sparingly, or use tea or coffee. When put in context that the average American drinks 3 cups of coffee each day, this makes the Mormons queer in deed.

This practice came as a revelation to church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. after he inquired of the Lord about it. This was not done because Joseph himself had a problem with using any of the above products; it was that his wife Emma was tired of cleaning up after his comrades when they spit their tobacco juice on the floor.

While this revelation came to Joseph in 1833, the practice was not made a test of fellowship until the presidency of Heber J. Grant.

The real question about the word of wisdom is whether or not it should be a test of fellowship, as many people either do not join the church or cannot enter the temples because they use one or more of these substances. Let's use the scriptures and history as our guide.

In the second verse of Section 89 where the Word of Wisdom is outlined it reads "To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days"

So, it appears that this was never meant to be a commandment; it was a helpful suggestion. It could be boiled down to this : "Keep it down on the cocktails and the smokes and you will be glad you did so."

Further evidence this should not be a commandment is that the Lord himself was a drinker and made wine on more than one occasion. Paul counseled Timothy to drink wine for his stomach, as well as counseled Bishops to use it in moderation.  (1 Timothy 3:8) (1 Timothy 5:23)

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself was a drinker and a smoker after this revelation, drinking whiskey in the Carthage Jail before he died. Most of the brethren from Brigham Young (who opened breweries) to Heber J. Grant drank alcohol and smoked. It seems that the men to whom this was given seemed to understand as I do that this was a suggestion, not a commandment.

Stranger still is that this was given by revelation as a word of wisdom, but changed to a commandment without revelation by Heber J. Grant as admitted by LDS historian Thomas G. Alexander. It appears that Mr. Grant decided to take manners in his own hands and tighten his grip on the Saints, whom he knew practically worshipped their leaders and would never question them.

Strangely enough, one part of the word of wisdom talks about eating meat sparingly, but this is not adhered to generally by church members. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (who presided over my mission), always counseled us to not pick and choose which rules to obey. I guess that rule does not apply to Presidents of the Church.

Often Mormons claim their system is better than others because their members live longer than those who do not keep the word of wisdom. Keep in mind that their are only 15 million Mormons and over 7 billion in the world, so these studies are not perfect. And they reject modern science, which agrees with Paul that drinking every now and then is good for you.

At any rate, the system is probably here to stay. Mormons who wish to keep the peace will have to live the code as currently stated by current leaders. But their interpretation is a way to control people; it is not the Lord's directive.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review of "How to Be a Gentleman"

If there is one thing that is true of this world, it is that we are becoming less considerate of our manners and more interested in what gadgets happen to be at our disposal. The idea of popularity has become so important that many parents (including mine) never bothered to teach their sons how to be good, outstanding gentleman. Perhaps this comes from being in a single parent home, and never hving a man in the house.

Nevertheless, this Christmas my friend Arvey McFarland gave me a copy of "How to Be a Gentleman" by John Bridges this past Christmas. I was not sure whether that meant I was a very rude person or whether I was doing a good job but needed to sharpen my tools in this area. At any rate, I decided to read the book as my book of the month this month.

"How to Be a Gentleman" is set up as a self-help book set up for about every situation you will ever encounter in life, some which I will not encounter until the future. From the book you will come away with this idea if nothing else: It is not difficult to be a gentleman, but it does take know-how and effort.

One of the part I liked most about this book was the part about entertaining company. I have never held a party, but I assume I will in the future. It was good to know what to do in each and every situation when one is setting up, attending, or having a crisis during a party.

I would recommend this book to all men, we can all be better gentlemen.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reviewing General Conference

We are now a week removed from the 184th General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am sure that most of the Saints are on a spiritual high after hearing their leaders speak, but more importantly I hope they really understand how groundbreaking of a conference this was.

In what might be his last conference address, an apostle testified openly that he has seen the Lord Jesus Christ. That does not happen often, if in fact ever. The most recent time prior to President Boyd K. Packer's open disclosure was Elder Bruce R. McConkie's testimony in April of 1985. That was nearly 30 years ago. Treasure the opportunity you had to hear that witness, you might not hear it again.

Also groundbreaking was the talk by Sister Linda S. Reeves on the topic of pornography. This is a topic that is raised every conference, but usually it is by one of the brethren, and usually it occurs during the priesthood session. For a woman to talk as candidly about this subject as she did surely stirred many of the hearts and souls of men ensnared by this poisonous, toxic stuff. This was an address that will be remembered for decades to come, and I am grateful that I personally know such a powerful, inspired woman.

Not that all of conference was remarkable. We continue to talk about rather basic stuff and talk about things that mainstream Christianity covers every day of the year. Honestly, we do not need anymore talks about homosexuality; the entire world has known for many years what the church stance on this subject is. General Conference is a time to teach the doctrine of the kingdom, lets focus on the things that separate us rather than what unites us with mainstream Christianity. Conference is a great missionary tool, and that tool is wasted when all you say is "We are just like you."

To end on a positive note, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated in the first address of conference, in coming days we are going to have to stand up more for our beliefs. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Let's prepare for that time now by studying deeply the doctrine of the Gospel and the history of the church. It is not enough to merely go through the primary lessons, we must did deep for the mysteries as Alma counseled.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Achieving Dreams

All of us, at some time or another, have had a dream. It does not matter what the dream was, the point is that all have had one. And more likely than not, we have had one which may seem like we will never achieve.

That's the the thing about dreams; most of the time they are destinations. They don't seem to include (at least at the beginning) the long and hard road it will take to achieve them. However, if a dream is really worth having, it will be worth all the tears, pain, and sweat needed to achieve it.

I bring this subject up because I have a dream (no, it is not the same a Martin Luther King's, although I hope his becomes a reality at some point). That dream is to receive a PhD in philosophy from a top ten program (hopefully the University of Oxford), become a professor of philosophy, and become the preeminent philosopher of Mormonism, similar to Thomas Aquinas of Catholicism.

However, that dream will require a long, bumpy road. For starters, getting into Oxford will require nearly a 4.0 GPA, an excellent GRE test, and an excellent sample of written work. Still, even this will not be enough because Oxford takes only 40 students a year for their graduate program. So, it will require luck as well.

The dream is important, but working towards the dream is more important. If we do all we can and trust in that Being who governs all things, we will never come up short. Maybe some parts of the dream may go unfulfilled,  but that just does not mean that all the dream has to. For instance, I may not get into Oxford, but I can still get into a great program and become a great philosopher.

The key to all of this is planning. In regards to our dreams we must ask ourselves each day" What can I do today so that at the end of the day I will be one step closer to fulfilling my dream?" That will vary for the dream, but their is always something that we can do today that will put us on the path to achieving what we can and want to achieve.

Never give up on your dreams. Impossible is nothing. Dream big, work hard, and all will be well.