Saturday, August 30, 2014

College Football

Let's take a step back and look at something a little less serious for once as most of my posts tend to deal with deep subject. Before I start, I would like to give a note of congratulations to my brother Austin McKell for tying the knot with his bride Chandra at the Salt Lake Temple. I hope your day was beautiful and your eternity is as well

There really are few things in life that I love more than college football, and this love got me in trouble a few times on my mission. Yes, I watched football while I was on my mission and like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden "I was not ashamed." So what if the mission rules state that missionaries are not supposed to watch television? In my opinion, it does not hurt to have a rest from what is a very stressful job. As the late Christopher Hitchens said "My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass." I will leave it at that.

Last season was a very tumultuous one for my team, the USC Trojans. We had 4 head coaches in the space of less than 4 months, but still managed to win ten games with a very reduced roster. What can I say, the boys have swagger.

This year begins the Steve Sarkisian era at USC, and I can think of few people I would rather have lead the men of Troy in the playoff era of college football. I fully expect him to have the team in the playoffs regularly and I predict he will win at least 1 in his first 5 years.

As for this year, I predict that Florida St. will repeat as the champions, Marcus Mariota will win the Heisman, and that Alabama will be out of the playoff. As for SC, 10 win season with victories of Notre Dame and UCLA. Fight On.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Not Believe the Atonement?

My favorite person in the Book of Mormon is known as Alma son of Alma, often called by Latter-day Saints "Alma the Younger." In my opinion he is the perfect model of how repentance and the atonement work and how we as a people have lost sight of that.

I am sure most people know his story, but lets review it to make the point clear. He is first mentioned in Mosiah 27 along with the sons of Mosiah, where he is described in verse 8 "he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities." Considering that this man was the son of a prophet, these are not at flattering words and show that his temperament left much to be desired.

However, one day all of that changed. While going with his friends the sons of Mosiah to "overthrow the church of God", Alma and his associates were visited by an unnamed angel. The instruction given to Alma was brief as he recounted to his son Helaman years later "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God." This was all Alma was able to hear, as he then fainted as was in a coma for three days. After awakening Alma testified "I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit."

Even greater than this is the last words spoken about Alma after he disappeared in Alma 45 ".Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man." Quite a contrast from the idolater of his youth. Because of the transforming power of the atonement (and this was before Jesus of Nazareth even went into the Garden of Gethsemane) Alma was transformed and reborn, becoming one of the greatest missionaries in scripture, as well as a loving father, an area often not addressed.

This shows the Atonement at its finest. All people are sinners, but few people in the world would live up to the title of "Wicked and Idolatrous Man" or "Vilest of Sinners" as the sons of Mosiah are called. Yet in a mere three days, its power forever changed the course of these young men.

Here is the problem I have. I often hear in church as well as in General Conference that we need to "use the Atonement" in our lives. I have a much better idea : Lets actually believe the Atonement, which we do not currently do.

Wait Mr. LaCour, are you saying that members and priesthood leaders do not believe in the Atonement, when that is basically all they talk about? Oh, they may believe in the Atonement, meaning they believe it was an actually even that took place or that it is a process that works. But they do not believe the Atonement, meaning that they misrepresent it and apply it in a way that is man-made rather than Heaven made.

Don't believe me? Let me prove it you. In Section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them." This is very identical to many of the repentance stories in the Book of Mormon : People acknowledge that they have sinned, they confess their sins to the Lord, and he promptly forgives. Thats it, that is what repentance is. It is turning from one course of action to another and when that is done the Lord forgives.

However, this seems to not be enough for man-made religion. One of the effects of the Fall of Adam is that it made men "carnal and devilish". And what is the Devil like? He is vengeful, unforgiving, sadistic, narcissistic, nihilistic, and wanting to do things his own way which led to his fall.

Our current mode of repentance is in that same vain because it denies that the Lord completely forgives. For certain sins, such as fornication or adultery, we are told a person cannot be instantly forgiven and must wait at least one year before the person is forgiven, which a very different view than the one presented in the Book of Mormon.

It is true that in the ancient church and in the early modern church that punishment was given out for sins, but it was nothing like this. It is mentioned in the Book of Mormon that Alma is to hear the confession of sinners, but if there confession was sincere he was to forgive as the Lord did, immediately. After that he was to move on. (Mosiah 26: 29-31) It is mentioned that Alma must judge "according to their sins" but given that Alma and the sons of Mosiah were the equivalent of full-time missionaries days after repenting, I think we can safely assume that the repentance process was much simpler and less torturous than we have today.

In the early days of the modern church people were excommunicated as they are today, but they were also brought back into fellowship much quicker than they are today. And since the early church believed the Atonement, once people were brought back they were brought back exactly where they were before. An good example is Orson Pratt, who was excommunicated after differing with the Prophet Joseph on plural marriage. He later repented, and was put back in full fellowship and reinstated in the Council of the Twelve.

Sadly, this no longer happens. If a young man makes an egregious error, he is told he cannot serve a mission at least one year. Apparently, God has become more vengeful over the years. Oh wait, God doesn't change. So it is not him, it is his supposed representatives who want to inflict pain. How they came up with this weird system where they can exactly measure when a person has fully repented I have no idea. But there could be no Alma or Sons of Mosiah in the modern church.

The thing these people seem to misunderstand is that their is no reason for men to punish for sin, because the sin punished the person. I will give a personal example. I struggled with pornography for years, but I never told anyone until I went to the mission field and told my mission president. I was forgiven in the eyes of the church and I felt the Lord forgave me also, but I still had the images in my head and it took me a long time to see women as more than objects. That was the punishment itself, I was impaired from being truly human. No need for man to punish me, my brain did that (and still does from time to time).

I hope that this article has shown what the Atonement and forgiveness is and what it is not. I hope that we can believe the Atonement moving forward rather than just believing in it. I hope that leaders will come to remember that they are merely representatives and cannot in any form forgive sins, and will be like the Son of Man when dealing with these issues.

I believe the Atonement. I know that it is beyond my mortal comprehension to fully understand, but I have felt its power. I hope all can at some point in there lives. As I said at the beginning "Why Not Believe the Atonement?"


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Suicide

As we all know, on Monday of this week beloved actor Robin Williams committed suicide this week. The world mourns the actor, although it should be noted that while Mr Williams was a schizophrenic, a fool and nearly a clown, he was never remotely a comedian. Don't believe me, tell me your favorite Robin Williams line.... I am waiting.... I bet you by this time tomorrow you still will be holding an empty sack pertaining to this question, while if I asked you about Woody Allen, Milton Berle, Bill Maher, or Jack Nicholson you would find one instantly.

Regardless of my feelings about Mr. Williams career, I am saddened by his death. Even more so knowing that he caused his own tragic end. As we mourn for him, let us talk about the even bigger elephant in the room: Suicide.

All people either know someone who has committed suicide, tried to commit suicide, contemplated committing suicide, or thought of committing suicide ourselves. However, we are not open about this topic nearly enough. Myself, I have thought about suicide several times, although I have never attempted it. I am also aware that most people fall in the last category, so I want to speak about that specifically.

The reasons that people think about suicide are varied, but most revolve around the idea that life is meaningless or that our own life is not valuable. I understand why people can feel that way, and undoubtedly many or most people will feel that way at some point in their mortal existence.

In one sense, they are right. If we were not alive, many of the things we accomplish would have simply been accomplished by others. Perhaps David Hume said it best in his essay about suicide saying "The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster." Moses said in another way after seeing a vision of the cosmos "Man is nothing."

However, there is another aspect that is often overlooked. Suicide is in reality a symptom of selfishness and comes from the delusion that life is simply about us and our happiness. In no case is that the purpose of life. Man is made so that he may find happiness in this world, and how does he do it? By serving a cause that is greater than himself and forgetting himself in the cause of others. In no case has this been found to not lead to true happiness.

As we mourn for Mr. Williams, let us analyze our own lives and see where we are headed. If we are constantly wrapped up in ourselves, suicide will seen rational and reasonable. If we are lost in the cause of others, suicide will never cross our minds.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

For the First Time: Preparing for Temple Worship

Perhaps there are 5 days that all Latter-day Saints look forward to with anxiousness and joy. They are as follows: 1) The day they are baptized and confirmed 2) For men the day they receive the Aaronic priesthood 3) The day they receive the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God 4) The day they enter the holy temple and receive their temple endowment 5) Finally, the day that they are sealed by one having authority to the person they have chosen to spend time and all eternity with in the marriage covenant.
            These blessings are something that we should look forward too, but they are also things we should prepare intensely for. Before converts are baptized, they are taught the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, extended invitations to live principles line upon line, and then eventually enter into the covenant of baptism. It is clear that the Lord’s way is the prepared way. He does not want us to do even the right thing if we do not understand why we are doing the right thing.
            While I feel that for the most part we prepare our children well generally for most of the above mentioned special events, I am somewhat distressed and appalled that most (if not all) people are so ill prepared to enter the holy temple. I have observed new patrons after they have received their endowments completely baffled and had no idea what just happened. This is not good. Why is it that we prepare them well for the priesthood but not to receive the fullness of it?
            Answer: Most people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that since the temple is a holy and a sacred place (and it is) that they should not really speak of what goes on in the holy edifices. While it is true that there are certain parts of the ceremony which one cannot discuss outside the temple, those who like Mormon are quick to observe (Mormon 1:2) will realize that there is more about the temple they can talk about than what they cannot. What cannot be talked about outside the temple is clearly said within the ceremony (I know, I have said it before as an officiator); all the rest can be talked about as the Spirit guides.
            When talking about the temple perhaps at times we need to be general, but as the time gets closer for someone to actually go and receive their blessings, we should be somewhat specific. As stated above, I am fully aware that some things are to be kept within the walls of the temple, and these will not be discussed here. However there are a few things that I would like to discuss. They are as follows: 1) The creation drama 2) the covenants entered into in the temple 3) The importance of clothing 4) The new name.
            Before going into depth on these things, perhaps a quote from one of the great theologians of our modern dispensation, the late Elder James E. Talmage, would be helpful to our discussion : “The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern temples, comprises instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations, and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human history. This course of instruction includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life, and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements.” I think Elder Talmage does a beautiful job in describing so much in so few words.
            Let us begin with the creation. From scriptures both ancient and modern we know that before this life we lived in the presence of our Father in Heaven. We know that a plan was presented, and that we chose to follow his plan. Sadly we know that Lucifer, now known as Satan, rebelled against our Father and he and a third of our Father’s precious offspring were banished from his presence.
            What is not as generally known or talked about is the creation of the Earth. When someone is asked how the world got here often they will say “God created it”. While this is correct, it would imply that our Father alone created it. That is false. Forming a grand presidency, our Father in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ (then known as Jehovah, as he was also known to the ancient patriarchs and Israel) and Michael (who would later be known as Adam, the father of the human race) formed the Earth. I say formed because they used existing materials to organize the Earth ; ex nihilo creation is false and devilish. As the scriptures say, it took six days to create it all, with the seventh day being hallowed as one of rest. This creation is the how the endowment narrative begins.
            Following this we know that our father Adam and our mother Eve were placed in a Garden in Eden to tend and take care of it. They were given two commandments while there: 1) Multiply and replenish the Earth 2) Abstain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. While in the Garden, Adam and Eve had continual communion with the Father and the Son, something that did not happen again until the modern era when these two beings appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The scriptures do not tell us how long our first parents where in the Garden. Suffice it to say they were there long enough to be tempted by that same Lucifer who was cast out of the Eternal God’s presence, and they succumbed to that temptation. However, thanks to the Book of Mormon, we know this was part of the plan (2 Nephi 2:24).
            After making covenant with the Lord to obey his commandments, our first parents were driven out of our Father’s presence into the world to prove whether or not they would keep their first estate (Abraham 3:25-26). After quite some time, Adam was visited by heavenly messengers and taught anew what he must do in order to return to the Father’s presence, and he taught his children as he was taught. These are represented in the temple ceremony according to ways that our minds and culture can understand.
            Moving on to the covenants that one takes upon himself in the House of the Lord, keep in mind that these covenants were made at other times (baptism and priesthood ordination times for instance). However, when made in the temple they take on even greater meaning and greater force, and one who breaks covenants with the Lord made in his holy house will pay an even greater price than those made in prior instances.
            The covenants entered into in the temple are these: the Law of Obedience, The Law of Sacrifice, The Law of the Gospel, The Law of Chastity, and the great and final law is the Law of Consecration.
            These for the most part are self-explanatory, so I will not go into great detail to explain them here. But a few notes and descriptions of each may help one prepare. The Law of Obedience is that you will obey the commandments that the Lord or his servants may give you. The Law of Sacrifice is that you will sacrifice your sins and your own life o that you may have a greater abundance of the Holy Ghost and defend God’s kingdom. It also means that if called upon, you may as other great men and women have done, lay down your life for the cause of truth. That is not to say that you will literally be killed for the gospel, but that if the Gospel requires you to lay down something (especially in callings you receive) you will sacrifice it to answer the call.
            The Law of the Gospel is that you will live the gospel inasmuch as you understand it, and that you live a reverent life. The Law of Chastity is that you will have no sexual relations (which by the way is much more than intercourse) until you are married, and complete fidelity within marriage. The Law of Consecration, like the Law of Sacrifice and the Gospel, is one that is done line upon line and precept upon precept. It implies that all your material possessions and yourself are given to the Lord to further his work.
            Onto the subject of clothing both in coming to the temple and worn inside the temple. When coming to the temple, we should wear our very best, even if it doesn’t seem great in the eyes of the world. In the temple we are not part of the world; we are partaking of the atonement and becoming one with God.
            As recorded in the Book of Alma and many other places in the scriptures “All are alike unto God” (Alma 19:36). In the temple this is very well dramatized. Whether you are the prophet or just a normal patron, all are dressed in white. White is symbolic of purity, and we must be pure to partake of the blessings of the House of the Lord. Also, since all are dressed alike, we know that we have an equal standing before God and that the way back to him is the same for all. How glorious to know that there is one place we can go on this Earth, and we can truly be equal!
            Finally, in the temple we are given a new name. This is discussed in the scriptures and I would refer the reader to Section 130 to read more on this principle. It makes sense to me that when parents have a child born to them, they give him a name. Does it not seem logical that when we go into our Father’s presence in his house that he also gives us a name as we are spiritually begotten to him?
            The principles talked about in this lecture are simply the basics, there is much more to learn. To do this one must learn as Joseph Smith did when Moroni came to him: Repetition. One must return often to the temple in the proper Spirit so that he can be taught more and have his knowledge deepened.
            By way of testimony let me conclude. I have had the sacred privilege of serving as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple for going on two years. During this time I have never felt closer to the Lord and felt of his presence more. I know that the work done in the temple is real, that Christ manifests himself there. Do whatever you can to get there and obtain your blessings. It is worth any sacrifice you can make, especially the sacrifice of sin. I repeat the words of President Boyd K. Packer “Come to the temple. Come and claim your blessings. It is a sacred work. Of this I bear witness”.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways

I have been known to and have been criticized often for disagreeing with or criticizing leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know those who criticize me have never looked at why I do it, mostly because they tend to skim over what I have said, or just believe as many Mormons do that church leaders are above criticism. I have not and never will share that view. If all men are created equal as said by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, then all men should be criticized and held under the microscope, especially when they are making extraordinary claims. As the late Christopher Hitchens often said during his debates with religious leaders "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." His logic is perfect in that premise.

One of the most extraordinary claims that people often make, and leaders in the LDS Church often make is their statement that they "know" that such and such is true, one of them being the existence of a God. What I find strange is that no modern church leader has ever said why he knows that. I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly 5 years, and not once have I ever heard an argument for the existence of God. Certainly if such a being exists, their would be an argument from his closet associates as to what evidence there is for his existence. However, you will not find one argument in any modern or past LDS leader as to the evidence for the existence of God. 

However, there is such a man who did give an argument for the existence of God, 5 arguments in fact. His name was Thomas Aquinas, and he was the greatest philosopher and theologian of the Roman Catholic Church. He is now revered as a Saint, and his work is still often quoted and used by Roman Catholic theologians as well as by other Christians. Aquinas was perhaps the greatest mind in Christianity, and were I not a Mormon I would be a Catholic due to Aquinas' influence on me.

In his 5 volume work Summa Theologica, Aquinas covers what in Latin is called "Quinque viæ" or in English "Five Proofs" or "Five Ways" arguing the existence of God. They are as follows:

1. The Argument of the Unmoved Mover
2. The Argument of the First Cause
3. The Argument of Contingency
4. The Argument from  Degree
5. The Teleological Argument

Let's briefly examine these five arguments, first The Argument of the Unmoved Mover. This argument is comes from an observance of nature, that the planets orbit, that things are in constant motion. All things that move have a mover, as observed in modern physics. This mover who is unmoved is what we cal God.

Second, the Argument of the First Cause. This I believe is the best argument for the existence of God. Everything that is has a cause, that much is irrefutable. However, what was the cause that caused everything. That is God, as he is uncaused and eternal.

Third, the Argument of Contingency. We don't often see that word contingency often so let me define it here. Contingency is "something liable to happen as an adjunct to or result of something else" In other words, it is highly unlikely, in fact impossible, for things to merely exist, or for them to come from nothing. They must be organized by one with foreknowledge of why they exist. As God is a contingent being, he fits this description.

Fourth, The Argument from Degree. We often throw around the word perfection, but is something that is rarely observed. Most things we find today are flawed in some minor or major way. But we all know within ourselves that perfection is attainable, or that it exists in something. That perfection is attained in God.

Finally the fifth argument, the Teleological Argument. All things in the world have a purpose, whether they intelligent (able to think and move on its own with a purpose) or unintelligent (moved by force). Something governs all these things , and moves them to their end. This is God.

Taken all together, Aquinas Five Proofs are very strong and very convincing. Each argument builds on the other, and without one argument begins to lack in some way. That shows how some things must be viewed together to work. For instance, take the Temple Endowment. If a person is shown one part of it out of context, a person may conclude that it is fabricated and not authentic. However, when seen together it is a very exalting experience. Aquinas' Five Proofs are in that same bend.

I am not suggesting that Aquinas' proofs are perfect, as they do show that there is a God but don't tell us which God. However, they do stir one on to believe that there is a being who is in control and is guiding the affairs of the Earth, and that it is rational to believe in God. I thank God every day for his servant who guided me away from atheism and humanism, St. Thomas Aquinas.