Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Message To President Obama

As he contemplates losing the United States Senate next week as well having more Republican gains in the United States House of Representatives, I hope that President Barack Obama looks back at the last six years and asks himself "Where did it go wrong?"

I am by no stretch of the imagination a supporter of the President, but I can point out where his administration took a downward. It was his handling of health care. Had he been an experienced politician, he would have started with the idea of a single payer plan, which would not have passed. But, the compromise would have been a public option, so he would have scored a major victory and been able to perhaps run on a single payer system for his second term.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is still very much a rookie in the political field, so he started with a public option. Ironically, this did not have enough Democratic support, so neither a public option or a single-payer plan are part of the massive failure known to the world as ObamaCare. Rather, we have a mix of RomneyCare and DoleCare, along with nearly 400 pages of regulations. While 10 million people gained health insurance, nearly 30 million either lost their insurance or they had their premium rates nearly double. Thanks Barack!

We need real leadership in this country starting in 2016. Lets look for people who have a proven record of getting things done rather than just a good orator that could make buying an ownership in the New York Mets seem like a plausible and great idea. Chris Christie anyone?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Separation of Church and State

On his show "Real Time with Bill Maher", the aforementioned Bill Maher mentioned that in order to be considered a liberal, one had to stand up for liberal principles. Among the principles he mentioned was the separation of church and state, a principle that is often very misunderstood in this country. If believing in this principle makes one a liberal, than I am extremely liberal because this idea is part of what makes America the greatest nation on Earth.

When hearing this principle, some extreme religionists say this does not mean that religion cannot play a role in government, while the non-religious want no mention of God or religion in the public square and want it left in the churches. Both of these ideas are right, and both are wrong. Allow me to explain

First, the term "Separation of Church and State" does not appear in the document we call the Constitution, but the principle behind it is. The first amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"

So, what does that mean? Simple: It means that United States cannot have an official state religion, but also guarantees that those who reside here can practice (or not practice) any religion that they desire. It is not at all implied that those who hold office or run for office must leave their faith at the public squares edge, but it does mean they cannot force it upon others when they are elected.

The man who coined the term "Separation of Church and State" was a hero of mine, the great Thomas Jefferson. He wrote the term while writing a letter to the Danbury Baptist's, who at the time were being attacked by Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut.  He said "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

So, what is Mr. Jefferson saying? If I understand words correctly, then he is agreeing with my position. He said that the government can only interfere with the actions of religion, not beliefs., and that there can be no official religion in this country. That is all that the separation of church and state means: Government cannot take over the churches, and churches cannot take over the government. As long as that happens, neither the religionist or the non-religionist has room to complain.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Few Thoughts on General Conference

We are now a few weeks removed from our latest General Conference. It was pleasing to hear that soon the number of temples will increase to 170 by the end of next year, and many more will be constructed later as the millennial era will center on these holy edifices. No big announcements were made, to the sadness of the Ordain Women movement who had their thumbs crossed hoping that President Thomas S. Monson would announce the time had finally come for women to receive the priesthood. Dream on ladies, dream on.

The underlying theme (if there was one) was the old Mormon dogma "Follow the Prophet." As I have written in other posts and as the Prophet Joseph Smith said at the formation of the Relief Society, this is an idea that darkens our minds and is ultimately very dangerous. A prophet is to lead people to Christ and his doctrine, but ultimately he is unimportant. The dogma to be scripturally correct should be "Follow Christ, listen to the prophets."

However, there were many good talks in the conference. The two I would highlight would be the talks of Jeffrey R. Holland and Neil L. Andersen. Holland answered the question asked by Cain many millennia ago "Am I my brother's keeper?" No, Elder Holland answered "But you are your brother's brother." I believe that Elder Holland was building upon Jesus of Nazareth's sermon in John to "Love one another, as I have loved you." Elder Holland has given many classic sermons over the last few years, but this was on par with his sermon "Safety for the Soul."

Elder Andersen finally did what someone should have been doing for years, namely bearing witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the 5 years I have been in the church, the Prophet has hardly been talked about in detail; just passingly mentioned for the most part. The only talk just about him was by then Elder Tad R. Callister in the October 2009 Conference "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration." I was impressed by Elder Andersen's staunch defense of the Prophet's moral character, as well as bearing witness of his divine mission. Well done Brother Andersen.

I hope in coming years that we will emphasize our unique doctrines more and our similar doctrines  to mainstream Christianity less. Dan Jones did not go to Wales and convert thousands by emphasizing the similar doctrines of Mormonism and  Christianity; he converted thousands with the unique and peculiar doctrines of Mormonism. To put it even more starkly, the Prophet and the Patriarch did not die in Carthage to witness that the Bible was true and the complete word of God. They died to witness that the doctrines of the Restoration were and are true. Let's do the same.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Joseph Fielding McConkie: Preacher, Teacher, and Counselor

One year ago today, Joseph Fielding McConkie left his mortal probation to his next sphere of life in the spirit world. He had battled colon cancer for over 10 years, and while the Lord saw fit to spare his life for a time, eventually he was called to a different sphere. He was 72, and is survived by his wife Brenda and his 9 children.
            This article is not about the accomplishments he had in this life; Deseret Book and others will talk about that. It is about how this man influenced my life during our brief friendship. It will mention some of his writings and teachings however.
            I came into contact with Joseph on my mission to Alabama from 2010 to 2012. My mission president, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, was a colleague and friend of Joseph’s from BYU where the two taught together in the religion department. After finding out that I was a fan of the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie (who was Joseph’s father), President Holzapfel brought Joseph up, saying that he was like unto his father. This intrigued me, but I didn’t plan on ever talking to or meeting Joseph personally.
            However, anyone who has served a full-time mission knows that most things do not goes as planned in the mission field. As I was in Tupelo, Mississippi I had my second interview with President Holzapfel. I asked him how old Joseph was and was shocked when he answered, “I am not sure. Let’s call him and find out”.  2 minutes later, I heard Joseph’s voice for the first time, and asked him how he was doing. After saying that he was fine, he said,  “ I am going to tell you how to be a great Elder. You bear testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. I am tired of missionaries and members not doing it. I may not be able to convert everyone, but I can convert you”.
            I then realized how important both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were to missionary work. They are the bookends of what we do. Bearing witness of Christ does not make us different from other Christian churches, which also believe in him. Our message is not that “God Spake”, rather it is “ God speaks, and has spoken through the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
            Some months later, I received the first of many letters from Joseph, where he again counseled me to bring up the Prophet Joseph Smith, and to always close with my testimony of him. I did this throughout my mission, and was blessed for it. My testimony grew much because of this on my mission, and if my children decide to serve missions I will encourage them to do the same.
            Something Joseph taught me that I had struggled with throughout my mission was that titles don’t matter. What matters is that you serve in such a way as to have the spirit as your companion. While I am not fully converted to that principle, I hope to be one day.
            In other letters, Joseph and I discussed various gospel subjects, political issues, and other things that occurred in my mission. In his last letter he counseled me to never stop learning more about the gospel, to always keep my covenants, and to realize that I was never released as a missionary, just a missionary assignment. If it had not been for some of the things Joseph said, I doubt I would have stayed in Alabama the full two years.
            After being released, I called Joseph to let him know I was home. He told me to call him occasionally, and to visit him when I arrived in Utah. After settling in, I visited him in his home in Orem, Utah. Due to his cancer treatment, he had lost his hair and was much thinner than what I had seen in pictures. Nevertheless, he was smiling and very optimistic when I arrived. We discussed a few subjects, including evolution. His wife Brenda jokingly said “Oh no, you have gotten him started”.
            At the end of the visit, Joseph and I shook hands and asked me to keep in touch with him, which I did. About 1 month and a half ago, President Holzapfel called me and told me that Joseph did not have long to live. I called him and we had the following conversation: Tarik: “Joseph, how are you?” Joseph: “Not well” Tarik: “How long do you think?” Joseph: “A few weeks, if I am lucky” Tarik: (voicing choking) “Thanks for all you have done for me. I didn’t deserve it” Joseph: “I am glad to have been of help. Stick with the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I promise all will be well” Tarik: “I will see you….” Joseph: “Under much better circumstances” Tarik: “Farewell friend.” Joseph “ Carry On”.
            Joseph Fielding McConkie was a preacher, teacher and counselor. He was a preacher of righteousness, a teacher of the doctrines of the Restoration, and a counselor to people whom he knew were bound for great things. He was the last of a dying breed in a sense, as he taught many of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel that we seem to neglect or overlook now. Each of his books is an intellectual and spiritual feast.
            He is now shoulder to shoulder with his father, his grandfathers Joseph Fielding Smith and Oscar Walter McConkie, his brother Bruce, and other loved ones. I know that together they are doing a great work on the other side of the veil. I also have no doubt that he has given an accounting to the Lord Jesus Christ and like Thomas of old has said “My Lord and my God”, and that the Savior has given him the blessing he foretold for the faithful “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord”.
            Joseph, know that I love you and your teachings. You were a mentor and hero to me. I will never forget what you taught me, and I promise I will never cease to testify of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the doctrines of the Restoration. Well done Joseph. I miss you brother.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mormonism: Christians or Pagans?

In modern culture, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sought to bring itself more into the mainstream of present Christianity. In his October 2007 address in general conference, Jeffrey R. Holland said "There is one thing we would not like anyone to wonder about—that is whether or not we are “Christians.”

It is understandable why Mormons would seek to reconcile with Christianity. No one wants to be an outsider, and modern culture wants to be more inclusive than exclusive. So, the logic goes, lets focus on what we have in common rather than on the small items that we disagree on.

And therein lies the problem. It is beyond wishful thinking to believe that Mormonism and Christianity can be reconciled, because in truth they are different religions. To reconcile Mormonism with Christianity would be like trying to reconcile Christianity with Islam. One can be true and the other false, both can be false, but both cannot be true.

"What do you mean?" the masses of Mormons and liberal Christians will cry. Both of us believe in God. Both of us believe in Christ. Both of accept the Bible as the revealed word of God. Can't we all just lump ourselves together and call ourselves the same thing?

No, my philosophical lightweight friends. You have essentially made my point with your statement. Let's analyze the three premises you have raised, namely , who and what is God, who is Christ, and what is the nature of scripture.

First, who is God? According to the Nicene Creed (generally accepted by most non-LDS Christians) "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible." So based on this brief statement, Christianity is monotheistic, meaning they believe in one God and that no other God's exist. It is true that the doctrine trinity (accepted by most Christians) means that he manifests himself in three different ways, he is still one God.

Mormons are on the other side of this issue. The Prophet Joseph Smith said  "I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods." So, Mormons are polytheists, meaning they believe in many gods. The Prophet also said "If Abraham reasoned thus -- If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. " This proves another point that needs to be made. Christians believe God to be a non-contingent being, meaning God is uncreated, exists on his own, and is un-embodied. In Mormonism, God is a Contingent being because the God worshiped has a God who is his father as well.

Moving to the idea of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus is God in the flesh, co-equal and co-eternal with him. In Mormonism, Jesus is the divine, but he is a separate being from the Father. He is literally the Son of God, as are all of humanity. The chief difference between him and the others of God's children was his birth happened without a mortal man being the father, making him divine and human at the same time.

Finally, the idea of scripture. Christianity believes in a closed-canon, meaning that scripture is done being written and concludes with what is written in the Bible. Mormonism believes in an open canon, as it accepts books outside of the Bible to be inspired, as well as believing in modern prophets. So, there canon will always be expanding

So, I think it is clear from our brief discussion of these topics that Christianity and Mormonism are in two separate camps. The only thing they truly share in common is there vocabulary, but it means different things when it is being used. So someone (or both of us) must be wrong.

I have a proposal. Since Christianity does not include us being Christian, lets start believing our own doctrine and stating what I believe to be the obvious: We alone are Christians, and the other groups are pagans. This was the philosophy of the early church, why not the modern Church? The church already underhandedly states this in their temple drama, why not voice the idea a little louder?

We simply cannot get into bed with Christianity, which Nephi describes as "The Great whore of all the Earth." We must reject it or become infected ourselves with its ideas which Christ himself said "an abomination" in his eyes.

So I will allow the reader to decide what he or she will believe, but I hope that I have demonstrated the idea of all being Christian is not a justifiable one.