Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review of "Temple Worship: 20 Truths That Will Bless Your Life"

Prior to going to the temple a little over 7 years ago to receive my own temple endowment, I remember that during that time that I was very excited and anxious to claim my own temple blessings, but that there was not much information out there to prepare me to go. I took the temple preparation class offered by the Sunday School board and read Boyd K. Packer's The Holy Temple, both the book and the pamphlet. However, I felt as though more could be said. Also, I was unaware at the time what the blessings of the temple were, many members often said how much they loved being there but did not go into any specifics. All of this was further complicated by a friend telling me that when she went to the temple she felt like she did not learn anything. I admit I was a bit confused by the whole process, and I imagine that many pre-temple Latter-day Saints are as well.

I had been thinking lot about the temple lately, the best way to prepare and the best way to keep it a fresh experience each time I go, and at work I ran across Andrew C. Skinner's book Temple Worship: 20 Truths That Will Bless Your Life. I remembered that I owned the book, but had not finished it when I started reading it. So, I picked up again and read it cover to cover, and I am very grateful that I did.

Temple Worship is a simple, enriching book, that is just under 200 pages, so it can be read fairly quickly. There is something about the title itself that is a lesson. We often use the term "temple work" in the LDS Church, and there is a sense of course in which it is work. However, temple worship is the term we should use, because all the work that we do within the walls of the sanctuary points to our adoration, relation, and worship of out Father in Heaven and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book itself is a mixture of theology, history, and personal testimony. One historical vignette that struck me was his retelling of what the saints in Nauvoo went through in order to receive there temple blessings prior to departing west. The temple was open all hours of the day with the brethren administering the ordinances of exaltation to nearly 6,000 men and women . For this reason and others, I believe that these saints had the power to endure all that they went through in their trek westward. The lesson for us in this is that these saints had but one temple and had to live without temples for years. Most members of the church, according to a recent church report, live within 200 miles of a temple. For those who live in the western United States, the journey is much closer. I, for instance live within an hour of 9 temples. We who live so close should understand the blessing we have that other saints did not, and diligently be in the Lord's house on a regular basis.

It has been said by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the ordinances of the temple are borrowed from freemasonry. While numerous books have countered these claims or shown how they have not taken everything in context (Matthew Brown's book for example), Skinner shows the connection between modern temple worship and ancient Christian rituals, which the Prophet Joseph Smith knew nothing about. This is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, not a 14 year olds imagination at work, and the evidence agrees with that.

Skinner covers, as I mentioned earlier a variety of temple related subjects, including worthiness, exaltation, and the protection offered by temple covenants and the temple garment. His closing words I think are also very relevant :
"The world is bad and getting worse. Soon it may be that the only sure refuge will be found in three holy places, and three only:in the Lord's temples, in the stakes of Zion, and in our homes. Those places are three pillars of the celestial kingdom, In each, the will of the Lord can be manifested to us". (Temple Worship, pg 205)
I would go even further. The temple is a place that reminds us the Lord does not just await us in the afterlife; he has promised that he will visit us personally in mortality. The temple endowment reminds us that we may converse with him and know him here and now. To quote the Prophet Joseph Smith "When any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend to him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 150). While I have not had that experience myself, I do believe the Prophet was sincere about what he was saying there and that it is possible to see the Lord here and now.

Any person going to the temple for the first time, or even long time goers, should have Temple Worship as a part of their library. It's simple teachings will focus your mind on the temple and the blessings that await you there. 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Always in Control: A Response to Joshua Valentine (Part Four)

In his fourth installment about how Mormonism prepares its members for atheism, Joshua Valentine makes his strongest case yet about why those who now accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be lead to eschew religion after leaving. He states :
The realization of being manipulated, being put through so much, and losing so much of their lives for a lie, is understandably infuriating.  The necessary and reasonable thing to do, when ready and rested, is to reevaluate one’s beliefs.  Often this includes a period of studying the LDS Church even more.  Whether before leaving or after, many Mormons feel embarrassed by all the things they did and believed, which they now see as so obviously untrue or even silly.  They understandably never want to be manipulated, or to allow their lives to be controlled by anyone else again.
This last, control, is a strong motivation toward atheism.  While in many ways the atheistic worldview can be bleak, in that there is no longer someone watching out for you, there is also a strong sense of self-determination, of your decisions being wholly your own, under your own control.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have relinquished leadership and control of so much of their lives for so long, and upon learning the truth, realized that so much of it was a waste and harmful, that any sense of letting go of their new found control, of submitting themselves to anything — an organization or even a belief — is simply unacceptable.  Ex-Mormon atheists speak of the difficulty of getting atheists to come together and embrace a long-term vision and goal (there is a Mormon Expression podcast, toward the end of his time hosting it, in which John Larsen mentions this issue).  While there may be something about an atheist worldview that inhibits this activity, the victim of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church has all the motivation to keep all control and not relinquish it to anyone or anything, a group, a movement, an ideal, or even the actual God.
This argument is centered on three things: 1) Members feel manipulated by the Church 2) Members have no control while they have Church membership 3) Atheism means complete control

While I have had friends who feel manipulated when they are told additional facts about their faith (seer stones, polygamy, mountain meadows massacre, etc), the fact of the matter is that these things are not new, and have been discussed by Church historians and academics for generations. I, as a convert, was aware prior to my baptism that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and used seer stones to translate the Book of Mormon. None of this led to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet, because these facts do not disqualify him from being one. I hate to be blunt, but if you are not aware of Church history and doctrine because of your own intellectual sluggishness, the problem lies with you, not the Church. Nothing in the new Church essays is new information; BYU Studies and Dialogue have covered these issues for decades.

I am a little confused at the idea that Church members feel that they are not free, which is more of a question of metaphysics than anything else. It is true the Church, like any other organization, has standards. But members have freedom just as much as anyone else. No one forces you to pay tithing, attend church meetings, serve a mission, accept callings, or anything else for that matter. As Section 121 makes clear, you are not to lead by compulsory means; even God himself will not do that. It is true that some members thrust their views of certain things upon other members, but you have the freedom to ignore them and go on with your life.

As far as atheism and control, this is a little misleading. Atheism is not about control; it is believing that there is no such thing as God, or believing that statements such as "God exists" are false propositions. If one leaves the Church, you may not be bound to obey the Church's directions, but you cannot escape the consequences of disobeying them either. And while atheists do not submit themselves to Church authority, they probably submit themselves to government or another authority. You will always be subject to some authority, imaginary or otherwise.

For the fourth time, we have seen that Mr. Valentine's arguments are ill-founded. Perhaps he saved the best for last. I doubt it...