Living the Plan of Happiness

November 17, 2013

I’m not a pessimist even though I have been told otherwise from time to time.  I am highly optimistic about the future of the righteous and already in mourning for the wicked who refuse to repent.  The scriptures include both promises of blessings for obedience, and warnings of highly painful consequences for those who turn against God.  In fact, the blessings and warnings are fairly well balanced in scripture because “Wickedness never was happiness,” and God wants us to be happy because we are his children and he loves us.  That is why he gave us the scriptures, so that we would better understand the consequences of our behavior.  He knows all the consequences of every action, every word and every thought because he is omniscient. We are not.  When we try to foresee the future, we are often surprised by the unintended consequences of our thoughts, words and deeds.

I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life, just as most of us have.  And while some of us have suffered more than others, we have all suffered.  Some suffering is unavoidable, and we have done nothing to bring it upon ourselves.  But some of our suffering is avoidable, and we could have done better if we had been wiser.  There is no reason in this life for pessimism.  The Plan of Salvation is also called the Plan of Happiness.  And we can have great happiness in this life if we follow the path to it.  On the other hand, if we follow the road to ruin, we will finally reach that destination too.  Keeping both outcomes in mind, and our ability to choose the right, is not pessimism.  It is just realism.  Optimism, genuine optimism based upon realism, comes from understanding the Plan of Happiness and finding ways to effectively utilize it in our daily life.  If we aren’t saying our prayers, studying the scriptures, attending church, loving and serving others, repenting of our sins and keeping the commandments, we do not have enough faith to live the Plan of Happiness, and we will end up living the Plan of Misery by default.

Here is one of the most important scriptures for me in understanding the Plan of Happiness:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.  And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. (2 Nephi 5:26-27)

The reasons I rejoice in the gospel of Jesus Christ is in part because this passage gives me hope that I can make things better for myself and those I love. What could be more optimistic than that belief and hope?

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The Foolishness of Atheism

August 22, 2013

I once read a literary critique by T.S. Elliot of William Shakespeare’s sonnets.  It was highly critical.  Basically, Elliot said that Shakespeare was a lousy poet.  I was reminded of an ant crawling up the leg of an elephant.  By what rationale could a literary pipsqueak like Elliot criticize the greatest writer in the history of the English language?  He simply was not qualified.

Today I see the same hubris coming from many of the crusading atheists such as Richard Dawkins and his faithless admirers.  They claim that we who believe in God have no evidence to support our belief.  Well, what is the evidence for their disbelief?  There is none that I am aware of.  The whole discussion reminds me of the dozens and perhaps hundreds of verses in scripture that proclaim that man’s wisdom is foolishness to God.  Or in other words, man’s wisdom is no such thing.  Man’s wisdom is actually foolishness.

If there is no God, then either there is no universe, or the universe created itself.  And whenever in all human history has anyone, believer or atheist, ever seen anything create itself?  Does a tree create itself?  A rock?  A person?  A mathematical formula?  A poem or novel?  What?  Joseph Smith said that there never was a man who didn’t have a father, and there never was a father who was not first a son.  Duh.  How can there be anything spring into existence out of nothing whatever?  It has never happened.  It has never been witnessed or observed.  And should it happen, it would violate every known law of physics.

Here are two verses from the Book of Alma in which he explains the truth of the matter to Korihor:

And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only. (Alma 30:40)

But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. (Alma 30:44)

But my personal favorite is this one:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:19)

All of mankind’s knowledge is less than a single drop in the vast ocean of our ignorance.  Were it not so, we could not continue to progress as rapidly as we do because there would be little left to learn.


Where is Zarahemla? Why have we not found its ruins?

May 13, 2013

While reading the Book of Helaman with Esperanza this morning, I ran across a verse that jumped off the page at me.  I’ve read it many times before, but I did not notice it.  It is Helaman 12:19, and I think it might explain why archaeologists and other diggers have never found any proof that Zarahemla and other Book of Mormon sites existed.  Here is the verse:

“And if the Lord shall say–Be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever–behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever.” (Helaman 12:19)

The rest of the chapter includes important context for understanding this verse. It explains that when a wealthy man or a blessed people offend God by turning against him, he can curse their treasure so that when they bury them up in the earth, they can never be found again. He reminds the reader that the earth moves and mountains cover up cities according to his mere word. Could Zarahemla be buried deep beneath the earth because it was cursed by God at the time of the final destruction of the Nephites? The scriptural record does not record everything that God does. But these passages do indicate that God works in this way. It would explain a lot.


The Intolerance of Jesus Christ

February 3, 2013

Through his prophet Alma, Jesus Christ taught:

And he said: Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. (Alma 45:16)

We know that God loves us. And so he must possess the virtue of tolerance to a degree that we do not. But from this passage we learn that there must be things he does not tolerate. What are they?

God does not tolerate sin. Why? It is because he loves us. Sin causes us pain. It injures us. It brings failure and disappointment. Ultimately it destroys us. We should not marvel that Jesus Christ is intolerant when it comes to sin. He is intolerant because he loves us. He wants us to be happy, and he knows better than any of us where the path is that leads to happiness. Hence, Jesus Christ loves us, but he is intolerant of our sins. We must repent of them or we will suffer.


Jesus Christ: The God of Battles Not Mr. Rogers

July 14, 2012

Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. Some saints and many traditional Christians have this view of Christ. But if we are to know God [Jesus Christ], we must know all sides of his personality.  We must know him to become like him.  And that is the main purpose of our existence. We cannot know him if we have in our minds a distorted, superficial understanding of the Savior’s character and personality. Jesus Christ is not like Mr. Rogers who for many years talked down to the children in his audience and taught them in patronizing, weak, insipid, mild, soft and schmaltzy words. Rogers wore soft, fuzzy cardigan sweaters. The Savior did not.

There is a hard, warlike side to Jesus. And we cannot know him unless we understand that along with his kindness and gentleness he was a man of war. Both are part of his personality and character.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote this in his book, Mormon Doctrine:

Christ is the God of Battles. (D. & C. 98:23-48; 105:14.) Anciently he commanded his people to engage in righteous wars (Ex. 23:27-33; 1 Sam. 15:2-3), and whenever they were so engaged, he was entreated of them and fought their battles. (1 Chron. 5:20; 2 Chron. 20:15; 32:7-8.) The whole Nephite history is one of the Lord giving frequent direction to them in their battles, whenever they sought such guidance in faith. In the day of his Second Coming the promise is that he again will fight the battles of his saints, “as when he fought in the day of battle.” (Zech. 14:1-5; Ezek. 38; 39; Zeph. 3:8.) Despite the false sensitivities of those who cannot conceive of the meek and lowly Nazarene as a Man of War (Ex. 15:3), yet the inspired answer to the query: Who is the King of Glory? is, “The Lord strong and mighty, and Lord mighty in battle.” (Ps. 24:8.)

Sometimes a man or woman prefers to think of Jesus as Mr. Nice Guy because he hopes to inherit eternal life and avoid spirit prison in the next life without being required to repent of their sins.  They do err.  They have not read the scriptures, or if they have, they did not understand them.  Yes, he is the God of love, kind, gentle, forgiving, and merciful.  But he is also fierce towards his enemies and full of wrath toward those who rebel against him by refusing to follow him and repent of their sins.  Mercy cannot rob justice.

Since the Fall of Adam, Satan has been loose in the world, performing his duty as a tempter and deceiver.  For that reason there has been wickedness in the world from the beginning, and wicked men who cause that wickedness.   These men will be damned if they don’t repent, just as we will if we don’t repent.  How great is God’s punishment of the wicked if they refuse to repent?  Consider this passage from the 63rd chapter of Isaiah and see if you can find any of the qualities of Mr. Rogers there:

2 Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?

3 I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.

What does this passage mean? Similar language inspired by these words of Isaiah are part of that great hymn, The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Who drowned the whole world except for Noah and his family?  God did.  And God is Jehovah also known as Jesus Christ.  What did the Savior do at the beginning of his brief visit to his covenant people in ancient America?  He burned cities, buried them up in the earth, caused cities to be swallowed up in the ocean.  All these things he takes personal credit for as he explains them in the Book of Mormon.

No the Savior is not Mr. Rogers or anything like him.  He is kind, gentle, wrathful and terrifying toward his enemies.  He is the God of Battles.


General Conference, Elder Christofferson and Jesus Christ

April 1, 2012

What a marvelous conference! Elder Christofferson of the Twelve included these verses among others in his talk:

33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. (3 Nephi 11:33-34)

Truly, this man is a prophet of God! I have heard the first of these two verses many times. But only when I read the Book of Mormon do I get the second verse. I’m sure I have just missed them because I wasn’t paying attention on other occasions, but this time I was paying attention. Verse 33 is relatively meaningless without verse 34, and it drives me crazy when someone giving a Sacrament talk uses only the first one. They are a couplet. They are together for a reason. The Savior said them together in his sermon to the ancient Nephites, and they should be used together by his saints in these latter days.

When I realized that Elder Christofferson was quoting this passage, I gave his talk even greater attention. Would he use both verses? Hallelujah, he did! Once more I have another new hero.


Secret Societies: From the 1971 Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

December 6, 2011

The Book of Mormon has a lot to say about secret combinations and organized murder to get gain and power.  Ether 8:24 is especially important because it is worded as a commandment.  It reads:

24 Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.

The 13th President of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson, was especially interested in this topic and spent most of his 50 plus years as a general authority and president of the Church teaching about these secret combinations. So of course, I have always found the topic fascinating myself, and this is one of the most informative things I have ever read about the workings of secret societies. The article was a scholarly work published in the Encyclopedia of Britannica in the 1971 edition which I had in my home for many years. You too may find this information valuable as well. It is no longer available in current editions of the encyclopedia and has not been for many years.

From Encyclopedia Britannica. 1971 Edition. Volume 20, p. 148

SECRET SOCIETIES, any of a large range of membership organizations or associations having secret initiation or other rituals, oaths, grips (handclasps) or other signs of recognition. Elements of secrecy may vary from a mere password to elaborate rituals with a private language and peculiar ceremonials, costumes and symbols. The term may be applied to such widely divergent groups as U.S. college fraternities, the Ku Klux Klan and international Freemasonry as well as to similar phenomena in primitive cultures. For discussion of the latter see SECRET SOCIETIES, PRIMITIVE.

Among the earliest secret societies of which historical evidence exists were the oriental mystery cults and the religious mysteries of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, which had secret rites, initiations and revelations of still more ancient wisdom (see MYSTERY; see also MITHRAISM; ORPHEUS; OSIRIS; PYTHAGORAS AND PYTHAGOREANISM). Whereas the mysteries employed secrecy to guard religious truths, other groups have been forced to adopt secrecy to escape or survive suppression and persecution, as in the case of the early Christians in pagan Rome and, in their turn, of various heretical groups in the middle ages (see EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH; INQUISITION; MANICHAEISM). Medieval guilds (q.v.)resorted to solemn initiatory oaths and other elements of secrecy primarily for economic self-protection. Throughout history revolutionary, subversive and conspiratorial groups have organized secretly, as in the case of the Sons of Liberty. The repression of liberal, nationalist and republican movements in Europe in the 19th century, for example, produced an underground network of revolutionary secret societies (see EUROPE: History: The 19th Century, 1815-1914; see also CARBONARI; CAMORRA). Other examples may be found in the Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood (see FENIANS, AMERICAN; IRELAND: History) and the Decembrists or Union of Salvation in Russia (see DEKABRISTS). The very existence of secret societies has prompted antagonisms and fostered accusations of immorality, subversion and heresy. Such accusations were made against the Roman mysteries and early in the 14th century were used to justify the ruthless suppression of the Knights Templar (see TEMPLARS). The early 19th-century Antimasonic movement in the United States offers another interesting example of opposition to secret societies (see ANTIMASONIC PARTY). Many modern secret societies were formed primarily for social and benevolent purposes and to carry out charitable and educational programs: these have been especially numerous in the United States and in the later 19th century attracted large numbers of immigrants who sought companionship and guidance among people who spoke their native language and followed their customs. In many communities such societies in the 20th century have continued to provide the principal means of members’ social and civic activities. (See FRATERNAL ORGANIZATION; FRATERNITY AND SORORITY.)

With all their diversity of type and origin, secret societies have certain characteristics of structure and function in common and some of their ceremonials reveal surprising similarities. Historic and other details of the more important groups are covered in separate articles under their own names.

Structure and Function. Secret societies are made up, ipso facto, of persons presumably oriented toward similar ends, and these ends usually manifest the characteristic differentiating secret societies from all others-that is to say, the ends are secret. Moreover, admission to membership almost always involves the explicit obligation to preserve such secrecy, and penalties for its violation are likewise explicitly stated. The explicitness involved may sometimes apply only to the members of the society, for secrecy may be so complete that even the existence of some societies is not revealed to outsiders; revolutionary, heretical and similarly subversive secret societies are cases in point. More frequent is partial secrecy: the existence of the society is publicly acknowledged or even proclaimed, as by the Ku Klux Klan (q.v.) in the U.S. after the Civil War and again in the 1920s and the 1950s and 1960s; at least some of the ends are made generally known; parts of the society’s ceremonial are performed openly; and public co-operation with other groups having fundamentally differing ends may occasionally be undertaken.

But, obviously, secret societies would lose their reason for existence if secrecy were ever entirely abandoned. Many fraternal organizations, for example, maintained the secrecy of their rituals into the second half of the 20th century although, as in the case of college fraternities and sororities, these survived largely as formalities. In most instances, the core of the binding secrecy is to be found in the society’s ceremonial. The essential part of this is rarely if ever legitimately known to those who are not initiates, particularly where the really significant ends are concerned. In order to ensure full and exact knowledge of these ends on the part of the initiates, the ceremonial’stresses painstak’ ingly accurate repetition and close guardianship. It is often designed to provide a strong emotional appeal, impressing the members with the gravity of the ceremonial occasion and the authenticity of the knowledge thereby revealed. In many secret societies the ceremonial is cast in dramatic form and contains episodes taken from holy books, revered legends, episodes thought to be of crucial historical importance, etc. Oftentimes members play parts enabling portrayal of the origin of the society, and in this portrayal the candidate for initiation usually has a key role. For instance, he may undergo a symbolic journey fraught with obstacles and temptations and at the end thereof receive the “truth” or esoteric. wisdom viewed as the society’s characteristic possession (see Ceremonials, below). In this process physical objects such as keys, pillars, swords, books, globes or staves may be endowed with symbolic meaning, so that their display on later occasions helps to reinstate, psychologically speaking, the awesomeness of the initiatory ceremony.

Many secret societies operate through a system of degrees of progressively higher rank in which secrets are revealed step by step. Initiation is therefore hierarchical; members at the higher levels are more fully aware of the ends pursued by the society than are those at the lower. Consequently, secrets of recognition are graded. That is to say, although there is ordinarily a grip, password, ceremonialized greeting in question and answer form, esoteric phrase, or secret jargon serving many of the purposes of a special language that distinguishes even the lowest initiate from nonmembers, the society has secrets within secrets. Those more fully initiated make every effort, by the use of special names; ordeals or revelations, to set themselves apart, on the one hand, and on the other to stimulate the lower ranks to the effort necessary to reach the exalted degrees.

The sedulous preservation of higher secrets serves several other, purposes. For instance, beginning initiates are thereby impressed with the necessity for silence. Not only is this the case, but the art of remaining silent without giving offense to fellow members at lower levels is imparted by direct example. rhis is especially important when “final truth” and the real ends of the society are known only to those in the more advanced degrees, and even more so when, as in a few societies, the supreme leaders remain unknown to the rank and file membership. An essential technique in all of this is that secrets remain unwritten, so far as possible; they must therefore be transmitted verbally in a sort of master-pupil situation. Frequently the transmission takes place under striking ceremonial conditions, reinforced by oaths of allegiance coupled with detailed specifications of dire punishment for traitors. In many modern secret societies such punishment seldom if ever occurs, but there have been instances of rigidly enforced discipline, especially in societies of subversive type-and some modern secret societies, in their early stages, were regarded as subversive.

The effects of secrecy on personality are many, but among them may be listed the growth of a sense of fusion, of a “mystic tie,” induced by the sharing of secrets under the appropriate ceremonial circumstances. Further, the appropriately initiated person may effectively acquire norms or standards that extend or even substitute for the norms of the larger society of which he is apparently an integral part. Some secret societies, indeed, lay claim to the total personality of the fully,devoted member, but this claim is virtually impossible of fulfillment.

Even though not fulfilled, however, the claim to the total personality means that sharp distinctions may be drawn between members and nonmembers, or in-groups and out-groups; some secret societies, even when their ends are not overtly subversive, may therefore operate in ways such that they tend to split larger societies. This being the case, supporters of various institutions within the larger society may become quite antagonistic to secret societies in general, resulting in accusations of overtly traitorous, heretical, immoral or similarly unworthy ends and their accompanying ceremonials. Political antagonism to secret societies has of course been much in evidence under totalitarian regimes—Nazi, Fascist and Communist—where all groups not controlled by the state are suppressed to the greatest possible extent.

Where secret societies effectively co-ordinate with the larger societies of which they are parts, as is often the case, the coordination is frequently linked with class affiliation. Secret societies recruited from the upper classes are more prone to support the existing social order than radically to challenge it; at most they aim at the “moral regeneration” of the larger society. Secret societies drawn from the ranks of the disaffected, however, are seldom free from subversive intentions and may become drasfically revolutionary, heretical or even criminal, as the Mafia and the Molly Maguires (qq.v.).

An astonishing number of secret societies, when thoroughly investigated, can be shown to have ceremonials testifying to common origins or, at the very least, remote historical connections. At the same time, some secret societies bearing the same name and practicing the same ceremonial, in all essentials, show striking variations from one country to another (see ROSICRUCIANISM). (HD BR.; J. K. RH.)

Ceremonials. The following ccount of the ceremonials of the ancient Chinese Hung or Triad society by Freemason historian J. S. M. Ward indicates some of the similarities in the ceremonials of different groups.

The Hung society of China was founded, or perhaps reorganized, in A.D. 386 by the Buddhist patriarch Eon or Hwui-Yin, to spread the cult of Amitabha Buddha. Contemporary with the ancient mysteries and itself a great mystery rite, it survived over 1,500 years. The Hung rituals as they evolved showed a blending of Taoist-Buddhist ideas having curious analogies with the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and with certain “higher degrees” n western Freemasonry. The ceremony symbolized the journey of the soul through the Underworld and Paradise to the Holy City of the Gods, called the City of Willows, and interwoven with this, was an allegory of the experiences of the mystic in his quest for union with the Supreme Being. As regards its analogies with Masonry, practically every important incident is found in certain higher degrees in England and America, while most of the hand signs are known to many Freemasons.

The ceremony comprised four sections. First the traditional history was given to the candidates in the anteroom before they entered the lodge. It was a moving story, wherein a body of monks who had helped the emperor were requited by him with the foulest treachery, all being murdered save five, who became the founders of the order. There were three villains, and for political purposes one was a Manchu emperor, either Khang Hsi, or, in some versions, his son, but originally the story was allegorical.

After this the candidates were “prepared” in the anteroom. The most notable incidents were (1) ceremonial wasl-iing and changing into white robes to symbolize not only mourning but.that they themselves were dead; (2) the right arm, shoulder and breast, and also the left knee, were made bare; and (3) grass slippers were substituted for ordinary boots. Meanwhile the master opened and consecrated the lodge and invested his officers.

The third section dealt with the actual admission of the candidates, who had to pass through three gates inside the lodge and take the oath of blood brotherhood by mingling their blood with that of all members present in a cup of wine, from which each person present drank. (Women as well as men were eligible.)

The last section consisted of a catechism; the master asked a series of questions, which the conductor answered for the candidates. These revealed that they had been on a long and mysterious journey, first by land and then by boat, till they reached the City of Willows. Throughout the whole of this part of the ceremony great stress was laid on numbers, which had a definite mystical significance. The triangle also played an important part in the ritual, hence the name “Triad” society. The brotherhood had many aliases, the most famous being “The Society of Heaven and Earth.” The significance of the ceremony was revealed by the opening questions:

Master: Whence come you?

Vanguard: From the East.

Master: At what time?

Vanguard: At sunrise, when the East was light.

See FREEMASONRY; see also references under “Secret Societies” in the Index.
See J. S. M. Ward and W. G. Stirling, The Hung Society, 3 vol.
(1925-26). (J. S. M. W.)

[Note about the authors of this Britannica article]
HD BR. is Howard Becker (d. 1960) Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, 1937-60.
J. K.

RH. Is John Kenneth Rhoads. Associate Professor of Sociology, Northern Illinois University, De Kalb.
J.S.M.W. is John Sebastien Marlow Ward, D.D. Is the author of An Outline History of Freemasonry; and others.

To the best of my understanding, these are the modern Gadianton Robbers prophesied throughout scripture and especially in the Book of Mormon. The prophesies are for world conditions in the last days and are hence one of the “signs of the times” preceding the Second Coming.

I hope you find this article interesting and useful. As a result of President Benson’s teachings he was thought by the mainstream press and many members of the Church as a “conspiracy theorist” and hence a right-wing crackpot and extremist, part of the lunatic fringe. Responding to these charges, President Benson once said in General Conference, “There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon — it is a conspiracy fact.”