Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox

Some time ago I was reading through The Works of Philo. (I still am... it's a long read.) He'd talked a little bit in an earlier part of the book about the difference between a "husbandman" and someone who cultivates the ground. As he puts it:

The generality of men not understanding the nature of things, do also of necessity err with respect to the composition of names; ... For what man is there who is at all hasty in forming an opinion, who would not think that the being a husbandman (geoµrgia), and the occupying one's self in cultivating the ground (heµ geµsergasia), were the same thing? And yet in real truth, not only are these things not the same, but they are even very much separated from one another, so as to be opposed to, and at variance with one another. Philo, "On Husbandry", I
It seemed to me at first that Philo might be splitting his hairs a little too fine. He had made this distinction in an earlier portion of the book, but in this chapter/book (On Husbandry), he really develops the idea. Anyhow, here is the distinction, as Philo puts it:
For a man without any skill may labour at taking care of the land; but if a man is called a husbandman, he, from his mere name, is believed to be no unskilful man, but a farmer of experience, inasmuch as his name (geoµrgos) has been derived from agricultural skill (geoµrgikeµ techneµ), of which he is the namesake. And besides all this, we must likewise consider this other point, that the tiller of the ground (ho geµs ergateµs) looks only to one end, namely, to his wages; for he is altogether a hireling, and has no care whatever to till the land well. But the husbandman (ho geoµrgos) would be glad also to contribute something of his own, and to spend in addition some of his private resources for the sake of improving the soil, and of avoiding blame from those who understand the business; for his desire is to derive his revenues every year not from any other source, but from his agricultural labours, when they have been brought into a productive state. Philo, "On Husbandry", I

In other words, as the New Testament makes an explicit distinction between the shepherd and the hireling, we learn from Philo here that this distinction can also be found implicitly in the writings of Moses. And, in fact, he finds also the same distinction between a shepherd and a keeper of sheep.

We have now therefore explained, in what respect, the occupation of tilling the ground differs from husbandry, and a tiller of the ground from a husbandman. And we must now consider whether there are not some other species akin to these already mentioned, but which, through the common names borne by them and others, conceal the real difference which exists between them. At least there are two which we have discovered by investigation, concerning which we will say what is fitting, if it is in our power. Therefore, as we found a tiller of the earth and a husbandman, though there did not appear to be any difference between them (till we came to investigate the allegorical meaning concealed under each name), nevertheless very far removed from one another in fact, such also shall we find to be the case with a shepherd and a keeper of sheep. For the lawgiver sometimes speaks of the occupation of a shepherd, and sometimes of that of a keeper of sheep. And those who do not examine expressions with any excessive accuracy, will perhaps fancy that these two appellations are synonymous terms for the same employment. They are, however, in reality the names of things which are widely different in the meaning affixed to their concealed ideas. For if it is customary to give both the names of shepherd and keeper of sheep to those who have the management of flocks, still they do not give these names to that reason which is the superintendent of the flock of the soul; for a man who is but an indifferent manager of a flock is called a keeper of sheep, but a good and faithful one is called a shepherd... Philo, "On Husbandry", VI

So then, Philo expresses this theme as one that one might be able to find generally (though he only identifies the distinction made using two sets of symbols) in the writings of Moses.

I wonder at how apparent this theme was to those who were closer to the language and time-period.

But the providence of God is the principal and almost the only cause that the divisions of the soul are not left entirely without any governor, and that they have met with a blameless and in all respects good shepherd. Philo, "On Husbandry", XII

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox

While working on The Glyph Project recently, I came across this word jˁb, which is an Ancient Egyptian verb meaning "to unite". While making improvements to the page, I noticed that the word had been used in one of the phrase entries in the project, but I determined that the usage was more likely ˁb. Actually, the verb which is listed as ˁb, I expect, is actually the same word at a different point in the evolution of the language, or under the influence of a lazy scribe, or regional dialect. Those weak consonants had a tendency to disappear or become forgotten.

Anyhow, the interesting thing that I noticed was that ˁb is also a noun referring to a horn. This immediately struck me as familiar and relating to a prophecy about Ephraim. In particular, Deuteronomy 33:17 which reads:

His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

Note: The word we have here as unicorn, here, was, in Hebrew, referring to a wild ox.

So this verse is part of a prophecy regarding Joseph, and is here more particularly referring to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, how are likened to the two horns of an ox. The thing that jumps out at me is that, at least in Egyptian, we have some interesting wordplay potential. Further interesting to me, is that since the verb "to unite" is often given a determinative of a horn, the Egyptian's very clearly connected the concept of horns and gathering. (I'm wondering if the horns reminded them of pitchforks or something, or if there's some behavior they were familiar with that I'm just not seeing.)

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox

Elder Snow: We have to understand that every member of that class may go home with a slightly different prompting from the Spirit, and it’s just so important that the Spirit be present. But how many of us have been in a class when there has been a wonderful discussion going on, and the teacher has said, “This is a very good discussion, but I must complete the lesson.”

Elder Holland: Yes, we have all heard that.

Elder Snow: And we miss opportunities sometimes by doing that.

Jeffrey R. Holland, “Teaching and Learning in the Church,” Ensign, Jun 2007, 88–105
There is an idea common among certain segments of Church membership, that some lesson plan was given by church leadership and therefore the plan has some mystical inherent power which will be lost if one ever deviates from "the Plan".

I've recently considered that this belief may deserve a place in my suspect doctrine list.

Missionary Discussions

I'd heard about teaching by the spirit all my life and had been taught on multiple occasions that it is not overly necessary to "finish" a lesson and that efforts made by teachers to "stick to the lesson" can sometimes have the negative effect of shutting out the spirit.

Nevertheless, when I began my Mission and was serving in Virginia (Nov. 1999), while waiting for my visa, the teaching in the mission at the time was that we needed to read our discussions word for word. In fact, the Mission President had declared that we were to always have our discussions open so that we would not accidentally mess up. (I note that Wikipedia cites this kind of strict adherence as common.) The principle that I heard to justify this patent absurdity was that the discussions were given to us by the Apostles and were thus like unto holy writ. We would lose effectiveness (aka. power) by modifying the method of presentation.

In January, 2003, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: "For many years now we have had a standard set of missionary lessons. Great good has come of this. … But unfortunately this method, in all too many cases, has resulted in a memorized presentation, lacking in Spirit and in personal conviction." (from “Missionary Service,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 11, 2003, 19, as cited by Richard G. Scott, “The Power of Preach My Gospel,” Ensign, May 2005, 29)

The cultural problem of how the discussions were being taught was not a small problem and church leaders were working hard to try to devise a system that would discourage this kind of flat spiritless approach.

My brother David served in New Jersey (2001-2003), and reported to me that his mission was very strict in their approach to the missionary discussions. In the latter part of his mission, however, they were directed by leadership to begin a somewhat experimental program of having the missionaries develop their own lesson plans. As described by my brother, the Mission President implemented this plan by having his missionaries create various lesson plans during their study time, and then they would study their own lesson plans much like they had the discussions. For practical teaching, the missionaries organized brief outlines (short enough to be able to fit on an index card) to use and were to teach in their own word, as well as follow the promptings of the spirit. One idea that was discarded as impractical was to create a checklist of principles that were to be taught to investigators, roughly analogous to the previous checklist of discussions. (This was dropped as nobody could settle or agree on exactly what the list should consist of.)

I heard that other missions were doing similar experimenting.

The result of all this was Preach My Gospel.

Hence, the whole purpose of the Preach My Gospel program, the reason why is so much better than the missionary discussions, has nothing to do with the doctrines taught. The whole reason for the existence of Preach My Gospel was to overcome the cultural tendency to deify the missionary lesson plan.

The last sentence on the first page of the introduction to Preach My Gospel is "Do not memorize the entire lesson." This basically turns the traditional approach to teaching on its head, as, even in the most open minded missions, the discussions were to be memorized and were frequently presented word for word from memory.

The Greater Problem

This tendency to place undue emphasis on a limited plan, to expand the scope beyond reason, as it were, isn't just a Mormon tendency. It's a human tendency. Mainstream Christianity, for example, has turned the Bible into a religious icon of arguably overblown importance. That is, it is said to be infallible, perfectly transmitted, written by God himself, final, and/or complete. None of these assertions is justifiable, but they are nonetheless made.

The Jews had their commentaries on the Law. Indeed, the Jews even overestimated the value of the law. This is in contrast to the practice of the Hebrews in the Americas who wrote: "And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments." (2 Nephi 25:24-25)

The Muslims have similar commentaries, modern and ancient, which receive an unjustifiable level of veneration.

In fact, this tendency to inflexibly rely on a plan created with limited scope or foresight, is not even strictly a religious one. The company I work for, for example, is "process oriented" (which isn't necessarily bad) and does software development using the "waterfall method", which suffers due to inflexibility. (This is, in fact, an unfortunately common development method.)

Other Church Lesson Plans

As a student in college, I attended Institute. There, I had the opportunity to learn from Bro. Jackson. Bro. Jackson had his own style. Bro. Jackson also used to help write the Church lesson manuals. Over time, I discovered that Bro. Jackson's lessons were pretty predictable, but neither did he stick to a rigid lesson plan.

As I began teaching at Institute voluntarily, it was clear that the material in the lesson plans existed, not to determine what I would be doing, but to give me ideas and resources for teaching the principles and material that I was supposed to communicate to my class. In my case, I groped about for ideas to help me communicate to my students. If I were to teach the same lesson a second year, I would likely think to do some things differently. Bro. Jackson, on the other hand, had a wealth of experience and had material that he had tried and proven. It wasn't necessarily in the lesson plan, but it worked for his personality and was effective with his students.

I have seen teachers obsessed with their lesson plans, cutting off student discussions because they didn't fit the questions that were provided by the teacher's manual. Mind you, sometimes the students need to be reigned in, and not every tangent is introduced by the spirit. Taming the adversary in your classroom can be a challenge too and one that I am still learning to deal with effectively. The lesson plan, however, is not the yellow brick road that takes us to OZ, or Zion rather. The principle are what shall bring us to Zion, and it is a fact, that we can't teach them effectively without the Spirit.

As home teachers, priesthood holders also teach. Normally we share the First Presidency message. While out of town recently, in another Elder's Quorum, we had just been talking about teaching lessons requested by fathers or lessons we felt prompted to teach, when an Elder asked whether we always had to share the First Presidency message. I waited for a bit, wanting to give the Elder's Quorum President a chance to answer. (As this was a policy question and that the quorum should optimally be seeking to its leaders for these kinds of answers.) The Bishop was also present. (This was a young married's ward, so high priests were a bit scarce. I doubt the Bishop had a High Priest's Group to attend.) The Elder's Quorum President looked around for help (he, of all people, should have known), and so I raised my hand. The Bishop, however, answered. (Which I would generically say is better than me answering.) He said that the First Presidency Message should always be the focus of our teaching. Unfortunately, his answer was wrong.

As we had just been discussing in this meeting, it is perfectly appropriate for a home teacher to teach lessons requested by the head of household, or as directed by the spirit. This does not mean merely adapting the First Presidency Message to meet their needs. It can also mean designing an entirely different lesson or topic to teach. In fact, two months out of the year, we don't even have a regular First Presidency Message. The official status of the First Presidency Message is one of a recommendation. It is, in fact, a very strong recommendation, but not an absolute one. One might describe it as a default message, which can be overridden to accommodate unusual conditions.


A plan is a tool, and plans are invaluable. However, they're not perfect tools, usually.

Marriage and family are quite instructive. You can plan to get married, and plan to have a family. You can go to school and save up money. You can develop needed skills, but do be careful, because marriage and family have a way of throwing monkey wrenches into plans. As events go, they are not very predictable ones. Families require sacrifices, and those sacrifices will often be large chunks of your plans. Children may not want what you want them to want. Spouses will have their own opinions about things. Finances change and everything goes through upheaval.

A plan is still quite vital, but to stick to it inflexibly may be terribly selfish.

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
This last Sunday I gave a talk, so I thought I might make it available to everyone. The talk is in outline form. Actually, what I'm posting here is exactly what I had with me when I was standing at the podium. It includes some citations that were found during material gathering phase of the talk's composition, but which the talk does not actually cite. The talk, of course, did not always follow the outline, and there is at least one item I would have edited for accuracy (which I did, on-the-fly). That is, I don't really consider it accurate to call myself a naturally shy person. I'm a type A personality, so, I think I'm naturally very active and even outgoing, but I have definitely been rather shy in certain areas; dating once having been one of them, but I turned that tendency on its head as a young single adult, not that any in family would be familiar with that fact.

Lines that contain nothing but a number and possibly a lower case letter, enclosed in parenthesis, are indicators for a citation from the citation list below.

I never even finished the first half of my talk (based on: Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well), but it went well enough. Cassey also spoke, and her remarks focused on the Lift Where You Stand portion of our assignment, so between the two of us, we really did cover all of the assignment, and even avoided overlap.


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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
As my wife has reminded me, today is Other Sheep Day. She made the great suggestion that celebrating Other Sheep Day should involve reaching out to other sheep which are not yet in the fold.

Since Christ was originally referring to folds as isolated populations (rather than distinct philosophical or religious bodies) it makes sense that today is a great day to remind everyone that we've been asked by our church leaders to pray that our missionaries might be allowed into those countries which are now closed to us.

In the Protestant spirit of the scripture, this would also seem like a great time to reach out to the "Gentiles", as the Protestants would read the passage. (To us, that includes reaching out to the protestants.)

So, here's what I recommend.

  1. Blog about Other Sheep Day.

  2. Make sure that your blog contains links to sites pertinent to the things you mention in your blog.

  3. Encourage others to blog about Other Sheep Day.

  4. Come back here and leave a comment including a link to your blog entry.

I don't expect a lot of people to do this (my readership is small, and most of you will probably catch this some time in the coming week), but it's an activity which I recommend nonetheless.

The linking is very important. In today's social media web, it is our links which show how we are united together. They work a lot like a vote, except, unlike traditional voting, in writing about things online and relevantly linking to the sites you support, the power of your vote actually grows. In that vein, I highly recommend taking the time, in your Other Sheep blogs, to let people know what gospel-related content you really appreciate on the web.

Don't hide your talent. Share it, and it will be multiplied.

For me, I really appreciate the work of the More Good Foundation. They've done a great job fostering the creation of positive and accurate content regarding the Church. Among sites of their creation, a particular favorite of mine is the Mormon Wiki, where members have gotten together to create their own encyclopedia of Mormonism targeted for those who are not members of the church. (It's also a great reference for members.)

As a programmer, I also highly recommend LDSOSS and the Church's own, which was just recently featured on the official church website, though it has been around for months. These two sites have fostered communication among developers which has both increased awareness of how technology can advance the work of the Lord, as well as promoted the development of technologies that are even now advancing the work of the Lord.

If you want other ideas for what you might do for Other Sheep Day, I recommend visiting the More Good Foundation, mentioned above. Their whole purpose is to help members of Christ's church find ways to reach out to lost sheep online. Their most frequent recommendation is that you bear your testimony, so I'll include mine here.

I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's only true church and that we are guided by prophets and apostles. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that, through him, God restored to us many truths and revealed to us the Book of Mormon. I know that prophets are important and relevant to us today and that God is actively engaged in trying to help us achieve or fullest potential, and I declare it to the world in Jesus's name.

Amen readers.

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
During the conference weekend we heard an segment between sessions regarding a new nursery manual that's available. It was mentioned that it would be a good resource for family home evenings, so I decided that, since involving Ephraim in Family Home Evening is a little bit tricky, we might do well to get the new manual.

Heading over to the church's website to order the manual today, I discovered that the church had the materials posted online.

The church has been doing a great job making materials available on the Internet. Just recently I also noticed that the church had their children's scripture story books available online. This site includes narrated movie versions of the books.

A new application is also available at The application provides a map-based interface to help you locate meeting houses and other church related locations. Simply provide a location, and the map will zoom in and mark all the meeting houses and such in the area. The application lists the wards in the meetinghouses, the times they meet, and provides a link to the ward website. It's a great little help for movers, vacationers, and others.

I'm quite pleased with the job the Church is doing leveraging technology. There are constantly improvements being made.

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
This past Sunday, as I mentioned, I ran across an interesting statement of Joseph Smith's. In "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith", on page 21 he states:

Say to the brothers Hulet and to all others, that the Lord never authorized them to say that the devil, his angels or the sons of perdition, should ever be restored; for their state of destiny was not revealed to man, is not revealed, nor ever shall be revealed, save to those who are made partakers thereof: consequently those who teach this doctrine, have not received it of the Spirit of the Lord. Truly Brother Oliver declared it to be the doctrine of the devils. We therefore command that this doctrine be taught no more in Zion. We sanction the decision of the Bishop and his council, in relation to this doctrine being a bar to communion.

It's a rather significant point to make that Joseph Smith did not declare this a "false" doctrine. Rather, he called it a "doctrine of devils", which is not exactly the same thing, though it is very close to the same thing.

Joseph Smith's thoughts spring from facts revealed in D&C 76:44-49, where it would seem more explicit that it is impossible for any man to ever know the final state of the Sons of Perdition. It causes me to consider that if it is impossible to ever know the final state of the Sons of Perdition, then can God even know it? If God and those who are exalted are, nominally, "omniscient", then it would seem to imply that the information is not accessible to the exalted (and would therefore also have no effect on the exalted, for if it affected them, then it would seem that it would be knowable, from a scientific standpoint).

These thoughts, if accurate, would also seem to suggest that we might be able to rule out the possibility that the sons of perdition will be recognizably restored to our society, for if so, it would seem that we would be able to know something of their fate. Hence, the conclusion would seem to be that whatever their fate may be, it is everlastingly separate from those who do not share in it. Two secular analogies come to mind in contemplating this, the first in physics and the second in math.

In physics, the situation I have considered with the Sons of Perdition might be compared with that of the material in a black hole. A black hole is in a state of maximum entropy, maximum chaos (though not in the mathematical sense), and as such, it is devoid of information. Things go in, but whatever happens to the things that go in is a complete mystery. People have theorized about baby universes, wormholes, voids, and such, but from our perspective there's no information in it and everything that goes in has effectively lost its identity and has nothing more that can be known about it.

In mathematics, I am reminded of Kurt Godel's "incompleteness" theorems wherein we find that any "effectively generated theory" (a particular kind of system) capable of expressing elementary arithmetic, there exist statements which are true, but are nonetheless unprovable. Much philosophical musing has pondered the question of whether our reality comprises an "effectively generated theory". Whether natural law comprises such a system or not, (and I expect it does) it nevertheless lays waste to the assumption made by many that any truth must necessarily be provable. That is, Kurt Godel's theorem gives significant reason to consider the possibility that there are facts in the universe that cannot be known.

I don't mean to propose that the Sons of Perdition will be thrown into black holes, nor do I intend to use Godel's incompleteness theorem as any kind of proof of my musings, but I do intend to make the point that this idea, the idea of their fate being unknowable, is not entirely ridiculous.

I occasionally have used such examples in classes I've taught. One of the wonderful things about math and physics is that they frequently demonstrate how worthless our intuition and so-called common sense really is. Things many believe patently impossible are oft demonstrated to be true and principles thought to be correct are oft proven false, and it is more than once that I have been able to consider seemingly irrational (but not illogical) or unlikely gospel principles in analogy with known principles of math and physics and found the analogy to give merit to the principle.

Anyhow, a musing for your amusement. Enjoy.

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18/08: Omniscience

Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
Similar to omnipotence, I once used to have a problem with omniscience. I won't get into all the details, but one of the issues I had was with the idea that God could keep every detail of the Universe in which he exists inside his head, and beyond that, every extrapolation about the Universe, including details regarding it's state at all points of time throughout the eternities. To know all that would require more than just a copy of the Universe, but a copy of an entire time evolution of the universe just sitting there in his head. I can't say I'm as certain about my conclusions regarding how omniscience can be resolved, but here they are nonetheless.

In our heads, it is generally considered, from a biological perspective, that what we know consists of information stored locally in our heads. When we recall something, we are accessing the information that is stored in our heads. Now, granted that it would seem highly likely that there's a spiritual component to this as well, knowing something, fundamentally, consists of nothing more than having intelligent access to the information. Hence, it is not necessarily true that God has a time-evolved model of the universe in his head, but rather, it might be fair to call him omniscient simply because he has access to all information, and has a perfect system for being alerted to important details. (Better, that is, than when we have trouble recollecting words which we, nominally, "know".) Nothing more, I think, need be required to qualify God for the status of "omniscient". I'm not sure how he could "know" anything any better if the information were even somehow mystically crammed into his head.

Just such an idea was expressed by Joseph Smith when he said "But I am learned, and know more than all the world put together. The Holy Ghost does, anyhow, and he is within me, and comprehends more than all the world; and I will associate myself with him." (King Follet Sermon) With the Holy Ghost by your side, how could you help but be smarter than all the world, like the only man on the Internet who knows how to use Google, except better.

This may seem an oddly abrupt thought to toss out to my readers, but I promise I'm working up to something. (I just don't want to write that whole something all at once.)

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
A Sunday without Ephraim is a powerful thing. There are so many things I've found to do with my Sundays over the years and Ephraim will hardly let me do any of them.

At church, during sacrament meeting, I just smiled lovingly at my wife and she smiled back at me. This evening, I got to make updates to my genealogy wiki and do some research before sitting down to try to document some gospel related notes.

Documenting my notes is really a game of catch-up, and it's made more arduous by the fact that, for the longest time there has been some bug, which I couldn't make sense of, causing my topical guide software to do screwy things and sometimes even corrupt the data file. It's quite a headache having to constantly back the thing up every time I make a few changes, and the restore from backup and redo changes every time it dies on me. Today, I didn't get a whole lot done as far as note organizing goes, but I did find the cause of a data-corrupting bug. I even got to fix it. Hopefully that means future usage will be smoother.

As I was doing my note documenting, I came across a statement by Joseph Smith that got me thinking. It would take too long here to explain my thoughts on that subject. However, I may soon do so, and I think it would be worth my while to give some background and a little crash course in my peculiar philosophy. To that end I begin my philosophical tale.

I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah in August of 1999. If you had asked me before then whether God was omnipotent, I would have told you "no". I didn't think Mormons believed God was omnipotent, and I didn't think a word like "omnipotence" could have any rational sense. You see, Mormonism, when properly understood, is a very rational religion. We believe in learning about God through observation and experience. We believe in seeking experiences in order to gain a greater understanding and in order to gain greater knowledge. We believe in "experimenting" upon the word of God. We don't believe that matter can just appear out of nothing, and we believe that God obeys laws, which must fundamentally be considered natural laws. To join those to thoughts together and perhaps illustrate a consequence of this belief system, we don't believe that even God can create or destroy "matter". Some may object based on modern science, but I will further object that I know modern science, and modern science bears me out so long as I define matter appropriately and the definition has nothing to do with "mass". I'm using an old 19th century understanding of matter and it means nothing more or less than "stuff". Light is "stuff", just not massive stuff.

So, God can't create or destroy matter, hence, he's not omnipotent, right? Well, that's what I thought... until my missionary training got me wondering.

In one of our Sunday meetings in the Missionary Training Center, one of our leaders stated rather blatantly that God is omnipotent. Surely, I thought, he must be in error. What is such false doctrine doing here? However, I soon discovered that this leader was doing nothing more or less than citing the material that we missionaries were to be learning so that we could teach people the Gospel. You see, omnipotence is not something that we Mormons talk about much. The Protestants and Catholics can debate omnipotence till the cows come home, but we talk about other things and we talk about omnipotence, perhaps in different terms. "Omnipotence", to me, was just a silly Protestant or Catholic concept. There just seemed to be much more intelligent ideas to be considering. You see, I certainly believed that God had "all power", but I'd never connected that idea with the word "omnipotent", in short, because the word "omnipotent" was only ever used around me to describe something that I didn't believe in.

The MTC forced me to consider the word omnipotent from a Mormon perspective. The Portuguese missionary lessons, perhaps, helped me bridge the gap. This is because, in the Portuguese missionary lessons, we teach people that God is "todo-poderoso" (literally, all-powerful) and it was clear, in context, that we were teaching that God was "omnipotent".

What then was I to understand by omnipotent? The standard usage of the word, the silly usage that I rejected, attached the meaning of being able to do anything. This was sheer nonsense to me. That sort of thing leads to numerous contradictions and further contradicted my understanding that God obeys laws and exists within nature, that is, "within existence", not outside it.

The resolution to my problem was simple. God has all power and this is sufficient to be omnipotent. If the difference isn't clear to you, I might restate it as saying that God has all powers, or, as I usually state it, God has all powers that actually exist. You can imagine up fairy-land powers like creating something (stuff, matter) out of nothing (ex nihilo creation). You can write about such powers in stories and talk about God creating rocks so large that he can't lift them, but God doesn't have to be able to do any of it. He only has to be able to do rational things; perhaps infinitely powerful, and perhaps according to as of yet undiscovered laws, but nonetheless, rational.

Anyhow, that's a bit of Sean philosophy for you.

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Category: Religion
Posted by: seanmcox
"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."
--The Family: A Proclamation to the World

A simple truth, and yet, and one that I think has been oft repeated. Having been invited to attend a special "Marriage and Family Relations" class, we went over the proclamation on the family last week.

This week someone made the comment that there is "no doctrinal foundation" for the idea that the man is the head of the household. Our teacher thought that was a great segue for his next PowerPoint slide, and off we were confidently debunking the myth that the husband was the head of the household and that the wife was primarily responsible for nurturing children. It really wasn't so bad, except the segue the teacher used really went too far and the quotes the teacher chose, in combination with the segue steered us significantly to the left of correct doctrine. Fortunately, the PowerPoint slides revealed enough of the lesson plan for me to plan when to briefly hijack the lesson and shatter the dream world that was being constructed.

The oddest thing to me about the whole affair was the apparent acceptance with which the class as a whole greeted the false doctrine. I commented later to Cassey that I've generally found these kinds of worldly doctrines to be stronger where we are now than where we used to live. Families seem smaller (with notable exceptions), birth control for young couples is the rule rather than the exception (well, I think it was the rule in Riverside as well, but letting one's family just happen, and even having a large family, seems to be an item of some greater ridicule here). I suspect it has something to do with the city environment and economic pressure. There are significant reasons why it is harder to have a family where we are now and I think that probably skews peoples' thinking regarding the expediency of having a family in general. That is, I think there are more people here who probably could actually not afford to have more children, and so those who avoid having children for convenience probably feel more justified and likely fail to realize that the situation is not necessarily typical.

Worse, I think, than that is that it implies that people see having children as a general undesirable, which is symptomatic of something else.

The point that I made in class today is one that I have often made, but receives very little attention, I think, in comparison with its importance. That is, when we seek to correct a false doctrine or idea, it is important that we not over-correct. This is similar to the old comparison between societal values and a pendulum. This comparison is often made, but what we fail to do, I think, is to apply it in such a way that it has implications for the individual. The pendulum is a macro-scale phenomenon, it is society, and is distant from us. Overcorrection is the pendulum, quantized. That is, it is the same principle, or a part of the same phenomenon, but it is in terms of the individual. It is, in fact, rather controllable at that level. I'll illustrate the point with an example.

There is a dangerous and hurtful false doctrine which exists that whatever the husband says goes, because he is the head of the household. This leads to much abuse of all kinds. To combat this idea it is instead taught that husbands are not the head of the household, but that men and women are exact equals with not so much as even a hint of specialization in their roles. (The fact that women give birth is begrudgingly admitted as a special exception with no further implications.) This idea is really just as bad and also leads to abuse. Men grow up with no real inclination to rise to the challenge of supporting a family. Why do so? Per the doctrine de jour it is not the man's responsibility. Women do not cultivate the talents that they would likewise need. Children are left to the care of, at best, relatively disinterested third parties and the real importance of the family is blurred. At this point one's marriage really is just a piece of paper because all implied obligations are simply outmoded and outdated relics of yesteryear.

Another doctrine that is often promulgated to counter a similar false doctrine is that women are actually superior to men. I had also noted in the class today what an even handed treatment the manual gave to this topic. Even the Apostles seem to have trouble swinging the pendulum this way, but the author of the discourse that accompanied today's lesson (himself an Apostle, Henry B. Eyring) did very well. This doctrine is simply promoting the disparity the other way. I absolutely hate all of the us-against-them that occurs between men and women. It has been one of my pet peeves since my days in Institute. The girls put mustard in the boys' ice cream. The boys retaliate. The girls retaliate back. Hello?! We're all still acting like elementary schoolers pulling girls' pig tails or scratching boys. Why do that?! (As I often found myself saying after the girls put mustard in our ice cream... an event which really came down to at least one crush being acted out in a juvenile manner and was retaliated against on similar terms. I thought the flower the girls put in the men's room urinal was really rather a splendid touch, but otherwise, can't we all just get along?)

I've elsewhere mentioned the Equality of Sins doctrine. It may put down some instances of false pride, but it's a false doctrine.

Anyhow, that's the rant.

Vote "Yes" on California Proposition 8. :-)

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