Thursday, March 28, 2013

LDS Scriptures Change In 2013

After more than 30 years since the last changes were made to what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church) calls the standard works, the Church announces there has been many updates and corrections made due to more recent historical findings.

On the Joseph Smith Papers site you can find a pdf with side-by-side comparison versions of changes between the 1981 and 2013 editions of the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C).  Most notable of these changes are the addition of headers to the two official declarations:

Official Declaration 1
The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
Official Declaration 2
The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.
 In these two we see the Church changing its previous stance of trying to sweep historical acts under the carpet and facing the reality that the church did participate in both polygamy and discrimination towards blacks.  Yet we still see how they would prefer to rewrite history and not fully acknowledge wrong doing done by the church.

The Illinois Anti-bigamy Law enacted February 12th, 1833 clearly stated that polygamy was illegal. It reads:
"Sec 121. Bigamy consists in the having of two wives or two husbands at one and the same time, knowing that the former husband or wife is still alive. If any person or persons within this State, being married, or who shall hereafter marry, do at any time marry any person or persons, the former husband or wife being alive, the person so offending shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine, not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisoned in the penitentiary, not exceeding two years. It shall not be necessary to prove either of the said marriages by the register or certificate thereof, or other record evidence; but the same may be proved by such evidence as is admissible to prove a marriage in other cases, and when such second marriage shall have taken place without this state, cohabitation in this state after such second marriage shall be deemed the commission of the crime of bigamy, and the trial in such case may take place in the county where such cohabitation shall have occurred."
Revised Laws of Illinois, 1833, p.198-99

This runs contrary to what is declared in the new edition of scriptures, which are now available in electronic format, by putting the date of polygamy practices being illegal as early as 1833.  One possible defense is that the scriptures state that the U.S. government made it illegal beginning in the 1860's and that this was the Illinois State government.  According to the Church's Articles of Faith:
12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
This would therefore have still made polygamy impermissible.  Even with their move to Utah, which at the time was owned by Mexico, it was illegal under Mexican law, thus making it illegal throughout the entire history of the church.

As for blacks and the priesthood, this heading is more ambiguous of the past, than an actual clarification or justification.  At the very least we can say it is finally an admission to its previous bigotry and discrimination that had previously prevailed in the Church towards blacks, but it denies knowledge of why, or how this could have come about.

Being more ambiguous is a theme in the changes made at least in the D&C, where definitive's are traded for mere possibilities.  One example is in D&C Section 2:
1981: An extract from the words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith the prophet,...
2013: An extract from Joseph Smith's history relating to the words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith the prophet,...
References to History of the Church (HC) have now been redone to say Joseph Smith's History.  It has turned the text from declaring facts to voicing opinions.

Print versions of the new scriptures are expected to be available in August, 2013.  Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:
“This new edition incorporates adjustments that will be a blessing to Church members in years to come, but members should not feel that they need to purchase a new set of scriptures, particularly since all of the adjustments are available in digital formats at no cost. Changes to the scriptural text include spelling, minor typographical, and punctuation corrections.”
There has been no announcement thus far concerning translations of scriptures into other languages based off of changes made in the 2013 English edition.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Response to Arguments Against Gay Marriage

In a recent conversation I was having on Facebook we were discussing a post that I shared from George Takei concerning gay marriage.  It was stated in the picture that was being shared that 58% of Americans believe that gays should be allowed to marry and that I am one of them.

It wasn't long before I found myself and a friend of mine in a heated argument with another friend.  The arguments brought forth seem to jump from here to there and are floating in the air with no foundation.  I will try to address them each here a little more gracefully than I did in the heat of the moment.

A majority opinion doesn't mean it is correct

This is a true statement, in and of itself, but if one is implying that since there are situations in which Americans exemplify their ignorance, particularly in religious matters, that this should extend to their opinion on gay marriage is a classic example of argument from fallacy.  Showing that people are stupid neither proves nor disproves the correctness of their conclusion in each instance.

Some examples given during the discussion included things such as 86% of Americans not knowing how many Representatives are in the House.  Or 50% of Americans not being able to list the first book of the Bible.  Off the top of my head I couldn't answer the first, but does that exclude me from answering other questions which have nothing to do with this subject?

I don't want marriage to change

In this response the pot starts calling the kettle black.
So if a person doesn't want the institution of marriage to change from heterosexual monogamy to whatever else the flavor de jour might be, they're attacked by closed-minded bigots?
This is a combination of two logical fallacies, which I will address each separately.  The first logical fallacy is that of appeal to tradition.  Since a person doesn't want tradition to change then that means that changing tradition is wrong.

Slavery had been a tradition held for thousands of years, completely justified by the bible.  The Confederates motto was "Deo vindice"(Under God, or Vindicator).  The Baptist church in the South was tied to slavery and often criticized by those in the North.  Early on it was said that the heathen should be slaves, and later in the American slavery days it was purely due to race, Africans being the decedents of Ham.  Both of these reasons and traditions were justified by religion and upheld by tradition.

Another relic from the days of slavery was segregation and civil rights in general.   Civil rights were fought for long and hard, and it took us till the 1960's to really begin the process of rectifying this unjust situation of believing that the color of one's skin is somehow determinant of the individuals status.

Woman's suffrage is yet another instance in which we have changed from tradition, and lately have made great progress on equal rights for woman.  The religious have been the most adamant about continuing to control a woman's body and her right to choose.  At first it was not seeing women as equal to men; once that argument was essentially lost the religious have argued that it is god that put us in our places, that woman should have the role of staying in the home, taking care of the children and that man should have the responsibilities to provide financially.  Slowly this argument has been lost, more woman are empowered with education, employment, and even political power.

Tradition is the poorest excuse for continuing an atrocity.

As for the second of the logical fallacies, it is simply an ad hominem, attacking the personal character of those that disagree with your own opinion.  It neither proves a point, nor adds to the conversation, rather it distracts.

Words mean something, call it anything but marriage

This argument is based on the belief that if you call the union of two men marriage it somehow dilutes the marriage that is held between a man and a woman.

So two people who have children, family, maybe god, and community, who love each other and are devoted, willing to share their entire life, property, and finances along with all the thick and thin, in sickness and in health that is sure to entail, shouldn't be known as a marriage because it is between two people of the same gender.  Due to them not being married they also do not have protection in cases of inheritance, survivor benefits,  Social Security, Medicaid, and a plethora of other federal programs.  Also the inability to make medical decisions, especially ending life of their companion, and the often times heart wrenching despair towards the end of their spouses life when they are barred from entering a hospital room to see them.

Heterosexuals have been doing such an utterly horrid job with the institution of marriage, with the inability of keeping it sacred, whimsical split ups, cheating on each other, killing one or the other, or in any other means defiling it.  I believe that we can all agree that people aren't perfect, and maybe we shouldn't argue how heterosexuals haven't actually kept it sacred, but for some reason this is often brought up.  Stating this I sometimes wonder why would homosexuals want to join the band wagon that has become the train wreck of modern marriage.

A common adage, if it looks like a duck, it quakes like a duck, walks like a duck and flies like a duck, you should probably call it a duck.  If two people act like they are married, are devoted to each other as married people, love one another, seek to uphold whatever covenants they have made then why should it not be called a marriage?  Some say that they can just call it a civil union and be given the same rights as a marriage.  But why have two words that mean the same thing?  What is so special about the word marriage that it cannot be applied to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals?  We should not have to rewrite all of our laws to acknowledge civil unions as equal in status to that of marriages.

Marriage is an institution brought by religion

It may be brought up that marriage is a religious institution, some even believe that the government shouldn't have anything to do with marriage.  If we argue it from the point of view that it is purely a religious institution what stops me from making a religion whose institution of marriage is defined as that of one between two men or two woman, or, with a more open mind, between two individuals that profess love for each other?

If you continue to argue that your religion can have a copyright, trademark, or  some other exclusive control over the use of the word marriage, is it not the case that virtually every society that we have found has had some form of marriage?  From the Chinese who are a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, and other philosophies, to the Indians and other Hindus, or many of the tribes found here in North America and South America?  Did not the Romans also have marriage?  Was not Pilate married at the time of the trial of Jesus?  But they did not have Christianity.  From the beginning of society it would seem that marriage has been a social institution that has been delegated to religion, and later regulated by government.

Certainly we see in the Bible that even in the heathen nations there was marriage, why else would the Egyptians want to marry Abram's wife?  Claiming marriage as an institution of religion is ignoramus at best, and willfully missing the point at worst.  Should we keep it this way for the sake of tradition?  If we had not thrown off tradition we would still have slaves in the south, woman would be at home and not able to own property, but rather be property, and we would still have separate schools for blacks and whites.  Slavery was another institution brought on and justified by religion.  All the slave owners were religious, and it was men of good conscious who saw the hypocrisy in it that finally began to change this tradition.  True freedom began when one primate realized that he did not have to be controlled by another primate, that nothing gives them authority to do so.

The real news is not about 58% of people believing that gays should be allowed to marry, it should really be that there is still, sadly, 42% that don't.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Boy Scouts of America Ask For Opinions of Current Scouts

Today The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have sent out a survey to current Scouts asking their opinion of their consideration of changing their policy towards those who avow or are openly homosexual.  Included in part of this discussion is whether or not individual charters should be allowed to decide for themselves to continue upholding this discrimination policy.  In the letter sent with the survey it is asked to be responded to by April 4th, 2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I'm An Atheist, Now What?

Many who have come down the long, often times lonely, path to atheism are frequently faced with this question, "Now what?"  Sometimes there can feel both an exhilaration of the ultimate freedom while simultaneously showing signs of disorientation in ones life.    They may be coming from a very religious and structured background where they were completely engulfed by religion on all sides; from what to wear, eat, or drink to an overly abundant amount of activities or responsibilities.  Now may be the time when they are faced with a choice now of what to do with their life.

    Terry Goodkind in each of his epic novels in the series, "The Sword of Truth", spends the time making a point guarded around one of the Wizard's Rules.  In the book "Faith of the Fallen" he lists out the sixth rule:
"The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason."
    When you realize that there is nothing holding you back from doing anything that you want only then can you exercise full control of your life and not so whimsically outsource your sovereignty to some other feigned authority.  There is no man in the sky, or some other supernatural control of events that are going to keep you down.  Sometimes in life we experience things that are of no cause of our own but are just the choices of others being acted upon us.  In other words a lot of bad things that happen to us is just plain bad luck, nothing more.  Our solipsism would have us believe that there is something out to get us.

    One of the most unhelpful pieces of advice that may be proposed is that your life is yours, live it.  We can be like children in this universe.  When a child finds something unknown to them, such as a stick or a rock, they don't try to think of the purpose that such things have, but instead make one for it.  Many a childhoods summer has been passed by hitting rocks with sticks, is there less meaning in knowing that there is no real purpose for the rock nor the stick?  Our life can be the same, so what if there is no divine purpose in it, make one.  Make whatever you want of your life, live it as you see fit.  You no longer have the obligation to subjugate yourself, oppress others, pay homage, suppress your thoughts, abide to any dietary restrictions, or restrict who you sleep with nor in which position.

    Knowing all this should cause you to appreciate life all the more.  Knowing that your life is but a blink in the timescale of the universe.  Knowing that we are at an age where we can see into the past to the very beginning of the universe, something that may not be accomplished in the species of our posterity.  Think of how much of a true wonder it all is, and knowing that after this there is nothing, how can you squander it on things of no worth.  But even in this there is a fallacy, for what is of worth?  It is given to each of us to decide this on our own.

    Some would have you believe that if love has no meaning, if it is just a result of biological evolution, that somehow by being just a chemical reaction it is demeaned, unjustified, illogical, or fake.  Love is still what drives our species and ensures its survival.  Is a watch less marvelous once you understand its mechanics?  Is thunder less thrilling knowing it is merely a reaction of an exploding atmosphere?

    There are those who come down this path and become anti-theists, spending their time arguing with theists, Christopher Hitchens being among the most renowned of them.  It is a good cause, helping others realize the truth, and if it is something that you love doing, then do feel free to do it also.  Others just go about their lives, doing what they want, which in many respects would be exactly what the anti-theist is doing.  There are also many communities online for support of atheists.

    An atheist is not someone with no purpose, rather someone with limitless purposes at their choosing.  You are the boss of your own life and are in a very unique time in our universe.  Nothing is loss by an unbelief in deity or of the supernatural.  Life is not just to be lived, but to be enjoyed.