Archive for the ‘Random Commentary’ Category

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On God, the Universe and Everything

January 24, 2008

An Interesting Exchange Between Myself

and an Anti-Mormon Named Gerald Bostock

 

On Tue, 22 Jan 2008 16:28:18 -0800 (PST), Gerald Bostock

<gbostock@excite.com> wrote:

 

>The BoM is obviously a fiction (as are the rest of LDS scriptures).

>All the theology is irrelevant after that.

 

I’m not sure this follows logically. I agree that the Book of Mormon

is likely non-historical. The D&C is historical in the sense that all the

people and places mentioned in it are well attested to, and follow more

or less in well accepted chronological order.  In fact, in this sense,

it is probably the most historically well documented of all the worlds

scriptures.  The other various scriptures of Judaism, Christianity,

Islam and so forth fit somewhere between these two Mormon scriptures

in terms of external historical verifiability yet none of this makes

their theologies irrelevant.

 

From my point of view, Joseph Smith was a religious genius who solved

two major problems:

 

1) The problem of evil

2) A coherant explanation for the creation of humans and the Earth

 

I’m not sure that he’s right on either issue, but every reasonable and

well informed person, if they really know what he had to say, has to

take his theology seriously as possibilities. The fact that some of

his scriptures are likely unhistorical is what is irrelevant.

 

As I said, I reject the Book of Mormon. I also reject the New

Testament.  Neither one is really coherent logically

nor is either one historical (though the NT is slightly more likely

than the Book of Mormon in that a few – not many – of it’s external

details can be verified).  That said, Joseph Smith was a theological

force to be reckoned with.

 

It’s too bad for the Mormon Church that they cannot easily just dump

the Book of Mormon (and the Book of Abraham for that matter), and keep

the D&C. I think Mormon theology would be much more “marketable” that

way.

 

Moshe Akiva

 

On Tue, 22 Jan 2008 20:21:49 -0800 (PST), Gerald Bostock

<gbostock@excite.com> wrote:

 

 

>> From my point of view, Joseph Smith was a religious genius who solved

>> two major problems:

>>

>> 1) The problem of evil

>> 2) A coherant explanation for the creation of humans and the Earth

>

>Not at all, he doesn’t even address the issue of the Aristotalian

>Prime Mover, First Cause etc.

 

This is rather irrelevant in modern discourse since Aristotle (nor

Aquinas For that matter) does not really deal with infinite sets. He

just assumes that they are impossible in terms of cause and effect.

 

>>He seems to take the position that the

>universe always existed (which is impossible, an infinitely old

>universe would have died an entropy death)

 

Well _something_ always existed. There’s no question about that.

“Self existence” is a fact for both the theist and the atheist. It’s

just a question of what was self existing whether that be God,

“intelligences” or the primordial singularity (or whatever the  primordial

singularity came  from).

 

I don’t think that Mormonism precludes the Big-bang. Further, there

is no indication that the basic “intelligences” need follow the same

laws of physics we do. In fact, if the basic intelligences precede

the big-bang they would not since all agree that our laws of physics

were born in that event.

 

>and he doesn’t address the

>origin of the first of his gods.

 

You are more or less right on this. However, I read the Book of

Abraham to say that the “god” mentioned was simply the greatest of the

intelligences. This is later contradicted by the King Follet sermon

however. I think it is reasonable to believe that he ultimately would

have concluded that the first “gods” were simply those self-existent

intelligences who were “greatest” and started the ball rolling.

 

Please keep in mind that I’m not a Mormon and don’t believe any of

this literally. In actual practice, I lean toward process

philosophy/theology as formulated by Alfred North Whitehead and

Charles Hartshorne. I’m merely impressed that Jospeh Smith intuited a

form of process theology on his own without a theological education

(or any education at al for that matter).

 

Moshe

 

On Wed, 23 Jan 2008 08:04:52 -0800 (PST), Gerald Bostock

<gbostock@excite.com> wrote:

 

>> This is rather irrelevant in modern discourse since Aristotle (nor

>> Aquinas For that matter) does not really deal with infinte sets. He

>> just assumes that they are impossible in terms of cause and effect.

>

>We all have to assume that they are impossible in terms of cause and

>effect. That’s the rub.

 

No we don’t. You and I are talking past each other a bit. You are

primarily discussing physics with a philosophical twist and I am

primarily discussing philosophy with a physics twist. However, I’m

game either way.

 

Here is the problem using entropy to establish the cosmological

argument (Aristotle, Aquinas et al): It depends on “our” time and

therefore is a byproduct of post big-bang physics. Entropy “picks” a

direction in time. Without time, there is no entropy.

Pre-big bang physics depend on utterly un-established principles of

time, cause and effect (If, in fact, there are causes and effects pre

big bang). Hawking, for example, said that talking about “before” the

big-bang or the “cause” of the big bang is, from a physics point of

view, like asking what is north of the north pole. It’s the reference

point that establishes our basic principles such as time.

 

While entropy would be an issue in the post-big bang period, it’s

irrelevant to the pre-big bang period and any periods that may or may

not have proceeded that.

 

Get it?

 

>> Well _something_ always existed.

>

>No. Nothing can be infinite according to thermodynamics. Anything

>infinite would have died an entropy death. I was about to get into a

>physics lesson here but realized I don’t have the time. You should be

>able to do your own research on what entropy death means.

 

No. The singularity is a”thing” regardless of what entropy “says.”

Entropy is simply not relevant to this question. The question precedes

entropy.

 

>There’s the problem with the science which says that something can’t

>come from nothing, but in the origin something must have come from

>nothing.

 

Yes? And that is??

 

> You’re arguing that there must have been something that was

>eternal.

 

Not necessarily unless a pre-big bang, pre-entropy, cause and effect

process is regarded as a “thing” unto itself. That said, the

singularity is a “thing.” I’m not, BTW, arguing “for” anything except

possibilities.

 

>Nothing can be eternal.

 

Not impressed. Again, you are forgetting the whole issue of the

singularity or whatever may or may not have existed in some time

scheme and may or may not have existed prior to the big bang.

 

>Aristotle was the first guy we know

>of that said there must have been something that got it all started.

 

Yes but without any authority whatsoever. He doesn’t even argue for

this position. He merely assumes it.

 

>There’s no simple answer to any of this.

 

Agreed. There may be NO answer for us living, as we do in four

dimensions (one of which is “our” time). There is, however,

logically possible and logically impossible. You said certain things

were impossible and I don’t think you have made your case.

 

>> I don’t think that Mormonism precludes the Big-bang.

>

>I think the law of eternal progression precludes it.

 

How so? Do Mormons purport to know the physics and dimensions that

govern intelligences and Gods? I’m not sure they do…

 

> Further, there

>> is no indication that the basic “intelligences” need follow the same

>> laws of physics we do. In fact, if the basic intelligences preceed

>> the big-bang they would not since all gree that our laws of physics

>> were born in that event.

>

>I don’t think that all agree. If the intelligences precede the big

>bang then what is their origin?

 

Possibly they are self-existent pre-entropy extra-dimensional entities. If

they were you would have no way of proving nor disproving their

existence.

 

This is, for example, why string theory is so frustrating. The math

to unify all fields works out perfectly… But it required 11

dimensions. There is no way that we, as four dimensional beings can

prove or disprove their existence.

 

>> You are more or less right on this. However, I read the Book of

>> Abraham to say that the “god” mentioned was simply the greatest of the

>> intelligences. This is later contradicted by the King Follet sermon

>> however.

>

>Mormonism is full of contradictions. That’s how we know JSjr (and BY,

>et al.) was making it up as he went along.

 

Probably they were! However, I simply think that JS was intuiting

things beyond the typical con man.

 

To a certain degree I see all the great charismatic prophets of all

the world religions as “con men” or “psychos.I mean, to some degree you

would have to be to reject the socially constructed reality you were

raised with and that which your senses are a feeding you. Thus, I’m

not surprised when religions are internally self-contradictory. I

can’t think of one that isn’t. That does not preclude these folks

from producing interesting and creative ideas that deserve a second

look.

 

That’s the way I feel about, for example, Buddhism as well as

Mormonism. I’m neither Buddhist nor Mormon but I feel that they

contribute something to the great philosophical a religious discussion

we are all having across space and time.

 

> I think it is reasonable to belive that he ultimately would

>> have concluded that the first “gods” were simply those self-existent

>> intelligences who were “greatest” and started the ball rolling.

>

>There’s no telling what he would have “concluded” since he was making

>it up as he went along.

 

I only say that because the roots are there in the Book of Abraham and

I don’t think he really got to the problem. He died while his ideas

were still forming. But you are right. There’s “no telling.”

 

>> Please keep in mind that I’m not a Mormon and don’t believe any of

>> this literally. In actual practice, I lean toward process

>> philosophy/theology as formulated by Alfred North Whitehead and

>> Charles Hartshorne. I’m merely impressed that Jospeh Smith intuited a

>> form of process theology on his own without a theological education

>> (or any education at al for that matter).

>

>I think a lot of people had similar ideas before JSjr and will again

>without knowing about him. I’m not impressed with those who think this

>stuff up.

 

However, Whitehead and Heartshorne are not merely”a lot of people”

they are both great philosophers. Whitehead was also a great

mathematician who, along with Bertrand Russell, wrote “Principia

Mathematica” which establish modern post-Aristotelian formal logic as

well as set theory in mathematics.*

 

Moshe

 

*Not to be confused with Newton’s “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.”

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Torah Scroll Saved from Desecration in Provo

January 23, 2008

After a difficult journey, one of Judaism’s holiest objects finds a home

By Jessica Ravitz

Earlier this year, Rabbi Benny Zippel strolled into a Provo store on a rescue mission.  He’d gotten word about a Torah scroll, Judaism’s holiest object, that was in the hands of an antiques dealer. He needed to check it out himself.

Sofer
“I went to see it and became horrified when I found out that the Scroll [sic], originally from Holocaust-ridden Europe, was getting cut up in single columns, framed and then sold to individual collectors in the area,” the rabbi wrote in a recent statement. That treatment, he described in a phone call, proved “the ultimate sign of desecration.”


Evoking a commandment he called pidyon
Shvuyim, or redeeming captives, Zippel offered on the spot to buy what was there. A Torah scroll, which contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, is considered a living document by the most observant of Jews. This one, he thought, needed saving.


About nine months later, in a Thursday evening dedication ceremony at Chabad Lubavitch of
Utah, the ultra-Orthodox organization Zippel heads, the restored scroll was reborn.


From
Poland to Provo


Seventy-six-year-old Alvin Segelman of
Orem tipped off Zippel. About a year ago, the retired Rutgers University professor went to visit Brent Ashworth, an attorney who, for 46 years, has been collecting rare books, manuscripts and art. While he was poking around Ashworth’s store, something caught Segelman’s eye.


“I noticed, hanging on his wall, what to me was obviously part of a Torah scroll. It struck my attention because the damn thing was hanging upside-down,” Segelman recalled with a laugh. “I said, ‘Where the hell did you get this thing?’ ”


Ashworth, who counts among his collectibles a first edition King James Bible from 1611, had been in the market for old Torah scrolls. He’d purchased a fragment from a 500-year-old Moroccan deerskin scroll from a
Jerusalem dealer. And along with the piece framed on the wall, he had bought a larger section that is from Eastern Europe and believed to have predated the Holocaust. That one spoke to Segelman, who says Nazis killed 67 of his relatives.


“I said to Brent, ‘I think perhaps someone else should look at this thing.’ “


Purchasing what Ashworth had was a no-brainer for Zippel, who spoke of the Nazis’ efforts to destroy all things Jewish. On the back of Ashworth’s scroll section – which included part of the book of Exodus, all of Leviticus and part of Numbers, or about one-third of an entire Torah scroll – was a handwritten message, indicating it had belonged to a man in Poland, Zippel said. The rabbi told the store owner it belonged in a Jewish sanctuary.


Ashworth agreed and sold the scroll portion to the rabbi for half of what he’d initially paid.


To be clear and fair, Ashworth had never taken scissors to the sacred item. Zippel knows this. But the guy Ashworth got it from three or four years ago did. Enter Jim Young, owner of
Provo‘s Brigham Book & Copy, whom Zippel called on next.
Young had framed cut pieces of the scroll that he intended to sell. Zippel purchased what Young still had and said he’ll likely bury those pieces in a Jewish cemetery, a practice observed when sacred text is damaged beyond repair.
Although he repeatedly hung up on a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, Young admitted he “cut a couple pieces” and said he got the scroll from Reid Moon, “a Bible guy and Torah guy in
Texas.”


From Turkey (or Turkow) to Texas


Moon, owner of Moon’s LDS Bookstore and the Antiquarian Bible Shoppe in north Dallas, has been working with religious books and antiquities for about 20 years. He said he remembered this scroll well because he bought it from a
New York dealer, whose name he couldn’t remember, the week before 9/11. When he made the purchase, the scroll was in six separate sections. Moon said he knew it was incomplete and therefore not kosher for use. Its history was unknown to him, until a Holocaust survivor came in one day and noticed Hebrew writing on the back of the scroll. The writing, she told Moon, was the signature of a Torah scribe, or sofer, and beside it was the name of the country where it originated: Turkey. At least this is what he remembered hearing.


That section never made it to
Utah. Young only purchased one section, in early 2002, Moon said. Selling sections or fragments is nothing unusual, he added. A quick search on eBay earlier this week showed about 50 Torah scroll fragments being hawked to would-be Web buyers.
Rabbi Moshe Klein, a fourth-generation sofer living in Brooklyn who became Zippel’s contact in restoring Utah’s newest Torah, knows his scrolls and was unruffled by the Turkey suggestion. Based on its style of writing, he has no doubt this original full Torah scroll came from
Poland about 90 years ago. He speculated that perhaps it had been commissioned by someone living in Turkey. When a portion, even a letter, of a Torah scroll is damaged, a sofer is tasked to fix it. Perhaps a piece of parchment had been repaired in Turkey.
More likely, he said the scribe was from Turkow, in
Poland. The spelling of this town and Turkey, in Hebrew, only differs by one letter.
So what happened to the five sections Moon still had? He said he wrapped them around wooden staves, dressed them with a Torah covering, and used it when he spoke in Dallas-area schools about the origins of the Bible. At least, this is what he did until Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum caught wind of it.


The Orthodox rabbi of
Dallas‘ Congregation Ohr HaTorah reacted much as Utah‘s Zippel did when he learned about this scroll two summers ago.


“My feeling was at one point it had been a complete scroll, the property of the Jewish community,” he said. “It somehow ended up outside the Jewish community, and we needed to bring it back.”


Though he hasn’t done it yet, Feigenbaum plans to hire a sofer to make his five sections part of a complete scroll. He was shocked to learn that any portion had made its way to
Utah and said he wished Moon, who at the time didn’t seem to understand the scroll was incomplete, had told him as much.


“If what you’re telling me is the truth, I feel I was lied to,” he said. “I kind of thought it was a finished story, and now you’re telling me a lot more I didn’t know about.”


From one
Zion to another


The story, at least for
Utah‘s portion of the original scroll, is now complete. Thanks to a $36,000 gift from Utah real estate developer, former U.S. Ambassador and Jewish philanthropist John Price and his family foundation, Zippel said the scroll has been redeemed, made whole and kosher again. Not without additional obstacles, though.


A sofer in
Jerusalem had been enlisted, by Klein in Brooklyn, to write that which was missing. But a man traveling by taxi across Jerusalem with the newly completed portion (two-thirds of Zippel’s new Torah), as well as other scrolls, somehow left Utah‘s piece behind. It was lost in transit, the Jerusalem sofer had to start over, and the originally planned November dedication had to be scrapped. And the man hired to create the ornate wooden staves around which the scroll is wrapped suffered a stroke before fininshing the job.


Klein, who often sends scrolls by UPS, wouldn’t take any more chances on this one. He flew out of
New York Wednesday night not just to participate in Thursday’s ceremony but because he would only hand deliver it.


“I have to schlep it around,” he said by phone the day before his flight, which ended up taking 17 hours. “It’s not leaving my sight for one second.”


Now, with its final letters written amid ceremony, the scroll, one that has been through so much, can finally rest.
“All things that come your way difficult,” Zippel said, “are a sign from above that they’re definitely meant to be.”

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Happy Hanukkah Everyone!

December 5, 2007

Happy Hanukka!

Almost 1300 years ago, the evil Greek king Antiochus Epiphanese placed a statue of himself as the god Zeus in the temple at Jerusalem. Furthermore, in a effort to stamp out Judaism, He banned circumcision and sent soldiers to force Jews to sacrifice pigs to small versions of the idol. One family led by Yahuda Makavi (Judah Maccabee or “Judah the Hammer”), became the rallying point for an insurgency that pushed the Greeks out of Israel and reclaimed the Temple. The story goes that when the temple was reclaimed, the Greeks defiled all the vials of Holly oil for the menorah but one. It took seven days of to make new oil to the exacting standards of the Torah. With faith, the Aaronic priesthood went ahead and lit the Menorah which “miraculously” burned for eight days, rather than one, until more oil could be prepared. That is why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days with candle lighting.

This story does not appear in our Bible. The Holiday is not mentioned in it either. It does appear in yours however…

John 10:22-23 22 And [Jesus] was at Jerusalem [for] the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch…

Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and refers to the re-dedication of the temple. Hanukkah is the feast of dedication that Jesus was celebrating at the temple. Note what he was NOT celebrating…

His Birthday! :-)

So when you ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” Well… Jesus would celebrate Hanukkah!

And you can too!

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Utah Boy Makes Good (In Defense of Jews)

December 1, 2007

Anti-Semitism: Diagnose, then attack

By Bernard Harrison

E. E. Erickson Professor of philosophy, University of Utah

There must be agreement on what constitutes anti-Semitism then it must be attacked head-on, author and professor Bernard Harrison writes:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during his recent visit to Washington, stated in widely reported remarks that the resurgence of anti-Semitic propaganda and associated violence around the world should not be minimized or explained away, but attacked head-on.
Addressing the American Jewish Committee, Sarkozy recalled being aghast to hear a Gaullist minister dismissing recent anti-Semitic violence in France with the throw-away line, “Yes, there are synagogues burning, but there are also cars burning.”

Fighting anti-Semitism, Sarkozy said, involves agreement on what constitutes it.

“We cannot fight against what is denied,” he said. “Unless you agree on a diagnosis, you cannot find the remedy.”

Unfortunately, during the past six years, agreement on what counts as anti-Semitism has not proved easy to achieve. Since Sept. 11, 2001, a large body of opinion in Europe and America — mainly, but not exclusively, in the universities, the media and the arts — has been talking as if the existence of Israel represented the sole cause of conflict between Islamists and the West.

Such talk has two great attractions. On the one hand it appeals to those who in any conflict between an “us” and a “them” tend to take the side of “them.” Israel is both a western-style democracy, profoundly liberal in its laws, economy and institutions, and the chief ally of the United States in the region. Representing Israel as the sole cause of the conflict offers a way of exonerating “them.”

By seeing the conflict as primarily “our” fault, the fault becomes that of the West, the fault of America.

But the attraction of blaming Israel does not end there. It offers, at the very moment when its promoters feel themselves most burdened by the guilt of the West toward the Other, a way of freeing them from that very guilt. They simply load it on to the shoulders of a second Other — namely, the Jews.

The Jews, after all, are the Other immemorially chosen for scapegoat status, if not by God then by western culture. Equally they are an Other far less terrifying than the Other we confront at the ruins of the Twin Towers. We need not worry that they will respond to gratuitous defamation with riots or explosions in public places. They never have and never will. But their main advantage is that by blaming them, we regain the ability to believe in our own purity of heart and motive.

Citizens of decadent western nations we may be, but that does not mean we need take any personal responsibility for the wicked ways of the West. That responsibility rests solely with the Jews and with George W. Bush, their puppet in the Oval Office.

Yes, I am being ironic. But in putting things this way I only marginally parody a certain line of talk increasingly heard since 9/11. It is worrying when it comes from the extreme right. Coming, as it tends to do at present, from large sections of the self-styled liberal elite it is terrifying, not merely to Jews but to democrats and anti-fascists of all religions and shades of opinion.

Plenty of Jews, and others, have protested against the current climate of demonization not merely of Israel, but also of the large majority of Jews and others who support Israel.

But furious denial is the usual response to any suggestion that there is anything anti-Semitic either about grotesquely hyperbolic defamation of Israel (“a Nazi state,” “the apartheid wall”), or about attacks on the “Israel lobby” that patently revive and reanimate the hoary myth of Jewish conspiracy.

Denial is buttressed by the claim that these accusations of anti-Semitism are themselves evidence of a Jewish conspiracy to silence critics of Israel and close down debate on the Middle East. That charge, of course, reanimates another traditional anti-Semitic theme — that of the Jew who whines about his sufferings less because he is really injured than because he hopes to draw some hidden advantage from complaining.

That, however, is beside the point. The point, as ever in the diagnosis of prejudice, concerns not disrespect but truth. How, in reality, could accusations of anti-Semitism hope to stem the tide of defamation now running so strongly, let alone “close down debate”?

What factual basis, if any, supports accusations that Israel is a “Nazi state” or that Israelis are planning — or executing — a Nazi-style genocide against Palestinians?

Anti-Semitism, like any other form of prejudice, cannot breathe the air of truth. It thrives on luridly colored falsehood. That is where we need to begin the diagnosis for which President Sarkozy has issued such a timely call.

(Bernard Harrison, emeritus E.E. Ericksen Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah, is the author of “Israel, Anti-Semitism and Free Speech” published by the American Jewish Committee. He also has taught philosophy at the University of Sussex.)

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Liberal Mormons: A Critique and an Invitation

November 15, 2007

[NOTE: the following essay is directed to my liberal Mormon friends. If you are happily a part of your ward, have a burning testimony and wholeheartedly sustain the brethren, more power to you. This essay is not for you.

NOTE 2: The blog has been rather quiet lately. This is due to the fact that I occasionally embark on a lengthy essay that I really don’t have time to write. The following is such and essay. It is rough and really unfinished. However, I’ve come to realize that I will never post it unless abandon any pretense of perfection I might have. I hope you still find my observations interesting]

It would be fair to say that most of my Mormon friends are of the “liberal” variety. That is to say that they are readers of Sunstone and Dialogue. They read critical academic books on Mormon history. They don’t buy everything they hear in church. At a deeper level, they seem to harbor a bitter sense of betrayal by the institutional church and hierarchy. Many still attend church and fulfill their callings. Some pay tithing and have temple recommends. Yet essentially all seem to have this under riding pain and sense of resentment.

This sense of betrayal is, I think, much deeper than those who cease to fully believe in mainstream forms of liberal Christianity and far less than those who cease to believe in the truth claims of Judaism. It may be similar to the betrayal that fundamentalist Christians experience when they realize that the Bible is not perfect, but I doubt it.

To a certain degree, this is probably a reaction to what I would regard as a corporate entity attempting to control what is supposed to be a spiritual movement. That the LDS church owns many profit making businesses has never troubled me particularly. My religion traditionally controlled (and arguably still controls) and entire country as part of it’s identity. Judaism, like Mormonism, teaches the essential interconnectedness of the spiritual and the temporal. However, the LDS church in terms of its organization, “marketing,” pattern of decision making and the “look and feel” of everything from it’s skyscraper HQ to it’s branded, franchised chapels, is the epitome of a modern American corporate entity.

In most other religions, the leadership has a professional training in, primarily, religion. The study of religion, in my experience, generally attracts people with a liberal arts orientation. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to promote people with legal and/or business experience. To my mind, it is completely natural that such people would, with the best of intentions, create a church with a corporate model. It absolutely amazes me when Mormons tell me that the church has no paid ministry. While that is (today) somewhat true at the local level, it is obviously not true at world level. After all, someone is filling all those offices at 47 south temple and I assure you that those in the Auditing Department, the Budget Office, Correlation Department, Ordinance Procedures Division, the Ordinance Recording Systems Division, and the Audiovisual Services Division, Historical Department, Real Estate Division, Materials Management Department, Treasury Services, Controller, Tax Administration, Risk Management and, finally, Investments Departments definitely are paid salaries.*

It is then, not really surprising when an institution based on a corporate model behaves as a corporation does. That is to say, it tends to exert centralized control over it’s image by everything from dictating the font and material composition of it’s signage to controlling the presentation of it’s history. Like a corporation, it naturally values it’s general corporate identity and message over any of it’s particular members (or should I say, “employees.” Make no mistake about it, in this metaphor, the members are the employees. Perhaps most are really interns, who pay for the privilege of working. It’s the potential converts who are the customers, if anyone is). It is very easy for a corporation to sacrifice even large portions of its staff, even staff with valuable skills, if it is in its corporate best interest to do so. This is precisely the way the modern LDS church behaves and no one should be surprised by it.

If you are a “Sunstone” or “Dialogue” Mormon, you should, in my opinion, simply accept that the church does not want you. Oh, if you do not make much fuss in public and continue to pay your tithing, they will let you hang around (sort of like an intern who has paid her tuition but really isn’t working out). If you make a fuss, however, especially one that has the potential to disturb the corporate image, you will be out the door. Even if your removal creates a temporary media glitch, as did the excommunication of the September six did, still, the benefits to the long run corporate image (as well as to the morale of the employees) outweigh the costs.

While this is, to me, clearly tragic given the radical, freedom-centered, human-focused nature of Mormon theology, it’s just the way it is and you, I advise, should accept it and leave. You will not change the church by protests or symposia. It will never be changed unless the mistreated employees, the church members, transform themselves into dissatisfied customers and vote with their feet.

There are a couple of forces weighing against this movement however. One is the deep identification with Mormon history and peoplehood that many liberal Mormons have. The other is rooted in what I regard as somewhat flawed theological defense mechanism that some liberal Mormons flock to, what I call “hyper-Christianization.”

This is, I suppose, why this is a specifically “Jewish” critique of liberal Mormonism.

Though I personally see quite a number of problems with this approach, I can also understand why it might be appealing to liberal Mormons. The narrative that I hear from such disaffected former LDS insiders as Paul Toscano and Grant Palmer goes something like this: Jesus was a radical reformer who preached a liberalizing gospel of spirit and love against a powerful bureaucracy who not only misunderstood him (because they were looking for a “warrior messiah” they missed his ‘Spiritual message”), this evil bureaucracy actually killed him. Yet he defeated death and reigns forever in love. The subtext here is, I believe the identification of individual dissident with Jesus and the Sanhedrin and Roman authority with the LDS hierarchy. I’ve never heard anyone except Paul Toscano actually say this, but time and time again it has been the implication.

The only problem with it is that it is not true (to paraphrase Brigham Young, quoting Joseph Smith). Though Jesus says things like “Love you neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” from time to time, most are unaware that these lines are stolen from the “evil authority” he is allegedly resisting. “Love your neighbor” is a quotation of Leviticus 19:18 and the golden rule is a modified quotation of the Rabbi Hillel who lived roughly 40 years before Jesus. Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34).

So much for universal love…


Further then that, Liberal Mormons who “hyper-Christianize” are really trading one questionable history for another. Recent works such as Randel Helms “Gospel Fictions,” and “Who wrote the Gospels” as well as
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew,

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman to name only a few of the most popular of hundreds of scholarly and semi scholarly works, aptly demonstrate the historical, chronological and even geographic problems with the New Testament stories of Jesus.

This is not to say the Jews don’t have problems with the Hebrew Bible or Talmud. Clearly we do. I would say that they are not as severe as those that plague the New Testament, particularly at the level of textual integrity… if one confines oneself to the past couple of thousand years or so. However, the point is that if one trades one set of historical problems for another set, one should be aware and acknowledge it.

All that said, if one is really set on approaching one’s issues with the LDS hierarchy with what I’m calling the “hyper-Christianized” approach, yet remain loyal to the essential ideas of the restoration, that is, Joseph Smith and the uniquely Mormon scriptures, an option does exit. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a.k.a. the “Community of Christ” has essentially adopted the approach of dealing with it’s unique history (In addition to questioning the historicity of the Book of Mormon and so forth, its scholars now admit the RLDS church was wrong about Joseph’s polygamy, the temple and his views on God) by a sort of “institutional hyper-Christianization.” From where I sit, the Community of Christ today is basically liberal Methodism with Joseph Smith, the priesthood and a temple. If one feels a tinge of nostalgia for polygamy (without condoning it or wanting to practice it one’s self, of course) the convert to the Community of Christ can take solace in the fact that his church is now the one with institutionally recognized polygamists while the Utah LDS church has an absolute prohibition. In a twist of fate, the (church formerly known as the) RLDS church accepts polygamists, mainly in Africa, as candidates for baptism without an abandonment of their wives, while the LDS church does not. Ahhh, cruel irony!

On the other hand, there is another sort of disaffected Mormon. This sort has the same discomfort with the corporate nature of the current hierarchy but is aware of and longs for another sort of Mormonism, that of the 19th century. At first blush, the Mormon who longs for a radical theology, the gathering, informal familial solidarity, a united order and the creative intellectual, yet revelatory, approach to religious texts that characterize 19th century Mormonism has few options. One could join one of the polygamist cults such as the FLDS church or the Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times, but that would entail trading one crushing hierarchy for another, albeit a far less corporate one.

In my experience, most Liberal Mormons who are attracted to the 19th century do not really want to live in a theocracy or practice polygamy. (Those who do, are not really “liberal” per se and they do, in fact, likely gravitate toward polygamy).  In my experience, the liberal Mormons with 19th century orientation are attracted to the radical spirit of 19th century Mormonism but wish the freedom to research, debate and practice what they will.

For such people there is, in my opinion, an attractive option available, Judaism. Mark it now, because this is the only invitation to become Jewish that you will probably ever get. Jews do believe that we have a mission to perfect the world but not through converting people to Judaism. From the Jewish theological point of view, it is not necessary that any non-Jew ever convert. Following the 613 commandments (which for Mormons would be a reduction in total number – an LDS friend of mine counted over 1200 “commandments” in one conference edition of the Ensign years ago) are not an expectations the Jews believe God expects of everyone. To a greater or lesser degree, we believe that our practice of actually following them, sort of “jump-starts” an infusion of holiness that blesses the whole world. Thus, from the Jewish point of view, there’s really no reason for non-Jews to accept them.

However, Judaism also recognizes that there are some people who would be a good fit and, since the time of Ruth, has accepted the motivated convert. From my point of view, disaffected “19th century” Mormons would make a good fit.

Why do I say that? Well, from my point of view (which I came to independently but with which, Jan Shipps, noted scholar of Mormonism agrees), Jospeh Smith “restored” three things:

1) The “restoration” of the church of Jesus Christ – This “Restoration, though not literally restoring anything since the academic consensus is that there was no “original church” to restore, represents only the earliest phase of the Mormon Movement (Roughly the New York and early Kirtland periods) and today is basically represented by the RLDS/Community of Christ Church.

2) The “Restoration” of Israel – Of course Israel did not need “restoring” per se because we never left. Yet there is no doubt that Joseph Smith did introduce much of what is unique about Judaism, both is its biblical and modern forms into his movement. To me, it is this “restoration” that is represented by the Utah LDS church. Themes of ancient Israel predominate in the LDS church from the late Kirtland period through at least the early 1980’s (though there has been, lately, a new emphasis on Christian themes in recent LDS discourse)

3) The “restoration” of “All things.” Shipps includes such things as the temple, polygamy and even the potential reintroduction of animal sacrifice alluded to the in the LDS scriptures as part of this category. To me, these items really are part of category one since they are to a degree part of ancient (and technically modern) Judaism. What I would include in this category are the Unique LDS views of God as a man (or at least anthropomorphic in form) and as merely the highest or greatest God among many potentials, though clearly the only one really worthy of worship by Israelites. These views are represented in the Hebrew Bible and to a limited degree in Jewish literature up to the middle ages. Therefore they are a peripheral part of the Jewish tradition. But they really rely on a pre-Jewish, patriarchal narrative that was almost lost within Judaism. Therefore, to me, they go beyond a restoration of Israel and lean toward a “restoration” or rather Americanization and amplification of the patriarchal religion. Still, they are things that at least this Jew can work with.

A liberal Mormon who emphasizes what I’m calling “Hyper-Christianity” or takes my “invitation” to join the RLDS (oopps, “Community of Christ”) really abandons the full flavor of Mormonism and much that makes it interesting. That is, they only get item one “The restoration of the church.” On the other hand, a liberal Mormon gets to access items two and three within Judaism, at least to the degree that Modern Mormons do and them some. In all honestly, it’s really items two and three that 19th century Mormonism (and in terms of de-emphasizing Jesus, even 20th century Mormonism, up until the 1980’s) emphasized. It’s items two and three, Israel and the patriarchs that Judaism emphasizes today.

That this is so, is illustrated by the large number of Mormon Hymns that Jews could sing without or almost without modification. When I heard one or two that sounded “Jewish” I started investigating the church web site and came up with:

  1. Hope of Israel
  2. Israel Israel God is Calling
  3. Redeemer of Israel (Jews use the term “redeemer” to refer to God)
  4. Ye Elders of Israel
  5. Zion Stands with Hills Surrounded


[These are the specifically “Jewish” songs, not merely those what could be sung by all good people, Mormons or not, such as “Say what is truth.” If you can think of any more, please let me know. I’m sort of collecting these.]

I taught “Hope of Israel” to a friend of mine who is a commander in the Israel Defense Forces and has seen battle a number of times. He absolutely loved it! I taught “Israel Israel God is Calling” to another friend who works for “Arza,” an organization that works to encourage American Jews to “make Alyiah,” that is, to gather in Israel. She loved it as well! Indeed I would argue that these uniquely Mormon hymns (as well as “Zion stands” make more sense to modern Jews than to Modern Mormons.

Why is this possible?

Simply because many of the characteristic elements of 19th century Mormonism from the “restoration of Israel” and the restoration of “all things” have been muted or rejected by the modern LDS church but retained in Judaism. For example, the two hymns I taught to my Jewish friends are about Zion’s army and about the “gathering to Zion.” Mormonism no longer has an army nor does it encourage gathering. Judaism, modern Zion, does have an Army, the IDF. We do have a a homeland in Zion, Israel, and we are gathering. And the beauty is, if you are an American Jew, there is little real pressure to serve in the former or move to the latter. You can partake of the “flavor” without the hassle!

There are other areas in which a Mormon, especially with a 19th century orientation, would feel more at home in Judaism than among the RLDS/Community of Christ. Jews and Mormons share both a technical belief in and acceptance of polygamy. Both also share a practical ban designed to keep those pesky Christians happy. Both have isolated groups of adherents who still indulge in the practice.

As 19th century Mormons and 20th century Mormon Fundamentalists attest, polygamy is accepted by the Bible and commanded under certain circumstances. In Judaism, the specific command occurs only when one is married and one’s also married brother dies childless. One is commanded to marry his brother’s wife. The children of this marriage are legally the brother’s and inherit his goods. However, polygamy in all other cases was optional. Jews in Europe continued to solemnize polygamous marriages until the year 1006 when, under Christian pressure, Rabbi Gershom, the de facto head of the the European Jewish communities issued a 1000 year “manifesto” banning the practice to save the community. This ban expired a year ago March and at that time, there were quite a number of polygamy jokes going around the educated Jewish community! Middle Eastern Jews had no such ban however and continued to practice polygamy right up until they made aliyah to Israel, the secular government of which, banned the practice as a matter of state law. Isolated groups of Jews in the middle east, particularly in Tunisia and Yemen still practice it…Sort of our “Short Creek.”

The fact that today Jewish law permits polygamy (the “ban” having expired but not renewed) yet almost no one, other than a snickering jokester on occasion, is clamoring for it back is yet another similarity, but this time between Jews and modern Mormons. If polygamy were suddenly permitted under US law as, for example, the by product of a supreme court decision on gay marriage, I’m almost sure that the official LDS church would firmly maintain it’s current prohibition. Why? Because, nostalgia aside, like most modern Jews, Modern Mormons think it is kind of “icky.”

Finally the great added benefit for liberal Mormon of converting to Judaism is that there is NO universal hierarchy to get in your way. No one can authoritatively expel you from your people and heritage. If you develop issues in one synagogue, you may simply move to another one more to you liking.

I realize that the idea of modern revelation is attractive. However, there seems to be precious little. Gordon Hinkley, though a nice old gentleman (I’ve met him), admitted on Larry King that “no one knows the future” and in a previous interview that he simply prays about issues and waits for a “still small voice.” This is certainly not prohibited in Judaism.

The bottom line is that in Judaism you will still have a magnifying filter through which to view the world and a people who will be a family to you wherever you may be or may roam. You will still have Zion to strive for. What you will not have is a corporate hierarchy that desires to control the minutia of your life and threatens to destroy your family and community relationships if you object.

*Coleman, Neil K. “A Study of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an Administrative System, Its Structure and Maintenance.” Ph.D. diss., New York University

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Are you sure you want to be Christians?

September 24, 2007

 Part 1: First Reaction to Jan Shipps talk, “No Mormon Church? – What’s Going on Here?” …a “Sunstone Classics” podcast.

I know that I said I would post some detail on Yom Kippur that would be of interest to Mormons, but it’s going to take a lot of background info, some of which I started writing today, before most LDS folks will make sense of what I want to explain. Today I started writing a piece comparing the Mormon and Jewish conceptions of Aaronic priesthood, for example. However, on my way home I started listening to a piece from “Sunstone classic podcasts” from Jan Shipps entitled, “No Mormon Church – What’s Going on Here?” It deals with the then (2001) church directive that it no longer wants to be referred to as the “Mormon Church” and would prefer the appellation “The Church of Jesus Christ” as a contraction if one is necessary.

Shipps asserts that this serves the duel functions of placing Mormonism squarely in the realm of (somewhat eccentric) protestant movements like Mennonites and Quakers (Which she calls “perhaps, marketing”) and as a proclamation to the world that it is THE legitimate church of Jesus on the earth. That is to say, it simultaneously places it withing the national mainstream yet makes an exclusive claim.

OK, so I’m a Jew and therefore being thought of as “truly Christian” is no big advantage. To me it’s just “ho-hum, yet another one.” But really, is it to your advantage to be thought of that way??

I wonder…

From the outside, it looks like the LDS church (excuse me, “The Church of Jesus Christ”) has a bit of “Stockholm Syndrome.” That is to say, you have started to identify with your persecutors. There is no question that Mormonism in it’s very early period sought to be a restored New Testament church and emphasized Jesus. However, speaking as an informed outsider with no stake in you being Christians or not, it seems that Joseph Smith dropped that line pretty quickly and, if anything, wanted to become a restored kingdom of Israel. Most of the doctrinal innovations and political moves relate to the Hebrew Bible (aka “Old Testament”).

I’ll go into that more later, but from here, it seems pretty obvious. Jesus as a theological figure, is rarely a serious issue in Mormon writing until the 1980′s! Even “Jesus the Christ” is mostly about his life as an example. It reads like any of the other “lives of the prophets” genre. When the atonement was mentioned, it was almost exclusively in discussing the need to overcome death. Personal sins were repaired through repentance and “eternal man” could make “progress” toward fulfilling his destiny as a perfected being in the Celestial Kingdom. Yes, you had the sacrament every week. But wasn’t it a quick run-through to get on to talk after talk about anything but Jesus? Honestly, did you feel “Christian” back in the day?

But those pesky Evangelicals have hammered you for years. I personally find their critiques to be generally rather unsophisticated. The run the gambit from insipid to abysmal to (only recently) “superficially sophisticated yet still wanting.” As an intellectual exercise in the mid 90′s, I actively argued against Evangelical critiques of Mormonism on the Usenet list alt.religion.mormon. Their positions were easy to critique. Yet is seems that year after year more and more Mormons want to become like them? You seem desperate to be accepted by them (yet at the same time, criticizing them as apostate).

You have really truly beautiful, not to mention intellectually, sophisticated theology within the unique Mormon canon. Yes, you have some issues to resolve, but no more than they do. Yet it seems like the Mormons have come to identify with their persecutors. They are not your friends.

Honestly, why do you care so much what they think of you?

Sincerely, I want to know?

Moshe Akiva

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A Couple of Interesting Posts

September 19, 2007

I recently came across a couple of excellent posts on the Mormon Blog, “Times and Seasons” that might be of interest to Two-Sticks readers. Both are from the LDS perspective and both are overwhelming positive toward Jews and Mormon-Jewish relations. Particularly interesting are the comments.

Hopefully we can address most or all of the issues raised in these posts.

The first post, Jews and Mormons” looks at the relationship from the point of view of Mormons who seem to have a natural affinity with Jews. In the post, the author, a Mormon, seems to have his good will return by the Jews he has met. Some of the those commenting though, seem to wonder if the affinity is reciprocated.

I would say “yes,” “no” and then “yes” in that order. Many Jews enjoy a stimulating intellectual conversation and might find affinity with a fellow religious or cultural “outsider” but will be wary of conversations that revolve around religion. Most Jews have little knowledge of Mormonism, let alone Mormonisms penchant for “Israelisms.” Further, many Jews, though enjoying Jewish holidays and having a great sense of “peoplehood” with other Jews, are not “theological” and are simply not interested in conversation about religion.

Secondly, almost all Jews see attempts at proselyting not as a loving offer of a precious gift but as an assault designed to crush the Jewish soul and end our existence as a distinct people. This is a natural reaction, I believe, to centuries of persecution and forced baptisms. (This is the issue at the root of the Proxy baptism controversy between Jews and Mormons as well. More on this in another post). This Shabbat (Saturday), is Yom Kippur and part of the service is devoted to a “martyrology” that recounts the horrendous actions taken by (mainly the Roman Catholic) Church to force Jews to convert and the heroic resistance offered by Jews who gave their lived to avoid baptism. When Jews are approached my missionary-minded Mormons, the natural reaction is to recoil. Even when the goal of the Mormon is to simply learn more about Judaism or to start a respectful dialogue, the Mormon reputation for proselyting creates a barrier that must be overcome before real dialogue can take place.

Finally though, once the air is cleared and it’s clear the proselyting is off the table, I think many knowledgeable Jews (would) find the parallels between Mormonism and Judaism interesting and even stimulating. The idea of Mormons being literal (or, more recently, adopted) members of the tribe of Ephraim, a little odd or even off-putting but, at least for me, after awhile the idea becomes a little endearing. Not something I take seriously at a literal level but kind of “cute” (forgive me, LDS readers) and a point of common embarkation on a journey of understanding. For some reason, the LDS claim seems so much easier to hear than the (thankfully fading) supersessionist idea of the Church (Roman Catholic or generic) becoming the “New Israel.” Your view of adoption (and or literal descent from the lost ribes of the “north countries”) merely add you in, rather than kicking us out of the category of God’s beloved Israel.

Anyway, once a few shockers are out of the way and once the threat of proselyting is off the table, relations can and I believe should, become rather cordial.

The second post follows a different vein. In “What do we think of Jews ” The author speculate on why Mormons tend to feel differently toward Jews than to other non Christians. He correctly affirms that the biggest single issue between us is that of whether Jesus is the Messiah (Moshiach) or not but still, he regard Jews differently than other non-Christians and take the position that Mormons do not and should not go out of their way to proselyte Jews.

The comments on this post are also fascinating. The majority seem to agree with the author. A few raise some quirky issues regarding the prominent Mormon senator from Utah, Orin Hatch, wearing Jewish symbols under his clothing. (?!) I have to admit, I had never heard this before… Fascinating!

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