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Monday, July 3, 2017

Epistemology: How We Know What We Know -- the Spiritual Versus the Scientific Method

The Truth of All Things, “And by the power of the Holy Ghost 

ye may know the truth of all things.”—Moroni 10:5
Accessed July 3, 2017 from the LDS Media Library
Epistemology? What is It?

I want to introduce what may be a new word and a new concept to you. It’s called epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. It’s easier to understand than it sounds.

The current epistemology in our modern world is based on our five senses. This is how we know what we know. In order to know something we must see it, smell it, hear it, taste it or touch it. This is the foundation on which all our knowledge is based. We don’t accept anything else.

For example, if we want to know how service oriented people who live in Marion are, we might count the number of hours people spend volunteering or the amount of money they contribute to charities or non-profits.

We can only know something by observing or measuring something that exists in our physical world. Only then can we say, we know. What we want to know is always broken down into something we can physically measure or observe.

This modern way of knowing has some names. It goes by terms like empiricism. However, the term that makes the most sense to people is probably the “scientific method.” We know things by studying them via the scientific method. We don’t accept anything, unless it was discovered using the scientific method.

Scientists, researchers and experts the world over study and present their findings to the world. They generally write an article and say this is what we studied, this is why we studied it, this is how we studied it, this is what we found and this is what we think it means.

Other scientists, researchers and experts then examine it, argue about it, do the study again to see if they get the same results and then present it to the world as something we know. We learn of these findings through the news, magazines, classes, textbooks and teachers.

In today’s world, if you declare you know something, people are likely to ask, “How do you know?” You must answer that question in a suitable way to be believed.

The scientific method is straightforward. It is clear.

In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Truth Exists!

The problem is that the scientific method, our current epistemology, cannot produce truth. It can only discover facts. Experts acknowledge that the scientific method cannot reveal truth. Our modern world does not even accept that truth is out there and waiting to be discovered. Right now, the world will only acknowledge that, if truth does exist, it can’t be known through the scientific method. Some experts concede that truth may be available through religion.

So, we are stuck with facts. Facts are much flimsier than truth. We expect to modify or change facts as we learn more. New facts can refute old facts. Facts are simply tentative, until we discover more facts. We expect facts to change and evolve over time, be modified, or even be discarded entirely.

In fact, in our present world, things that are considered religious or spiritual sometimes get labeled as paranormal or metaphysical. This means that these things are outside of what we consider normal or that they exist beyond the physical world in ways we do not understand.

We learn physical things through physical means. I hope you can tell where I’m going with this. We learn spiritual things through spiritual means. The scientific method is well-suited to physical things. It is very poorly suited to spiritual things.

That doesn’t mean people haven’t tried. For example, a short time back we were hearing about a study, done in Utah on Mormons. They conducted MRI’s on people’s brains and measured where brain activity was located when the people reported they were feeling spiritual. Sure enough, unusual activity was located in a particular part of the brain.

Critics gleefully pointed out that the unusual brain activity being measured was in the same location when people were engaged in gambling, among other things.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, truth exists, not just facts. What’s more, we can know truth. However, we can’t use the scientific method to discover it. We have to have a different way of knowing, a different epistemology. In other words, we need a spiritual method, a spiritual way of knowing.

And we have it. This way of knowing produces truth and it is much more substantial than the world’s way of knowing.

Truth is Revealed and Confirmed by the Holy Ghost

Truth is revealed and confirmed to us through the Holy Ghost. It’s one of his most important jobs.

Consider that missionaries, or really anyone teaching the gospel, have a difficult task:

First, they must teach people that truth does exist
Second, they must teach them how to find truth themselves
Third, they must teach actual truth, and
Fourth, they must teach a different way of knowing truth, a spiritual method, a spiritual epistemology.

These are all things that are difficult for ordinary people to accept.

In my own efforts to share truth with others, they often retort, “You don’t know. You just think you know.”

A school friend once asked me about Joe Smith’s golden bible. He wanted to know what happened to the golden bible after the Book of Mormon was translated. I told him the physical record was returned to an angel and it was in his keeping. He said, why didn’t Smith just keep it, then we would know for sure… We know this wouldn’t really solve anything.

People do want to understand how we know these spiritual things; but they struggle with our way of knowing, because it is so foreign to them.

The Spiritual Procedure for Knowing

So, what is this procedure for this way of knowing? Well, we don’t really have explicit guidelines and they aren’t all located in the same place. I’ll try to gather some of them together for you though.

To know truth, you must seek truth through the Holy Ghost, using your agency. You must have faith that you can know it and you must act on the truth you already have in order to get more. You must pray often and be obedient to all the commandments to the best of your ability. You have to do your part to enable finding truth.

Scripture does give us instruction and even hints: In D&C 9:8, it says, “I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you.”

This advice gets shared a lot. However, I’m not convinced that it is that helpful. Can you imagine how someone in the medical field would react to that?

Right, let’s take your temperature, measure your heart rate, check your pulse, schedule an EKG. Maybe you just need an antacid.

The next part of this verse is probably more helpful. It states, “you shall feel that it is right.” Well, that is a little easier to wrap our brains around; but it is still pretty ‘loosey goosey’. Most of us are still befuddled. It just isn’t possible to write down a how-to list. So, we can get frustrated.

You need to pray to know truth and prepare yourself to receive that truth.

However, when you pray, you might get an answer quickly or you may not. It might come immediately or it may not. You might have to wait years for a definitive answer. You might not even recognize the answer if it does come, or you may. You might be left to your own discretion for a time or you may not. The answer may come through other people, like in a church lesson or a Sacrament talk, or it may not.

So, How Do I Incorporate This Into My Life?

Is it any wonder that potential members, and even members, feel confused and adrift. There doesn’t seem to be anything that can be viewed as definitive. This process and procedure can be difficult to understand and especially to master.

Early members of the church struggled with this as well. We know now that Satan is also a revelator and something can come from him, instead of the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith had to clarify this and we now have some explicit guidelines on how to unmask demonic influence and even distinguish between angels and demons.

And, there is something else that makes this spiritual method, this spiritual epistemology, or way of knowing, difficult for us to accept and to rely on.

Our modern world trains us to ignore things, unless it is proven through the scientific method. Unless we have that proof, we don’t act. We wait for proof; then we act. If there is no proof, we ignore it and don’t act.

People in our modern world have a plausible reason for not doing anything, because it hasn’t been proven to them yet. Missionary efforts can have a hard time getting beyond this notion.

To Receive Spiritual Truth You Must Act

It is exactly opposite with spiritual things. For spiritual things, we must act first in order to receive proof. In order to spiritually know something is true, we must act on it and demonstrate our faith. We exercise our faith; then proof can, and will, come.

In our modern world, you don’t act until you have proof. In spiritual things, you must act before you have proof.

You almost have to admire Satan for his demonic cleverness.

So, do we just give up? How do we know things for ourselves? How can we prove things to others, especially outside the Church. The problem seems insurmountable and we feel inept.

However, it’s not our problem, really. The Holy Ghost knows how to teach us truth and to convince us of the truth. We just have to exert enough faith on our part to enable him to do his job.

The Holy Ghost can reveal truth to you; but you are not going to convince anyone else; unless the Holy Ghost also reveals, or confirms, the truth to them. This is one reason that we are told to share our testimonies with others and to bear them regularly. When we do, the Holy Ghost confirms to our listeners that they are hearing truth.

Without truth, we will just flounder. And the world is floundering. Recent events, for example, have upended many things we thought we knew. A lot of people and professions have had to face up to the fact that maybe we don’t really know all the things we thought we knew.

The world will continue to flounder; but we don’t have to, if we know how to find and know truth.

You don’t have to know exactly how it is done in order to be on the receiving end of truth. How it is done isn’t really your concern.

Certainty Only Comes Through the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost reveals truth to you via the spirit. This is spirit to spirit communication. There is no room for doubt. It is absolute certainty.

If your certainty about something comes from your five senses, there is room for doubt, because every sense you have can deceive you. Your eyes can deceive you. Your ears, nose, mouth, sense of touch can all deceive you.

But, when you receive truth from the Holy Ghost, there is no doubt. The first time you receive truth in this manner, it will be different, and memorable.

It is hard to describe. It’s been described as being like a high speed spiritual digital download to your mind and heart. A convert nicknamed Arthur ‘KILLER’ Kane, a punk rocker during the 1970’s, described his conversion experience as an ‘LSD Trip from the Lord’.

How You Can Be on the Receiving End of Truth

So, how can you facilitate this high speed, spiritual downloading or this LSD trip from the Lord?

  • When you read and study the scriptures, the Holy Ghost can confirm the truths you discover.
  • When you listen to and study the inspired teachings of modern prophets, like General Conference addresses, the Holy Ghost can confirm these truths to you.
  • When you attend church and focus on spiritual things, the Holy Ghost can confirm truths to you.
  • When you discipline your mind and body to focus on spiritual things, the Holy Ghost can teach and confirm truth to you. This is why fasting helps. You shift away from physical nourishment and seek spiritual nourishment instead.
  • When you pray and seek truth, you are focusing on spiritual things and developing your spiritual skills.

The more you do these things, the better you will get at it.

You Have a Responsibility to Teach Truth

Once you become a member of the Church, you will probably receive a calling that requires you to teach at some point in time. You need to know how to use this way of knowing, this epistemology, to prepare your lessons and teach other learners.

The new system for teaching in the Church is called "Teaching in the Savior’s Way." The Church has gathered all these materials and guidelines into one place online. You can find all of them by using what’s called a vanity url. All you have to do is type in teaching [dot] lds [dot]org.

Old teaching guidelines in the Church focused largely on teaching techniques. Many of these techniques exist in our secular world. They aren’t unique to spiritual learning.

However, Teaching in the Savior’s Way makes use of a spiritual epistemology, a spiritual method or way of knowing, that distinguishes how the Savior taught.

The Church is incorporating this into all its new teaching materials worldwide.

Teaching in the Savior’s Way was introduced first to Seminary, Institute and Religion Instructors. Now, it is church wide. These new guidelines help you teach with the spirit and help you assist others to learn by the spirit:

Sometimes teachers may be tempted to think that it is their knowledge or methods or personality that inspires those they teach. This attitude prevents them from inviting the Holy Ghost to teach class members and change their hearts. Your purpose as a teacher is not to make an impressive presentation, but rather to help others receive the influence of the Holy Ghost, who is the true teacher.

The new teaching and study materials the Church has provided actually help teachers teach by the spirit and help learners learn by the spirit. Teachers should be encouraging learners to pay close attention to what the Holy Ghost is telling them and what he is prompting them to do, by exercising their agency.

One of the most important things you can do as a teacher is to help those you teach recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost. This is especially true when teaching children, youth, and new members—you are preparing them to receive personal revelation, avoid deception, and develop spiritual self-reliance. As prompted by the Holy Ghost, ask learners what they are feeling and what they feel prompted to do. Help them associate their spiritual feelings with the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Elder Craig C. Christensen's Story of His Son, Ben

One of the most poignant examples of this is a story Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Seventy shared in Conference about touring a new temple at the open house with his family. He says:

As we reverently walked through the temple, I found myself admiring the magnificent architecture, the elegant finishes, the light shining through towering windows, and many of the inspiring paintings. Every aspect of this sacred building was truly exquisite.

Stepping into the celestial room, I suddenly realized that our youngest son, six-year-old Ben, was clinging to my leg. He appeared anxious—perhaps even a little troubled.

“What’s wrong, Son?” I whispered.

“Daddy,” he replied, “what’s happening here? I’ve never felt this way before.”

Recognizing that this was likely the first time our young son had felt the influence of the Holy Ghost in such a powerful way, I knelt down on the floor next to him. While other visitors stepped around us, Ben and I spent several minutes, side by side, learning about the Holy Ghost together. I was amazed at the ease with which we were able to discuss his sacred feelings. As we talked, it became clear that what was most inspiring to Ben was not what he saw but what he felt—not the physical beauty around us but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God within his heart. I shared with him what I had learned from my own experiences, even as his childlike wonder reawakened in me a deep sense of gratitude for this unspeakable gift from God—the gift of the Holy Ghost.

While in high school, a friend of mine of Japanese extraction attended some sort of church event. I think it may have been a temple open house. Apparently, she experienced something profound and strong. She didn’t and couldn’t understand what she was feeling at that time. I asked her about it later and she confirmed what had taken place. She said, “Somebody told me to pray about it. So, I did.” She said, “I went home, knelt in front of our Buddhist shrine and I prayed about it.”

I think my friend needed a little more instruction for her to be able to fully comprehend the experience she had.

The Holy Ghost and My Husband's Glaucoma

I want to relate two quick stories from my life that illustrate how the Holy Ghost reveals truth to us. When my husband Greg was diagnosed with glaucoma, it was already advanced. The first line treatments for glaucoma are prescription eye drops. The second is laser eye surgery and the third is more invasive surgery. These treatments reduce pressure on the optic nerve and prevent further damage to eyesight.

Vision lost to glaucoma can never be recovered. Glaucoma can only be stalled or stopped. After being on eye drops for a while, the doctor recommended laser eye surgery. After researching it, Greg refused it. Laser eye surgery can be problematic with light eye color like he has. Greg didn’t feel comfortable going ahead with the surgery.

At his next visit, a doctor recommended the laser eye surgery again. She answered Greg’s concerns satisfactorily, so he scheduled the surgery.

Almost immediately, he started feeling uncomfortable about it. We prayed about it and he asked me to pray and think about it some more, which I did. As the date for the surgery moved closer, Greg told me that he didn’t know what to do, that he felt a foreboding about proceeding with the surgery. Some of the emotions he was experiencing were confusion, anxiety, uncertainty and so forth. I was experiencing these emotions too.

I finally told him that I felt these sorts of feelings really were our answer. We were being told to scuttle the surgery, which he did. We both immediately felt better.

After a few months, Greg said he was feeling prompted to reconsider and schedule the surgery. We discussed it and prayed about it some more. He felt he needed to schedule the surgery. I felt good about the decision too and he called and rescheduled the surgery. We were both at peace with this decision.

The laser eye surgery is a relatively simple office procedure and doesn’t require much prep time or surgery time. Recovery is also simple.

Before proceeding with the surgery, Greg’s vision was checked once more and that’s when the doctor dropped the bombshell on us. He said Greg did not need surgery. The additional passage of time and extra eye exams had convinced him that Greg’s glaucoma was indeed stopped with just the drops. This could not have been known earlier.

Remember, with glaucoma, you must act quickly to preserve what vision you have. It’s not a malady where you can simply watch and see how things develop. The Holy Ghost told us to delay, even though the scientific method said otherwise. The spiritual method worked. It worked for us and it can work for you.

My Prompting at the Pulpit

One other quick example. The last time I delivered a talk over this pulpit, I had to read my talk verbatim. My autoimmune illnesses are affecting my central nervous system and my brain. I cannot speak extemporaneously any more. For example, I used to be able to speak and teach from a simple outline or a few notes. That is not possible for me anymore.

During the delivery of my last talk, I received a strong prompting to add a sentence to one of my paragraphs, so I did. It was the only extemporaneous sentence I uttered. Everything else was read verbatim. I’m confident that one of you or some of you apparently needed to hear that sentence. I do not have any idea who or why. I can’t even remember now what it was I said.

This is how the Holy Ghost works. This is how we know what we know.

Joseph Smith Wanted to Know How He Could Know

In fact, this was Joseph Smith’s dilemma before the First Vision and he recognized it as such. In the first chapter of the Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price, he describes this dilemma in verse10:

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

Joseph Smith received an answer to all these questions and so can we. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, we can know the truth of all things.

* For more on these themes:

Countering Korihor’s Philosophy, By Gerald N. Lund, Ensign, July, 1992.

The Spirit of Revelation, by David A. Bednar, General Conference, April, 2011.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Tribute to My Aunt on This Memorial Day

My Aunt Carmen in her favorite shade of pink.
My Dad had one sibling, a sister, my aunt. My earliest memories include her and my uncle Ted.

In fact, some of my best memories are of our visits to Aunt Carmen and Uncle Ted. Visiting them in Rexburg, Idaho, was our favorite outing and/or vacation.

The reasons are simple. She fed us well for one. There was always good food in her home. Some food we had never tasted before, or else my Mom would not allow us to have. These options were always available when we visited Aunt Carmen.

She always planned such fun things for us to do when we were there. Things like swimming in a pool where the water was fed from the hot springs were favorites. We would also visit the sand dunes and go huckleberrying in the mountains. She made the huckleberries into huckleberry pie.This was considered a family delicacy.

Just being at her home was fun. Her husband, my uncle Ted, was a gentle and loving giant of a man. He was as dear to us as she was. She loved animals and this was reflected in how she cared for her cats and dogs. Our cousins were wonderful additions as well. The difference in our age ranges didn't matter.

But, things changed. She didn't change, the circumstances did.

My father died in 1974. He passed away from injuries suffered in an industrial accident. I was 12. My oldest sibling was 13 and my youngest just 6 1/2 months old. Suddenly, our world changed. My father's kind personality was no longer a moderating influence in our home.

Other influences shaped our outlook. We started to laugh at Aunt Carmen and her eccentricities. My Father would never have allowed this, or approved of us making fun of her. 

But, he was gone. Lampooning her for fun, in absentia, or when she telephoned us became common and even expected. Our caustic behavior went unchallenged and, in fact, encouraged in our home environment.

We had fun abusing her amongst ourselves. This nastiness magnified her personality quirks and resulted in our altering our behavior towards her.

Despite this vicious treatment, she continued to call us, invite us to visit and so forth. She always remembered us on our birthdays and Christmas with generous and thoughtful gifts.

The problem was that she had so little contact with us that she didn't really know what we would like or dislike. She did the best she could, though. She continued to send us gifts long after we failed to remember her, our uncle, or our cousins on their birthdays and holidays.

Despite the contempt and dislike we all exhibited towards her, she continued to remember us and to attend our important life events, like graduation, missionary farewells, missionary welcome homes and weddings. She was often markedly snubbed by us and had to sit by herself, ignored and overlooked.

She always appreciated getting phone calls from us and made many attempts to call us, although the courtesy was rarely returned. After obtaining a cell phone, she occasionally received free cell phone minutes. She often phoned us, even though some of us, like myself, were scattered across the country. We gave her little to no encouragement in maintaining contact with her, but she never stopped trying. 

Our caustic behavior towards her was implanted into a new generation as my siblings had children. In fact, it is still a favorite family pastime.

In hindsight, I'm appalled at what we did to her and what she had to endure because of us. I certainly played my part. My feelings are that of extreme remorse, especially for all the damage and wasted years I spent ignoring her.

What finally changed? Me.

Our home movies, I hadn't had access to in years, were converted into DVD's. I could view them on television and on my computer. My epiphany came from watching Aunt Carmen and Uncle Ted playing with us as children during some of our visits.

In their eyes I can see the same emotions I feel towards my own nieces and nephews. This realization melted me. She loved me. It was that simple. She always loved me, no matter how I treated or abused her. She never gave up on me, despite all the cause I gave to her.

After some serious thought and prayer, I contacted her and we began to rebuild our relationship. I encouraged her to call me and I called her when I could. For the last few years of her life, our relationship was close.

She had been in poor health her whole life. She contracted cancer more than once. In fact, on three different occasions, she was given about three weeks to live. Somehow, she lived on, uncomfortable and in much pain.

Unfortunately, my Mother and my siblings never changed their behavior toward her. I asked Aunt Carmen why she never gave up on us. She continued to reach out to us in whatever way she could. She said we are family and she felt obligated. She loved my Dad, her brother, and she loved us, her nieces and nephews.

She said she got occasional phone calls from my Mother, but they were never pleasant. Having listened to my Mother's actual calls to her, as well as her description of her calls to her, I know they were nothing more than, "Why aren't you dead, yet?" phone calls.

I told Aunt Carmen she didn't have to return them or call any of us herself anymore. I gave her permission to forego these painful encounters. We agreed that when she died, I would be the one to inform my family, and I was.

Over the years, our treatment had caused a sort of bewildered desperation in her. She didn't know what we were doing to her behind her back. How could she? This caused her bewilderment.

The desperation came from trying to do all the things she could to maintain relationships with us, but without having any success at doing so. Despite her best efforts, relationships with us slipped through her fingers. She did not know why or how.

I now understand these feelings of bewildered desperation. I feel the same desperation that she did in trying to build and maintain relationships with my own nieces and nephews.

However, I'm not bewildered. I know where this treatment came from. I also know from what, and from who, it comes from now. The same behaviors that caused me to treat my Aunt Carmen the way I did is poisoning my own nieces and nephews against me.

In my deepest heart of hearts, I feel it is a sort of twisted justice to be subjected to now what I did to my own aunt. I deserve to be treated like my nieces and nephews treat me. This is the way we were all trained to treat aunts. I'm now an aunt. I can't do any more about it than my Aunt Carmen could.

In the end, she did triumph, unbeknownst to my Mother or my siblings.

Despite everything I had done to her and how I had treated her, she took me back. All my past treatment and contempt towards her was forgotten. She forgave me for everything I did or participated in that hurt her. I didn't even have to ask her to. She bore no grudge and exacted no revenge.

Her testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ was strong. She never wavered in it, despite all her trials, especially her health. She died with her faith intact and she bore a strong witness of Jesus Christ. I hope that I can say the same, when my end comes.

On this day of memory and memorials, I can unequivocally state that my Aunt Carmen was a kinder, and more Christlike, person than any of us...than of me...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In Mormondom, Context is Often as Important as Content

Church History Library across the street from Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
 © 2010 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Accessed
April 23, 2017 from Mormon Newsroom.
As a guest blogger on Jana Riess's Religion News Service's (RNS) site, Flunking SainthoodMette Ivie Harrison argues with the long dead ghost of Bruce R. McConkie. The article entitled, "Do Mormons worship Jesus Christ?" picks apart an address given by McConkie on the campus of BYU back in 1982.

There is one glaring problem. The address was context specific and cannot be explained outside that context. Harrison tries, but fails miserably. If you were not on campus during this time period and didn't enroll in a particular class by a particular professor, you will likely wander in darkness trying to explain this address.

The Church warns against this sort of thing. Some addresses are specific to the intended audience and can easily be misconstrued if someone does not understand the background behind them.

Harrison turned 12 years old in 1982 and Riess was 13. I think we can safely say that neither was present on BYU's campus, either right before or right after McConkie gave his address. I was.

Harrison examines the address with a modern lens. Besides, did she think this address simply got by scholars, administrators, faculty and students at BYU at the time? It was likely viewed in real time by thousands.

Just about any analysis can get twisted because of a large time gap between when the event occurred and when it gets evaluated. From my existence on the planet, I'm old enough to see some really bizarre conclusions when content is evaluated outside its context.

I'm not going to elaborate on just what the context was of McConkie's address. There are a number of different facets and I don't think I can adequately explain them all now. There was some damage that resulted from it, but not necessarily from McConkie's actual words. It was inferences that caused the damage.

None of this needs to be rehashed or relived. The time has past and McConkie's address is no longer relevant or helpful to us now.

We have plenty of scripture and General Conference teachings of Jesus Christ. We don't need Harrison beating a long dead horse and trying to reinvigorate life that is better off left alone. She should have "kicked it to the curb" herself.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Want to Teach Kids and Converts the Gospel? These Ideas Can Help!

Enos Praying, by Robert T. Barrett (62604);
 GAK 305; Primary manual 3-49; Enos 1
Accessed March 23, 2017 from the
LDS Media Library
As a lifer (in the Church for my lifetime), I want to give you my thoughts on how best to teach kids and converts the gospel. These are not wholly my own ideas, some come from others.

Also, these ideas are not intended to replace the marvelous Church materials on teaching, especially Teaching in the Savior's Way, Scripture Stories for Children or the Lesson Helps for Teaching Children which are all marvelous.

The vast bulk of these resources were not available when I was a child. Yet, some of the ways that helped me the most are still available. In addition, one resource I thought was lost, is now available in a new format.

Long before I ever read the Book of Mormon, I knew the people and their stories. One of the only tools available to me at the time was Deta Petersen Neeley's four books that make up A Child's Story of the Book of Mormon. A later effort combined all four books under one cover.

By knowing all the people and story lines in the Book of Mormon, reading the Book of Mormon turned out to be relatively easy. In fact, I got pretty bored in Seminary and BYU religion classes when the teacher tried to sort out these characters and stories in class. I had already mastered it.

Things do get a bit convoluted trying to keep Zeniff, Limhi, Noah, Ammon, Noah's priests and Alma sorted out. So, the teacher's help on these details wasn't entirely wasted on me.

My point is this: Knowing the story beforehand made it a lot easier to pick up the doctrine when I was ready for the full Book of Mormon immersion. I wish Ms. Neeley had written on the Bible and our other books of scripture.

Both children and converts could benefit from the Scripture Stories for Children. These are bite sized bits of the gospel, manageable chunks. I'm not suggesting they should be used instead of the Book of Mormon, I just think they are a quick summary that can easily launch someone into reading the Book of Mormon themselves.

In addition, the first time I listened to the Book of Mormon on audio really cemented in my mind that it is indeed a story. Slow reading didn't reveal that to me. Fast listening did.

The other marvelous resource I thought was lost is now available again, but in a different form. Read this story first:

Lunch Lessons

My husband and I had set a goal to teach our children the gospel on a daily basis, but the question was how? Our children are young: two preschoolers and one in kindergarten. I tried scheduling time in the morning for a gospel lesson, but that always seemed to get pushed aside for housework, errands, or projects. We also tried to discuss the gospel just before bedtime, but we were usually too tired.
Finally I found a time that worked: lunchtime. While my three little ones ate their sandwiches, I read to them from the Book of Mormon. Yet they frequently lost interest even though I tried to explain the verses.
Our answer finally came when we discovered a wonderful resource available through the Church’s Distribution Centers—the Gospel Art Picture Kit (item no. 34730; U.S. $25.00) which we began using during lunchtime. This was the perfect combination! The pictures, which focus on scripture stories in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Church history, gave our children something to look at. The simplified story with corresponding scripture references on the back of each picture gave me a ready-made lesson.
We started with the first picture in the Book of Mormon section, which I showed to them as they ate. I told them the story from the back and then read a verse or two out of the scriptures. They loved it! They even asked me questions about details in the pictures.
After each short discussion, I reinforced the story in their minds by asking them questions about it. We talked about ways they could apply the scripture story in their own lives. I then bore my testimony to them of the truthfulness of what I was teaching them. I knew that along with reading the scriptures, this was another sure way to bring the Spirit of the Lord into our lessons.
The following day, before we looked at a new picture, we reviewed the previous day’s story. I was amazed at how much my two older children retained. For example, when we reviewed Moroni’s visit to the Prophet Joseph Smith, our four-year-old daughter told me that Joseph Smith was tired the next day because the angel came to see him three times in the night, and he didn’t get any sleep.
My two-year-old doesn’t understand as much, but she likes to look at the pictures and can repeat names and events. She frequently tells me, “I make Jesus happy,” so I believe the Spirit is in our lessons and knowledge is being stored in her mind and heart.
Using pictures from the Gospel Art Picture Kit during lunchtime has been an easy way for us to study the scriptures consistently. Now on days when I forget or think we’re too busy, it’s my children who say, “Mom, don’t forget the scripture story,” or “Mom, do another one. We want to learn more.”—Roselyn Sant, Wasilla Third Ward, Wasilla Alaska Stake

The Church stopped publishing the Gospel Art Picture Kit some years ago after it introduced the Gospel Art Book. However, I recently noticed it is now digital! It is in the LDS Media Library under Gospel Art Kit.

You can download it all in a zip file! You get both the images in JPG's and the lessons in PDF's.

I think this is one of the best ways to teach the gospel to children and make it a daily event.

You're welcome.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to Home Teach and How to Be Home Taught

Home Teaching; GAK 614; Mosiah 23:14–18

Accessed February 4, 2017 from the LDS Media Library.
Home teaching is one of the responsibilities assigned to priesthood holders. In the Mormon Corridor the program tends to work pretty well. However, outside of it, things can and do go wrong.

New members are not going to become adept at it if they have bad examples to follow. What is more, those being home taught can frustrate the process just as easily because they don't know how to be home taught. Below are the responsibilities of home teachers and the corresponding responsibility of the person, or persons being home taught.

Information is taken directly from Handbook 2, 7.1-7.4, The Latter-day Saint WomanHome Teaching|Vising Teaching topic page and various scriptures.

Home Teachers should:

Remember that you represent the Lord, the bishop, your quorum and quorum leaders when you home teach.

Visit members in their homes. Home teaching should be done in member's homes at least monthly. Other locations are not as desirable and should be avoided. This is explicit in D&C 20:52. You must visit the house!

Make certain each visit is planned with a purpose such as a lesson.

Home teachers should be with home teachees and watch over them and strengthen them in many ways.

Contact their home teachees in other meaningful ways, including via home, email, text message, etc.

Ensure that home teachees are performing their spiritual and family duties. This includes praying.

Render service to their home teachees when needed.

Consult with home teachees about their needs and special events in their lives.

Make certain their home teachees are progressing in the gospel and the priesthood by assisting them in making and keeping covenants.

Offer assistance when your home teachees are unemployed, ill, lonely, moving, or have other needs.

Make your home teaching reports in a timely manner. If your home teachee's needs are urgent, report them immediately.

Whatever you do, avoid the following bad example:

Home Teachees Should:

Remember that home teachers represent the Lord, the bishop, the quorum and quorum leaders when they home teach. Give them the respect their important office represents.

Allow the Home Teachers to come to your homes. Forget whether your house is clean or as presentable as you would like it to be. Home teachers must visit your house so you need to let them.

Listen and respond to the message the home teachers bring. Try to faithfully implement their guidance.

Assure your home teachers that you are praying and do it regularly. Brief them on how you are doing with other spiritual and family duties.

You should allow your home teachers to watch over and strengthen you. Encourage them to teach you lessons and follow up on what they exhort you to do.

Supply your home teachers with all your contact information. Respond in a timely manner to every communication they send you. Ignoring them makes it impossible for them to faithfully discharge their priesthood duties. You seriously hinder and undermine the work when you do not respond.

Allow your home teachers to render you service. Remember that they need to render it and you need to receive it.

Tell your home teachers about your needs and the special events in your lives.

Update your home teachers when you or your family members are progressing in the gospel and the priesthood, especially with making and keeping covenants.

Tell your home teachers what your needs are and especially if they are urgent. Do NOT go directly to the bishop, otherwise you are circumventing the home teaching program.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Life Comes Down to Absolutes -- Absolutely!

“The world changes constantly and dramatically, but God, His commandments, and promised
blessings do not change. They are immutable and unchanging.”—Elder L. Tom Perry,
Obedience to Law Is Liberty” Accessed January 9, 2017 from the LDS Media Library.
We have a lot of terms that we use in Mormondom that other people don’t understand unless we explain them. Sometimes they are common terms, but mean something different to us. These include words and concepts like endowment, bishop and D&C.

Most professions have words and terms in them that are quite common, but that most other people don’t understand. In government, my field of study, some of these common terms are paradigm and empiricism. These terms may sound complex; but most of us understand these concepts, just not the label used to describe them.

Since my best subjects are religion and politics, I want to explain two terms that are common in both government and religion. The terms are moral absolutism and moral relativism. Now, don’t tune me out, these terms are easy to understand.

Once you understand them, you will be astonished at how often they come up in life. You will also be able to understand more of what church leaders are trying to tell you that may have slipped by you in the past.

Church leaders use these terms a lot, especially in General Conference. They crop up in other areas too. There is an article in the February, 2014, Ensign, entitled, “The Book of Mormon and Modern Moral Relativism.”

Understanding what moral absolutism and moral relativism means will help you understand the gospel better and why our beliefs put us at odds with the rest of the world.

As Latter-day Saints and members of this church, we embrace moral absolutism. Much of the world embraces moral relativism. This is the core difference in many modern disputes and disagreements.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about Moral Absolutes

Moral absolutism means that we believe that there are unchangeable truths in the world. Truth doesn’t change. If something was true in the past, it is true today and it will remain true in the future. Truth does not change, ever. Truth is absolute.

Some of these absolute truths include beliefs like the following:

-          Heavenly Father exists and we are His children.
-          He speaks to prophets here on earth.
-          Our scriptures contain absolute truths.
-          Families are ordained of God.
-          Right and wrong exist and are unchanging.

Sometimes moral absolutism is just called absolutism. Moral relativism is often just shortened to relativism.

As Latter-day Saints, We Reject Moral Relativism

Moral relativism holds that right and wrong don’t necessarily exist. Standards can change, depending on the person and the situation.

A moral relativist may believe that ideas of the past had nothing to do with right and wrong; they were just cultural influences or beliefs at the time.

Sexual immorality, for example, was considered bad in the past; but now we are more enlightened and it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different. Relativists maintain that society, people and cultures can change their minds about these things.

As a result of having no fixed beliefs or standards, moral relativists can accept anyone or anything – except moral absolutists.

They consider people who accept moral absolutes as being rigid, old-fashioned, hate mongers, politically incorrect and intolerant.

Moral relativists’ idea of tolerance is full acceptance. Moral relativists don’t need God or prophets, because they don’t believe in truth. They consider moral absolutism as outdated and moral relativism as progressive.

Moral relativists are generally found in the social sciences or what’s called the behavioral sciences. The natural, or hard sciences, do recognize that our physical world is governed by laws, laws that need to be discovered and followed. For example, there is the law of gravity.

Whether you personally believe in the law of gravity or not, you are still bound by it. Can you imagine someone deciding that it is up to individuals or societies to believe in the law of gravity if they want to? That it might be right for some people, but not others?

Can you imagine someone declaring that they are free of the law of gravity and then jumping off a cliff? The simple fact is that the law of gravity exists. We are bound by it whether we like it or not. We function best when we acknowledge it as a law of nature and adjust our behavior accordingly. That means no jumping off cliffs.

There are spiritual laws that are just as important and just as binding as the law of gravity. These spiritual laws are absolute truths. We study scripture, listen to prophets and do our best to follow them, because we know they are true.

Moral relativists can say that they don’t believe them, won’t follow them and don’t need them; but they will suffer spiritual consequences from not abiding by the spiritual laws that exist, whether they ever admit it or not.

No one should jump off of spiritual cliffs or physical ones.

Trying to convert moral relativists to the gospel is difficult:

Because of those underlying tenets of moral relativism, I had a difficult time believing what the Mormon missionaries taught me about the need for the Atonement, priesthood authority, and prophets. Indeed, my journey to conversion took me six long years of constantly challenging and questioning who I was, what I believed, and whether there could, in fact, be a God who had established eternal principles of truth and error, sin and consequence.

The term, moral relativism, may be a modern term, but moral relativism has existed in the past.

Moral Relativism Even Crops Up in the Book of Mormon

In the Book of Mormon, it is the Anti-Christ, Korihori that teaches it. Elder Dallin H. Oaks remarked on this saying:

Korihor also declared “that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men.” His description of the consequence of his rejection of the idea of sin and a Savior is strikingly similar to the belief of many in our time: “Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and … every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:17; emphasis added).

Elder Oak’s continues:

Today we call Korihor’s philosophy moral relativism….This is the belief applied by many in the popular media and in response to peer pressure…..Behind such ideas is the assumption that there is no God or, if there is, He has given no commandments that apply to us today. (Stand as Witnesses of God, by Dallin H. Oaks in Ensign, March, 205.)

Prophets and Church Leaders Have Always Condemned Relativism and Taught Absolutism

In 1971, Ezra Taft Benson taught:
Our religion is one of absolutes and cannot be rationalized into a relativistic philosophy. Satan’s Thrust—Youth, Ezra Taft Benson, October1971.

In 2011, Elder Dallin H. Oaks did not equivocate when he said:
Like other believers, we proclaim the existence of the ultimate lawgiver, God our Eternal Father, and the existence of moral absolutes. We reject the moral relativism that is becoming the unofficial creed of much of modern culture. Fundamental to Our Faith By Elder Dallin H.Oaks, January, 2011.

In 2014, Elder David A. Bednar confirmed all of this when he remarked that:
Absolute truth exists in a world that increasingly disdains and dismisses absolutes. Come and See by David A. Bednar, October, 2014.

In 1975, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
If men are not steering by absolute truth, they will drift in the rolling sea of relativism. Why a University in the Kingdom? By Elder Neal A. Maxwell, October, 1975.

We should never hesitate to proclaim our moral absolutism and defend it. In 2006, Elder Larry W. Gibbons of the Seventy taught:

In this day of moral relativism we must be prepared to take a stand and say, “This is right, and this is wrong.” We cannot follow the crowd! Wherefore, SettleThis in Your Hearts by Larry W. Gibbons, October, 2006.

Coming from a legal background, Elder Dallin H. Oaks is one of our top leaders who constantly addresses these topics:

We live in a world where more and more persons of influence are teaching and acting out a belief that there is no absolute right and wrong, that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made choices that can prevail over the commandments of God. Many even question whether there is a God.

The philosophy of moral relativism, which holds that each person is free to choose for himself what is right and wrong, is becoming the unofficial creed for many in America and other Western nations. At the extreme level, evil acts that used to be localized and covered up like a boil are now legalized and paraded like a banner. Truth and Tolerance by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, CES Devotional for Young Adults, September 11, 2011, Brigham Young University.

In 2014, Elder D. Todd Christofferson remarked:

Relativism means each person is his or her own highest authority. Of course, it is not just those who deny God that subscribe to this philosophy. Some who believe in God still believe that they themselves, individually, decide what is right and wrong. Free Forever, to Act for Themselves by D. Todd Christofferson, October, 2014.

Giving in to the world and its influence is not an option. In 2013, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

The unacceptable alternative is to surrender to postmodern moral relativism, which, pushed far enough, declares that ultimately nothing is eternally true or especially sacred and, therefore, no one position on any given issue matters more than any other. And in the gospel of Jesus Christ that simply is not true. Conviction with Compassion by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, New Era, July, 2013.

In a 2006 address, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught that absolute truth is an anchor for us:

In a time when many perceive truth as relative, a declaration of absolute truth is not very popular, nor does it seem politically correct or opportune. Testimonies of things how “they really are” (Jacob 4:13) are bold, true, and vital because they have eternal consequences for mankind. Satan wouldn’t mind if we declared the message of our faith and gospel doctrine as negotiable according to circumstances. Our firm conviction of gospel truth is an anchor in our lives; The Power of a Personal Testimony by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2006.

In 2009, Elder D. Todd Christofferson urged us to defend truth and moral absolutists when he said:

We need strong Christians who can make important things happen by their faith and who can defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism. The Power of Covenants by D. Todd Christofferson, April, 2009.

Moral relativism erodes religious freedom and we are seeing this in the world right now. In 2011, Elder Oaks taught:

He asked, “What has caused the current public and legal climate of mounting threats to religious freedom? I believe the cause is not legal but cultural and religious. I believe the diminished value being attached to religious freedom stems from the ascendency of moral relativism.

“More and more of our citizens support the idea that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected as one chooses. Each person is free to decide for himself or herself what is right and wrong. Our children face the challenge of living in an increasingly godless and amoral society.” People of Faith Should Defend Freedom of Religion, Elder Oaks Says

People resent those who believe in moral absolutes because they feel like they are being judged, and judged harshly. This anger can be strong and get violent.

They also resent having to feel guilt. Guilt only comes from moral absolutes. There is no guilt in moral relativism. If you do what you want and let everybody else do the same and you think this is okay, then you never have to feel guilt.

Moral relativists feel under attack by those who assert moral absolutes.

In 1976, Elder Neal A. Maxwell suggested:

If all things are a matter of preference and nothing is a matter of principle, why not put Dracula in charge of the blood bank? Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences By Elder Neal A. Maxwell, July 1976.

In 2014, Elder Christofferson taught:

A world without God, the living God who establishes moral laws to govern and perfect His children, is also a world without ultimate truth or justice. It is a world where moral relativism reigns supreme. Free Forever, to Act for Themselves by D. Todd Christofferson, October, 2014.

If you’ve ever puzzled over 2 Nephi 2:13 in the Book of Mormon, it should now be clear to you. It states:

And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

Satan’s false teachings are diabolical in their simplicity.

If there is no God, there is no right and wrong. If there is no right or wrong there is no sin. If there is no sin, we don’t need the Atonement. We don’t even need Jesus Christ or Heavenly Father.

But there is sin. Right and wrong exist. We need the Atonement. We need Jesus Christ. We need our Heavenly Father. We need to exercise our agency here on earth because this earth life does have a purpose.

Our belief in the moral absolutes of the gospel of Jesus Christ equips us for the journey through life by providing detailed maps, directions, landmarks, goals and a final destination with GPS precision. The destination is attainable and the journey can bring joy.

Moral relativists have no directions, no maps, no landmarks, no goals and no final destination. They attempt to drive into lakes, pedal through snow and swim through sand. They have no tools and no assistance. Whatever they think their destination is to be is unattainable and the journey is miserable.

Occasionally in my secular teaching, I was able to teach secular beliefs that coincided with gospel truths. I could tell that the spirit was testifying to my students that what I was teaching them was true, even in college where moral relativism reigns supreme and unchallenged. Their understanding was always more profound when this happened.

We must teach and defend the absolute truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ and live them! These absolute truths will help us progress through this life and achieve happiness.