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Testimony and the Spiritual Experience

I was raised in the religious tradition of my parents, which happens to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Over the course of my life I have had several spiritual experiences associated with the church and my participation in it. Once I have had these experiences, I am left with a few options about what to make of these experiences.  I can attribute these experiences to emotions, psychological phenomena, or wishful thinking.  I can say that I do not know what these experiences are and remain uncommitted to them.  Or I can attribute these experiences to God and the spirit.

In my case, to simply deny that these experiences have occurred, would seem to be a self deception that I do not wish to pursue.  Because of this I have a desire to make some decision regarding these experiences.  I would hope that the people that know me well will recognize that I have clearly attributed my spiritual experiences to God, and this has lead to a lifetime of committed membership in the church.

Having these experiences makes the decision of what to do about God and religion more sharp.  The more profound the experience, the less likely ignoring or dismissing them will be.  Those that have had such experiences should understand the weight of the decisions that they have made regarding them.  Such decisions should not be taken lightly.

I cannot speak to the spiritual experiences of others.  I am unclear about why there appears to be a variety of such experiences (some appear to have not had them, others appear to have had them but associated with other traditions,, etc.).  It is difficult for me to relate to.  I really can only say that I have had such experiences associated with the church, I have chosen to attribute these to God, and this has resulted in what I often call testimony.


On the Arguments of Ruthie Robertson

Ruthie Robertson is the recently fired instructor at BYU Idaho.  She made a face book post arguing against certain doctrines and policies of the church which employed her which resulted in her being fired – which should not be terribly surprising.  I would like to summarize her arguments to show why I disagree with them.

Her primary argument seems to be that the church is picking-and-choosing which hateful practices to follow from the Old Testament and which to ignore.  This argument highlights what I believe is clearly missing from whatever faith or testimony she thinks she has, which is that the church is lead by a prophet and apostles today.  There should be little question that the gospel of Jesus Christ has certain departures from the Law of Moses – particularly in practice.  What our teachings and practices should be currently is not based on picking-and-choosing from the Old Testament, but on the inspired leadership of those called as prophets, seers and revelators.   Her statement shows that she simply does not believe this.

She goes on to say that while the Book of Mormon does not mention homosexuality, it does condemn polygamy.  Yet she fails to mention that while the key chapter (Jacob 2), does condemn polygamy, it does leave the door open in verse 30 should God command otherwise.  This is picking-and-choosing.

She wraps up her manifesto by making an argument that our sins are part of who we are, and since God made us that way, it is not a sin.  This line of reasoning seems to take us to a conclusion that there is no such thing as sin.  The argument would go something like this:

P1:  God made us absolutely and is responsible for who we are.
P2:  Our sins are part of who we fundamentally are.
P3:  God is not a creator of sin

C1:  Nothing we do is a sin

My disagreement here is with both P1 and P2.  There is something about us (call it intelligence or what you will) that was not created nor made – not even by God.  So the fundamental part of who we are is necessary rather than contingent on God.  We are ultimately un-caused agents.  This then leads to a disagreement with P2 with regards to free will or agency.

Bottom line is that faithful members will believe that the church is lead by revelation rather than picking-and-choosing, and that we are all capable of choosing behaviors and repenting of sin.  Ruthie seems to be missing these parts.

Hijacking Testimony Meeting for Activism

Through the wonders of facebook I was able to view a video shared by the brother of a friend that showed a 12 year old girl sharing her ‘testimony’ of being gay.  Much of what she said was fine, but some of it was direct refutation of church teachings and her plans to go against them.  It put her in a place of claiming to know better what the gospel and the commandments should be than the prophets she supposedly sustains.

This was not some spontaneous spirit driven event.  It was highly staged.  It was video taped and given production value.  The ‘testimony’ was several pages written out.  She was dressed as a deacon.  The language and structure of the ‘testimony’ was far above what a 12 year old would normally come up with.   There were words that she had trouble pronouncing.  All this is why I chose to look at it as a hijacking of a testimony meeting and why I put the word testimony in quotes when referring to it.

But mostly for this post I wish to share the concern over hijacking testimony meeting in general, with this event as just one example.  Every month the church holds a testimony meeting where anyone can come up and say anything they want – until the presiding authority steps in and stops them.  I am surprised that this sort of thing does not happen more often, and I would be surprised if this does not happen more frequently in the future.

What is to stop those who wish to advocate for various causes, or those who simply wish to criticize the church, from hijacking these meetings?  This could certainly put local leaders in a very difficult position.  And if it were to become common might end the practice of testimony meetings all together.

Are my concerns here unfounded?  Does this happen more often than I realize?  How should church leaders handle this, and is the practice of testimony meeting potentially in jeopardy due to this sort of thing?

No, Basketball Fans, LeBron James is Not Better than Michael Jordan

To begin with I will state something that should not be necessary but often is.  Just because I am saying that LeBron James is not better than Michael Jordan I am not saying that he is no good at all.  Even the harshest LeBron critics would still easily put him in the top 10 players of all time.  So with that out of the way, I would like to explain to the world why LeBron James is not a better basketball player than Michael Jordan was.

Let’s start with some objective metrics.  Two metrics that have gained some traction recently are win shares and player efficiency rating.  Of the two I prefer win shares for a couple of reasons.  Win shares attempts to take all meaningful stats, including defensive stats and rebounding to calculate a player’s contribution to winning basketball games.  Also, win share algorithms can be checked with historical data to see how well they actually predict team wins.  The win share metric has been checked with decades of historical data and has proven to accurately predict season team wins based on player statistics to within an average error of 2.74 wins in an 82 game schedule.  This gives the metric pretty good credibility.

Player efficiency rating is a good metric for measuring offensive production which includes the factors of 3-point shooting, 2-point shooting, and free throw shooting to arrive at the efficiency rating.

Now is a reasonable time to make such comparisons as LeBron James has played in one more NBA season than Michael Jordan did, and because the comparisons between the two appear to be heating up.  So what do the objective metrics say?  Well it is not so good for LeBron.  For career win shares per 48 minutes in the NBA, the all time leaders are (per basketball reference):

1. Michael Jordan* .2505
2. Chris Paul .2504
3. David Robinson* .2502
4. Wilt Chamberlain* .2480
5. Neil Johnston* .2413
6. LeBron James .2389
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* .2284
8. Magic Johnson* .2249
9. Kevin Durant .2189
10. Charles Barkley* .2163

As you can see, Michael Jordan has the best career numbers, just narrowly over Chris Paul.  LeBron James is clear down in number 6.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is number 7, but his career stats suffer per 48 minutes since he played many years past his prime – more on that later.

As far as player efficiency goes, the story is a little different, per basketball reference:

1. Michael Jordan* 27.91
2. LeBron James 27.61
3. Shaquille O’Neal* 26.43
4. David Robinson* 26.18
5. Wilt Chamberlain* 26.13
6. Chris Paul 25.72
7. Bob Pettit* 25.35
8. Kevin Durant 25.24
9. Neil Johnston* 24.69
10. Charles Barkley* 24.63

So for the offense stats Lebron comes out a bit better at #2, but still looking up at Jordan.  So as far as these respected metrics go, Michael Jordan is objectively the better of the two players.  Is there any objective metric that has James ahead of Jordan?  If so, I have not seen it.

How about championships?  Usually I would not put much stock in this comparison, since championships are a team accomplishment.  I would never say that Will Perdue was a better forward than Karl Malone in spite of the number of championships the two players have (or do not have).  But in the case of comparing LeBron James and Michael Jordan, I think this is a fair comparison since both players were the undisputed leaders on their teams, and spent so much time with the ball in their hands.   Additionally, LeBron James has so shamelessly left teams, to arrange to be on a ‘stacked’ team, to improve his chances of winning championships, something Jordan did not do.  And James has done this twice.  Ironically it is James that comes up short in the championship count.  This could be even further magnified since Jordan quit basketball for two years during his prime to give baseball a try.  Jordan won 3 championships in a row before this retirement, and 3 more in a row after returning.  There seems to be a good chance he would have had 8 straight championships had he stayed – something LeBron is not even close to doing.

And lastly, I want to give my own eyeball test some expression.  I am old enough to have watched both players.  And while Lebron does have the edge in rebounds and assists – which I can appreciate, Jordan was better at nearly everything else.  But perhaps nothing is more striking to me that Jordan’s ability to create mid-range shots for himself, and make them with astonishing regularity, regardless of what the defense does.  Jordan carried his teams to victories on several occasions with just such a shot.  LeBron has no such mid-range game, and has far to often disappeared down the stretch of important games.

So, no, basketball fans, LeBron James is not a better basketball player than Michael Jordan, and is therefore not the best basketball player in history.  That honor goes to – Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

When one looks at the win shares per 48 minutes for individual seasons, 3 of the best 4 seasons in history belong to Kareem.  And when one considers that Kareem only lost one game in his 4 year college career, to add to a remarkable NBA career, most everyone is barking up the wrong tree when it comes to the best basketball player of all time.  It is neither LeBron nor Michael.  It is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

An Argument for the Incompatibility of Free Will and God’s Absolute Foreknowledge

I was recently reading some articles by Blake Ostler, and came across what I felt was a very illustrative argument for the Incompatibility of free will and God’s absolute foreknowledge.  Mostly I hope this will help make clear what is at stake in the debate, so here is my restatement of the argument:

P1 – God has always known that I will rob a convenience store at time T.
P2 – Free will demands that I could do otherwise.
P3 – If I were to refrain from robbing the convenience store at time T, I would change the past (specifically God’s absolute foreknowledge).
P4 – My actions in the present cannot change the past.

C – Free will is not compatible with God’s absolute foreknowledge.

I like this argument because it focuses on the past which most would say is fixed.  Is there a way out of this argument without disputing a straight forward definition of free will or time?

There Are a Lot of Counterfeits Out There, What’s in Your Wallet?

The latest manufactured outrage related to the church has to do with what should be an unsurprising paragraph by an Elder Lawrence in the April 2017 Ensign.  The key quote is given below:

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is only a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation. Although his imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness.

I have unfortunately seen some very twisted and forced spins on this statement, that have resulted (intentionally) in unnecessary questions.  The key to understanding this paragraph is that the posterity spoken of is the eternal, sealed posterity of a temple marriage, rather than the simple biological ability to reproduce, or adopt children during mortality.  Also the happiness spoken of is the eternal happiness available through exaltation.

What I wish to add to the conversation is that there are countless counterfeits out there (which is in keeping with the article).  But before I do, I would like to point out that calling something a counterfeit need not be a fighting word, in this context it can be helpful and descriptive.  This article points this out:

Remember, counterfeits are not the same as opposites. The opposite of white is black, but a counterfeit for white might be off-white or gray. Counterfeits bear a resemblance to the real thing in order to deceive unsuspecting people.

So to extend this idea within the topic of marriage, one could make the case that any marriage outside the temple has something of a counterfeit nature to it from a Mormon perspective.  Thus even heterosexual marriage, if not sealed in the temple, is a counterfeit.  A non-temple marriage of any kind will not bring an eternal posterity, exaltation, or the same level of eternal happiness as an eternal marriage will.

This idea can be extended to many topics.  If we wish to discuss religion, we could make the case that from a Mormon perspective all other religions have a counterfeit nature to them when compared with the restored gospel.  While they may do many great things, and appear to be the real thing, they preach of false Christs and false salvation.  They lack priesthood authority and perform counterfeit ordinances.  They are counterfeit gospels.

We could take any area of righteousness and discuss counterfeits.  Sabbath day observance may be as good an example as any.  Recreation, shopping, or watching football on TV (all of which I have done sometimes) on Sunday can be a counterfeit to meaningful worship on the Sabbath day.

I hope you get the picture.  The world is full of counterfeits to full gospel living.  Those who are outraged that the idea was applied to same-sex marriage could take some comfort in this I suppose.  These folks are not alone.  Counterfeits are all over the place.  And if we extend the analogy to counterfeit money, we may all have some counterfeits in our own wallet right now.

What is the Distinction Between the Elder and High Priest Office?

I have published nearly 400 blog posts over 12 years.  I have addressed a wide variety of topics, including very controversial issues.  And it is a bit surprising to me that one of the most consistently popular posts was on the Elder/High Priest transition.  Only a couple of posts have received more clicks, searches, unique visitors and comments – and they were not Mormon themed.  That post was made shortly after my 40th birthday, and I was still just an Elder.  And now I am a 50 year old Elder.

I believe the relatively high level of interest in the Elder/High Priest transition post represents an under-rated, quiet controversy in the church.  Many of the comments on that post represent good, faithful men who are at least a little disappointed that they have not been ordained High Priests while many of their peers have been.  I admire these men, who keep on going in the church without complaint, in spite of times when they feel unwanted and unappreciated.  I have sympathy for the good sisters of the church who serve so well without being able to hold the priesthood and certain callings, yet they can take some small comfort in not taking it personally.  The men I am talking about here are eligible for advancement to this priesthood office, yet have not been invited.

I think most of the folks reading this post probably know some good brother who attends the High Priest’s group in spite of holding the office of Elder.  He is likely around retirement age or so, and most of his peer group are High Priests.  It makes me wonder why should bishoprics and Stake Presidents be stingy with ordination in these cases?  What harm would it do?  For all practical purposes these men are part of the High Priest group already.  And this leads me to the question that is the title of this post – What is the distinction between the Elder and High Priest offices of the Melchizedek priesthood?

A glance at the scriptures actually tells us very little.  High Priests preside over spiritual things – whatever that means.  And while it makes sense that the Prophet, Stake President and Bishop are presiding High Priests, what distinction is there between the rank and file High Priest and Elder?   For the most part, it seems that there isn’t any.  Is there an important distinction that I am missing?


Trump Endorses Mormonism

Donald Trump has invited the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at his inauguration.  This of course can only mean one thing – Donald Trump has converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  This may seem to contradict some of his previous behaviors and statements, but that is sort of what conversion means.  He has obviously had a ‘born again’ experience with Mormonism.

Details of his conversion and upcoming baptism are unknown and speculative, but there seems to be no other explanation.  Inviting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could not mean anything other than a complete endorsement of all the beliefs and practices of the Mormon faith.  Anything else would be so hypocritical that only insanity or pure evil could cause such a decision.  I will be interested to learn more about the details of his baptism, and hearing from Brother Trump about his conversion experience.

The Perfect College Football Playoff System: 2016 Version

Several years ago I published to the world The Perfect College Football Playoff System.  Since that time the NCAA has taken a few baby steps in that direction.  But this change has not been enough, and this year supplies a pretty good example of the inadaquacy of the current system.  The example is Western Michigan.

The Western Michigan Broncos have had an undefeated season, winning most of their games in blowout fashion.  Their non-conference schedule included two road games against Big 10 opponents, which they of course won.  Is Western Michigan national championship caliber?  We will never really know, since they are not even in the discussion of the current playoff system.  Why not?  Simply because they do not have the tradition behind them.

The perfect college playoff system would remedy this injustice easy as pie, and should be implemented immediately.  I will offer my services to the NCAA to oversee the transition for a fee.  To summarize the perfect system:

  • All conference champions are in (currently 10 teams)
  • Top six ranked non-champions are in (total of 16 teams)
  • Teams seeded 1-16, with 1 playing 16, 2 playing 15 etc.
  • In first round, highest seeded team is home team.
  • Subsequent rounds are at neutral sites similar to bowl games.

This year the perfect system would look like this:

Appalachian St. @ Alabama
Western Kentucky @ Clemson
San Diego St. @ Ohio St.
Temple @ Washington
Western Michigan @ Penn St.
Florida St. @ Michigan
Colorada @ Oklahoma
USC @ Wisconsin

As you can see, the Big 10 is well represented this year.  Second round games would be paired by a committee.  Games could match up a Rose Bowl type matchup with Ohio St. and Washington.  Or an Alabama and Clemson Cotton Bowl.  Regional considerations could be made for a Michigan and Wisconsin game.  Such neutral site bowl games would funnel down quickly to a national championship game.  This is the perfect system.

Typical irrelevant objections include that this would result in to many games.  Hogwash.  These teams would be playing bowl games anyway, and you could easily remove a regular season game if it was that important.  With this simple adjustment, it would only result in extra games for 4 teams.  And the best part is that this year, an undefeated team like Western Michigan gets a chance to show what they can do.

A Response to Stephen Fry Annihilating God

An old friend of mine, whom I will always remember with fondness, posted a link to a video showing atheist Stephen Fry responding to the question of what he would say if he met God.  Mr. Fry’s response addresses the basic problem of evil, and he gives a long winded version of ‘how dare you?’  It is interesting that Mr. Fry says he would prefer it if the God he met were the Greek gods.  These were gods that were flawed, so at least they would have an excuse for the evils we experience.  The commentary in the video also brings up the problem of other religions, and how can believers be so arrogant as the expect that their religion happens to be the correct one.

I am pleased to report that my religious faith was unshaken by this video, and I would like to explain why.

First off, I think what Mr. Fry is arguing against is absolute definitions of the nature and character of God, largely from Protestant Christianity.  My Mormonism has some wiggle room here.  The God I believe in is embodied, and can only be in one place at a time.  My God is fighting against evil right along with us.  There is no absolute and complete control by God over everyone and every thing.  My idea of God could be considered as non-absolute.

In addition to this, I believe life to be a test.  And often this test is quite harsh.  A test that will eventually push us to certain limits, and the important thing is our response to such tests.  These tests must be real, with real consequences, and sufficient force to create real doubt, pain, grief and all the rest.  One may wonder what point life would have if nothing ever went terribly wrong.  I think part of the problem with Mr. Fry, and those who are persuaded by him, is that they insist on impossible expectations for any God to meet.

When it comes to the question of other religions, I feel my understanding of Mormonism provides some unique perspective.  Mormonism has this concept of a long apostasy, where full gospel knowledge and ordinances were not even available.  I conclude that in many cases, our response to life in general can be quite sufficient for God’s purposes, independent of any religious affiliation.

Further, the availability of vicarious ordinances for all, potentially makes Mormonism quite universal in the long run.  It can be okay if an individual lives their life in another religion, or no religion at all.  Eventually opportunity will be granted to all.  So the all or nothing religious test, for everyone, during mortality, does not affect Mormonism in the least.

I cannot speak to the religious experiences, or the lack thereof, of other people. I can only speak to my own.  I have had significant religious experiences, and I must either follow those experiences, or ignore them.  I know that there is evil and suffering in the world – a lot of it.  I know there are a lot of religions out there with competing claims.

I still believe.


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