Tag Archives: Joseph Smith

The Lord’s Prayer v. The Lord’s Prayer

A common criticism of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith was so uncreative that he simply lifted entire portions of the King James Bible and dumped it into the Book of Mormon (and some members wish that Mormon/Joseph Smith went easy on the Isaiah, but it’s good for them in the end). One such “uncreative” passage is when Jesus visits the inhabitants in the Americas and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6. The prayer, along with the Sermon on the Mount, is repeated verbatim by the Savior — or so a lot of people think. There are actually some surprising differences between the King James Lord’s Prayer and the Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer, and it raises some really interesting questions.

The following is a verse by verse comparison of the two passages:

New Testament Lord’s Prayer Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer
After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

__________

After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

__________

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

__________

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

__________

Give us this day our daily bread.

__________

This passage is missing in the Book of Mormon.

__________

And forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

__________

And forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

__________

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever. Amen.

__________

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever. Amen.

__________

There are two notable omissions in the Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer (and no additions). The first omission is the line, “Thy kingdom come,” which would make sense as this is post-Resurrection Jesus, and with his Earthly mission fulfilled, the kingdom has, in a sense, already arrived. After all, throughout his entire ministry, Jesus kept telling people that the kingdom of God was at hand. Now, with the kingdom established, the line could be considered no longer necessary (though there are theological/spiritual reasons why we might still need this line in our hearts).

The second omission makes less sense. The Book of Mormon Lord’s Prayer makes no mention of asking for our daily bread. Why the omission? Is there something significantly “un-LDS” about asking for our daily bread (I would venture no)? Did Joseph Smith simply forget while writing it down? It’s somewhat of a mystery. This sentiment is certainly not missing entirely from the Book of Mormon. Amulek, a Book of Mormon missionary, preaches a sermon where he implores people to pray for, in essence, their daily bread:

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness (Alma 34:17-26).

So why the omission? Some would point this out as an example that the Book of Mormon is uninspired, but I would disagree. Such a pittance does not really detract from the fact that the Book of Mormon is an incredibly robust piece of devotional literature. What makes it feel intentional as an omission is the fact that the first omission kind of makes sense. But at the same time, my personal opinion is that it could have simply been a piece of human error — perhaps young Joseph Smith had a hard time memorizing this prayer during his youth and always left out the “give us this day our daily bread” part. Then, while reciting the Book of Mormon to his scribe, childhood practice took over and he omitted it once again. I admit this is a somewhat fancypants-post-modern, totally unsubstantiated explanation. But is there any possible theological explanation for the omission? If there is, I can’t think of any at the moment.

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Steampunk alternate Mormon history fiction

I’m running a d20 Modern campaign. For those not well versed in geek lingo, it’s basically like Dungeons and Dragons except with a rule set for modern times. So every week, a group of us get together, sit around, eat snacks, roll dice, and make up stories based on set dice. It’s loads of fun.

This time around, I am running the story as the Game Master (GM); basically, I run all of the background characters, devise the world, and interpret the dice results into narrative fiction. I’ve done this for a while now, since I was roughly 19 years old, so I wanted to do something I had never done before, especially since my group was all Mormon.

I weaved a world based on my religion.

Well, sort of. The world that my friends delve into every week is steampunk alternative Mormon history. Basically, I ran with the idea of “What if Joseph Smith had successfully fled to the West instead of being martyred in Carthage Jail?” Suddenly, it’s the year 1899, and the Northern American continent has split into three basic political entities — the Federal Union, the Confederacy, and the Mormon Territories (during the Second War of Independence). Joseph Smith is still the prophet, operating out of Deseret, the capital established next to the Great Salt Lake, while Brigham Young is the governor of New Nauvoo, west of the Mississippi (the ruins of old Nauvoo lie just across the river). The two major Mormon cities are connected by a network of dirigibles, called the Mormon Line. Also, there’s magic, swashbuckling adventure, and sweet steampunk goggles and gears and stuff.

I’m planning on running strong themes of order versus nature, freedom versus security, justice versus mercy, the law versus the Spirit. In the background are the two gleaming diamonds of Mormondom — the alabaster, orderly, cosmopolitan city of Nauvoo and the dusty, rough-and-tumble, frontier city of Deseret. Two political leaders, the charismatic Joseph and the managerial Brigham, will butt heads as they both grapple with problems both mundane and fantastical and wonder what to do. In the midst, our plucky hero-adventurers will make decisions that will alter the course of alternate Mormon history forever.

When I ran this idea excitedly past my wife, she seemed reluctant. “Your friends are pretty liberal when it comes to Mormonism, and they’re pretty used to your blasphemy by now,” she warned with a wink, “But this might be crossing the line.”

“There’s a line?” I replied. Of course, I knew there was a line. This unsaid line runs deep through Mormon culture, separating the wheat from the chaff, the wholesome media from the seditious, libelous, faith-breaking, irreverent material deemed unfit for goodly Saints’ eyes and ears. A conservative, faith-promoting portrayal of Joseph Smith in Gerald Lund’s series, The Work and the Glory is appropriate. But a gun-toting, charismatic-but-too-trusting, Wild West Joseph Smith who wears steampunk goggles and swoops about in a steam-driven mini-glider shooting down invading Danite dirigibles? That’s too, well, irreverent.

But why is that? There’s a pretty fine line between parody and homage. One is lampooning, and the other is sincere respect. Sure, there can be elements of both in either, but I had considered this fantastical world I cooked up an homage to Mormon history, of which I have a deep appreciation for. And in every audience, in every niche, the fans’ parody-homage meter is finely tuned; we can’t explain it, but we can tell when someone is laughing at us, or smiling with us. Somehow, however, our parody-homage meter in Mormon culture tends to be hyper-tuned towards parody. If it doesn’t read like a Sunday School manual, you’re making fun. Or hurting the Church. At the very least, you could destroy someone’s testimony. Harsh consequences abound for any writer who decides to take liberties with Church history.

It could be because we’re still young, and we still take ourselves way too seriously. It could be because we’re still somewhat ashamed and confused about our own history and self-identity. It could be that we’re still too insecure about ourselves as a culture, afraid to appear fractured or to appear less than perfect. Maybe we just need time to mature, to mellow out, to realize that it doesn’t matter what the world says because the world will never like us anyway so we might as well have some fun at the expense of ourselves because we’re not really that perfect either.

Whatever the reason (and I believe it’s a complicated ball of cultural neuroses that would be fun to dissect but would turn this blog post into a dissertation), I ran the game, and afterwards, despite the skeptical looks, everyone had fun and look forward to see where the story goes. So far, nobody wants to burn me at the stake for heresy (talk about an awkward end to a get together). And I’m 85% confident than when I die and go to the Spirit World, Joseph Smith will come up to me, dice bag in hand, and say, “You know Brother Ted, I’d like to play in that steampunk alternate Mormon history game you ran several decades back. Pull out your campaign notes.” And I would, because we would both understand that we’re smiling together.

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Believe all things

I have never heard of a man being damned for believing too much.

– Joseph Smith

In the 13th Article of Faith, Joseph Smith writes that as Latter-day Saints, we believe that “we believe all things.”

What exactly does that mean?

Our religion is governed by rigid orthodoxy. Not only do many of the higher blessings involved require a consistent belief in Mormon orthodoxy (per the temple recommend interview), the very possibility of entrance into our Church necessitates a desire to live Mormon cultural standards for a period of time before they even integrate into the community through the rite of baptism. Just as much as we emphasize a need to do the right things, we also firmly insist that we must also believe the right things (and conversely, we must also reject a belief in the wrong things).

Elder Robert C. Oaks, in the July 2005 Ensign article titled Believe All Things, not surprisingly writes a very orthodox interpretation of the phrase “believe all things”:

For us, to “believe all things” means to believe the doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the words of the Latter-day prophets. It means to successfully erase our doubts and reservations. It means that in making spiritual commitments, we are prepared to hold nothing back. It means we are ready to consecrate our lives to the work of the kingdom.

I find the answer less than satisfactory, however. This is not to say that Elder Oaks’ definition is wrong; the desire to consecrate our lives to God, to eventually defeat doubt and grow faith into knowledge makes up a large part of our daily lives. However, in light of the context of the 13th Article of Faith, however, I do find Elder Oaks’ definition incomplete.

The 13th Article of Faith reads in its entirety:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things (Emphasis added).

Joseph Smith seems to imply that there is little distinction between “good” things and “Mormon” things. If something is good (or as Joseph puts it more succinctly, virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy), then it automatically falls under the auspices of Mormon theology, thought, and culture.

So is this what it means, to believe all things? We are supposed to spend our lives seeking for that which is good – but what does it mean to be good? We are supposed to spend our lives seeking to improve and influence the world for good – but what does it mean to do good? I have no doubt that a strong connection between thought and action exists, but what does it mean to have good thoughts and good actions? As a Church, we acknowledge that there lies many a good thing beyond our cultural borders – so how do we acquire it? And perhaps most importantly, could it be possible that what is good for one person is not good for another? How do we go about believing all things?

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The Glorious Church of the Future

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

There’s something admirable about Communist Russia. Well, at least to the idealist in me. Yes, it pretty much ended in horrible, miserable failure and millions lost their lives. But at least at the onset, the serfs once ruled by the Czar were free, and they used that freedom to trust in humanity, their leaders, and the Glorious Future. They took the opportunity to try and stamp out greed in indolence, to maximize efficiency, to create a worker’s paradise and a utopia for the common man.

I feel the same way about the failed commune living attempted by the Church in the early days. A good portion of members I know take a very condescending, scoffing attitude whenever the idea of consecration applied in reality comes up as a topic. “Of course it would fail,” they say, “Because humans aren’t perfect. And because of that, we have the law of tithing to compensate.” To them, consecration was a doomed endeavor from the start, and that disdain for the idea of applied consecrated living stems from the pessimism they hold towards their fellow man. Had it been any other man, the story of a self-proclaimed prophet trying to apply commune living and failing disastrously would be met with smug, patrionizing smiles. “How naive,” the naysayers in the Church would say. “He should have known better.”

In effect, they’re saying God should have known better.

The Church in the early days were obsessed with the idea of building Zion, the Kingdom of God. This kingdom was not a spiritual kingdom; it was a literal, physical kingdom established to herald in the last days. Zion wasn’t a place you carried in your heart; Zion was the New Jerusalem established by the Saints, a place of gathering and refuge where the laws of God rose higher than the petty laws of men. Because of the Church’s inability to perfect themselves like Enoch’s people did, however, God drove them into the wilderness until they could repent, and the core of American Mormons haven’t left Utah to this day.

Sometimes I wonder if the Church acts incredibly conservatively because of the incidents in the past. Many times, the Church reached for incredibly lofty goals – relocation and colonization of the Western frontier to create a vast Mormon territory (the Jell-o Belt today), the Kirtland anti-bank, the United Orders and the Orders of Enoch. If people think that the free market is implied within the Mormon doctrine of agency, they need to reconsider the economic history of the Church – such an idea so squarely rooted in the exploitation of human greed and vice to balance out the aggregate of transactions holds no place in an early theology which so resoundedly rejected the influence of mammon.

I can’t help but look back at those days wistfully like I do at the early days of the Soviet Union. How inspiring that must be, a gathering of workers and everyday men and women who have decided to live differently, to rise above the petty squabbles of society around them, to literally build something from the ground up bigger than themselves individually. Even if those endeavors failed, I can’t help but say to myself, “At least they tried.”

At least they tried, unlike us today. They believed in the Glorious Church of the Future, a church which would continue to propel itself into the horizons everyone else failed to think about. Joseph Smith introduced a cosmology that expanded into the inifite reaches of space, worlds without end, people without number. He introduced a theology which expanded the Trinity into the Godhead, revealed the idea of a the Feminine Divine as Heavenly Mother before most Christians even thought of it, a narrative for man where he could become exalted above the angels. The early prophets forsaw a people at the forefront of art, history, sciences, mathematics, scholarship, and technology. They continually pushed the boundaries of what people felt was possible, challenging the Saints at every turn.

Our Church today, however, is the Glorious Church of the Past. I can understand; it’s human nature, and it also comprises the paradoxical nature of this post. I pine for the days of old when it seemed like the Church didn’t care whether their projects succeeded or failed – the important thing was that they tried time and time again to live the law. And so, I can understand that every General Conference, the Brethren bemoan the state of the world, how terrible it is, how incredibly noble and virtuous society used to be, how we need to reject the advances of man in the future. They are unfamiliar, unsafe, untested. Joseph Smith believed in his followers, claiming that all he had to do was teach correct principles and the Saints would govern themselves. Leaders today tell us exactly what we can and cannot wear, for perhaps even the flash of female shoulder skin would drive men into a sexual frenzy. But, of course, that’s because humans will ultimately fail, and we should account for that. Better to be cautious and avoid any compromising situations rather than shoot for the heavens and potentially embarrass ourselves. After all, only a fool would  charge in, hoping that ideals will trump reality.

Right?

Unfortunately, this often translates into horrible backwardness, with people claiming they don’t “believe” in evolution (as if you could also disbelieve gravity or the germ theory), a church that invests millions of dollars into a high-end shopping mall next to their Mecca instead of investing in something more humanitarian-oriented like schools or hospitals in poor areas, who remain scared and superstitious of the recent leaps we’ve made as a society. We have become like the people in the Book of Mormon who cry, “We already have a Bible and have no more need for more Bible!” Our leaders more often work to build a hedge around the law like the rabbis of old rather than push the boundaries of theology, or clarify old doctrines in light of new knowledge. Revolutionary ideas that we used to be proud of like Heavenly Mother are played down, eventually almost discarded. The new Gospel Principles manual has almost been scrubbed free of all references to Her. Ironically enough, the rest of Christian theology has finally recognized the deficiency in the concept of God without the Divine Feminine concept and have worked to incorporate it into their own schools of thought, while we (who once pushed the boundaries with this idea a hundred years before) quietly sweep it under the carpet.

As we break the cusp of human limits, I wonder how Joseph Smith would have felt about our times today. Would he have marveled at the beautiful simplicity and flexibility of evolution, the magnificence of human philosophy considering the equality and individual rights of humans? Would he have read our tracts on philosophy and theology and history eagerly, devouring all of the information we’ve built up over the years? Would he have continued to prod the psychologists to yield what they’ve learned concerning the human brain, studied about our knowledge in human behavior, no matter how incomplete our knowledge is today? And would he have taken this vast corpus of learning we have acquired, and began to incorporate it all into the framework of Mormon theology, reinterpreting advances as they come in the light of the Restored Gospel, ever looking forward for the future when more light and knowledge will be revealed?

I would like to think that he would, and thank his lucky stars that he lived in the Glorious Future.

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What do anti-Christs and capitalism have in common?

The anti-Christ Korihor in the Book of Mormon is (in)famous in Mormon circles for a lot of things. Teaching that God doesn’t exist is one of them. Saying that a religious view on life is “the effect of a frenzied mind” and a “derangement of your minds” is probably a good second. But here’s one more thing Korihor should be very, very (in)famous for:

“And many such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospored according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.”

– Alma 30:17, emphasis added

Wait! That’s basically the definition of capitalism! Are you saying capitalism is of the devil? That the Gospel of Prosperity is actually a false perversion?

Was Joseph Smith a closet socialist or something?

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Moving to the edge of the light

I had oft heard the quote by President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Twelve Apostles, of the counsel he received once from then Elder Harold B. Lee to do something difficult. When Brother Packer hesitated, Elder Lee told him, “Do you know what is wrong with you – you always want to see the end from the beginning.”

When Brother Packer “replied quietly that I wanted to see at least a few steps ahead,” Elder Lee “quoted from the sixth verse of the twelfth chapter of Ether” and added, “My boy, you must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, and you will find the light appear and move ahead of you.”

Certainly, this is good counsel on faith. What I didn’t know is that President Packer elaborated on what exactly he was asked to do in his book The Holy Temple, which I have been reading recently:

I had been called as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, and we were to move to Salt Lake City and find an adequate and permanent home. President Henry D. Moyle assigned someone to help us.

A home was located that was ideally suited to our needs. Elder Harold B. Lee came and looked it over carefully and then counseled, “By all means, you are to proceed.”

But there was no way we could proceed. I had just completed the course work on a doctor’s degree and was writing the dissertation. With the support of my wife and our eight children, all of the resources we could gather over the years had been spent on education.

By borrowing on our insurance, gathering every resource, we could barely get into the house, without sufficient left to even make the first monthly payment.

Brother Lee insisted, “Go ahead. I know it is right.”

I was in deep turmoil because I had been counseled to do something I had never done before – to sign a contract without having the resources to meet they payments.

When Brother Lee sensed my feelings he sent me to President David O. McKay, who listened very carefully as I explained the circumstances.

He said, “You do this. It is the right thing.” But he extended no resources to make the doing of it possible.

In other words, President Packer had been asked not only to do something difficult, but he had been asked to do something the Church had counseled for many, many years not to do – to live beyond his means. While not similar in severity, this is similar in principle to Nephi being commanded to slay Laban, or Abraham to sacrifice his child. All three of these men were told by God or a representative of Him to do something He had expressly told them not to do in the past.

While it is certain that you shouldn’t disobey commandments unless told to by a representative of the Lord or the Lord Himself (and make sure it’s the Lord and nothing something else), it shows how flexible the Lord requires us exactly to be. Just living the commandments, the rules and regulations, the ordinances and covenants is a difficult thing, requiring a great deal of faith and discipline. Still, with all we live in the Church, we are blessed with the knowledge of what will happen. We know the Lord has promised us blessings if we pay our tithing, exaltation as we receive all the ordinances and covenants necessary to do so, protection if we live the commandments, spiritual power as we keep the rules. But the real tests, apparently, don’t start to happen when those rules are turned on top of their heads. The true test of faith comes when the Lord personally asks us to do something that may at first seem against the rules, and the real challenge there is that we don’t know where following that request will take us. He hasn’t exactly told us yet.

But, as President Packer notes earlier in the book, sometimes we have to be flexible. Quoting Joseph Smith, he writes:

I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.

Before, I had always thought of “the fire” as your standard persecution, trials, and temptations. But upon re-thinking this, I don’t think it’s true. This “fire” may well be when God asks me to do something I had tried to avoid for decades, and by then, hopefully I have the hope and faith to step into the darkness without seeing the light, and my faith has been tempered enough not to shatter instantly like glass.

Moral of the Story: The Lord sometimes asks very difficult things from us. Sometimes, that difficulty itself is because the Lord has taught us not to do what we asked us to do in the past. Flexibility and faith seem to go hand in hand, but the flexibility must be mandated by the Lord, not us.

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