Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vegetarians are inconsistent

I am not sure how eating meat from one living creature differs from any other, at least as far as the particular impact it has on other living creatures. Dogs, cows, sheep, chickens, fish -- even plants and microorganisms. They are all living creations of Heavenly Father. If we use products derived from living things of any form, we are necessarily participants in depriving them of life. I find very little strength in artificial distinctions between various life forms, deeming that it is okay to use certain biological byproducts but proscribing others.

The existence of all living things revolves around the cycle of life and death in this world. Those of us who are net consumers live at the expense of the lives of other living things. This is inherent in the nature of our being -- it cannot be any other way, without some major biological transformation. To my way of thinking, it rather trivializes the whole issue if we randomly discriminate with regard to certain peculiar food habits.

Particularly in the context of the gospel, I see no basis for promoting extreme forms of dietary regimentation. Many times the Lord has confirmed that abstaining from meat does not have provenance in the commandments of God. While I have nothing against those who make the personal choice for some form of vegetarian discipline, I think these are deep into unsupportable argument if they start advocating that *not* so choosing or living somehow represents a lower level of moral values.

Eating meat is not sinful, therefore abstaining cannot be regarded as a particularly superior virtue.

As far as raising objections about the way domestic animals are raised, it appears to me that those proponents of certain arguments in this domain have an agenda that they wish to serve first and foremost, and they care very little about the consideration of other points of view, and they care even less about the accuracy of their own propaganda. Near as I can judge, "factory farming" is a pejorative used by people who don't know much about farming. People that farm or have association with farming as a business endeavor generally have a different view.

In this, as in all things, I assume a general axiom of moderation and common sense. Indeed, the phrase "prudence and thanksgiving" is explicit in the Word of Wisdom and strongly implied in most other related scripture and counsel.

The best choices are informed by correct principles...

And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. (Doctrine and Covenants Section 49:18,19)

Another good passage to study on -- from Doctrine and Covenants 59:

16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Winning the only war that matters

Excerpts from President Gordon B. Hinckley in a recent message to the Church.

"There are two powers on the earth and in the midst of the inhabitants of the earth—the power of God and the power of the devil. In our history we have had some very peculiar experiences. When God has had a people on the earth, it matters not in what age, Lucifer, the son of the morning, and the millions of fallen spirits that were cast out of heaven, have warred against God, against Christ, against the work of God, and against the people of God. And they are not backward in doing it in our day and generation. Whenever the Lord set His hand to perform any work, those powers labored to overthrow it." (Quoting from October 1896 Conference address, President Wilford Woodruff)

In this work there must be commitment. There must be devotion. We are engaged in a great eternal struggle that concerns the very souls of the sons and daughters of God.

We are not losing. We are winning.

We will continue to win if we will be faithful and true.

We can do it. We must do it. We will do it.

There is nothing the Lord has asked of us that in faith we cannot accomplish. (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "An Unending Conflict, A Victory Assured", Ensign, Jun 2007, 4–9)

I sustain and follow the brethren in the example they set with reference to this matter of such grave and immediate concern to our lives.

Let us keep our focus on the testimony of our inspired leaders. We face continuing challenges that will shake the faith of those not prepared. We must stand in holy places, and not be moved.

Remember, in our individual stewardships, there is nothing the Lord has asked of us that in faith we cannot accomplish. A living prophet of the one true and living God has so testified.

I share my solemn witness and testimony that he speaks the truth. There is no power in this world that can stay the hand of God from carrying out His eternal purposes. No host of the destroyer can challenge His work or change the course of His will. What the Lord has spoken will all be fulfilled.

To my friends in Christ, let us prepare and strengthen ourselves, and continue steadfast. We are promised that if we are prepared, we have nothing to fear.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

President Benson and the Book of Mormon message

As I remember President Benson and his prophetic ministry, my recollection is that he challenged the saints to remember this admonition from the Lord:

"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received-

"Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

"And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

"And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written-

"That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father's kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-58).

President Benson taught that the church was still under condemnation for failing to publish and promote the Book of Mormon. His message invigorated the church to greater efforts, to study and teach the scriptures, and to focus on the Book of Mormon in particular.

President Benson's prophetic message was never exclusively on warning or calling the saints to somehow take action against secret conspiracies. The fact that he mentioned this concern in general conference certainly puts it in a catorgory of matters of abiding interest. But I cannot recall that he ever stipulated that messages about Gadiantons or secret combinations held the same weight of obligation or concern as other gospel messages. To me these messages were always of interest, but more by way of important information. I never felt motivated to get out and start rooting out the Gadiantons.

What I heard was in the context of general direction to be active in local political interests, and to make sure the church was well represented at that level. Instead of questing for Gadiantons to unseat, I read the Book of Mormon. I believe my wife even read it once, for perhaps the first and only time in her life.

This perception of areas of primary focus is bolstered by the general lack of reiterating any prophetic warnings to read Gary Allen's None Dare Call it Conspiracy, either by President Benson or any of the other prophetic leaders of our time. The fact that it was mentioned once hardly brings it into the range of primary interest.

I think you're pretty well on your own, if you insist on asserting that the church is under any condemnation for not feeling vitally concerned about Gary Allen's message. Whether we accept the counsel and teachings of President Benson or any other latter-day prophets is another thing altogether. I think you're well justified in remembering and being aware of this matter, but you have gone too far when you project your private concerns into the scope of obligations borne by the entire church.

Was there a CFR conspiracy to supress President Benson's statement?

Nah, I doubt it.

My guess would be that his comment about the "Dare" book was off-the-cuff, not in his text notes prepared beforehand. All the talks are supposed to be written down like that, because of programming time constraints for media broadcasts and etc. It seems not everyone is strict about following the prepared text. I'm sure they sometimes jot something in the margin while they're waiting to speak. I always do that with my talks.

I'm pretty certain that the Ensign version of the talk is transcribed from the prepared text. President Benson's talk is not the only one I've seen where the address delivered in conference differed from the later-published Ensign version.

BTW, does anyone recall when Lavina Anderson was on the Ensign staff?

Today the facility with which conference procedings are published is quite speedy. In 1972 it took months to get a text version of conference addresses into our hands. Now we get online versions in just a few days. Dramatic changes have taken place during the last thirty years, not the least of which is an obvious sense of far greater urgency to deliver the message to the ends of the earth. It has become a vital part of the communications from church leaders to deliver
timely counsel to the church.

When I was young, growing up in the Los Angeles area, my dad was in the bishopric for many years. Making the trip to LDS General Conference in Salt Lake City was a common observance. Going to the Tabernacle and sitting at the feet of the church leaders was one of the best ways to hear inspired counsel. Now we tune in on satellite broadcasts without even leaving the neighborhood.

One of the early exercises we undertook on John Redelfs' Zion list was directed toward sharing the conference messages. One of our members took it upon himself to copy his detailed conference notes to the list. Later we took it upon ourselves to transcribe conference talks from _Ensign_. Each of us picked a talk from the conference to type in and share online. Just a short time after we implemented this practice, the church started making the conference texts available online.

It was actually a pretty surprising coincidence. An idea whose time had come. Computers and word processing programs, together with world-wide telecommunications facilities, have truly changed the way we listen to a prophet's voice.

Here is an excerpt from a talk by President Benson in which he specifically addresses the concerns we have been discussing. A great talk -- I think it is perhaps one of the best treatments of these issues, and lays it out in good perspective. His counsel is directed to priesthood holders, but seems generally applicable.

I note that he explicitly asserts that for each of us, "putting our own house in order" is the highest priority. And he outlines a number of things that have been common and consistent in prophetic counsel for many years before, during, and since President Benson's administration.

No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction. These evil philosophies are incompatible with Mormonism, the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

What can priesthood holders do? There are many things we can do to meet the challenge of the adversary in our day.

First, we should become informed about communism, about socialism, and about Americanism. What better way can one become informed than by just studying the inspired words of the prophets and using that as a foundation against which to test all other material? This is in keeping with the Prophet Joseph Smith's motto, "When the Lord commands, do it." (DHC, vol. 2, p. 170.)

The Foundation for Economic Education at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, on which President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., served as a board member, continues to supply sound freedom literature. We should know enough about American free enterprise to be able to defend it. We should know what makes it possible for six percent of humanity-living under our free economy-to produce about one-half of the earth's developed wealth each year.

We should know why paternalism, collectivism, or unnecessary federal supervision will hold down our standard of living and reduce productivity just as it has in every country where it has been tried. We should also know why the communist leaders consider socialism the highroad to communism.

Second, we should accept the command of the Lord and treat socialistic communism as the tool of Satan. We should follow the counsel of the President of the Church and resist the influence and policies of the socialist-communist conspiracy wherever they are found-in the schools, in the churches, in governments, in unions, in businesses, in agriculture.

Third, we should help those who have been deceived or who are misinformed to find the truth. unless each person who knows the truth will "stand up and speak up," it is difficult for the deceived or confused citizen to find his way back.

Fourth, we should not make the mistake of calling people "communist" just because they happen to be helping the communist cause. Thousands of patriotic Americans, including a few Latter-day Saints, have helped the communists without realizing it. Others have knowingly helped without joining the party. The remedy is to avoid name-calling, but point out clearly and persuasively how they are helping the communists.

Fifth, each priesthood holder should use his influence in the community to resist the erosion process which is taking place in our political and economic life. He should use the political party of his choice to express his evaluation of important issues. He should see that his party is working to preserve freedom, not destroy it. He should join responsible local groups interested in promoting freedom and free competitive enterprise, in studying political issues, appraising the voting records and proposed programs, and writing to members of Congress, promoting good men in public office, and scrutinizing local, state, and federal agencies to see that the will of the people is being carried out. He should not wait for the Lord's servants to give instruction for every detail once they have announced the direction in which the priesthood should go. Each member should exercise prayerful judgment and then act.

Sixth, and most important of all, each member of the priesthood should set his own house in order. This should include:

1. Regular family prayer, remembering especially our government leaders.

2. Getting out of debt.

3. Seeing that each member of the family understands the importance of keeping the commandments.

4. Seeing that the truth is shared with members of the family, with neighbors, and with associates.

5. Seeing that each member is performing his duties in the priesthood, in the auxiliary organizations, in the temple, and in the civic life of the community.

6. Seeing that every wage earner in the home is a full tithe-payer and fulfilling other obligations in financial support of the kingdom.

7. Providing a one-year supply of essentials.

In doing these things a member of the Church is not only making himself an opponent of the adversary, but a pro-ponent of the Lord.

In the prophecies there is no promise except to the obedient. To a modern prophet the Lord said:

Therefore, what I say unto one, I say unto all: Watch, for the adversary spreadeth his dominions, and darkness reigneth;

And the anger of God kindleth against the inhabitants of the earth;

. . . I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.

I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. (D&C 82:5-6, 9-10.)

May God give us the wisdom to recognize the threat to our freedom and the strength to meet this danger courageously. Yes, perilous times are ahead, but if we do our duty in all things, God will give us inner peace and overrule all things for our good. God grant it may be so.

(Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, 1961)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Learning to appreciate church history

I was about to post some comments at an LDS blog, but had second thoughts, realizing that my comments would be poorly received there. How much better to share these thoughts and fond memories on my own blog.

I am in my mid-fifties, and cannot recall when I first formed a more comprehensive understanding about Joseph's gift of translation. Must have had roots in early primary lessons. Insights about seer-stones and the Urim and Thummim also developed along the same lines. If there was ever anything suppressed or secret relating to Joseph's use of such instruments, I was never aware of it. Perhaps my experience was different from that of Utah mormons because my more liberal California upbringing. :-)

I remember how entranced I was as a college freshman to discover the LDS Instutute library, a little closet stuffed with books and magazines from wall to wall and top to bottom. I spent many days there reading the big collection of Dialogue, and devouring Journal of Discourses. I read and revisited Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I fell in love with the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, and the writings of John Taylor. I lived vicariously in the fiery sermons of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.

Though I flunked all my college courses, it was a great preparatory regimen for my mission.

I also discovered the core of authoritative LDS writers, building on the tradition of Talmage and Widtsoe. Hugh Nibley and Truman Madsen were my modern-day heroes. And I learned great respect for the Doctrines of Salvation-Gospel Questions-Origin and Destiny-Mormon Doctrine that added upon the bulwark and legacy of restoration scholarship.

I wish I could go back to those times. Things were so much better then.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Telling the truth

As I see it, there is a serious logical conflict in the expectation that moral values which rightfully govern our normal thinking and actions ought to operate absolutely the same way in extreme cases, under duress, or when there are obvious and serious extenuating circumstances. Surely, when unethical means are exerted in the effort to force individual choice and acts, our basic obligations to simple honesty and truth will quite likely be tempered by other weightier
considerations. A willful and obstinate insistence that "telling the truth" is absolutely mandated in all instances may be more damaging than telling a "lie".

The classic example of this type of moral conflict in our theology is Nephi's dilemma. He is commanded to slay Laban, but protests that he has never taken a human life before. In the narrative we are instructed that it is better for one man to perish than for an entire
nation to dwindle and perish in unbelief.

In Nephi's case, the more immediate instruction modifies his ingrained ethical discipline that forbids killing. In this instance, the rationale for killing Laban is thus logically consistent with the higher intent and purpose of the moral law which proscribes killing.

I personally believe that this apparent conflict demonstrates a kind of flaw which originates in our simplistic approach to expressing absolutes. A perfect expression of the law which forbids killing would be fully informed by the understanding of circumstances under which that more simple framing of the law is superseded.

In some circumstances the absolute insistence on "total honesty" can even produce ludicrous restrictions. We might be prevented, for example, from telling illustrative stories or parables because they are not "true" in the strictest sense.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Firefighting 2007 -- Reprise

Thinking the wildland fire season was over, we parked our engines and washed up our nomex clothing.

Then, last week, some brave and foolish souls were wending their way down Fairview Canyon, a half-ton truck hauling 2 tons of coal. They almost made it down.

Half-mile from the point where the grade flattens out, there is one last steep hairpin curve carved into the side of the canyon. There the brakes failed.

The truck and trailer rammed into a nice flat landing spot on the canyon wall, and just pancaked into a successful stop. Almost miraculous -- none of the passengers were seriously injured. They exited the vehicle, which was standing on its tailgate glued hard against the rock wall, balanced atop trailer and load of coal.

Just as everyone cleared the dangerous area, the gasoline tank in the truck caught fire and the vehicle was engulfed in a ball of fire. The flames quickly spread up the steep slope, through a grove of small cottonwood trees, and continued running up the ridge through scattered oak brush and pinyon/juniper.

By the time we were called in, the fire had spread up the canyon and along the ridge more than a quarter mile. The terrain was near-vertical, so it was not easily approachable. There wasn't much for us to do but stand and watch it burn.

Several firefighting groups attempted to draw out a hose lay up the hill, but the terrain was far too steep and rugged. We suppressed the flames burning close to the road and went home for the night. The fire continued to develop higher up the east side of the canyon.

The next day our group was assigned to stand by at the highway while ground teams started working a fire-break perimeter around the fire. A helicopter with a 250-gallon drop bucket arrived early in the afternoon, and started carrying water drops to selected hot spots, while the ground crews worked on establishing containment lines.

The fire continued to burn and spread higher until Monday, when the two containment lines met at the top of the canyon and tied into an existing road.

We got to assist the helicopter operations on Monday, by replenishing the water supply in the pond he was dipping from. One of the property owners on the side of the hill in north Fairview was nice enough to give us access to his small pond. His name is Wing.

To try and balance out the water we were taking, we brought our 5000 gallon water tender up to put water back into the pond at the Wing ranch. The helicopter was staging right above us. Eventually the helicopter bucket dropped about 30000 gallons of water on the fire, and it was finally snuffed out.

Not a very big fire, as wildland fires go. But it had every potential to threaten signficant damage, far above the 25 acres of scrub oak and juniper it burned. Across the ridge less than a mile away was the city of Fairview. I am certain that many of the residents of Fairview watched those flames atop the ridge on Saturday night with some apprehension. And I hope they breathed a sigh of relief when the smoke plume so near by finally dwindled and disappeared.


A news article from Deseret News:

Wildfires burning in central Utah
Published: November 9, 2007
A pair of wildfires burning in central Utah serve as another reminder that the fire season is not over.

Wildland firefighters were called out to do battle against a 285-acre blaze in remote Millard County earlier this week. A helicopter also was dispatched to contain a 24-acre blaze that ignited on Nov. 3 in steep terrain in Sanpete County's Fairview Canyon.

"Fire season is not over," Karen Feary, a spokeswoman for the Richfield Interagency Fire Center, said Thursday. "We haven't got any rain or snow. We've got cured vegetation out there."

The 24-acre Coal Fire was caused by a vehicle with hot brakes, and it burned in oak brush in terrain so steep, firefighters had to call in a helicopter to help extinguish it. The fire was finally contained on Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday, the Lakeview Fire started in Millard County west of Black Rock. The fire swelled to 285 acres before it was contained, Feary said.

The Lakeview Fire is believed to be human-caused. Investigators have been dispatched to the scene, but authorities said there is nothing to indicate what started the fire.

"It's under investigation," Feary said. "It is believed to be human-caused. We have no lightning."

The absence of any weather is a big concern for firefighters. Despite the cooler temperatures, cheatgrass and other fuels remain dry and ripe to burn.

"Fire danger has increased, and there is a shortage of fire suppression personnel," said Tom Suwyn, a fire management officer.

Firefighters are urging people to be careful in wildland areas, particularly through hunting season.

"We've got cooler days, which mitigates fire activity, but it could still take off," Feary said. "We still have campfires that have escaped on us."

Remembering II...

Perhaps we need yet another review of recent history. Too many seem inclined to very short memory. At the risk of being repetitive, I reiterate my resolution on this matter...

On 9/11, this country sustained the the most vicious and unprovoked attack of evil and destruction ever perpetrated on our shores. On that day, and for many months that followed, the people of this country raised a nearly unanimous voice, affirming that we reserve the right to act to defend ourselves and our land against foreign aggressors, sending unequivocal notice that those who attack us and make themselves our enemy will not escape without consequence. Where ever they go, no matter where they might attempt to hide, we resolve to find them and destroy them. In the face of such unprovoked malice and hatred, this is the only practical response.

Since then, many have grown comfortable with the idea that cowardly enemies can strike and cause harm to innocent noncombatants within our own shores, then withdraw to their dark lairs to hide and plan further evil. To me, this kind of growing complacency seems to border on criminal negligence.

Our obligation is to protect the defenseless. Those who provoked the current situation are responsible for the expense and the deaths. They are the war criminals. Our war is and ever will be with those who could contemplate such dastardly evil. As the rightful champions of freedom and liberty, we can never coexist in peace.

If you knew an enemy was lurking in your own neighborhood, and failed to protect your own vulnerable people, perhaps you deserve whatever comes.

This is an issue that requires some personal reflection and commitment.

Just ask yourself this --

Which symbol is most likely to help us promote peace?


Or this?