Friday, May 22, 2015

Lehi's Dream

"Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision" - Lehi

Much ink has been spilt on interpretations of Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon.  

For example, Daniel Peterson has surmised that there is a connection between Asherah, the chief goddess of the Canaanites, the sacred trees of rabbinic literature, and the tree of life in Lehi's dream.  Charles Swift has interepreted Lehi's dream in light of the tradition of visionary literature.

Not long ago, President Boyd K. Packer taught "You may think that Lehi’s dream or vision has no special meaning for you, but it does. You are in it; all of us are in it."

He continued, "Largely because of television, instead of looking over into that spacious building, we are, in effect, living inside of it. That is your fate in this generation. You are living in that great and spacious building."

Elder David A. Bednar also recently provided an interpretation of Lehi's dream in which he invited the reader to consider a searching question: "What lessons can and should I learn from Lehi’s vision of the tree of life and from the principle of continually holding fast to the rod of iron that will enable me to stand spiritually strong in the world in which we live today?

Much ink has been spilt on interpretations of Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon.  Many lessons may be gleaned by carefully studying the vision, pondering the symbols, and applying the principles it contains.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Both Sides Now

Socrates may be more famous for avowing ignorance ("what I do not know I do not think I know"), but I like Joni Mitchell's (and Judy Collin's) confession better:

Both Sides Now (lyrics)

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say 'I love you' right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Plain and Precious Things

Most people, it seems, have at least one thing in common: the desire to be happy.

The Medieval Muslim philosopher al-Farabi wrote an entire treatise on The Attainment of Happiness, and "the pursuit of Happiness" is one of the unalienable rights listed in the United States Declaration of Independence.

The Prophet Joseph Smith
"Happiness is the object and design of our existence," the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [1976], 255–56).

"Adam fell that men might be," the Book of Mormon Prophet Lehi taught his son Jacob, "and men are, that they might have joy." (2 Ne. 2:25)

Through ancient and modern prophets, God has revealed His great plan of happiness, or the plan of salvation.  God loves and blesses all of His children, and His earnest desire is for each of us to be happy and to experience joy.

It is little wonder therefore that Satan desires exactly the opposite.  He seeks to make all men as miserable as he is. (2 Ne. 2:27)

C.S. Lewis
"What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors," wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, "was the idea that they could 'be like gods' -could set up on their own as if they had created themselves-be their own masters-invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history-money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy."

Lewis elaborated:

"The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

God knows better than we do what will make us happy, but Satan works relentlessly to destroy God's plan.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
"The precious perspective that the gospel gives us and that is a part of the faith we need to develop," wrote Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "is bound up in the plan of salvation. This perspective, which the adversary so strongly resists our having, is precisely the one-dimensional view of life that clearly undergirds so much of agnosticism, whether ancient or modern.  Hearts that are stolen away from eternal perspectives inevitably become fixed and set upon the immediate and upon the things of this world. Time-transcending truths that tell mortals who they are and why they are here are the very truths the adversary most resists and fears. Hence his scoffing is so severe when things messianic are mixed with a foretelling of the future."

One way to understand how persistently Satan has attempted to thwart God's great plan of happiness is to consider how, under his influence, time-transcending truths were removed from the Holy BibleThe Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors" (TPJS, p. 327)

What were these errors?  What are some of the vital truths that had been eliminated from the Holy Bible?

While working on a retranslation of the first six chapters of the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible from June of 1830 until February of 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith received revelations that are recorded in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.  These revelations (along with the revelations contained in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the rest of the Pearl of Great Price and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Holy Bible) restored many crucial, time-transcending truths that had been lost or removed from the Holy Bible.  The Book of Mormon describes these truths as "plain and precious things."

Here is a brief list of critical, time-transcending truths (plain and precious things) that were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and recorded in the Book of Moses (see also The Articles of Faith):

1. The Plan of Salvation
2. God the Eternal Father
3. Jesus Christ
4. The Holy Ghost
5. Forgiveness of Adam and Eve
6. Atonement
7. Laws and Ordinances
8. Faith
9. Repentance
10. Baptism
11. Eternal Life
12. Priesthood
13. Genealogy
14. The Fall
15. Zion
16. New Jerusalem
17. Resurrection

In summary, God the Eternal Father created a plan for us, His children.  His Son Jesus Christ is the most important part of this plan.  Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want us to be happy and to experience joy in this life.  Latter-day scriptures, including the Book of Moses, complete, verify, and testify of the truth of the Holy Bible, restoring plain and precious things that lead to lasting happiness and joy in this life, as well as salvation and eternal life in the future.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pure Souls in Conversation

"In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. You will agree with me in that?" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Cebes added: Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which we learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible unless our soul was in some place before existing in the human form; here, then, is another argument of the soul's immortality." - Cebes in Plato's Phaedo

"And if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born having it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant of birth not only equal or the greater or the less, but all other ideas; for we are not speaking only of equality absolute, but of beauty, goodness, justice, holiness, and all which we stamp with the name of essence in the dialectical process, when we ask and answer questions. Of all this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge before birth?" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"But if the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost by us at birth, and afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered that which we previously knew, will not that which we call learning be a process of recovering our knowledge, and may not this be rightly termed recollection by us?" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Then, Simmias, our souls must have existed before they were in the form of man-without bodies, and must have had intelligence." - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity for the existence of the soul before birth, and of the essence of which you are speaking: and the argument arrives at a result which happily agrees with my own notion. For there is nothing which to my mind is so evident as that beauty, goodness, and other notions of which you were just now speaking have a most real and absolute existence; and I am satisfied with the proof." - Simmias in Plato's Phaedo

"Very true, Simmias, said Cebes; that our soul existed before we were born was the first half of the argument, and this appears to have been proven; that the soul will exist after death as well as before birth is the other half of which the proof is still wanting, and has to be supplied." - Cebes in Plato's Phaedo

"And these you can touch and see and perceive with the senses, but the unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind-they are invisible and are not seen?" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Then reflect, Cebes: is not the conclusion of the whole matter this?-that the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable. Can this, my dear Cebes, be denied?" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"And I, too, believing myself to be the consecrated servant of the same God, and the fellow servant of the swans, and thinking that I have received from my master gifts of prophecy which are not inferior to theirs, would not go out of life less merrily than the swans." - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Socrates paused awhile, and seemed to be absorbed in reflection...

When I was young, Cebes, I had a prodigious desire to know that department of philosophy which is called the investigation of nature; to know the causes of things, and why a thing is and is created or destroyed appeared to me to be a lofty profession." - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"I stoutly contend that by beauty all beautiful things become beautiful. This appears to me to be the safest answer which I can give, either to myself or to another, and to this I cling, in the persuasion that this principle will never be overthrown, and that to myself or to any one who asks the question, I may safely reply, That by beauty beautiful things become beautiful. Do you not agree with me?" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Then, Cebes, beyond question, the soul is immortal and imperishable, and our souls will truly exist in another world!" - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who having cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him and working harm rather than good, has sought after the pleasures of knowledge; and has arrayed the soul, not in some foreign attire, but in her own proper jewels, temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth—in these adorned she is ready to go on her journey to the world below, when her hour comes." - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"I understand, he said: but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world—even so—and so be it according to my prayer. Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison." - Socrates in Plato's Phaedo

"Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best." - Phaedo in Plato's Phaedo

Friday, May 8, 2015

Harrison Bergeron

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
"The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Harrison Bergeron 

Monday, May 4, 2015


"I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God, or lightly reject his boon by condemning me. For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. And as you will not easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me." 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Payson Utah Temple

The new Payson Utah Temple is beautiful.  It is beautiful outside.  It is beautiful inside.  Most importantly, it points to even greater beauty:

"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:9)

In the words of the Crusader's Hymn:

"Fair is the sunshine,
Fairer the moonlight
And all the stars in heav'n above;
Jesus shines brighter,
Jesus shines purer
And brings to all the world his love.

Fair are the meadows,
Fairer the woodlands,
Robed in the flowers of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer.
He makes the sorrowing spirit sing.

Beautiful Savior!
Lord of the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Thee will I honor, praise, and give glory,
Give praise and glory evermore!

The theme of this temple is the Tree of Life, with leaves cascading down the sides and the windows.

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

What is the Most Valuable Substance in the World?

"I want to begin by asking a simple question. What is the most valuable substance or commodity in the world? We might initially think that gold, oil, or diamonds have the greatest worth. But of all the minerals, metals, gems, and solvents found on and in the earth, the most valuable is water."

- Elder David A. Bednar, A Reservoir of Living Water

The Most Valuable Substance in the World... Water

Friday, April 24, 2015

Why Beauty Matters

Does beauty matter?  Philosopher Roger Scruton thinks so, and I heartily agree.  

"In this very short introduction, the renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explores the concept of beauty, asking what makes an object - either in art, in nature, or the human form - beautiful, and examining how we can compare differing judgments of beauty when it is evident all around us that our tastes vary so widely. Is there a right judgement to be made about beauty? Is it right to say there is more beauty in a classical temple than a concrete office block, more in a Rembrandt than in last year's Turner Prize winner? Forthright and thought-provoking, and as accessible as it is intellectually rigorous, this introduction to the philosophy of beauty draws conclusions that some may find controversial, but, as Scruton shows, help us to find greater sense of meaning in the beautiful objects that fill our lives." —BBC
  • "Beauty is the remedy for the chaos and suffering in human life...The beautiful work of art brings consolation in sorrow and affirmation in joy." —Roger Scruton
  • "Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference." - Roger Scruton
  • "Beauty is more than subjective; it is a universal need." —Roger Scruton

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Speech of the Unknown Patriot

Even if it is only a legend, it makes for great reading.  If nothing else, the Speech of the Unknown, or the Unknown Patriot will at least bring to our remembrance the high price that was paid for the liberties that we now enjoy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fear Not

"Fear not: do not be afraid."

Throughout the scriptures, the Lord and His servants often encourage, strengthen and comfort God's children with these words.

Hopefully the message is clear: "Fear not: do not be afraid."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Path to Sufism

Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī
"Yet I believe with a faith as certain as direct vision that there is no might for me and no power save in God, the Sublime, the Mighty; and that it was not I who moved, but He moved me; and that I did not act, but He acted through me. I ask Him, then, to reform me first, then to use me as an instrument of reform; to guide me, then to use me as an instrument of guidance; show me the true as true, and to grant me the grace to follow it; and to show me the false as false, and to grant me the grace to eschew it!" - Al-Ghazali, Path to Sufism: His Deliverance from Error

This is just one faint glimmer of the gold that you will find in the pages of Al-Ghazali's Path to Sufism

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Equality by Default

In Book VII of Plato's Republic, Socrates presents the allegory of the cave.  As late-modern man reads this allegory, he may feel pity for the people who have been chained to the wall of the cave for all of their lives. Moved by compassion, he may even desire to emancipate these poor souls, dragging them out into the sunlight.

Nevertheless, as Philippe Bénéton lucidly illustrates in his book Equality by Default (De l'égalité par défaut), late-modern man may want to begin by shaking off his own chains.  One reviewer of the book explains:

"For most of our contemporaries, to speak of modernity is to think immediately of liberty, equality, and democracy—and to assume that all is well. But things are not so simple. For while the culture of modernity has spread gradually throughout the West for roughly two hundred years, it accelerated in the 1960s in such a way as to undergo a subtle transformation. Hence the paradox of the world we live in: by all appearances the 'rights of man' have emerged triumphant, yet at the same time they have been emptied of substance because of their radicalization. Modern man thus finds himself isolated and ensnared. By right, his autonomy should strengthen him; but in fact, he has been dispossessed of himself. The great artifice of our time is to give conformism the mask of liberty.

Philippe Bénéton, a prominent French religious conservative, has long meditated on Tocqueville, and Equality by Default is Tocquevillian in that it does not offer a partisan polemic, but rather paints a picture of contemporary life—a picture that is also a guide for discernment for those who have a difficult time 'seeing' contemporary liberalism for what it is. Artfully translated by Ralph Hancock, Equality by Default offers a unique and strikingly insightful account of the late-modern mind."   

Bénéton's Equality by Default invites late-modern man to see the cave in which he dwells for what it really is.  More importantly, it invites him to walk toward the sunlight outside of the cave where he can see things as they really are.