Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Man's Search for Meaning

I finally took the time to read Viktor Frankl's best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning. The afterword contains a portion of the wisdom that Frankl obtained through his suffering in four different Nazi concentration camps: "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

Many others have written eloquently about the Shoah, including ElieWiesel, Primo Levi, Corrie ten Boom and Anne Frank.  Frankl's book is distinguished by its emphasis on the sources of strength for survival and the theory of logotherapy.  

Viktor E. Frankl
In the foreward to Man's Search for Meaning, Harold S. Kushner describes what he considers to be Frankl's most enduring insight: "Forces beyond your conrol can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.  You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you."  In short, that which a human being has most control over is his or her own attitude.

Frankl frequently quotes Nietszche throughout his book, but there are more than a few noteworthy original passages:

  • "It is easy for the outsider to get the wrong conception of camp life, a conception mingled with sentiment and pity.  Little does he know of the hard fight for existence which raged among the prisoners.  This was an unrelenting struggle for daily bread and for life itself, for one's own sake or for that of a good friend."
  • "The best of us did not return."
  •  "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior."
  • "At such a moment it is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all."
  • "A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.  The truth- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.  Then I grasped the meaning of the secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love."
  • "I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying.  In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom.  I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious 'Yes' in answer to my question of the existence of ultimate purpose."
  • "I mentioned earlier how everything that was not connected with the immediate task of keeping oneself and one's closest friends alive lost its value."
  • "(The consciousness of one's inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life.  But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?)"
  • "The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability supressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress... everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
  • "We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us."
  • "Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them."
  • "The more one forgets himself- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love- the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.  What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it.  In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence."
  • "Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is.  After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."  
  • "I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsability on the West Coast."
  • "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winnie-the-Pooh Wisdom

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.  But the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you."

- Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh (Alan Alexander Milne)

And remember... Don't Do Drugs:

Monday, February 16, 2015

On Perfection

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

«Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.» (Terre des Hommes, 1939). - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 Juin 1900 – 31 Juillet 1944)

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer and pioneer aviator

(Credit to Dr. Daniel Peterson for sharing this insight)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Deliverance from Error

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 A.D.)

The introduction (or Khutbah) to Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers might persuade anyone who reads it to investigate whether or not Allah ever granted his sincere request for deliverance.  Toward the end of his life, Al-Ghazali composed a spiritual autobiography, Path to Sufism: His Deliverance from Error, in which he recounts his quest to rid himself of "reprehensible habits" and "vicious qualities" in order to "attain thereby a heart empty of all save God and adorned with the constant remembrance of God." (p. 10) 

Al-Ghazali recognized that his "reprehensible habits" and "vicious qualities" were the result of impure motives:  

"I reflected on my intention in my public teaching, and I saw that it was not directed purely to God, but rather was instigated and motivated by the quest for fame and widespread prestige. So I became certain that I was on the brink of a crumbling bank....Mundane desires began tugging me with their chains to remain as I was, while the herald of faith was crying out: 'Away! Up and away! Only a little is left of your life, and a long journey lies before you! All the theory and practice in which you are engrossed is eye service and fakery! If you do not prepare now for the afterlife, when will you do so? And if you do not sever these attachments now, then when will you sever them?'" (p. 9-10)  

It may have taken him more than a decade to achieve his objective, but Al-Ghazali finally declared that God had delivered him from error: 

"At length God Most High cured me of that sickness. My soul regained its health and equilibrium and once again I accepted the self-evident data of reason and relied on them with safety and certainty. But that was not achieved by constructing a proof or putting together an argument. On the contrary, it was the effect of a light which God Most High cast into my breast. And that light is the key to most
knowledge." (p. 23)

In spite of his confession of such base desires, Al-Ghazali also considered that truth-seeking had always been a part of his nature:

"The thirst for grasping the real meaning of things was indeed my habit and wont from my early years and in the prime of my life. It was an instinctive, natural disposition placed in my makeup by God Most High, not something due to my own choosing and contriving. As a result, the fetters of servile conformism fell away from me, and inherited beliefs lost their hold on me, when I was still quite young. For I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, and the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam. I also heard the tradition related from the Apostle of God — God’s blessing and peace be upon him! — in which he said: 'Every infant is born endowed with the fitra: then his parents make him Jew or Christian or Magian.' Consequently I felt an inner urge to seek the true meaning of the original fitra, and the true meaning of the beliefs arising through slavish aping of parents and teachers. I wanted to sift out these uncritical beliefs, the beginnings of which are suggestions imposed from without, since there are differences of opinion in the discernment of those that are true from those that are false." (p. 19-20)

Parts of Al-Ghazali's medieval account bear a striking resemblance to the account of a certain young man who sought truth in the midst of a "war of words and tumult of opinions" in the early 19th century.  Perhaps some 21st century problems are not as new as we suppose them to be.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Future of the Middle East

Bernard Lewis is a British-American historian who is one of the world's leading lights in Oriental Studies.  His specialty is the history of Islam and the Middle East.  The Bush administration frequently solicited his advice concerning the Middle East, and Martin Kramer (whose book, Ivory Towers on Sand, I introduced in a previous blog post) considers Lewis to be "the most influential post-war historian of Islam and the Middle East."
Lewis has written prolifically about Islam and the Middle East over a very long career.  He has written many books, including What Went Wrong and Islam in History.  A fun little introduction to his work is The Future of the Middle East: Predictions.  Enjoy.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ivory Towers on Sand

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001 Americans were inundated with reports from Middle East "experts" and analysts.  As Martin Kramer argues in his book Ivory Towers on Sand, many of these "expert" voices were misguided because of ideologies that pervade the field of Middle Eastern studies.

In the preface to Ivory Towers on Sand, Fred S. Lafer and Michael Stein point out the basic problem that Kramer confronts in his book: 

"America is ill served by the way in which the Middle East is studied and presented at institutions of higher education across the nation.  The academic understanding of the Middle East is framed not by the realities of the region, but by the fads and fashions that have swept through the disciplines... Looking back, it is clear that the Middle East has completely defied the paradigms that have dominated the field of Middle Eastern studies.  Americans who have followed the Pied Piper of the academy have been surprised time and again by the real Middle East."

As Kramer indicates in the introduction to Ivory Towers on Sand, the purpose of his book is to "probe how and why a branch of academe once regarded with esteem has descended to such a low point in the public estimate, and what might be done about it."  Kramer was inspired early on in his studies by Elie Kedourie's essay "The Chatham House Version," and his direct intellectual influences include Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis.  As an American-Israeli scholar of the Middle East, Islam, and Arab politics it can hardly be claimed that Kramer is without biases of his own, but his perspectives provide an effective counter-balance to deeply entrenched biases in the field of Middle Eastern studies.

In Ivory Towers on Sand Kramer describes how America invented "Middle Eastern studies," a remodeling of the European "Oriental studies."  American Middle Eastern studies, Kramer explains, grew out of the international and area studies of the 1950s and 60s: 

"Academic entrepreneurship, not government initiative, launched Middle Eastern studies in America. Never were the leaders of Middle Eastern studies more inventive and responsive than in those early years, when support could not be taken for granted.  Not since then have the leaders of Middle Eastern studies had so profound an understanding of what it takes to win a share of America's bounty."

Gradually American advocates of Middle Eastern studies courted the social sciences, acquiring along the way a host of popular paradigms and enchanting theories.  In this way, Kramer relates, researchers in the field "would become more than scholars: they would become experts."  The development of Middle Eastern studies in America depended upon strategic views of the region, the prestige of social science, independent Middle East centers, academic homesteading, and coordination across a wide geographic area (thus the establishment of MESA, the Middle East Studies Association of North America in 1966).

Perhaps most importantly, however, the proliferation of Middle Eastern studies programs in America depended upon leadership, or as Kramer puts it, center directors with "both academic credibility and public visibility," such as the Lebanese-born historian Philip Hitti (and others such as Aziz Atiya, Majid Khadduri and Farhat Ziadeh).  These and other leaders learned how to "frame their appeals in political terms that made sense to their fellow Americans."  Soon Middle Eastern studies became more than an "academic field to be explored," but a "message to be preached" :

"Middle Eastern studies came under a take-no-prisoners assault, which rejected the idea of objective standards, disguised the vice of politicization as the virtue of commitment, and replaced proficiency with ideology.  The text that inspired the movement was entitled Orientalism, and the revolution it unleashed has crippled Middle Eastern studies to this day."    

Kramer, like many of his predecessors, is unrelenting in his criticism of Edward Said's Orientalism. He devotes much of the remaining chapters in Ivory Towers on Sand to understanding and exposing the revolution that Said's book unleashed.  "The tragedy of Mr. Said's Orientalism," wrote Bernard Lewis, "is that it takes a genuine problem of real importance and reduces it to the level of political polemic and personal abuse."      

One of the major problems with Edward Said's Orientalism, according to Kramer, was not only that it failed to predict Islamism, but that Islamists appropriated his work for their own ends.  A later don of Middle Eastern studies, John L. Esposito, was also complicit in distorting perceptions of the Middle East:

"Academics blinded by the paradigms of Said and Esposito continued to be surprised not only by America, where they lived, but by the Middle East, which they studied."  

Kramer demonstrates how, in large part because of Edward Said and his followers, Middle Eastern studies began to lose the trust of the general public as well as credibility within the academy.  Middle Eastern studies, as Kramer sees it, was busy cultivating irrelevance.  "Despite this record," Kramer continues, "major universities continued to host Middle Eastern studies, for three reasons.  First they enjoyed external financial support... Second, courses in Middle Eastern Studies drew undergraduate enrollments, especially when the Middle East figured in the news as a trouble spot.  Third, Middle Eastern studies, like all area studies, gave host universities an internationalist reputation."

Toward the conclusion of his book Ivory Towers on Sand, Martin Kramer calls for reform in the field of Middle Eastern studies, hoping specifically for internal regeneration:

"As in the past, so this time, it is generational change that will renew and reinvigorate the field.  The mission will probably be accomplished by people who are under forty, who are not implicated in the excesses of the recent past, and who understand how perilously close to the precipice they have been led.  Their task will be a formidable one... The breakthroughs will come from individual scholars, often laboring on the margins.  As the dominant paradigms grow ever more elaborate, inefficient, and insufficient, they will begin to shift.  There will be more confessions by senior scholars, and more defections by their young protégés."

"It will take years," Kramer concludes, "for Middle Eastern studies to restore its reputation for credibility and relevance.  But for better or for worse, the Middle East provides frequent opportunities for its interpreters to test and prove themselves.  It is not too late to begin anew."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy

Professor Harvey Mansfield
Professor Harvey C. Mansfield was commissioned to write A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy.  It is an excellent introduction to the discipline of Political Philosophy that contains an excellent list of some of the best books in the history of political philosophy:
Here are a few of my favorite passages from this introduction to Political Philosophy (for a more in depth discussion of the history of Political Philosophy, click here):
  • "Political philosophy is found in great books- those by Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau and others of the highest rank- and in books by professors.  You should spend much more time with the great authors than with the professors, and you should use the professors to help you understand the great authors; you should not allow yourself to be diverted or distracted from the great books by the professors.  Why not go for the gold?"
  • "The political philosopher knows for sure that politics will always be debatable, whether the debate is open or suppressed, but that fact- rather welcome when you reflect on it- does not stop him from seeking a common good that might be too good for everyone to agree with."
  • "But evil has a finger on the good; though it cannot grasp the good, evil cannot help admitting that the good is superior because that is what even evil wants."
  • "No society, not even one as free as ours, can proceed on the assumption that every custom and law is open to question, yet Socrates makes us see that every social practice is indeed questionable."
  • "Nature may incline us to what is good, but it does not tell us unambiguously what that is, or move us toward it without hindrance or distraction, as it does with other animals.  We humans are by nature political, but there is no single, programmed way of life as with bees.  Human nature includes both the freedom and the necessity to construct a regime, for we could not have freedom if nature had done everything for us."
  • "Which is more important to human life, the fact that all humans have reason, or the fact that they have it very unequally?"
  • "Jewish and Muslim political and religious traditions are often considered not to be Western, and that view of them makes sense.  But from the standpoint of the philosophical tradition, one may hold that any nation having had contact with Greek philosophy or science belongs to the West.  Certainly Muslim and Jewish philosophers were essential to that tradition not only for what they said but also for transmitting ancient philosophy to the medieval or modern West (in the political or geographical sense)."
  • "Just as for Plato the only true virtue is philosophic, so for Augustine, true virtue is Christian."
  • "It is thus of the utmost importance to understand what modernity is, how the moderns opposed the ancients (and the Christians, who in the moderns' view derived from the ancients), how modernity developed in stages, the history it experienced, and the crises it has suffered."
  • Machiavelli wondered whether he might not adopt this method himself, and oppose Christian ends with Christian means.  This was the germ of the Enlightenment, a conversion of peoples away from faith in God to faith in human control, led by philosophers (of the type we now call "intellectuals") and oriented against priests."
  • "We may be intrigued and impressed by Machiavelli, but I am obliged to say it would be wrong to approve of him.  The real remedy he provides is a cold bath for those- most all of us at one time or another- who are guilty of complacent moralism and find it easy to condemn others and hard to examine themselves.  But doesn't the Bible say some such thing?"
  • "The ancients tried to consider things from all points of view and to consult all opinions; they tried to understand and they aimed for wisdom.  Anyone who reads them now may question their relevance to today's issues, but one can hardly fail to learn from them unless one is entirely preoccupied with those issues.  But the moderns produce theories; they have a project and an aim for change or reform.  They would rather be right according to their theories than wise without a theory."
  • "Hobbes never gave much of a proof that all men are equal, but he launched the assumption that they can be taken to be equal.  The assumption is still unproven, but it has become immensely successful."
  • "It must not be forgotten that America- the 'regime' America, as Aristotle defines that word- began with a revolution, and one not merely for Americans but ostensibly on behalf of all mankind.  It must also not be forgotten that in comparison to the revolutions that followed, this was a moderate one, and perhaps for that reason it has proved more lasting."
  • "Boredom is a modern affliction that comes with modern rationality.  As life is made more predictable and secure, it becomes mediocre, uninteresting, and lacking risk or challenge."
  • "Science can enslave us as well as liberate us.  How obvious!  How could we have missed that point?"
  • "Thus the tendency of modern thought is to improve on itself and not to question itself."
  • "A fact is how things have turned out; nature is about how things have to be."
  • "Plato and Aristotle thought that facts come and go, but nature remains; nature is what should be studied."
  • "Peaceable liberal democracies, for whom wars over religion are now inconceivable, still have parties- the liberals and conservatives we know so well.  Actually, we would know them better if we studied John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873) and Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797), the political philosophers who explain each the best.  Make sure you read both Mill and Burke, not just the one you like."
  • "This guide is not intended for other professors, so it is not equipped with footnotes.  I have written it to tell you what I really think (up to a point), but that is less important than the fact that it contains some of the most valuable information there is."
For other books by Professor Harvey C. Mansfield, click here.

Guides to the Major Disciplines

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has produced an excellent series of small books as student guides to the major disciplines:

"The ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines are reader-friendly introductions to the most important fields of knowledge in the liberal arts. Written by leading scholars for both students and the general public, they will be appreciated by anyone desiring a reliable and informative tour of important subject matter. Each title offers a historical overview of a particular discipline, explains the central ideas of its subject, and evaluates the works of thinkers whose ideas have shaped our world. Published guides assess the fields of literature, political philosophy, U.S. history, economics, psychology, and other areas."

Here is a list of the ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Are the Best Books?

What are the best books?

How does one propose a definitive answer to such a question?  

Is there a standard by which to differentiate between books that are good, books that are better and books that are best?

Certainly one may disagree with a particular standard of judgment, but a disagreement with one standard of judgment presupposes another.

The Standard Works
In answer to the question, "What are the best books?"  I choose to begin with the standard set forth by the canon of scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aptly named the "Standard Works" :

As a mortal being, my understanding of this standard is necessarily imperfect, nevertheless it is the standard by which I choose to differentiate between books that are good, books that are better and books that are best.  It is a standard that points to Jesus Christ and testifies of Him.  It is a standard that leads souls to salvation and eternal life.  It is a standard that withstands the test of time. 

These are the best books. The best of these best books, as I understand it, is the Book of Mormon. Concerning this book the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."  A book that is best, therefore, is a book that is correct, and a book that contains precepts that draw souls closer to God.

The Book of Isaiah
There are even indications of that which is best within this best of best books.  After His Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared to the Nephites: "And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah."  Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets of the Standard Works, and his words figure prominently throughout the Book of Mormon.  His words could be considered as part of the best of the best within the best of best books.  

If Isaiah is representative of the best of the best within the best of best books, then what is the best of Isaiah?  It would be difficult to do better than Isaiah 53, the great song of the suffering servant, a chapter that is quoted in its entirety by the Prophet Abinadi in Chapter 14 of the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, of which one of the best verses could very well be verse 7: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth." (Mosiah 14:7)  In one of the best verses of one of the best chapters revealed by one of the best prophets in the best of the best books, the very Best Son of the Best Father remained silent while He endured the worst afflictions and the worst treatment.

Is it ironic that such silence in suffering produced that which is best?




By Study and By Faith

In today's world, it is understandable that there are a lot of questions about a lot of things.  Many seek for answers. Some seek for truth.  Some can't handle the truth.

But consider how passionately the Prophet Joseph Smith loved truth: 

"When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom." (Joseph Smith's Sermon on Plurality of Gods, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 473-9)

The Prophet Joseph F. Smith, a grandson of Joseph Smith's brother Hyrum Smith, inherited and improved upon this legacy of truth.  He understood that true education and education in truth are not simply matters of filling a vessel, but the process of kindling, igniting and fanning a flame

"[Learning the] truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem; and this human life must be guided and shaped by it in order to fulfill its destiny" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [1939], 269)

More recently, Elder Neal A. Maxwell expanded upon the definition of education to include the education of desire:

"Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!"

In the Book of Mormon, the Lord revealed His standard for education through the Prophet Jacob:

"O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God." (2 Ne. 9:28-29)

One of the frequent counsels of God to His children is to seek learning and wisdom:
  • "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118)
  • "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;" (D&C 109:7)
  • "And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom out of the best books, and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou hast said;" (D&C 109:14)
  • "And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people." (D&C 90:15)
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that, "The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching."  Even so, the Lord has counseled His children to seek words of wisdom out of the best books.  He has counseled us to seek learning by study and by faith.  He has counseled us to study and learn.  He has counseled us to become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.

In a world full of questions, such counsel naturally gives rise to other questions.  What are the best books?  Where are these words of wisdom to be found?  What does it mean to seek learning by study and by faith?  What are the good books, languages, tongues, and people that we should become acquainted with?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Islam: A Very Short Introduction

There are a lot of misconceptions in the world about Islam.  

The Arabic word "Islam" means "submission," particularly "voluntary submission to God."  

If our understanding of Islam is limited to the reports we see on the news or to the stories we hear on the radio, then we are liable to embrace false caricatures of a vibrant faith that has produced, among other things, some of the world's greatest poetry, literature, philosophy, art, architecture and music.  

We do not have to condone acts of terrorism, such as those perpetrated in the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, in order to appreciate, with holy envy, that which is a source of truth, hope and inspiration to millions of people.  In fact, Muslim leaders such as President Sisi in Egypt have called for a "religious revolution," holding Imams responsible before Allah for leading this revolution.

In the mean time, might I suggest a short, simple book that provides a basic outline of Islam and underscores some of the essential elements of the faith?  If you have more time, read the Qur'an and try to appreciate how such a book (and such a man as Muhammad) could have arisen from 7th century Arabia. (For more resources on this topic, click here)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

One Thing Thou Lackest

"Our obsessions are as varied as our possessions. They may consist of a favored doctrinal emphasis, a favored Church program, or even a 'trademark' leadership style. Having pride in these things, we sometimes polish them carefully and stand especially ready to defend them. Sometimes, if only unconsciously, we even cultivate a cheering and reinforcing constituency which, perhaps unintentionally, encourages us in our obsessions. To us, sooner or later, it will be said, 'One thing thou lackest' (Mark 10:21). It is possible to have illegitimate pride in a legitimate role or in a deserved reputation. Such pride must go, for we are servants of Him who lived His unique life as a person of 'no reputation' (Philippians 2:7). Every obsession or preoccupation must give way in total submission. Only when we try to subdue our obsessions or preoccupations do we see how powerful they have become."

- Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will But Thine, p. 93

Friday, January 2, 2015

Aubergine & Company

Aubergine & Company

I like eggs.  I like plants.  I even like eggplants.  But until very recently I had no idea that I would like an eggplant restaurant.  

If you are looking for a great place to enjoy a healthy, Mediterranean style breakfast, lunch or dinner, I enthusiastically endorse Aubergine & Company, located at 1365 S. State Street, Orem, Utah 84097 (Their phone number is 801 224-7484, and they cater).

With good reason, one may be suspicious of food that tastes this good while purportedly being good for you as well, but Aubergine dispels any doubts concerning either taste or nutrition.  What's more, the kind Brazilian owner, the friendly staff, the chic ambience, and the reasonable prices make Aubergine an altogether positive meal-time experience.

Even if you don't like eggs, or plants, or eggplants, give Aubergine a chance.  You might just like it.  

Not My Will, But Thine

A wise man and an astute observer of human nature once noted that "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)  

As one who, however imperfectly, desires to belong to the first group of people, I have gained considerable inspiration from Neal A. Maxwell's enlightening and soul-stretching book "Not My Will, But Thine" : The Christlike Path of Submission to God's Will.  True disciples of Jesus Christ and earnest seekers of the Kingdom of God will enjoy how masterfully and eloquently Elder Maxwell unfolds simple and profound Gospel truths to the hearts and minds of those with eyes to see and ears to hear:

"In his superbly creative style the author explores this important principle of willing, loving submission to our Heavenly Father.  He clearly shows this to be not a sacrifice of will but an elevation to a higher purpose and privilege.  As such, it offers a life of faith, peace, and joy in the Lord."



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

To Err is Human

In An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope penned the famous line: "To err is human; to forgive, divine."

Yet God requires all of us to forgive, and each of us to forgive all:

"I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." (D&C 64:10)

The doctrine is simple, though not always easy to apply.  In his Essay on Forgiveness, C.S. Lewis, one of Christianity's most articulate apologists, explains why this is so.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Inner Ring

I don't know if C.S. Lewis' essay The Inner Ring has any direct connection to Tolkien's epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings.  However, it would be hard to read this brilliant C.S. Lewis essay without considering the possibility that it might.  Tolkien wrote of "One Ring to rule them all,/ One Ring to find them,/ One Ring to bring them all,/ And in the darkness bind them."  It is at least conceivable that Tolkien's "One Ring" and C.S. Lewis' "Inner Ring" actually refer to the same thing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game

The Beautiful Game... or at least one of them
If you ever want to watch a fascinating historical documentary, consider checking out History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game.  I find it particularly interesting how politics and soccer have been intertwined over the years.  If you like history, and if you like soccer, I am confident that you will also like this excellent film production.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2014

C.S. Lewis - Learning in War-Time

Here are a few precious pearls of wisdom from C.S. Lewis' timeless sermon Learning in War-Time:
  • "The moment we do so we can see that every Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant. He must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology." - p. 49
  • "We have to inquire whether there is really any legitimate place for the activities of the scholar in a world such as this. That is, we have always to answer the question: 'How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls?'" - p. 50
  • "All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest: and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not.  Christianity does not simply replace our natural life and substitute a new one: it is rather a new organization which exploits, to its own supernatural ends, these natural materials." - p. 54
  • "I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious — as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks." - p. 55
  • "The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly 'as to the Lord'. This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life." - p. 55
  • "The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course, it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. That is the great difficulty. That is the great difficulty. As the author of the Theologia Germanicai says, we may come to love knowledge -- our knowing -- more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us. Every success in the scholar's life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking our the right eye has arrived." - p. 57
  • "To be ignorant and simple now- not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground, would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy must be answered." - p. 58
  • "A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age." - p. 58
  • "The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come." - p. 60
  • "Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received." - p. 61

C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory

Here are a few precious pearls of wisdom from C.S. Lewis' timeless sermon The Weight of Glory:
  • "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith." - p. 26
  • "Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object […] If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy." - p. 29
  • "If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know." - p. 34
  • "The first question I ask about these promises is ‘Why any one of them except the first?’ Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ? For it must be true, as an old writer says, that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only." - p.34
  • "Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself." - p. 38
  • "How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us. It is written that we shall 'stand before' Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the Divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is." - p. 38
  • "When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects." - p. 43
  • "Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning." - p. 45
  • "It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the back of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics." - p.45
  • "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.  And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.  Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses." - p. 46

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Anatomy of Peace

  • "What if conflicts at home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause?"
  • "What if we systematically misunderstand that cause?"
  • "And what if, as a result, we systematically perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve?  Every day."
These are some of the questions that the Arbinger Institute's book The Anatomy of Peace answers with remarkable and persuasive clarity.  It is a book that challenges widely held assumptions about the nature of conflict, but it also invites the reader, and indeed the entire world, toward real, sustainable peace. This might sound like an impossibly quixotic task, but The Anatomy of Peace accomplishes its purpose if it is able to reach even one human heart.

The story begins with a group of parents who, in desperation, have dragged their children to Camp Moriah, a reformative camp in the Arizona desert directed by an unlikely pair of friends: Yusuf al-Falah, an Arab immigrant from Jerusalem, and Avi Rosen, a younger, once embittered Israeli man. The other main characters in the book are the parents of troubled youth who, with the help of Yusuf and Avi, begin to discover that there is much more to establishing peace in their homes and places of employment than they previously had supposed.  In other words, the parents, guided gently along by Yusuf and Avi, begin to discover that the real solution to their problems is located within their own hearts.

The basic message of The Anatomy of Peace is simple, but profound: there is no way to resolve conflicts, whether at home, at work, or even on a larger scale between nations and peoples, unless there is first a resolution of conflicts within the human heart.  A heart at war cannot promote peace because a heart at war causes its possessor to see other people as objects rather than as human beings with hopes, dreams, desires and goals.  Only with a heart of peace can individuals begin to see people as people, and thus begin to spend more time helping things go right instead of dealing with things that are going wrong.

The premise is simple, but in one way or another, and at one time or another, no one is exempt from having a heart at war.  How do we recognize a heart at war?  How do we turn from a heart of war to a heart of peace?  How do we share that peace with others?  These are all questions that The Anatomy of Peace can help us answer.  The Anatomy of Peace demonstrates that peace has more to do with our way of being than simply with our way of acting.  It shows how even the most bitter enemies and fiercest opponents can become friends.  

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who is dealing with conflict in their lives, whether personally, at home, or elsewhere.  It may just hold the key to resolving difficulties that have long troubled or perplexed you.  Enjoy.     




Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal - Film Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Have you ever heard of Skeksis?  What about Garthim?  Mystics?  Gelflings?  Aughra?  Fizzgig? Podlings? or Landstriders?

If you have never heard of these strange creatures on the mysterious planet Thra, it may be time for you to watch The Dark Crystal.  The Dark Crystal is a 1982 fantasy film that was directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz in which the protagonist, Jen, embarks on a dangerous quest to heal a world that had been divided by a shattered crystal.

If that sounds too weird for your taste, just watch how Jen and his friend Kira summon landstriders and engage in the following conversation:

Jen: "The prophecy didn't say anything about this!"
Kira: "Prophets don't know everything!"

Jen and Kira, On a Mission

Thursday, November 20, 2014

They Who Tarry

In the Bible we learn that the Lord gave John the Beloved a special blessing:

"Peter seeing him [John] saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true." (John 21:21-24)

In April of 1829 the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inquired of the Lord to understand the meaning of John's blessing, and they received further revelation:

"And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.

And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.

And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom.

I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.

Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth." (D&C 7:1-6)
Peter, James and John Appear to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery

In other words, John the Beloved is still alive and ministering upon the earth.

But John is not alone in receiving such a peculiar blessing.  In the Book of Mormon we learn that there are at least three others who were permitted to tarry on the earth in order to bring souls unto Christ:

"And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?

And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.

And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.

Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.

And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.

And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.

And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one;

And the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he departed." (3 Ne. 28:4-12)

These same three Nephites later ministered to Mormon (3 Ne. 28:26) and his son Moroni (Mormon 8:11), and like John the Beloved, they continue their anonymous ministry (3 Ne. 28:25) on the earth today. 

Three Nephites Desire to Tarry

The question might reasonably be asked: "Have there been any sightings of the three Nephites or of John the Beloved?"  While at least these four disciples of Christ continue their ministry on the earth, they seem to be doing so, as the Lord's best ministers always have, very quietly.  

Nevertheless, in the April 1954 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Legrand Richards recounted the following miraculous event:

"A short time ago, when a committee was sent there by President Truman, they were told by Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, that it was their belief in a 'mystical force that would return the Jews to the land of Israel, that had kept them alive.

In the Jewish Hope, of September 1950, was an article by Arthur U. Michelson. I will not take time to read it, but he tells of a visit he made to Jerusalem, when he heard the experience of the Jewish army. They had only-one cannon, and were facing the Arabs with their well-trained and equipped army, and so when they used this cannon, they moved it from place to place so the enemy would think they had many, and every time the cannon was fired, they would beat tin cans in order to make a lot of noise so that the enemy would think they had many cannons.

I want to read what he said about what happened when the armies of Israel were about to give up:

'One of the officials has told me how much the Jews had to suffer. They had hardly anything with which to resist the heavy attacks of the Arabs who were well organized and equipped with the latest weapons. Besides, they had neither food nor water, because all their supplies were cut off . . .

'At this critical moment, God showed them that he was on their side, for he performed one of the greatest miracles that ever happened. The Arabs suddenly threw down their arms and surrendered. When their delegation appeared with the white flag, they asked, 'Where are the three men and where are all the troops we saw?' The Jews told them that they did not know anything of the three men, for this group was their entire force. The Arabs said that they saw three persons, with long beards and flowing white robes who warned them not to fight any longer, otherwise they would all be killed. They became so frightened that they decided to give up. What an encouragement this was for the Jews to realize that God was fighting for them.'

And then he told about another case when one man with a white robe and a long beard appeared, and they all saw him, and they gave up their arms. Now I do not know, but the Lord said that he would do something for the Jews in the latter days, and when he permitted the Three Nephites to tarry upon this land, he said:

And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not.

They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not.

And it shall come to pass, when the lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them (3 Ne. 28:27-29).

Whoever these persons were, they seemed to have 'convincing power' sufficient to cause a whole army to surrender.

In permitting these Three Nephites to tarry upon the earth until he, Jesus, should come in his glory, he must have had in mind some great things for them to accomplish in bringing about a fulfillment of his promises. Whether it was convincing the army of the Arabs to surrender, I do not know, but this I do know: That what is going on in the Holy Land should convince one that the Lord is moving rapidly toward restoring the Jews to the land of their fathers and is giving them that land and redeeming it from its waste condition, as the prophets have foretold." (Legrand Richards, The Word of God Will Stand)

Whether or not the three Nephites and John the Beloved were the beings who preserved the Jews in these particular battles is within the realm of speculation, and others have written at greater length on such topics.  

The lesson?  If translated beings with long beards and flowing white robes appear to you and warn you not to fight against Jews any longer, it would probably be wise to obey them.