Sunday, September 28, 2014

Master of Lightning

Geniuses are fun to learn about.  In fact, you probably wouldn't be able to read this blog post or to watch this documentary had it not been for the dapper Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla. Enjoy. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Science and Religion are Compatible? Inconceivable!

"Pray to the Lord for strength,"  Nacho Libre admonishes Esqueleto, his less corpulent tag-team wrestling partner.  Esqueleto's response might as well be canonized as the first article of faith for the religion of secularism: "I don't believe in God.  I believe in science."

But what does science mean?  Just like Jefe's understanding of the word plethora in ¡Three Amigos! there seems to be something lacking in the conventional understanding of the Latinate word. The Sicilian in The Princess Bride may have been using the word inconceivable correctly, but if Inigo Montoya questioned him, what's wrong with a little skepticism regarding the authority of Esqueleto's god?

Etymologically speaking, science is "what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study." From the Latin scientia, science is "knowledge, a knowing; expertness," or from sciens (genitive scientis), "intelligent, skilled."  The present participle scire means "to know."  This word probably originated from the Latin scindere, meaning "to cut, divide."  Thus, one possible definition of science is the process of cutting, dividing, separating truth from error, and knowing.

If our understanding of the word science is imperfect, the same could also be true of our understanding of the word religion.  Like Groucho Marx said, religion is simply the opium of the people, right?  Isn't religion the root cause of all of the world's problems, including war and suffering?  What does religion really mean?

"When a baby is born," Elder Russell M. Nelson recently asserted, "the umbilical cord is doubly ligated and severed between those two ligatures. A ligature is a tie—a secure tie. The word religion comes from Latin roots: re, meaning 'again' or 'back to,' and likely ligare, meaning 'to tie' or 'to ligate.' Thus, we understand that religion 'ties believers to God.'" (Let Your Faith Show)

In other words, we need to know what science and religion actually are before we can postulate that they are two completely irreconcilable things.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Best Trilogy Challenge

I have had the pleasure of reading some good trilogies, for example: Aeschylus' Oresteia, Dante's Divine Comedy, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and C.S. Lewis' The Space Trilogy. I have also had the pleasure of watching some good movie trilogies, for example: the original Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and The Dark Knight trilogy.  But I recently came across a trilogy that, if read, understood, and applied universally, would completely change the world for the better.

If you are seeking for further light and knowledge, might I recommend to you Elder David A. Bednar's new trilogy: Increase in Learning, Act in Doctrine, and Power to Become.  These three edifying, enlightening, and powerful books build upon each other and reveal a pattern for Christian living.  You may have enjoyed many great trilogies before, but this trilogy has the potential to change your life for the better.  I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Crowning Glory of Man

"What is the crowning glory of man in this earth so far as his individual achievement is concerned? It is character—character developed through obedience to the laws of life as revealed through the gospel of Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly [see John 10:10]. Man’s chief concern in life should not be the acquiring of gold, or of fame, or of material possessions. It should not be the development of physical prowess, nor of intellectual strength, but his aim, the highest in life, should be the development of a Christ-like character." - President David O. McKay

"When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power." - President Ezra Taft Benson

"No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven." - Elder Orson F. Whitney

"We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment." - The Prophet Joseph Smith

"When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave." - The Prophet Joseph Smith

"To get salvation we must not only do some things, but everything which God has commanded. Men may preach and practice everything except those things which God commands us to do, and will be damned at last. We may tithe mint and rue, and all manner of herbs, and still not obey the commandments of God [see Luke 11:42]. The object with me is to obey and teach others to obey God in just what He tells us to do. It mattereth not whether the principle is popular or unpopular, I will always maintain a true principle, even if I stand alone in it." - The Prophet Joseph Smith

"I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it." - The Prophet Joseph Smith

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Fulness of Mine Intent

"For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world." 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Pity the Fool!

"An effort must be put forth to learn the gospel, to understand it, to comprehend the relationship of its principles. The gospel must be studied, otherwise no test of its truth may sanely be applied to it. That study must be wide, for the gospel is so organized that in it is a place for every truth, of every name and nature. That study must be constantly continued, for the content of the gospel is illimitable.

It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or an art; yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons. The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject. They who pass opinion on the gospel without having given it intimate and careful study are not lovers of truth, and their opinions are worthless." - John A. Widtsoe

"It is our privilege to be as wise in our generation as the children of this world; and not only so, but it is our duty to be as wise in our generation as the children of this world. We have the true light and knowledge, and we ought to know as much as the philosophical world, or as any other people on the earth. We ought at least to know as much about politics as do the political world, or as do any other people. I expect that we do; and if we only apply our minds in the proper time and channel, we know as much about the Christian world as do any other people, and we ought to know as much about the whole world as do any other people. In fact, we ought to know more upon all those matters than any other people; for we are privileged with far superior advantages, through faith and obedience to the Gospel." - Brigham Young 

Joseph Smith and the First Vision: Transparently Sincere and Matter-of-Fact

This evening some friends and I attended a fireside with special guest speaker Elder Marlin K. Jensen, emeritus general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Church Historian.  His message was of necessity brief, but it was also inspiring and instructive. Drawing from the scriptures, episodes in Church history, and personal experiences, Elder Jensen expounded upon the wisdom of acquiring a broad view, and a godly perspective concerning things as they really have been, as they really are, and as they really will be. (see Jacob 4:13) Although LDS scholar Terryl Givens has stated that, "Elder Marlin Jensen has done more to further the cause of Mormon history than any person of the current generation," Elder Jensen himself modestly confessed that he is "not an expert," and that his own work in field of Church history "comes more from yearning than from learning."  Echoing the advice of other Church historians, Elder Jensen counseled the audience "not to study Church history too little."

Elder Jensen also suggested that the study of Church history is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, and that a wise assembler of puzzles begins with the corners and the borders.  He cautioned the members of the audience to avoid, as much as possible, the error of presentism, or in other words, the propensity to impose modern day perspectives on interpretations of the past.  He commended the work that is being done in Mormon Studies in places such as Claremont College, Utah State Univeristy , the University of Virginia, and Durham, England, and admonished Church members to trace the origins of their own testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As part of this admonition, Elder Jensen referenced the work of the poet, author and former professor of English at Brigham Young University, Arthur Henry King.  In his excellent and edifying book The Abundance of the Heart, King recounted the story of his conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

"I am glad that the first thing they [the missionaries] did was to give me the pamphlet on Joseph Smith’s vision. The style of the Joseph Smith story immediately struck me. He spoke to me, as soon as I read his testimony, as a great writer, transparently sincere and matter-of-fact. . . . When Joseph Smith describes his visions, he describes them not as a man who feels that he has to make the effort to persuade. He simply states what happened to him, and does it in a way that gives it credence. I am in this church because of the Joseph Smith story; my fundamental act of faith was to accept this as a remarkable document." (Arthur Henry King, The Abundance of the Heart (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 25.

Like Elder Jensen and Arthur Henry King, I too trace the roots of my own testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the transparently sincere and matter-of-fact account of the Prophet Joseph Smith. On occasions too numerous to mention, the power of Joseph Smith's simple story has penetrated my heart and the hearts of those with ears to hear.  I know that it is true.  In answer to his humble prayer for wisdom, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  After this experience, Joseph Smith wrote of his affinity for the Apostle Paul, who was also persecuted for sharing the story of his vision:

"So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation." (JS-History 1:25)


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Christianity and Culture

In a brief and excellent essay entitled Christianity and Culture, C.S. Lewis provides an answer to the question "What is the value of culture?"  Here follow a few highlights from the text to prompt discussion:

  • "If a Christian found himself in the position of inaugurating a new society in vacuo he might well decide not to introduce something whose abuse is so easy and whose use is, at any rate, not necessary.  But that is not our position.  The abuse of culture is already there, and will continue whether Christians cease to be cultured or not.  It is therefore probably better that the ranks of the 'culture-sellers' should include some Christians- as an antidote.  It may even be the duty of some Christians to be culture-sellers." (The Seeing Eye, p. 27)
  • "On these grounds I conclude that culture has a distinct part to play in bringing souls to Christ.  Not all souls- there is a shorter, and safer, way which has always been followed by thousands of simple affectional natures who begin, where we hope to end, with devotion to the person of Christ." (The Seeing Eye, p. 31)
  • "Most men must glorify God by doing to His glory something which is not per se an act of glorifying but which becomes so by being offered.  If, as I now hope, cultural activities are innocent and even useful, then they also (like the sweeping of the room in Herbert's poem) can be done to the Lord.  The work of a charwoman and the work of a poet become spiritual in the same way and on the same condition." (The Seeing Eye, p. 32)
  • "The salvation of souls is a means to the glorifying of God because only saved souls can duly glorify Him.  The thing to which, on my view, culture must be subordinated, is not (although it includes) mortal virtue, but the conscious direction of all will and desire to a transcendental Person in whom I believe all values to reside, and the reference to Him in every thought and act." (The Seeing Eye, p. 35)
  • "The tendency is easily observed among children; friendship wavers when you discover that a hitherto trusted playmate actually likes prunes. But even for adults it is ‘sweet, sweet, sweet poison’ to feel able to imply ‘thus saith the Lord’ at the end of every expression of our pet aversion. To avoid this horrible danger we must perpetually try to distinguish, however closely they get entwined both by the subtle nature of the facts and by the secret importunity of our passions, those attitudes in a writer which we can honestly and confidently condemn as real evils, and those qualities in his writing which simply annoy and offend us as men of taste." (The Seeing Eye, p. 41)
  • "There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter claimed by Satan."
These are some highlights, but I recommend a perusal of the entire essay.

Christianity and Literature

Perhaps one should not be surprised that even after much searching online, I have not been able to locate the complete text of C.S. Lewis' 1939 essay entitled Christianity and Literature.  However, Walter Hooper reprinted this paper in a compilation of essays to which he applied the title The Seeing Eye.  One should probably be even less surprised that even as a Comparative Literature major at a Christian university, I was never once introduced to this seminal text.  C.S. Lewis' reflections in Christianity and Literature strike me as not only important, but indispensable to the Christian study of literature, as well as to the study of Christian literature.

There are points at which I disagree with Lewis' assertions, but there are far too many gems to extract from this essay to spend too much time in disagreement.  In Lewis' interpretation of the New Testament, Christians are commissioned to become "clean mirrors filled with an image of a face that is not ours," or in other words, pure reflections of the light of the Savior Jesus Christ.  "Applying this principle to literature," Lewis continues, "we should get as the basis of all critical theory the maxim that an author should never conceive himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of eternal Beauty and Wisdom."

From this maxim Lewis keenly discerned and articulated, among other things, the following morsel of eternal Beauty and Wisdom: "The Christian will take literature a little less seriously than the cultured Pagan... But the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world: and as for superiority, he knows that the vulgar since they include most of the poor probably include most of his superiors.  He has no objection to comedies that merely amuse and tales that merely refresh; for he thinks like Thomas Aquinas ipsa ratio hoc habet, ut quandoque rationis usus intercipiatur (reason itself demands that the use of reason be interrupted at times).  We can play, as we can eat, to the glory of God."

"It is not hard to argue," Lewis concludes, "that all the greatest poems have been made by men who valued something else much more than poetry- even if that something else were only cutting down enemies in a cattle-raid or tumbling a girl in a bed."

If that "something else" happened to be, as Paul extols in his first epistle to the Corinthians, that which ought to be prized above all else, imagine the poems that might still remain to be written!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

There is No Death

I had thought to end my reading of visionary accounts written by those who have had near death experiences until my mom told me about a book called There is No Death.  After reading it, there is nothing in the account that would cause me to think that its author, Sarah LaNelle Menet, was at all dissembling or prevaricating.  In fact, considering the striking similarities between There is No Death and Visions of Glory,  I am inclined to believe that both authors were telling the truth.

If this is indeed the case (and I'm persuaded that it is), we have much to learn from those who have temporarily departed this life and returned to tell about it.  I enjoyed Menet's account because of its simplicity and straight-forward message.  Her perspectives on life and the after life contain lessons and warnings that would prove valuable to anyone who reads them.  If you, like me, are a mortal being subject to pain, suffering, and death, I surmise that this brief book might contain potentially life changing material.

Menet endured very difficult trials early in her life, and she experienced tribulation throughout her life. Much of her history was painful just to read. But her descriptions of the world of spirits and the future are powerful and captivating.  If Menet's story is true (and I'm persuaded that it is), there is trouble ahead, but there are also great blessings to be enjoyed.  Her list of lessons that she learned in the spirit world is beautiful and inspiring, a testimony that good triumphs over evil because God is in control.

I have yet to read the final chapter in which Menet responds to commonly asked questions, but after reading up to this point, I am persuaded that every human being could profit from considering the valuable insights that this book contains.  But you don't have to take my word for it.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Signs of the Times

Signs of the Times

"Events or experiences that God gives to people to show that something important in his work has happened or will soon happen. In the latter days, many signs for the second coming of the Savior have been prophesied. These signals allow faithful people to recognize God’s plan, be warned, and prepare."

2 Timothy 3

- perilous times shall come
- men shall be lovers of their own selves
- covetous
- boasters
- proud
- blasphemers
- disobedient to parents
- unthankful 
- unholy
- without natural affection
- trucebreakers
- false accusers
- incontinent
- fierce
- despisers of those that are good
- traitors
- heady
- highminded
- lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God
- having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
- creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts
- ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth
- resist the truth
- men of corrupt minds
- reprobate concerning the faith
- evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived

Joseph Smith - Matthew

- deceivers shall come claiming to be Christ
- true disciples of Jesus Christ shall be delivered up to be afflicted and killed
- true disciples of Jesus Christ shall be hated of all nations
- many shall be offended
- many shall betray one another
- many shall hate one another
- many false prophets shall arise and deceive many
- because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold
- the Abomination of Desolation (Daniel)
- the destruction of Jerusalem
- great tribulation on the Jews and the inhabitants of Jerusalem
- false Christs
- false prophets
- signs and wonders to deceive (if possible) even the elect
- wars and rumors of wars
- elect gathered from the four quarters of the earth
- nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom
- famines
- pestilences
- earthquakes
- the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world
- the destruction of the wicked
- after these tribulations, the sun darkened, the moon shall not give her light, the stars fall, the    
  powers of heaven shaken
- heaven and earth shall pass away
- then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven
- the tribes of the earth mourn
- they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory
- whoso treasureth up the word of God shall not be deceived
- the parable of the fig tree
- no one but God himself knows the time of the second coming
- it will be as the time of Noah
- watch, be ready
- ever be found doing the work of the Lord

D&C 38

- powers of darkness prevail upon the earth
- the enemy is combined
- mystery, a thing which is had in secret chambers, to bring to pass even your destruction in process
  of time, and ye knew it not
- the enemy in secret chambers seeketh your life
- ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but   ye know not the hearts of men in your own land
- if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear
- go ye out from among the wicked
- be clean

D&C 45

- temple in Jerusalem destroyed
- Jews scattered
- times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled
- Jews shall be gathered again
- wars and rumors of wars
- the whole earth shall be in commotion
- men's hearts shall fail them
- men shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth
- the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound
- a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, the fulness of the Gospel
- an overflowing scourge, a desolating sickness shall cover the land
- true disciples of Christ shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked,
  men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die
- earthquakes in diverse places
- many desolations
- men will harden their hearts against the Lord
- men will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another
- be not troubled, parable of the fig tree
- signs and wonders, in the heavens and in the earth
- blood
- fire
- vapors of smoke
- sun shall be darkened
- moon turned to blood
- stars fall from heaven
- the remnant shall be gathered
- Christ shall come in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory
- saints that have slept shall rise up to meet the Lord
- the arm of the Lord shall fall upon the nations
- the Lord shall set his foot upon the mount and the mount shall cleave in twain
- the earth shall reel to and fro
- the earth shall tremble
- the heavens shall shake
- the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it
- the nations shall mourn, they that have laughed shall see their folly
- calamity shall cover the mocker
- the scorner shall be consumed
- they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire
- the Jews shall meet the Lord, and weep because of their iniquities, and because they persecuted
  their king
- the heathen nations shall be redeemed
- Satan shall be bound, he shall have no place in the hearts of the children of men
- the parable of the ten virgins shall be fulfilled
- they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and
  have not been deceived... shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day
- meek shall inherit the earth
- Lord will be in their midst as King and Lawgiver
- wars in foreign lands
- wars in your own lands
- repentance declared
- New Jerusalem

D&C 101

- jarrings, contentions, envyings, strifes, lustful and covetous desires, slow to hearken unto the
  voice of the Lord
- gathering
- veil of the temple removed, all see the Lord together
- corruptible things consumed
- elements melt with fervent heat, all things become new
- enmity shall cease
- Satan bound
- millennial promises, no sorrow, no death, all things revealed, parable of the watchmen
- redemption of Zion
- parable of the woman and the unjust judge

D&C 133

- the Lord will come to His temple and make bare his arm
- saints go out from Babylon, gathering of Israel
- Judah flees to Jerusalem
- the Lamb shall stand upon mount Zion, and 144,000
- the Lord shall speak, mountains crumble, islands become one land, Savior shall reign on earth
- north countries, ice flows down, highway, blessings on Ephraim, blessings on House of Israel
- Gospel preached to all the earth
- The Lord appears in red apparel and in great glory
- Enoch, Noah and other prophets present
- graves open, saints arise, weak things of the earth thresh the nations
- day that burns as an oven

(These are just a few of the things that have been recorded, and there are many others, such as those found in Moses 7MalachiDanielIsaiah and Revelation)

See also Blair V. Tolman's presentation on Signs of the Times

See also Daniel Peterson, The Last Days: A Comprehensive Survey of Prophetic and Doctrinal Statements by Latter-day Prophets and Apostles