Friday, August 31, 2012

The Key to the Science of Theology

We live in a world that is, to one degree or another, obsessed with progress, science and technology.  The mere mention of the words evokes images of wonder, fascinating fields of discovery, innovation and advancement.  The past few centuries has been a time of unprecedented growth in the means of transportation, communication, and production.  Gutenberg might now blush at the vision of a laptop computer; DaVinci might gaze for hours speechlessly at modern aircraft in flight.  Henry Ford might heartily enjoy cruising around in an F-150, while in the passenger seat, Alexander Graham Bell patiently typed out his first text.  But discoveries and inventions such as these are only the beginning.

Early in the 19th Century there lived a man who promised to revolutionize the world.  His friend and pupil, Parley P. Pratt, absorbed his teachings like a sponge, and recorded what he considered to be the key to all of the aforementioned innovations and so much more.  The last book that Pratt published before his martyrdom in 1857 contained what he considered to be "The Key to the Science of Theology."

Pratt's purpose in writing was simple:

"If the work proves an introductory key to some of the first principles of the divine science of which it treats; if it serves to open the eyes of any of his fellowmen, on the facts of the past, the present, and the future; if it leads to investigation and inquiry, and calls public attention to the greater and more particular truths which have been, or are about to be, revealed as a standard by which to unite the people of all nations and of all religions upon the rock, the sure foundation of divine, eternal, uncreated, infinite and exhaustless Truth, it will have accomplished the end aimed at by the author."

Whether or not this work accomplishes its end is to be determined by the reader, but my purpose in reviewing it is to give the author a chance to accomplish his goal by introducing the work to those who have never heard of it, or to those who have heard of it, but never read it.

If the title is not sufficiently provocative, consider some of the topics addressed in the seventeen short chapters of the book: The definition of theology, the decline and loss of theology among different peoples, keys of the mysteries of the Godhead, origin and destiny of the universe, the key of knowledge, power and government, and intercommunication of the inhabitants of different and distant planets, and the laws of marriage and procreation.  So put down your National Geographic, or Popular Science, or Wired magazine just for a moment, and pick up a copy of Pratt's The Key to the Science of Theology.  

Pratt possessed a unique ability to articulate truth.  If his friend and mentor Joseph Smith knew how to touch hearts with his clear and concise teaching, Pratt understood how to render that teaching into a pleasing poetic form.  He understood that he lived in an age of progress of all the sciences, yet the science that undergirded them all went largely unnoticed:

"While every science, every art is being developed; while the mind is awakened to new thought; while the windows of heaven are opened, as it were, and the profound depths of human intellect are stirred—moved from the foundation on all other subjects, religious knowledge seems at a stand still."

To remedy this, Pratt recorded a "general view of the Science of Theology, as gathered from revelation, history, prophecy, reason and analogy," and he began to record this view with a poem:

"Eternal Science! who would fathom thee
Must launch his hark upon a shoreless sea.
Thy knowledge yet shall overwhelm the earth;
Thy truth to immortality give birth,
Thy dawn shall kindle to eternal day,
And man, immortal, still shall own thy sway."

The Key to the Science of Theology is, in a prose definition, "the science of all other sciences and useful arts, being in fact, the very fountain from which they emanate.  It includes philosophy, astronomy, history, mathematics, geography, languages, the science of letters; and blends the knowledge of all matters of fact, in every branch of art, or of research.  It includes, also, all scientific discoveries and inventions-agriculture, the mechanical arts, architecture, shipbuilding, the properties and applications of the mariner's compass, navigation and music.  All that is useful, great, and good; all that is calculated to sustain, comfort, instruct, edify, purify, refine or exalt intelligences; originated by this science, and this science alone, all other sciences being but branches growing out of this-the root."

Pratt gives another definition of this "root" in the fifth chapter of his book: "The key to the science of theology is the key of divine revelation. Without this key, no man, no assemblage of men, ever did, or ever will know the Eternal Father or Jesus Christ."  Pratt was certainly concerned (and he would be even more so today) that while branches of knowledge were growing rampantly, the root was being neglected.  But he was hopeful and optimistic that the key could be taught and learned by average people:

"Is't possible! A sinful man like me,
A candidate for heaven's mystery!
May I approach the gate and enter in,
Be wash'd and cleans'd from all my former sin,
Renew'd in spirit, and partake the power
of bless'd Theology from this good hour."

One of the ironies of our time is that we can probe the planet Mars for signs of life without having thoroughly probed our own human nature.  We may discover the Higgs Boson without discovering who we are, and why we inhabit this planet we call earth.  We may even introduce the next revolutionary technology to the world before we are introduced to the God that created us.  If someone has presented a key that opens doors to truth, knowledge, wisdom and joy, why not use it?

Pratt was truly progressive in his thinking and truly liberal in his desire to lead people to the truth.  If you would like to enjoy the power of "bless'd Theology from this good hour," pick up a copy of Pratt's The Key to the Science of Theology.  You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Love Your Enemies

This is a beautiful story of forgiveness from an anonymous source.  It's not too hard to guess which countries are involved.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Understanding Islam

At the recent FAIR conference I made two purchases: 1. Parley P. Pratt's book The Key to the Science of Theology and 2. Daniel Peterson's CDs Understanding Islam: A LDS Perspective (see also here, and here).  I'm still reading Pratt's book, and it's great, but I just finished listening to Peterson's CDs, and would like to recommend them to anyone, whether they are interested in Islam or not.

Peterson's lectures are divided into to two sections, the first treats Islam's past, the second, Islam in modern times.  In addition to reading the Qu'ran, this is a much better way to learn about Islam than through the distorted lens of the news media.  Peterson suggests answers to questions such as: "Why should we be interested in Islam?", "In what context did Islam arise?", "Why is there turmoil in the Middle East?", "Was Mohammed really a prophet?", etc. (For more on Mohammed, pbuh, see here and here.)

Professor Peterson's perspectives on Islam are inspiring, informative and entertaining.  You may not be converted to Islam because of these lectures, but you will definitely gain a more complete understanding of the faith and the people of the Middle East.

As the Good Book Says...

Last night I watched Fiddler on the Roof, a musical based on Joseph Stein's book, performed at the Scera Theater.  This was one of my grandpa's favorite musicals, and it is certainly a favorite of mine.  I have seen it many times, but I was impressed by this performance.  The singing, dancing, costumes, choreography, and the overall execution were excellent.

There were many things that I gleaned from last night's performance that I haven't in previous viewings, particularly in regards to traditions and change, but there is one song in particular that has always captured my attention and inspired my heart.  As Tevye's daughters have paired off, the revolutionary Perchik comes to the realization that he has everything, and with Hodel's hand, he has a little bit more:

" i have everything,
not only everything,
i have a little bit more
besides having everything,
i know what everything's for."
All of Perchik's revolutionary ambitions, what he called, "the most important work a man can do" now paled in comparison to his love for Hodel.  He would still travel and be imprisoned, but he didn't just work for the people.  He now had something that he could die for, and something that he could live for too.  Of course, the tailor, the Russian boy, and even Tevye had all this as well... and none of it came from the village matchmaker, at least not from Yente.

As the good book says, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the greatest musicals ever composed.  But it is also a profound tribute to the centrality of faith and the family to a strong, cohesive society.  When the czar orders the evacuation of the Jews from Anatevka, he has succeeded in displacing an entire village, but even he could not displace the bonds of faith and of young love.  If I were a rich man, I could only hope that it would afford me the time to write something so inspiring and so worth remembering.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reason and Revelation

What is the relationship between reason and revelation?  This is an age-old question, often symbolized by the question, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"  I often find more answers to this question in music, art, history and literature than I do in philosophical treatises.  Dante's entire Divina Commedia, for example, could be read as a response to this question. Another response can be found in Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Julia is pining after Proteus, Lucetta tries to comfort her:

Lucetta's words do little to assuage the burning desire... in fact, it has the opposite effect on Julia:

By philosophical standards, these words could be read as those of a mad-woman, speaking words "above the bounds of reason" because of the love that she feels.  Yet, Julia's description of Proteus' goodness are so reasonable that they resonate with the historically significant words of one who, Proteus-like, approached his impending martyrdom with other-worldly serenity:

"I am going like a lamb to the slaughter," said Joseph Smith to the company that was with him at the time of his arrest, "but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me. 'He was murdered in cold blood'" (D&C 135:4).

Joseph Smith understood and lived the revelation to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt 5:44).

Whether in philosophy, literature or history, much ink has been spilt that is relevant to the subject of reason and revelation, and quite a bit of paint (such as that of the Renaissance artist Raphael) has been applied to canvases as well:

But perhaps nothing answers the question "What is the relationship between reason and revelation?" better than music (although I like the sculpture of Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre), such as a song that is reminiscent of a gondolier's rhythmic stroke through Venetian waters like the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.

What is an Intellectual?

What exactly is an intellectual? Presumably, the word intellectual has something to do with intelligence. Let's investigate this claim.

The word intellect can be traced to the Latin verb intellegere.  This Latin verb can be better understood by dividing into its component parts: inter meaning between and leggere meaning to choose, to pick out, or to read.  In other words, intellegere means to discern or to understand. This verb, in turn, can be traced to the Greek word nous (νοῦς).  These Latin and Greek words are related the idea of intuition, perception or thought, and to the faculty of the human mind to understand what is real and true, that is, the faculty of reason.

Presumably then, an intellectual is one who works by intelligence or by reason.  As with most terms, however, the meaning of intellectual has changed over time. The intellectual activity of the Greeks and the Romans (not to mention the intellectual activity of Semitic or other ancient peoples) is in some ways related to modern intellectual activity, but not until the late 19th century, during the Dreyfus affair in France,  did the French word intellectuel become prevalent in common discourse.  From this time forward the word intellectual came to mean one who defends values in the public square or one who creates and disseminates ideas.

But this definition of an intellectual still overlooks the definition of its root-word intelligence.  The definition of the word intelligence, when traced to its Latin and Greek roots, has more to do with discernment or understanding of that which is real and true than it does necessarily with creating and disseminating ideas.  The faculty of reason is employed in both cases, but these definitions of intelligence, and therefore of intellectual, seem inadequate.

For a more complete understanding, let's turn to one whom Yale Professor Harold Bloom once described as "the most eminent intellectual in Mormon history," namely Joseph Smith.

From an early age, Joseph Smith was attuned to the things of eternity. His mother once described him as being "less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study" (Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith)  Joseph Smith himself once stated that the "things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity- thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart!" (History of the Church, 3:295-96) 

Joseph Smith revealed a new definition of intelligence:

"The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth." (D&C 93:36)

Parley P. Pratt, one of Joseph Smith's dearest and most loyal friends, shed further light on this definition of intelligence when he stated:

"It was at this time that I received from him [Joseph Smith] the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the very foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness." (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 259-60)

Of course, those whom Pratt described as "the highly intellectual" were not necessarily adherents to any particular philosophical tradition, nor were they necessarily creators and disseminators of ideas.  They were ordinary people who could understood that which Joseph Smith recorded in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

"For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence, wisdom receiveth wisdom, truth embraceth truth, virtue loveth virtue, light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continuity its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things." 
(D&C 88:40) 

Thus we can see that, although connected and interwoven, there is a difference between knowledge and intelligence, the former being obtained by diligence and the latter by obedience:

"Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." (D&C 130:18-19)

So what exactly is an intellectual? Certainly this depends on how you define intelligence, and how you understand the role of intellectuals in the public square. What is a Mormon intellectual?  This is a question for another day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

3 Seconds is a Long Time

This 9.63 second race is worth remembering, as are all the preceding races combined

Ground Control to Major Tom... Curiosity is Loose

Yes, we are on Mars.  According to an Al-Jazeera reporter, scientists are seeking to answer the questions: "Are we alone?" Yet to my knowledge, no one has even paused to thank David Bowie.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It's Official: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy

The Apostles Peter and Paul were the earliest missionaries in Italy, but not until 1850, under the direction of another apostle, Elder Lorenzo Snow, did missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints return to Italy. More recently, in 2008, President Thomas S. Monson announced that a new LDS temple would be built in Rome. Some anticipate that it will be completed in 2014.

On July 30, 2012, President Giorgio Napolitano signed the Inteso con lo Stato, in which the Church is now officially recognized as a religious denomination, and a legitimate Christian faith in Italy. This is a fulfillment of a long awaited blessing (see also Deseret News / Meridian Magazine). To learn more about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy, click here, or to learn more about the future temple in Rome, click here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Verseball: A New Olympic Sport for 2016

Now that we are well into the 2012 Olympics, and even though the U.S.A. is currently trailing China in the medal count, I suppose it is time for me to write about the future Olympic sport of VERSEBALL. Anyone who knows me understands that I am sports enthusiast; I enjoy playing almost any sport, and I enjoy watching almost any sport.  What you may not know is how Verseball came about, and why I think it should be an Olympic sport.

My cousin Shon and I first conceived of the idea of Verseball while working as summer sports camp coaches in a gym in Mesa, Arizona.  The routine gymnastics games were fun, but we wanted to create something new and exciting for the youth, a game that would be accessible to all but still challenging.  Shon and I spent many hours in the gym and at the park playing different sports, and we wanted to create a game that involved a variety of individual skills, but that also required passing and teamwork.

We began by drawing a triangular field divided into three equal triads.  We decided that three teams of three players each would play against each other, each team trying to score on either one of the other two teams' goals.  We designed the field, bought pvc pipes and nets, and set to work.  Then we invited the kids out to play and began developing the rules.

Since that time I have introduced Verseball to many friends and taught the sport to school groups and church groups.  We even held a tournament one year on the 4th of July as part of an Independence Day celebration.  A group of Air Force cadets actually won the very first Verseball championship.

Verseball is easy to learn.  We derived the name Verseball from the word versatile. Players can use both hands and feet to advance the ball toward either one of the opponents' goals to score, and there are different areas of the goals to score on that are worth different points (Click here to see the rules and strategy of the game).  Verseball would be an exciting new edition to the Olympics not only because it would involve three teams playing simultaneously, but also because players could demonstrate a wide variety of athletic skills and game strategies.

I have been inspired by people such as James Naismith (the inventor of basketball) and Pierre de Coubertin (father of the modern Olympic games), as well as by others whom I later discovered who have also created new sports (see for example Bossaball, Kronum League, Tchoukball, Kin BallFistball, and Sepaktakraw, see also here and here).

For now the game is played only recreationally, or by invitation from schools or other interested groups, but perhaps some day it could become a great addition to Olympic sports.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Apologetics and Mormon Studies: Notes on the 2012 FAIR Conference

FAIR, The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, held a conference this past Thursday and Friday that covered a variety of topics relevant to the sustaining and defending of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Topics ranged from SSA (Same Sex Attraction) and Gender, to Book of Mormon Geography, Genetics, and the Black Mormon Moment. The concluding speaker, Daniel Peterson, gave some remarks concerning apologetics and Mormon studies, and introduced a new online publication called Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.

A brief list of the academic biographies of the speakers is available, as well as a few of the papers that were presented.  Here is a summary of the details of the proceedings.

On the whole, the conference was a success, and very informative.  FAIR allowed for a wide variety of viewpoints to be expressed, shedding light on controversial issues.  I was particularly impressed by Darius Gray's presentation "No Johnny-come-lately: The 182-year-long BLACK Mormon Moment", another confirmation of the fact that God is no respecter of persons, and that all are alike unto God. In his presentation on Book of Mormon Genetics, Ugo Perego further confirmed this reality by stating that human beings are essentially the same, each person sharing a 99.9% similarity in DNA with all other human beings.

Other presentations were given on topics such as Joseph Smith and polyandry, The Book of Abraham, Chiasmus, Church History, The Book of Mormon, and Mormon conversion and de-conversion narratives.  The final speaker at the conference, Daniel Peterson, gave an apology of apologetics that is worth reading in it's entirety. Some highlights from his apology include some gems from the likes of Austin Farrer, and C.S. Lewis, and Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

"Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."  - Austin Farrer

"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. . . . Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” —C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

"No more uncontested slam-dunks" - Elder Neal A. Maxwell

There is much more that I could write about the FAIR 2012 conference, Brother Peterson's presentation, and apologetics in general (and maybe I will do so later), but for now let it suffice for me to record one other relevant quotation, this one from the early Apostle Peter:

"But asanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give ban answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the chope that is in you with dmeekness and fear:" (1 Peter 3:15 )

When We've Match'd our Rackets to these Balls: The Game of Tennis

Tomorrow Roger Federer, the world's top tennis player and champion of Wimbledon 2012, will play the same opponent that he beat at Wimbledon just four weeks ago, Andy Murray, for the Olympic gold medal in men's singles tennis. Murray is playing great tennis, but can Federer pull off another victory and thus obtain his first Olympic gold medal? Federer has already won 7 Wimbledon titles, and 17 total grand-slam titles, but an Olympic gold would be a welcome addition to his already impressive trophy collection.

The Olympic championship will be an exciting match. But whoever comes off victorious one thing is certain, tennis has come a long way since it's inception in 12th century France.  Historians surmise that one of the earliest ancestors of the game of tennis was the "jeu de paume" or "palm game", which has the oldest ongoing annual world championship in sports, having first been established over 250 yrs. ago. This game was played indoors using just the palm of the hand. Louix X was one of the earliest and most adept players and advocates of the game, which later evolved to include gloves, paddles, and eventually, rackets.

Not until the 16th century did the game begin to be called "tennis", from the French "tenez", meaning "hold!", "receive!" or "take!" The person serving the ball would call out "tenez!" to alert his opponent to the oncoming ball.  The game was exported to England, where King Henry VIII became one of it's biggest fans, and where racket sports began to take shape.

Wimbledon is the world's oldest tennis tournament, dating back to 1877, and owing much of its inspiration to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, who designed and patented a game that he called "sphairistike", from the Ancient Greek, meaning "skill at playing at ball".  The game soon spread to America as it continued to grow in popularity in places such as England, France, and even Australia. The rules were gradually standardized, and although tennis was withdrawn from the Olympics in 1924, it later returned in 1984 and continues to this day.

Tennis terminology is unique, including vocabulary such as "love" and "service".  Scoring in tennis match is divided into sets, games and points.  Points in a game progress from 0 or love to 15, 30, 40, and unless tied in a deuce, to the end of the game.  The origin of these terms is unknown, although it is conjectured that in Medieval France the face of a clock might have been used to track score, and the word love may have been derived from the French word "l'oeuf" meaning "egg", because an egg looks like the number zero. Another theory posits that a game in tennis begins with love because at the beginning of the game the players still love one another.

There is a famous reference to tennis in the works of Shakespeare in which the young King Henry V receives messengers from the Dauphin who, in mockery of his youth, bestow a gift of tennis balls upon him.  The young King graciously receives the gift, but not without a powerful return to this service:

"We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for.
When we have match'd our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard." (King Henry V, Act I, Scene II)

Judging by this speech and later by his St. Crispin's Day Speech, King Henry was not only ready to counter the Dauphin in tennis, but to defy the armies of France.

The score is love / love. So, without further ado, tenez!