Monday, December 13, 2010

Confusion at Christmas

I was looking for a chapter in the Book of Mormon that talked about Mary, Christ's birth, his baptism, and his life. It's something I shared fairly often on my mission. I wanted to find it, as it's Christmas time, but for whatever reason I couldn't remember where it was. I googled it, and surprisingly had a really hard time getting it to come up. Eventually I found it by looking through the chapter headings of the first and second books of Nephi. It was in the second half of 1 Nephi 11. Through some footnotes, I was also able to find Alma 7, which teaches a similar lesson.

What I did find when I was googling the topic kind of took me off guard. I suppose it shouldn't have, since I've read other similar anti stuff before, but I didn't realize how much debate there was out there on the particular topic of the virgin birth.

I don't like wasting a ton of time on this kind of stuff, as I'm aware of how it sucks away the spirit. It ends up being kind of a vicious cycle, where the more anti stuff you read, the less the spirit is present, and the more confused you become. That, of course, is a specific sign that something is wrong, but if enough confusion is present, you can actually be so confused that you interpret everything backwards. That is, you may incorrectly interpret that your confusion means the church is wrong, rather than that the anti literature is wrong.

I'm not going to give them any link love, but they're easy enough to find if you really want. In several sites I glanced through, however, it became apparent that they were all parroting the same basic argument. So one person put together this little logic chain, and everyone has copied that person. One guy even talked about how much research he'd put into his writeup, although it became quite clear that he was relying completely on secondary and tertiary sources. What I mean by that is that his research was just copying and pasting anti literature from other people's websites.

This particular guy that claimed he did so much research did have a relatively comprehensive review of the anti literature on the topic. Among his claims are that we believe that Mary was not a virgin and that she committed incest (sex with both her father and brother). The way their logic chain works is that they quote Ezra Taft Benson, Brigham Young, and others pointing out that the words of a modern prophet trump the written words of past prophets (i.e., the scriptures). Then they quote, out of context, some early church leaders saying that Jesus was conceived the same way we were, physically, not by a spirit. Since the modern prophet disagreed with what it says in the Book of Mormon and Bible, we therefore believe something different than is written in the scriptures. We don't actually teach that, but then they claim that we have changed our teachings to be more in line with the real Christian world, so we don't even realize that we believe something totally different. What? Do you feel the confusion yet? If you do, it's because this is completely false and wrong.

It's practically ridiculous and a waste of time to even talk about, and yet here I am.

Even in the contextless quotes I read on these sites, not having been back to read the primary sources yet myself, I see nothing in any of them that is out of line with what we believe nor with what the scriptures teach. There are several general authorities who say Jesus was conceived the same way we are. Okay, so conception, as defined by Princeton's WordNet, is "the act of becoming pregnant; fertilization of an ovum by a spermatozoon". Just like when the rest of us were conceived, an egg was fertilized.

The Holy Ghost does not have a body, so of course would not have sperm. The Father does. I don't pretend to know exactly how this process happened, but I do know that artificial insemination is a fairly common process nowadays. While the joke is likely often told about the doctor impregnating thousands of women, no one really thinks of the doctor who facilitates the pregnancy as the father. The sperm donor is the physical father. Is it a stretch that the Holy Ghost delivered the Father's sperm through an act other than intercourse?

The obvious anti answer to this will generally include the term 'cognitive dissonance' or 'belief disconfirmation' or some such other description of the psychological process by which one changes or ignores certain components of their beliefs that are discongruent. Then, of course, if you ask the person you're talking to how they think Jesus was conceived, if they'll even give you a straight answer, they'll say that there is no father or that Jesus is his own father or the Holy Ghost is the father or they'll get into the whole Trinity thing about how they're 3 yet 1 at the same time, etc. In all that, they won't be able to explain the process by which conception took place. To me, their statements make less sense and are filled with just as much cognitive dissonance or belief disconfirmation, if not more than what we believe, especially given that while others disagree with what we teach, they also disagree greatly with each other.

I do not believe it is blasphemy that we can become as God, seeing that many scriptures teach that we may inherit God's glory. I believe it is a great blessing that we have such a potential. Isn't it wonderful, as Nephi and Alma taught in the verses I linked to in the first paragraph above, that Jesus condescended to be with us and suffer the things we suffer so that he might have direct knowledge with which to bless us and help us? That is the story of Christmas. It is not confusion and debate as to the nature of God but rather an understanding that God knows what we go through and loves us.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I was just talking to a friend of mine about her efforts to transform into a morning person. It's something I've struggled with myself. I always worry on campouts that I'll be outed as a terrible leader, because everyone but me is awake, ready to pack up and head out. I haven't had that actually happen, since I usually do wake up earlier on campouts due to discomfort, but I'm not generally the first one up and at 'em. I was 20 minutes late to the gym this morning, because I had a hard time getting up after being up late watching a movie.

I've wondered sometimes if it really matters. Like this blogger says, maybe we're just born different. Why should we let ourselves be discriminated against? Why not push our employers to let us change to a 10-6 or 11-7 work schedule? Maybe we'd be better off moving to the East Coast and then working remotely for a company located on the West Coast. Perhaps there's an outsourcing market for that. Companies that don't want to completely offshore their work could hire slews of night people that live in a planned community in the middle of West Virginia where the curfew would be 4-9 a.m.

Then I remember Ben Franklin's refrain, which is mirrored in the Doctrine and Covenants, about going to bed early and waking up early. An important piece of context that really only softens the blow slightly is the part of the verse that says not to sleep longer than is necessary. I think we can understand that the point is, at least in part, that we shouldn't just sleep our lives away. Focusing just on that part, it would be easy to justify that sleeping in until 10 is okay if you went to bed at 3 a.m., since 7 hours of sleep would not be considered too much. The problem is that it's hard to misinterpret the Lord's point about going to bed and arising early. Of course this doesn't account for night shifts and other strange work schedules, and I'm not going to address that here.

Jumping back a little to verse 121 may provide a little more context. Light-mindedness and lust are more likely to be present at night than in the wee morning hours. Larry Lawrence explained in this last General Conference, "I have always believed that nothing really good happens late at night". It's probably true.

So even though us night people may be more productive at night, it ends up being a problem, since that's also when temptation and weakness are most prevalent. Of course, not everyone is going to just start giving into temptation simply because they are up late.

Looking to the Word of Wisdom, where it is explained that this counsel is adapted to the weakest of the Saints, it helps to understand the all or nothing nature of many of the commandments. There are people who could drink a glass of wine with dinner a couple nights a week and be fine, but for the benefit of those who are predisposed alcoholics, it is completely forbidden for all. That said, it took 100 years for the Word of Wisdom to be phased in as a requirement for all, though even now there remains some debate on the subject.

I'm going to go a direction here that I almost decided not to go, but I think it's an important point of comparison that has helped me. I want to first say that I have friends who I love and respect that are gay, and I'm involved in a local group that seeks to tear down the walls of hatred and misunderstanding related to sexual identity. Hopefully this doesn't serve to cause more contention in the matter, as we know there has been plenty of it to go around already.

If you haven't read that first link I posted, go read it now and then come back. The call to end discrimination by morning people against night people mirrors in some small way the fight against discrimination related to sexual identity. Please remember, I'm trying to say this in a way that doesn't marginalize sexual identity issues but rather reframes to some extent the morning/night person issue.

Of course we shouldn't discriminate against anyone for any reason. I've been treated poorly for being LDS. I feel most of society couldn't care less about the plight of us colorblind (or color deficient as the more commonly accurate term). I have gay friends who have been treated unfairly. It's not right. The movie Chocolat is a good example of the senseless hatred that can arise from treating someone poorly because of perceived differences and self-righteousness.

That said, taking a predisposition for certain weaknesses as a challenge to work on and overcome is an important part of our sojourn on earth. We shouldn't discriminate against others for the issues they have to deal with but rather focus on our own problems and be available to provide support for others in their quests as they need it. Likewise, to embrace our predispositions and flaunt them as natural and impossible to deal with is disingenuous.

It is very hard to balance all these issues without being branded insensitive or worse. My point is that as I work on my own predisposition as a night person, it helps me to know that others have struggled with and overcome predispositions for much more difficult things and helps me to understand, even if just to a limited extent, what they go through.

Something that has helped me as I try to arise earlier (maybe not at 4 a.m. like my dad and father-in-law) is to schedule an early time before work at the gym with other people. Getting my exercise in has helped me get in shape, and knowing there are others expecting me to be there has helped keep me motivated when it's so easy to slip back to sleep (yes, it's happened on more than one occasion). Get up at 6 a.m. enough days in a row, and you'll find your body will wake itself up at that time even without the alarm clock, and it's a lot easier to go to bed by 10 p.m., since you'll be so wiped out from being up so early. As controversial as President Packer's last talk in General Conference was, the advice he gives us is important in overcoming whatever we happen to be working on. Decide to exercise your God-given agency and don't look back. Even as inviting as those warm blankets are.