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.

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