Monday, March 28, 2005

Liar, Liar -- But No Hell Fire

Woo-hoo. The Practical Mormon is going to allow digging through some private email -- and at the same time explain why lying's not a sin!

Here's a transcript of a recent discussion, responding to a question about how to deal with a child who sometimes lies. The Practical Mormon writes:

Nearly everyone I've ever met -- and if I've met you, you're included, even if I really like you -- lies at times by omission, by puffery, by blaming, by bragging, by playing the victim, by shirking, by flattery, by pretense, by concealing, by covering for others, by covenant breaking (which includes gossiping, coveting, taking offense easily, and failing to sustain people you've covenanted to sustain), and -- rarely -- by flat-out, knowingly, misrepresenting the truth.

These are such common human traits that -- had I not known one friend who (to my knowledge, at least) doesn't do any of 'em, not even the flattery one -- I'd say that dishonesty is inescapable in mortality.

TPM's correspondent replied:
I agree with you about the many ways people can lie, but I take issue with the point about lying "by omission." I don't think honesty is an excuse for rude behavior.

To which TPM reponded:
Oh, I completely agree with you on the subject of rude behavior, though I continue to categorize lies by omission as lies. More to the point, I think that from an eternal perspective, unkindness is a greater sin than lying.

To my mind, lying is neither a sin nor a virtue, anymore than red is a sin or a virtue. It's a description of behavior that may or may not be sinful. I lie all the time about St. Nick, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny. And my whole ward joins me in lying every time we have a ward Christmas party. I lie when I put makeup on my face to hide a zit. I lie when I tell a story and leave out the details that don't serve the purpose of my tale. I lie when I tell a joke, read fairy tales to my kids, or when I write a book of fiction. The difference between me and most folks is that I simply don't think lying -- in and of itself -- is wrong.

Here are some other instances when I'd have no ethical trouble at all with lying:

1. When a person with a big nose asks me if her nose looks big. Ditto for anything else that a truthful answer wouldn't fix. If I'm at church with someone who wants to know if her ugly shoes are ugly, she ain't getting a truthful answer from me. What would be the point?

2. When someone wants an answer to a question that's none of their business. I weigh 165 on my driver's license. I'm dreaming. But what's accomplished by my upping that number every time I renew my license? Blah-blah-blah. Mind your own business.

3. When the truth would endanger an innocent. If a psycho were to hold a gun on me and demand to know the location of my kid, for the purpose of depriving that kid of life or virtue or family, I'd lie my head off. And I wouldn't feel the least bit guilty. I don't owe psychos or terrorists a truthful answer.

Oh, there are thousand more.

As far as I'm concerned, the only time lying is a sin is when it's used to extract unearned gain, or to dodge deserved consequences. It's a sin, in my mind, to steal cookies (unearned gain), and it's a sin, when caught with those cookies, to blame one's little sister (evading deserved consequences).

It's likewise a sin to lie on one's resume (unearned gain), and to kill your wife when you're caught lying about getting into medical school (mark hacking...I mean, evading deserved consequences).

All the other little lies we tell -- from the Prophet Joseph denying the practice of polygamy (a combination of "none of your business" and defending the very existence of the Church) to pretending we didn't hear that noise our mother-in-law made in the bathroom (an important time to lie by omission!) -- all those lies are required to defend what we hold dear and to live peacefully in a world that contains Other People.

Nobody asks in a recommend interview "Have you lied?" You're asked if you're honest in your dealings -- which to me (and you're free to interpret the question any way you'd like) means Do you pay your taxes, Do you keep your contracts and commitments, Do you accept deserved consequences, and Do you avoid unearned gain. Nobody cares whether I lie when I compliment the bishop on his scary new haircut. [And to those who think evasion isn't lying, I say, you're lying. It's no less a lie to say "Um, it's a STUNNING haircut" (tangent: ain't "stunning" a terrific word?) than it is to say "Um, sure, great haircut."]

Thursday, March 24, 2005

You Can't Make Me -- Evolutionary Mormonism

The openly Christian, vaguely Mormon-critical WND uses this headline for a link to a Deseret News article on how evolution is taught in Utah schools: "Utah's non-war over origins." The WND subhead reads: "Darwin's theory taught – but probably not believed."

The WND headline is found in a group of stories tracking the war between scientists and Creationists -- thereby suggesting that "those darned Mormons" aren't toeing the party line in the anti-evolution fight.

Don't fret, kiddies. The Practical Mormon is here to pour oil on your furrowed brow. Squint your eyes and meditate on this:

Suppose, just suppose, that the evolutionists are right.

Suppose the most rabid evolutionists are right.

Suppose life erupted in the oozy slime of prehistoric sea glurge, which then spat forth trypanosomes and tyrannosaurs, marigolds and monkeys.

And suppose those clever little marsupials somehow spawned Fred and Wilma, Daryl Hannah, and me and you.

If this Darwinario turns out to be True©, does it disprove Creationism?

Well, yes.

Does it disprove Mormonism?

Not at all.

Mormonism parts with Mainstream Christianity™ on several doctrinal points, in particular, in its beliefs about an antemortal spiritual existence.

The majority Christian view of the human soul splits into two camps:
  • Traducianism -- a view held by, amongst others, Lutherans. It argues that both the human soul and the human body are propogated by the parents. In other words, the act of conception creates every element of humanity.
  • Creationism -- a view held by the larger body of Christianity, which argues that the soul is created by God immediately upon conception.
The Saints, on the other hand, hold to a belief that most nearly matches the doctrine of Infusionism (also called proeexistiani), which posits that we existed as intelligences, and then as teachable spirits, and individual personalities, long before we came to earth, and that our spirits are infused into our bodies at some point between conception and birth.

Uniquely, the Saints believe that the soul is the permanent (and longed-for) union of the body and the spirit -- a state that exists only amongst resurrected beings.

What has this to do with evolution and creationism?

Just this: Latter-day Saints, alone amongst all of Christianity, can embrace science and theology. Only Mormonism can worship a God that uses evolutionary means to create bodies for mankind, and then -- at a time of His choosing -- infuse those bodies with His spiritual offspring.

The beauty of holding this position: Joseph Smith understood and taught the principle of antemortality well before Darwin published The Voyage of the Beagle, the seminal work of evolutionary theory.

Mormonism alone can confidently assert that we are the literal offspring of God, and that the mechanism by which our bodies came into being is merely interesting, and not at all relevent to the fundamental truth of the gospel.

So go ahead, my fellow Saints. Embrace evolutionary theory. Teach it. Believe it, if you like. For its great irony is that it demonstrates the truth of Mormonism.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Today's Picky Grammar Lesson

Attention: When you comply with an order, you don't "tow" a line.

You toe it. You put your toes on the line, so that you and your fellow GIs are standing in a straight line, shoulder to shoulder, at full attention.

The Practical Mormon expects you to discontinue use of any references to towing lines.

Immediately. Right Now. Toe the...oh, never mind.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Bit of an upgrade

I've added Haloscan commenting and trackback to this blog.

Downside: It deleted all previous comments. Sigh.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Tithe is High, but I'm Holding On

The amusing Christopher Bigelow and the thoughtful Jana Riess have written a dumb, a Dummies book...on Mormonism. Our erstwhile cross-town rival Peggy Fletcher Stack favorably reviews the book in Saturday's Salt Lake Trib.

While the Practical Mormon is a big fan of both Chris and Jana, and approves of most of what we've read so far, their comments about tithing leave us spoiling for a debate. To wit:

Tithing is only a warm-up exercise: As much of a sacrifice as paying tithing is, Mormons see it as a lesser law that God gave because people couldn't live the higher law. Basically, tithing is God's Plan B, a first step in learning to live Plan A, which Mormons call the Law of Consecration.

Lessee...How do we put this succinctly? Um...Bologna!

This, says the Practical Mormon, is the deal with tithing (At least, here's the deal so far as temple-attending Saints should be concerned):

Tithing isn't the Blue-Light Special on the Law of Consecration. The Law of Consecration is tithing, (and contrary to the assertion in this otherwise-fine Gospel Doctrine resource) the Practical Mormon holds that the Law of Consecration is not in abeyance.

OK, it's a fine distinction, but imagine, for a moment, that the Law of Consecration works this-away:

1. God provides everything, and permits the Saints to live by, or ignore, the Law of Consecration.
2. We choose to consecrate everything back to God.
3. God tells us to take stewardship over 90 percent of everything.
4. We cut a check to the Church for the other 10 percent, because God gives the Bishop (et al) stewardship over that portion.

And imagine, for another moment, that there's a wise purpose in this division of stewardship -- which we call Agency. So long as the 90 percent of God's -- and by extension, the Church's -- resources are held by agents, no damgummit can ever again confiscate those resources.

Is it possible that rather than being in suspension, the Law of Consecration is, in fact, fully operational right here, right now? And that in addition to the metaphorical lessons we usually take from the Parable of the Talents, the tale also has an entirely literal interpretation?

The Practical Mormon says eh-yup.

And gets a nasty little shiver when confronted with "I paid my tithing and found this shiny new car in my driveway" stories suggesting that paying tithing is the sure road to riches.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Corrupt LDS Software

You thought we were talking about The Godmakers, didn't you!

New computer, re-installation -- and corrupted Folio Infobases disks. The Practical Mormon needs a friend! Any kind soul willing to upload a replacement for our LDS Collectors Library '97 software? We'd ask the Infobases/Folio people, but they're ppfffffttt. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

Better Red than Mislead

Christopher Bradford -- the Grasshopper of Let Us Reason -- comments on the discrepency between limited-geography models of the Book of Mormon, and the persistent North-American bias of persistent North-American Saints.

For those not familiar with the debate: BYU prof John Sorenson proposed in his influential 1985 book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon that Book-of-Mormon peoples may have occupied only a tiny area of a particular Central American penninsula.

Dr-Brother Sorenson's theory flies in the face of Mormon mythology about the genealogy of North-American natives. While it's been widely embraced by Mormons Who Read FARMS Publications, it doesn't seem to have made the rounds of either Tom Murphy or a sizable number of Primary choristers, who -- in my ward at least -- continue to sing Book of Mormon Stories with feather fingers and tom-tom thighs.

Here's the Practical Mormon's take:

Sorenson's right. Murphy's right. Joseph Smith is right. And my patriarch is right.

See, according to God -- by way of my patriarchal blessing -- I'm an Ephraimite; never mind that my genealogical records prove that my DNA is an all-American mix of Polish, Swedish, French-Canadian, and Mayflower English. In fact, so far as my DNA is concerned, that mysteriously dark-skinned woman married to my French-Canadian gggfather may mean I'm a "Lamanite."

And yet, my Patriarchal Blessing calls me an Ephraimite -- a designation I accept without question, because I believe I'm assigned to the tribe of Ephraim, regardless of my DNA.

Likewise, is it not reasonable to suggest that all Native Americans are assigned to the Lamanite branch of the Tribe of Joseph? And that their DNA is no more a factor in that assignment than mine is in mine?

And likewise, is it reasonable that we put a stop to the sharing-time war whoops? Please?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Today's Picky Grammar Lesson

Attention: The word "apropos" is not a synonym for "appropriate."

It is a synonym for "With regard to..." or "Within the bounds of..." The correct syntax is "Apropos of ____...", as in "Apropos of this discussion, I've never read the Book of Mormon."

We now resume regular programming.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Practical Mormon 1:1

I, the Practical Mormon, having been born of goodly bloggers, therefore I was taught somewhat in the learning of the bloggernacle; and having seen many contentions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days, yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God -- and some darned fine insight on what it means to be a practicing Saint -- therefore, I make a few notes of my proceedings in my days.

Yea, I make a record in the language of...well, English..., but I'll attempt to include the learning of the Jews and the language of the Chinese. (Can't help it. I'm a raving Sinophile.)

And I know that the notes that I make are purdy-much true; and I make 'em with mine own Toshiba, and I make 'em according to my google -- and my multitude of high-falutin' college degrees....