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Faith and Logic as taught in the Book of Ether

I love the Book of Ether. While I’ve often viewed it as a chore to get through, there’s nevertheless something profoundly spiritual about this section near the end of the Book of Mormon. I love the story of the Brother of Jared and Moroni’s insights on faith. This time through, I was really impressed by the doctrine of enlightenment. For the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Moroni, John the Beloved, and surely many others, there was a point when their faith turned into knowledge, and they saw beyond the veil of mortality. And when this happened, they all seemed to have a similar vision. They saw everything. They comprehended the world’s history, the world’s future, and the cosmic designs and glories of God. It evidences that Plato may have been more correct than Aristotle after all, that this world is, in fact, a simulation, and a brief glance into the great beyond will enlighten us beyond any scope we could have before imagined. The paradox is that the only way to achieve this state of enlightenment is to, as Moroni put it, “doubt not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” In other words, we can’t reach this point through logic, only faith.

But why should we put our faith in something we can’t logically support? What’s wrong with doubting what we don’t see? Shouldn’t we start with a “witness” before we put our faith in something? To me this is the great mystery of the Gospel. How can I logically explain faith? I can’t. Notwithstanding, it seems  that the Gospel has everything to do with this mysterious doctrine of faith. The Book of Mormon is a perfect example. Its very existence is the antithesis of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for it is that Joseph Smith fabricated it. To believe the fantastic story of its origins, the fantastic stories contained within it, and to take every word of it at face value, when in so many ways it seems like a nineteenth century book, is an incredible leap in logic. And yet I believe in it. Very much so. I like to think I have many logical defenses for it, but when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my faith precedes my logic. And there you have it. I don’t know why it works this way, but I know that it does work this way, and I know that, for whatever reason, God wants it to be this way. He gave us the Book of Mormon in the most scientifically unsupportable way imaginable. And yet with supporting evidence from Hebrew writing styles, to horse bones, to DNA, I’m confident that it can’t be proven false either.

I think the whole world is this way. Until the veil is parted, we’ll never prove (or disprove) the existence of God. Supposing someone were to hack into the source code of this simulation and discover the truth, surely God could stop the system, reboot, clear the record, and leave this person to second guess his findings. Perhaps this sort of thing happens all the time, forcing us, the citizens of earth, to choose between logic and faith. And why is God so sold on this system of schooling? Again, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll never be able to explain why. But I choose to believe, because it feels right, and the consequences fill my life with light and intelligence. And if not in my brain, at least in my heart, this method of obtaining truth makes a world of sense. I truly believe that those who choose a life of faith, rather than basing their life’s choices solely on empirical evidence, will have their minds expanded and, like the Brother of Jared, will eventually come to comprehend all things. This is my goal. It should be the goal of all Latter-day Saints. It is the essence of the Gospel.

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I'm weird

Today while I was leading the primary in songs, a loud-mouthed girl said to me out of the blue, “You’re weird!” disrupting the whole primary. She repeated the accusation several times until the primary president took her aside. I really don’t know what I did to provoke that statement. It reminded me of my upbringing and all the times I’d heard those exact words directed at me. At every school I went to, with nearly every new group of people I met, I almost always heard those two words, and I always wondered what I’d done to provoke them. They seemed to follow me every I went, actually getting ahead of me so that I never had a chance to be anything but “weird”. What I want to know is who the “normal” people are.

When I went to pick up my one-year-old from nursery, I crouched down and extended my hands so that she could run into them. To my surprise, the very girl who had antagonized me ran into my arms instead, simultaneously hugging me and reminding me of my weird status. Weird.

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Driving the Speed Limit is Morally Wrong and Illegal

I’ve come to this conclusion while commuting to and from work each day. First of all, no one goes the speed limit except old people, trailers, and people having car problems. While what’s popular is no way to determine morality, how can morality be determined other than by an action’s consequence for good or bad? And when driving the speed limit in an environment where most people are going at least ten miles over, you’re (1) making other people upset, (2) inconveniencing others and forcing them to move around you, and (3) thus increasing risk. My wife argues that the morally right thing to do is to simply stay in the right lane with the trailers and old people and let the speeders have the rest of the lanes. But (1) this is boring and dumb, (2) it results in more time on the road and less time with one’s family, and (3) if this is the only way to be legal, safe, and a good neighbor, then what on earth are the rest of the lanes for? You couldn’t possibly go the speed limit in the fast lane. This would even make police angry (who, by the way, always go at least five miles over the speed limit, usually ten). You’d hold back traffic, making others late for work. If just a few others were to catch your vision and do the same, you could cause traffic jams. For the freeways to properly function, either nearly everyone must go the speed limit, or nearly everyone must speed. The reality is B. What good is an idealist who’s convinced he’s doing the world a favor when in reality he’s inconvening, endangering, and enraging everyone around him? There’s no morality in that. The true speed limit is the written law plus five to ten miles. Anything less than this is unethical and, by the spirit of the law, illegal.

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Mormons are cool

Tonight Teresa and I went to a benefit concert in SLC featuring a ton of Mormon artists: Alex Boye, Lex De Azevedo, Kurt Bester, Kenneth Cope, Peter Breinholt, Nancy Hanson, Michael Dowdle, The Piano Guys, and many others. Every performance was phenomenal and inspiring. I’m proud to be associated with these amazing artists. Mormons are cool. They’ve got a pretty good music scene going on. As for literature, my favorite authors are definitely Mormons. They make good athletes, scientists, and politicians. Perhaps this is because a true Mormon can’t accept mediocrity. At the core of our religion is a radical doctrine that life is not meaningless, and time is a precious commodity. I think most people realize this before they die. How blessed we are to have been taught it since our infancy.

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The Truth About Santa Claus

I realized tonight why parents propagate the Santa Claus myth. I’ve had no intention of doing this. Hoping to never have to disappoint Ariah and explain to her why I lied to her over the years, I’ve been true to my principles and told her the truth from the beginning, that I’m really Santa Claus, that Teresa is Mrs. Claus, and that together we bring toys to all the children of the world. And yet Ariah insists that I’m not Santa Claus and that the white bearded men at shopping malls are Santa Claus. Tonight, as we arrived at a hotel room at two o’clock in the morning, Teresa asked me to tell the girls a Santa Claus story while she wrapped presents in the bathroom, so I told them about the time I was flying the sleigh through a particularly foggy night. The first person nature of the narrative didn’t seem to bother Ariah, in fact, she insisted that I tell the story again, which I did. Then, with dreamy eyes, she said, “I can’t wait for Santa to come.” I told her that I was right in front of her, but she didn’t believe me. As much as I’d like to set her straight, believing in lies makes her so happy, who am I to burst her bubble? Though there was a point when she asked me in all seriousness, “Are you telling the truth or just pretending?” I was stumped. It was such a sincere question, I couldn’t lie. Which forced me to admit to myself that I wasn’t actually Santa Claus. I didn’t tell her this. I just changed the subject.

And thus you have it. For a child, playing pretend and believing in pretend are so gratifying, it outweighs the benefits of staunch realism, and for a parent to force the latter upon a such a child feels horrible. And yet I insist that when my daughter comes of age and sorts out fact from fiction, she won’t be disappointed about Santa Claus, because, whether or not I’ve hitherto fore actually been Santa Claus, I fully intend to become Santa Claus, so that when she figures it out, she won’t exclaim like Soloman of Old, that “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18), but she’ll realize the truth in what I’ve told her from the beginning, that her dad was Santa Claus all along, the source of all her presents (giving all due credit to Mrs. Claus). And while I may not then be equipped with flying reindeer, I’ll nevertheless be a mighty stud after the order of St. Nicholas. And rather than this future moment marking an end of the era of magic, it will be a graduation and initiation for her into this prestigious order. She will then join me sneaking out on Christmas eve and delivering presents to the children of — if not yet the world — at least the neighborhood.

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Mountains of Plastic

Tonight our Ariah and Apsen were bounteously showered with plastic as assembled by the fine hands of Chinese workers, branded by Disney, and gifted by grandparents, aunts and uncles. May my daughters’ young, girlish hearts obtain all the joy this world would be lacking without such delicately crafted polymers. May the not quite true spirit of Christmas, i.e. receiving, mysteriously fill them with the true spirit of Christmas for years to come. And when they’re old enough to realize the true spirit of Christmas, may they, in turn, take part in corrupting their own children and musing, as their father did, on this paradoxical season.

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I learn an age-old lesson

Tonight we went to the City Creek mall, temple square, the children’s section of the Museum of Church History, and the Vertical Diner (delicious vegan restaurant). We’ve eaten out four times in the last week. Not good for our finances. But then, it’s not very often I get a five day weekend. It sure went by fast. My whole life could pass by in a blur as a stay-at-home dad. Though it’s good for me. It may sound trite, but last night it hit me how important family really is, that no sense of career accomplishment can ever compare to it. It’s nice to walk with giants and carve our niches on the edifice of time, but after the work day is over, we’re really not ourselves until we’re with our closest friends and family. And I guess that’s what life is really all about: just hanging out with the people with whom we feel most ourselves. It was occurring to me that when I hit forty, I’m inevitably going to have a midlife crisis. Then, with my best years behind me, I’ll progressively get weaker and more senile until I wither away and die. I’m so glad I have my Teresa to lean on through it all. The thought of approaching the horrors of life’s long and dreary road alone seems — at least lately —  unbearable. I no longer require fame and fortune. All I really want in life is to have a happy family life. Really.

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Brilliant Quotes from Joe Versus the Volcano

I watched Joes Versus the Volcano tonight. That movie has some profound religious overtones. Here’s three quotes that I thought were brilliant:

			  ANGELICA
	Did you ever think about
	killing yourself?

			  JOE
	What?  Why would you do that?

			  ANGELICA
	Why shouldn't I?

			  JOE
	Some things take care of
	themselves.  They're not your
	job. Maybe they're not even
	your business.

And ...


			  PATRICIA
	My father says almost the
	whole world's asleep.
	Everybody you know, everybody
	you see, everybody you talk
	to.  He says only a few people
	are awake.  And they live in a
	state of constant total
	amazement.

And ...

                          JOE
	Do you believe in God?

			  PATRICIA
	I believe in myself.

			  JOE
	What's that mean?

			  PATRICIA
	I have confidence in myself.

			  JOE
	I've done a lot of soul
	searching lately.  I've been
	asking myself some tough
	questions.  You know what I've
	found out?

			  PATRICIA
	What?

			  JOE
	I have no interest in myself.
	I think about myself, I get
	bored out of my mind.
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Today at church, as my family sat down and waited for the meeting to begin, it occurred to me that I was smiling. I didn’t know why I was smiling. Nothing was on my mind. I was just existing … with a smile on my face. To me it was enough evidence to debunk the claim that there’s no such thing as happiness, only happy moments. If one’s average state of of being, aside from intense emotional moments, is pleasant, carefree, and healthy, I think it’s safe to say such a one is happy. And how is it possible?

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

That’s how it’s possible.

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For Richer or for Poorer

Tonight I attended a concert featuring the Elgar Variations by the Utah Valley Symphony and storyteller Kevin Kling, who told short stories throughout. It was amazing. But what struck me the most from this evening was a brief interchange I had with my parents. My mom was playing cello in the orchestra. After the show, she came down to talk with us, and my dad announced in his German “code” to my mom (somehow oblivious to the fact that almost all of his children took at least two years of German) that he’d gotten a new job. My mom was thrilled and gave him a big hug. From what I’d gathered from my dad before the concert, this job, while an improvement in virtue of a shorter commute, wouldn’t necessarily pay any better than his last one, and his last one was a huge step down from the one before that. As the consequence of hard times for company, he went from making over $80k as  an insurance worker to $15 / hr as a sales rep. Yet he’s said on multiple occasions that while he doesn’t enjoy the sales job, it makes good money, so he’s all right. Relatively speaking, $15 / hr for a guy who was formerly making more than five times that amount is lousy money. But his humility about it all has impressed me, showing an example of one whose heart is in providing for his family, not material gain. After he announced this to my mom, she was thrilled and gave him a big hug.

Now it just so happens that I also just got a new job, with which I’ll be making not much less than my dad was making a few years ago. I didn’t refer to any numbers, but I did tell my mom the news, as it seemed a fitting moment. She was glad for me as a mother should be, but I noticed that her enthusiasm didn’t match what she’d originally showed my dad. It was such an interesting paradigm shift, to suddenly be the big business man while my parents are thrilled to be getting an entry level position. It was a testament to me that life has little to do with money and everything to do with family, especially one’s spouse, whom we suffer the bad times and enjoy the good times with. I’m glad that they have each other, and I’m glad that I have my Teresa. Comparing ourselves to others is worthless. Who knows, maybe in a few decades, hard times will hit again, and I’ll be grateful to get a job as an ice cream scooper while my son becomes the lead engineer for the latest stealth bomber. I hope, in that moment, my wife will congratulate our son, but that she’ll give me an extra big hug, because I’ll still be her number one, for richer or for poorer. I’ve realized that paradigms and world views can change over night, that all we are is dust in the wind, and that before too long, we’ll join our ancestors in the stars. I pray that I won’t lose sight of what matters most, so that when I take my place in the great beyond, it will be in a family constellation and not as a lone star whose obsession with material gain eclipsed the one lesson he needed to learn: to love and be loved.