On Belief and Free Will

A person on newordermormon.org posted the following comment on Sunday (http://forum.newordermormon.org):
“I am currently reading Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God book.I like the way he portrays God. On one page he says, (quoting as if God) ‘There are those who say that I have given you free will, yet these same people claim that if you do not obey Me, I will send you to hell.  What kind of free will is that? Does this not make a mockery of God…?'”And then on another page, ‘…could God judge God’s own creation and call it bad? If I wanted you to be and do everything perfectly, I would have left you in the state of total perfection whence you came. The whole point of the process was for you to discover yourself, create yourself, as you truly are– and as you truly wish to be. Yet you could not be that unless you also had a choice to be something else. Should I therefore punish you for making a choice that I myself have laid before you? If I did not want you to make the second choice, why would I create other than the first?'”I love the idea that the purpose of free agency is actually to use it to create ourselves.” Very Happy

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Walsch’s book(s) are fascinating! Lots of ideas to consider in there. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do love his ideas on God standing back and letting us create ourselves here–with no “divine expectations” or “test of obedience” to thwart our experiment with life.  Not because I want to engage in “riotous living” without consequence, but rather because such a divine plan for “learning without pressure” makes sense to me.  Like a child learning to walk, or feed himself, or talk–that’s our walk of faith here. We observe, and then we try; we fail, and we try again.  The process should be without threats, without external rewards.  Living life itself is the gift–learning its own reward. The way God communicates with me is via the heart and mind–gently, patiently, quietly, peacefully.    He seems to want me to find out for myself what is good, meaningful, joy-filling, and whole–through experience and reflection.  If he wanted to protect us from all harm, error, and pain, if he expected us to not make mistakes or deviate from his commands, he would not have sent us here away from his perfection.  The problem with a belief in God’s harsh expectations is that it would require those who wanted God’s blessings to find “the truth”–in order to know the exact set of rules.  The age-old question of who has claim to “truth” has been argued and fought about for millenia.  Would God set up such a system–where an individual would hold the responsibility of finding the right guru or else be under God’s condemnation for failing to live his “perfect will”?  I no longer believe that.

Rather than having us rely on others to tell us “God wants you to do this . . . ,” God equipped us with reason, conscience, memory, and heart–which is all we need to create meaningful lives and relationships here. That’s what I think.

Being free to believe anything we choose to believe is a precious gift–one aspect of “free will” which I think God is totally okay with. If not, I think he would orchestrate the conditions necessary for every one of his children on earth to come to “correct belief” during their mortal lives–which he obviously doesn’t do. He lets us live and die believing what we will, being influenced by those whom we accept as authorities in our lives. Sometimes people grow to trust themselves and the personal “enlightenment” they believe they have received  from God, others break from their faith as they turn to the collective wisdom of science for answers, some are influenced by the proselytizing efforts of religious missionaries or new-age gurus and accept a new reality for themselves, but most often people just stick with the beliefs/authorities of their inherited faith system. It’s an opportunity cost, but not of “eternal consequence”–in my opinion.  God knows most people don’t want to change, or fear to.

Viktor Frankl reminded us that the last great human freedom was to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances–“to choose one’s own way”. Given that opportunity to choose what we want to believe, how foolish of us as humans, then, to retain beliefs that are inherently harmful–to ourselves, our relationships, and the world. Sometimes “group think” (even outside of religious institutions) can dampen people’s freedom to “create their own way.” We need to guard ourselves against that, otherwise we submit ourselves to a life not our own.  I don’t think it beneficial to be a follower, nor do I believe God requires it.  It is our opportunity to visualize and create the highest  ideal of ourselves–one breathe at a time, one idea at a time, one decision at a time.

With that in mind, I’ve concluded that it would be quite helpful for me to create a list of my basic beliefs about life / family / work / meaning / responsibility / education / relationships / personal growth / god (etc.) to try to find which beliefs I’ve retained that intoxicate (poison) my life.  Only then will I be able to set aside harmful thoughts and enjoy a healthier existence through a wiser worldview.

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Will polygamy be legalized?

When polygamy becomes legal in the U.S. (which I think is inevitable, given the Supreme Court ruling on Lawrence v. Texas—at least for consenting adults), someone should initiate a media blitz in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California (LDS hot spots) with factual declarations from Brigham Young, John Taylor, and other early leaders on polygamy’s exalted status as a requirement for exaltation and the “holiest” of all God’s commands. NOT because I would wish anyone to practice polygamy (I think it is not conducive to happiness–for either the men or the women involved) NOR because I would want anyone to actually believe it was a requirement for living in God’s presence (I feel a loving God would never require that of his daughters—a situation of perpetual jealousy and insecurity throughout all eternity). Rather, I would want members to consider such statements and think, “These are ridiculous. I don’t believe in any of these ideas!” A serious doubt about polygamy might help members to question:

1) Joseph Smith’s credentials as a prophet of God (He claimed it was required of him to “restore” the principle, yet he withheld the “revelation” (D&C 132) from the lay members (even lied to them about his involvement) and practiced the principle in revolting ways: keeping Emma ignorant of the fact that “celestial marriage” (polygamy) involved his sexual intimacy with the women he was “sealed” to, marrying other men’s wives, taking teen brides, coercing women to accept his proposals with tales of his imminent destruction by an angel were they to decline, lying to the members about his polygamist activities, taking no responsibility for the financial support or public acknowledgment of his 30+ secret wives, etc)–see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/ and http://mormonthink.com/polyweb.htm#lied;

2) Prophets’ and apostles’ ability to really know “The Mysteries of God” (Joseph claimed polygamy was the very order of heaven and the “highest and holiest principle” given to man; Brigham Young taught that our heavenly father was Adam, and Eve was one of his plural wives; Joseph F. Smith stated that the marriage in Cana was Jesus’ own wedding to the sisters Mary and Martha; John Taylor said the “one-wife system degenerates the human family” and is “incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality;” Bruce R. McConkie stated that polygamy will obviously commence again after the Second Coming; etc.)–see Brigham Young quotes from the Journal of Discourses at: http://www.carm.org/brigham-young-quotes

3) The doctrine of the “restoration of all things” (Why preach of “restoration” when principles and practices come and go based on external pressure? Think: polygamy until 1904, the curse of Cain doctrine denying black males the right to priesthood until 1978, temple penalties and blood oaths until 1990, contraception as “vanity, passion and selfishness” until 1969(?), the Adam-God Lecture at the Veil until Brigham Young died, blood atonement, Lamanites as “the ancestors” –>“among the principle ancestors”–> “among the ancestors” of Native Americans, etc. Would God “restore” the doctrine of polygamy without “preparing a way” for the church “that they might accomplish the thing he had commanded them” (per 1 Ne. 3:7)? If Joseph’s doctrine on polygamy was true and indeed the “holiest principle given to man,” why didn’t the church continue to embrace it as an eternal doctrine and encourage all members to be sealed into polygamous relationships “for-eternity-but-not-for-time-because-polygamy-is-not-legal-here-yet”? Why didn’t the church encourage members to move to countries where polygamy was legal (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran?)–Why doesn’t it do so today, if polygamy was “restored” for the latter-days?)

4) Whether priesthood leaders ever lead the members astray (If one Latter-day Saint prophet taught that monogamy was the “foundation for [the] ruin” of nations (Brigham Young), and another taught, “Alternatives to the legal and loving marriage between a man and a woman are helping to unravel the fabric of human society . . . the end of the human family” (Spencer W. Kimball)–Who was right about monogamy? Who was deceived, preaching false doctrine?).

5) Etc.

I would want such a media blitz to pressure the church to acknowledge its “roots” (the doctrinal basis) of its historical practice of polygamy: D&C 132, and its term “celestial marriage” which meant, exclusively, plural marriage. Church leaders would need to address media questions such as,

1) “Will the church be returning to its former practice of polygamy? . . . Why not?”

2) “Won’t you leaders pray to ask God to ask his permission to re-instate that ‘highest and holiest principle,’ now that it’s legal? Why not?–since you claim God answered such a petition about blacks and the priesthood ban in 1978 . . . Surely the ‘highest and holiest principle’ is worth petitioning for?!”

3) “Is polygamy the ‘highest and holiest principle’ and the ‘order of heaven’? Did Joseph Smith and his successors get that right, or were they preaching false doctrine? Now that polygamy is legal, shouldn’t every member of the church be required to be sealed into polygamous family relationships if they want the promise of exaltation—a life with God and his wives in the Celestial Kingdom? Why not?”

4) “Does God still practice polygamy in heaven? You don’t know? Joseph and Brigham claimed they knew. Were they teaching false doctrine? Did God change his mind and stop living polygamy in heaven after the Manifesto of 1890? How about after the second manifesto of 1904?  Were the Manifestoes his ‘little joke’?”

5) “Among your members who happen to have some acquaintance with your church’s former practice of polygamy, most believe God only required it for a time in order to: 1. ‘raise up seed’ for the church, and 2. take care of the many widows whose husbands had died in the persecutions in Missouri. Are adding to your numbers and taking care of your many single sisters not valid reasons for practicing polygamy today? Why not? You say because the church is thriving and the single sisters will get husbands during the Millenium? Surely 13 million members (only half of whom attend your worship meetings each month) is a scientifically insignificant number when compared to the entire population of the world?! The more Mormons the better, right?–to do ‘more good’?–and to hopefully keep the heathens outnumbered by the Christians, right? What?–You’re concerned that returning to a practice of polygamy would do nothing to tarnish your reputations as non-Christians? You just need to set those evangelicals straight with Joseph F. Smith’s quote about the marriage of Cana being Jesus’ wedding to Mary and Martha!  Or, tell the heathens they’re living a celestial principle when they take multiple wives–they’ll love you for it and be more apt to listen to your message.”

6) “By the way, historical records suggest Joseph Smith did NOT enter polygamy just to take care of widows (since he proposed to and married teenagers and married women–AND because that whole thing about “excess widows” is just a myth, per census records of the time), and it is doubtful Joseph would have wanted his plural wives to get pregnant because that would have raised suspicions at a time he was keeping polygamy under wraps—even from church membership at large. With what end in mind did Joseph Smith practice polygamy? Why does the church divorce itself from that ‘end’ now?”

7) “Did Joseph Smith make a mistake in beginning the practice of Polygamy with Fanny Alger? Was it not of God? If Polygamy is ‘of God’, why won’t you church leaders set the example of this ‘holiest’ principle and take multiple wives today? It’s no big deal—no more important than ‘buying a cow,’ per early church apostle Heber C. Kimball. What are you afraid of—a mass exodus of the membership? With accurate, historical information currently and readily available on the Internet today, your offices are already being bombarded by resignation requests from members who feel betrayed and lied to by your church–am I not right? You could save face by owning up to Joseph Smith’s problems with polygamy and just confess, ‘He got that one wrong.’”

8.) “He didn’t get it wrong?—God had commanded him? Well, if God commanded polygamy, why didn’t God just prepare a way for Joseph ‘to accomplish the thing which [God had] commanded [him]’–as your Book of Mormon scripture 1 Ne. 3:7 suggests God does after giving a commandment? Why did Joseph have to hide polygamy, even from all but his closest church associates—even from his wife Emma, as evidenced by the letter he wrote 17-year old wife Sarah Whitney and her parents? Perhaps the legalization of polygamy is God’s belated method of ‘preparing the way’ for the saints to live the Celestial Law now, in preparation for the Second Coming. Don’t you feel obligated to appreciate that blessing and to move forward in faith and obedience to a return to polygamy?”

Obviously not–Church leadership would NOT be interested in returning to polygamy because it would halt the growth of the church, for the most part. I wouldn’t want them to return to polygamy—for many, many reasons—but I would want them to confess that former church prophets declared it was the marriage arrangement of God and a requirement for exaltation. Why? I want members to have to deal with it, and to doubt: “Could Joseph have gotten that one wrong?” The indoctrination that “the prophet will never lead us astray” would have some serious holes in it . . . and members might actually start to think for themselves rather than shelving all their doubts and following their leaders blindly. My great great and great great great grandmothers were Mormon plural wives. I honor their desire to please God and earn salvation but regret that they were taught that that was only possible through polygamy. They suffered unnecessarily—both emotionally and temporally. May the church stop exerting such control over people’s hearts and minds is my sincere desire.

Shaunalei Andersen

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Utah Families and Their Finances

Here in Utah, I’ve observed:
1.) Families getting approved for 30-40% debt-to-income mortgage payments without the banks taking into account that these families are paying 10% of their income to their church (I had a financial planner once ask if I was a full tithe payer. When I answered affirmatively, he said he always advises his tithe-paying clients to only get a mortgage that’s 20% DTI. Few families talk to an independent financial planner before getting into a house payment . . . ),
2.) People living paycheck to paycheck with no savings to fall back on in the event of illness, accident, or layoff,
3.) Large families relying on a single breadwinner (father) despite the family’s inability to afford that luxury (mom staying home),
4.) Little affordable housing for low-income families (I have a friend who’d love to move her family back to Utah but can’t afford to since housing is quite expensive here–She lives in Illinois),
5.) A proliferation of pay day loan shops being built (People must be turning to these lending institutions to weather a temporary hardship, only to end up further and further in the hole. Why Utah allows such shops to charge their exorbitant fees and 30+% interest rates, I cannot understand . . . ),
6.) Few older vehicles on the road, lots of leasing of brand new vehicles, expensive SUVs galore, 3- and 4-car families (plus insurance for all those cars), almost no self-discipline to save in order to pay cash for a car, very little use of public buses, etc.,
7.) Consumer (credit card) debt for luxuries,
8.) Faith that the checkbook will balance if members just pay their tithing first.

Duh, people! God isn’t going to save us from our own stupid financial mistakes!!!! Just because banks allow people to live beyond their means via credit doesn’t mean that we should do so (in the naive faith that God will protect us financially because we always pay him first)– The banks don’t offer us credit cards and home equity loans because they like us, and God doesn’t bail out every person of faith who makes a bad financial decision after Sunday offering! In former generations, people stopped spending when they ran out of cash. Now, people make compulsive purchases long past the point of prudent living and then pray that their prosperity will persist. (How’s that for a Maxwellism?) I could soap box for hours on this! . . .

Why do people expect the church to subsidize them in a house (or cars) they cannot afford?! Rather than turn immediately to the church when money gets too tight, they need to do some serious soul searching to find solutions for their financial problems. I know many feel hopeless when it comes to their finances, but there are always choices to be made: move to cheaper housing, sell one’s cars and take the bus or bike or carpool, cancel credit cards, re-negotiate with creditors, send mom to work or have her work out of the home, move back in with family temporarily to work on debt elimination, plan for additional education to improve one’s marketability and earning potential, stop eating out, learn to cook from scratch, change insurance policies to a higher deductible (provided you put the premium savings directly into an “emergency” fund), have your teenagers get a job to pay for their clothing/car insurance/gasoline/lessons, etc. Only after careful planning should we go to the bishop for financial help, expecting that it will only be TEMPORARY as we make the necessary transitions to a sustainable standard of living.

If people have no savings, no “rainy day funds,” they are NOT prepared to get into a mortgage, car loan, or voluntary consumer debt. Period. They need to have savings with which to make their monthly payments in the event of interrupted earnings. (It’s not the bishop’s responsibility to be our “emergency” funds . . . ) Likewise, even if people can meet the monthly obligations of their debts and other expenses now, if they can’t afford to also set aside some money each month towards their “emergency” fund, they are living beyond their means (because emergencies WILL come up–whether it’s a root canal, deductible on the house, major appliance repair, new tires, bereavement flight, or emergency room co-pay).

I wish passing a financial planning course were required for high school graduation (as well as for approval on any loan or line of credit). But again, banks are banking on our stupidity . . . As Erik always says: “People who understand interest earn it. People who don’t understand interest pay it. People who understand math run casinos. People who don’t understand math gamble there.”

I’ve always liked that the church encourages its members to live within their means, save for a rainy day, and avoid unnecessary debt. But, of course, they couple that with “Don’t delay having children while you’re in college,” “The Windows of heaven will open if you pay a full tithe [20% is even better!],” “Mothers, stay home”. . . We need to be wise. Paying tithing does not mean we will be free from the consequences of our lack of planning.

Best wishes, all who are struggling in this difficult economy. It’s a time that requires wisdom, frugality, planning, and discipline–and inspiration/introspection to know where to focus our time, means, and talents.

Wanted to share . . .
_________________
Happy moments, praise God.
Difficult moments, seek God.
Quiet moments, worship God.
Painful moments, trust God.
Every moment, thank God.

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