Sunday, January 30, 2005

God and freedom

Divine endorsement for freedom:

5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

(Doctrine & Covenants 98:5-9).

MSNBC election day coverage

Heard snatch of coverage on MSNBC this morning (during a FoxNews commercial break) -- a female reporter was earnestly asking an expatriate voting official in Detroit about reports that some voters had complained that the polling seemed to be a last-minute thing and not very well organized.

Sheesh. Faint echoes of lame charges of "disenfranchisement" because of long lines during November's U.S. presidential election.

I didn't wait for his answer but switched back to FoxNews.

Proposed answer: "Yes, we were, frankly, unprepared for the massive turnout of Iraqi expatriates who wanted to vote in the first multiparty election in their country in fifty years!"

Let freedom ring!

Iraq plaudit

As I noted in a previous post, I have been following the Iraq election with considerable interest. For months the skeptics and naysayers have been telling us it couldn't be pulled off, and that even if it did take place, the turnout would be so low as to render the whole effort a nullity. Meanwhile, my gut instinct told me the election would indeed be held, and that the turnout would be surprisingly high. Now it appears that my gut, rather than the media pundits, may have indeed been right. The latest information I have is that the turnout may have been as high as 72% of eligible voters, although my wife tells me she has heard that even this figure may be low. (In any event, it was much higher than even I had imagined it would be.) The people who took part in this election -- candidates and voters alike -- richly deserve our praise and admiration. We, who pride ourselves in living in the world's oldest and most stable republic, had a turnout of just over 60% in the recent presidential election. But on the other hand, the Iraqis braved terrorist threats -- and credible ones at that, backed as they were by hundreds of earlier bombings, murders, and other acts of violence -- to turn out in droves to cast their ballots; and thus, they have now taken the crucial first step toward, perhaps, changing the future not only of their own country, but of the entire Middle East. And appropriate praise should go to President Bush as well, for sticking to his guns and making this moment possible. But when all is said and done, this is the Iraqis' moment rather than ours, and on this day they came through in spectacular fashion. May their example serve as an inspiration to those of us who all too often take for granted the right to vote, and even to speak freely.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Iraq's moment of truth

Read William Buckley's take on the Iraq elections, scheduled for tomorrow.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Will it be illegal to hate "hate crimes" laws?

The Utah legislature is debating "hate crimes" legislation again.

Discriminatory actions against a person based on their membership in a protected class are already against the law. Likewise, crimes against a person or property are already against the law. The law also differentiates between crimes of passion (e.g., manslaughter), and crimes of premeditation or intent (e.g., murder). But I think it's a slippery slope to enhance punishment for a crime against a person or property because of "actual bias or prejudice" in the heart or mind of the perpetrator.

First, it smacks too much of Orwell's "thought police". If a thought or belief means a criminal act deserves more punishment, how long until the thoughts or beliefs themselves are outlawed or punished? How soon until it's illegal to have "actual bias or prejudice" in your heart or mind? Or to say you hate "hate crimes" laws?

I believe homosexuality is wrong. If "hate crimes" legislation passes enhancing punishment for crimes against homosexuals, how soon until my beliefs are considered "actual bias or prejudice" (they already are) and are outlawed or punished? Will churches teaching traditional values lose tax-exempt status or have their property confiscated? Couldn't happen? Read this and this and weep.

Second, it's a free speech country ("Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech"), and -- so far -- a free thought country ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"). The Ku Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam (usually) peacefully coexist. We may abhor the beliefs of both, but we should only punish their actions, not their thoughts or beliefs.

My religious tradition teaches:
2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. . . .

4 We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul. . . .

8 We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.
(Doctrine & Covenants 134:2, 4, 8).

I abhor homosexuality. Homosexuals abhor "bigoted" Christians like me. Should either be punished for their feelings? Or for saying so? In the current cultural sway, it seems "hate crimes" lean only one way -- right: liberal ideology is protected; conservative ideology is under attack.

And yet, a "self-described lesbian feminist activist", Tammy Bruce, has written The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds, which "cuts through the deluge of politically correct speech and thought codes to expose the dangerous rise of Left-wing McCarthyism." (I haven't actually read the book, but I like the title and the blurb).

A third problem with "hate crimes" legislation is that it divides instead of unites, and violates "equal justice under law". I don't think terrorists should be given the death penalty because they murder otherwise innocent "infidels" (i.e., non-Moslems). I think they should get the death penalty because they commit crimes against humanity. Likewise, we should punish crimes like assault, manslaughter, and murder and property crimes like vandalism and arson because they are crimes against a human being -- not because they are crimes against an "African-American", "Asian-American", "Danish-American", "born-again Christian-American", "middle-aged white male Mormon-American", etc. That's why I don't like "hate crimes" laws. (And it's OK: you don't have to like me. Freedom to dislike is American.).

UPDATE: Not in Sweden. A Pentacostal clergyman is convicted and sentenced to jail for denouncing homosexuality in Sunday sermon. Case is on appeal.

Pray for the troops

An army chaplain reportedly sent an email asking for prayers for his transportation battalion in the run up to the Iraqi election (see below). Whether or not email is legit, we should pray for all the troops. Democracy in Iraq is a noble cause:

"As a transportation battalion, my unit will be delivering the voting machines and the ballots to villages and cities throughout Iraq during the upcoming elections. (January 30/31) Our convoys are prime targets for the insurgents because they do not want the equipment to arrive at the polling stations nor do they want the local Iraqi citizens to have the chance to vote; timely delivery must occur so that the elections occur.

"Encourage your friends and family members and those within our churches to pray specifically for the electoral process. Historically, the previous totalitarian regime would not allow individual citizens to vote.

"Democracy will not be realized in Iraq if intelligent and competent officials are not elected to those strategic leadership positions within the emerging government; freedom will not have an pportunity to ring throughout this country if the voting process fails. Announce this prayer! request to your contacts throughout your churches, neighborhoods, and places of business.

"Those with leadership roles within the local church post this message in as many newsletters and bulletins as possible. There is unlimited potential for God's presence in this process but if we do not pray then our enemy will prevail (See Ephesians 6:10-17). A prayer vigil prior to the end of the month may be an innovative opportunity for those within your sphere of influence to pray.

"This is a political battle that needs spiritual intervention. A powerful story about God's intervention in the lives of David's mighty men is recorded in 2 Samuel 23:8-33. David and his warriors were victorious because of God's intervention. We want to overcome those who would stand in the way of freedom. David's mighty men triumphed over incredible odds and stood their ground and were victorious over the enemies of Israel. (Iraqi insurgents' vs.! God's praying people). They don't stand a chance. I will pray with my soldiers before they leave on their convoys and move outside our installation gates here at Tallil.

"My soldiers are at the nerve center of the logistic operation to deliver the voting machines and election ballots. They will be driving to and entering the arena of the enemy. This is not a game for them it is a historical mission that is extremely dangerous. No voting machines or ballots. No elections. Your prayer support and God's intervention are needed to give democracy a chance in this war torn country. Thank you for reading this e-mail. Please give this e-mail a wide dissemination.

"Thank you for your prayer support for me and my family. Stand firm in your battles.

Lyle CH (CPT) Lyle Shackelford
Battalion Chaplain
HHD, 57th Transportation Battalion"

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

agency, freedom, and chess

A discussion in my class, “Teachings of the Living Prophets,” helped me to pull together some thoughts I’ve been having recently about agency. First, I think it is important to carefully define what is meant by “agency.” I would define agency as simply our ability to choose between different options. I would say that freedom is the number of options open to us.

Our teacher asked us what we thought the relationship between agency and obedience was. A common misconception holds that obedience to God’s laws actually limits our freedom. The familiar response to this misconception is that obedience actually increases our freedom. However, this response often seems vague as to just how this works. A guy in my class certainly felt this way. He said that when someone had made no choices at all (a difficult state to imagine), they were in the state of maximum freedom. As they chose to be disobedient or obedient, they began to limit themselves in different ways. In other words, he said, there was sort of a spectrum of freedom in which the middle was the point of greatest freedom and either side held less freedom. He said that, for example, as people pay tithing, they limit what they can do with their money or as they go on missions, they limit what they can do with their time. He said that the more laws you keep, the less free you are.

The reason people tend to feel this way is that they don’t understand the connection between agency, freedom, and progression. God’s laws are specifically designed to help us progress and to help us to help others progress. In that way, they’re much like a college education. By going to college, I am consciously limiting myself to certain actions. Instead of studying, I could spend all of my time working in a fast food restaurant or playing Halo 2 or working on this blog. But when I graduate from college, I will have options opened to me that are unavailable to people who do not graduate from college. I will be able (hopefully) to obtain a job that is more fulfilling and higher-paying than any job I could get without a degree.

Additionally, the experience of learning and of being around intelligent people will have opened up a whole new world to me that is richer and more varied than that enjoyed by those who choose to have less education.

Another way to look at it is to compare our life to a chess game. A novice, when first playing chess may feel that he is completely free. He can move the pieces any way he chooses (within the rules of the game). However, he will find that he tends to lose pretty often. As this novice begins to understand the game better, he will feel that he is constricted because he knows that certain moves will result in a loss of the game. He still has the freedom to move this way, but he will not. This is about the stage that my classmate finds himself in. He feels constricted by the laws of God but feels that they are better than the alternative. However, as a chess player advances still further, he will find new options opening up to him. Suddenly he will begin to think in terms of combinations of moves and of grand strategies. These are options that he could have never before considered when he first began. He suddenly feels more free, and, what’s more, he tends to win the game.

To me, God is the ultimate chess champion. He has progressed past the point where he feels constricted by laws and has reached a stage that is freer than anyone else’s. He has the option of creating worlds and of even creating spirit children—options that we could never even consider at our stage of progression. Almost all of us are at the stage in which commandments seem to constrict us and we chafe at our lack of options. We just can’t see how these laws will allow us to become more free to win the game of life.

Agency exists so that we can exercise it righteously, thus gain more freedom so that we can exercise our agency more righteously. It’s like a circle except that it has direction so it’s really more of a spiral—an upward spiral we’re doing things right.

Some news Dan Blather won't mention

I found this item in today's JWR. Evidently Mr. Bush's inaugural address has caused a bit of a stir among some of the very people we want to influence, and in some cases, help. There have been some interesting rumblings of late out of Iran, and not just with regard to their nuclear program. I've heard that notwithstanding the best efforts of the mullahs, a good percentage of Iranians are in fact quite fond of Americans, and that there is a strong undercurrent of discontent and restiveness directed against the regime itself. So let's hope it bears fruit, and that in 30 years or so, the mainstream media and Michael Moore types will be proven to be just as wrong about Bush as they were about Reagan.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

DNA, belief, and freedom

I've read some of Dean Hamer's The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes.

In 1993 Dr. Hamer also reportedly detected a DNA sequence linked to homosexuality.

I don't buy in to either theory. Reminds me of the story about the kid who comes home from school with a bad report card and corners his dad, "So which do you think it is, Dad: heredity or environment?"

Both obviously play an important role in our development. But I am a believer in ultimate human freedom. Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, we are free to choose -- including to abdicate our choice, to choose bondage, or to have our choices result in bondage.
And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.
(Helaman 14:30-31).

Reflecting on the premortal war that has carried over to earth, a modern prophet has put the President's Inaugural Address in context:
That war, so bitter, so intense, has gone on, and it has never ceased. It is the war between truth and error, between agency and compulsion, between the followers of Christ and those who have denied Him. His enemies have used every stratagem in that conflict. They've in dulged in lying and deceit. They've employed money and wealth. They've tricked the minds of men. They've murdered and destroyed and engaged in every unholy and impure practice to thwart the work of Christ.

The war goes on. It is waged across the world over the issues of agency and compulsion. It is waged in our own lives, day in and day out, in our homes, in our work, in our school associations; it is waged over questions of love and respect. of loyalty and fidelity, of obedience and integrity. We are all involved in it . . . each one of us.
(Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 408).

I accept that liberty is the entitlement of all the inhabitants of the earth because I believe the words of ancient and modern prophets.

God and Presidents

George W. Bush, as we all know, is a religious man, and not just in the nominal sense. He actually takes his faith seriously and acts upon it -- a fact which drives liberals, media types, and the mavens of Political Correctness to distraction. So against that backdrop I present herewith, for the edification of one and all, this article, which I found in National Review while surfing my favorite websites this morning. Inaugural Addresses tend to be forgettable, but most -- including the more memorable ones -- have contained references to the Supreme Being, as this article points out.

Incidentally, I was surprised and pleased to hear Susan Graham perform at the inaugural ceremonies the other day -- and even more pleased that she sang "Bless This House." One is hard-pressed to imagine that being sung at, say, a Kerry inaugural, but it seemed perfectly appropriate for Mr. Bush's.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Bush Doctrine: Freedom

A printer-friendly version of the President's Second Inaugural Address.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Heroes real and imagined

I found this article by Rich Lowry on the National Review website this morning. I agree with what he says about Sgt. Peralta. I also agree with his comments about the soldier who was lauded by the media for daring to pose a "tough question" to Mr. Rumsfeld during the Defense Secretary's recent trip to Iraq. (I don't even recall that soldier's name, a fact which in itself suggests both my feelings about him and about the media types who extolled what he did.) I find it reassuring that there are still authentic heroes in the world, and discomfiting that the media fails to recognize them for what they are.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Apple News

Monday, January 10, 2005

Torture echo chamber

"Torture" needs defining. Just as one man's "terrorist" is another's "freedom fighter," "torture," too, depends on individual perspective. In my view, it extends along a continuum: using threats and fear (psychological) seems to occupy the more acceptable end of the spectrum, while mutiliation or death (physical) fall at the other end. In between are the proverbial rubber hose or electric shocks that leave no physical marks.

Likewise, photos of Iraqi prisoners humiliated by some American soldiers at Abu Ghraib (made to go naked or wear underwear on their heads) differ in degree from videos of Iraqis being physically mutilated (e.g., having fingers chopped off) by agents of Saddam's regime. Both may have the same intended purposes: recorded for deterrence (and unintended: war crimes trials...).

Further, ends and means are in play along the continuum: if the objective is to obtain information (interrogation), that seems a higher motive than public humiliation or disfigurement as ends in themselves (or as punishment for betraying the state or collaborating with the state's enemies).

After enemies of the state fly airliners into office buildings killing thousands, rules of war and the use of "torture" (as specifically defined) must be reexamined.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Atheist rantings

This article may be of interest to everyone. The same fellow who tried to get the words "under God" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance is now trying to prevent President Bush from placing his hand on the Bible when he retakes the oath of office next week. So I, for one, hope the President uses the biggest Bible he can find, one that can clearly be seen and recognized on TV screens around the world. And I'm sure his inaugural address will contain some Biblical allusion that will puzzle most anchors and commentators, much as did his reference last time to the parable of the Good Samaritan, about which some network newscasters were absolutely clueless.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Kathie Lee kudo

Several years ago I read Kathie Lee Gifford's autobiography, the title of which, I believe, was _I Can't Believe I Said That_. I know it doesn't sound like the kind of stuff I would normally be expected to read, but it was worthwhile reading, albeit not particularly heavy. The lady has much more depth than she is usually given credit for. Anyway, I came across this article in today's JWR, written by Cal Thomas, who is always good. I concur in the opinion he has filed. This is the first time I have ever done this, so I hope it works; anyway, check this link.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Tsunamis, God, and suffering

Orthodox Christian doctrine teaches creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), which creates the problem of evil: how could an all-good God create evil? Or, more to the point this week, how could God allow or cause an earthquake and tidal wave that have caused so much death, destruction, and suffering?

LDS theology teaches that: like evil, matter has always existed and creation was organization; likewise, individual identifiable identity has always existed in some form, one purpose of mortality is for the spirit children of a heavenly Father to obtain physical bodies, and God is an exalted resurrected Man. (Doctrine & Covenants 93:29-35; Abraham 3:23-28; Doctrine & Covenants 130:22); Christ's redemptive mission was to provide a way back to our Father through the resurrection (because of Christ's resurrection, all who are born will be resurrected -- death is not the end; Alma 40), and the atonement (the Savior suffered for our sins so we can become clean and worthy to return and remain in the Father's presence; Doctrine & Covenants 19:16-19; 2 Nephi 9); God's plan for our happiness requires freedom to choose; one third of the spirit children of our heavenly Father rebelled against Him and followed Lucifer who promised that all would be saved, that he would be their Savior, and that he would force all to follow God; Jesus offered to implement the Father's plan which provided for freedom to choose, with the reality that not all would choose to follow God; Lucifer became Satan and he and his spirit hosts seek to thwart God's plan. (2 Nephi 2; Doctrine & Covenants 93:30-32;Doctrine & Covenants 76:25-29).

This theological backdrop helps explain the problem of evil: like matter, evil has always existed. As for God and suffering, the recent earthquake and resulting tidal wave need not be seen either as God's judgment or as proof that there is no God (or worse, that he is a malevolent God). Death is not the end (indeed, God's plan has provided the escape from death). Human suffering is not without purpose (mortality is temporary and God has promised eternal happiness for those who endure -- Revelation 21:4; Doctrine & Covenants 121:7-8; Doctrine & Covenants 122:5-7).

Instead, it seems to me the event can serve at least three purposes: (1) provide an unprecedented opportunity for international cooperation and service to the victims (see LDS-organized efforts here, and here); (2) serve as a reminder that mortal life is fragile and we don't control the elements; and (therefore) (3) turn us to God.

After the Teton Dam broke in Idaho in 1976, thousands lost homes. A church leader at a public meeting of victims said that he had come to answer the question, "Why has this happened?" The answer, he said, is "because the dam broke."

Likewise, the disaster in Asia happened because of the earthquake. If its size and damage were "biblical", even according to secular news sources (Newsweek), perhaps it should turn us to God. "Biblical proportion" events should put the fear of God in us. But not just because something similar could happen to us (it could). Because we should have been paying attention all along. It's a geological wakeup call. A divine message: "All's not right with the world. But God is in his heaven. And we need him -- now more than ever."

Earthquakes and tidal waves are a sign of the times before the second coming of the Messiah:
"For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
"And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
"And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people.
"And angels shall fly through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, sounding the trump of God, saying: Prepare ye, prepare ye, O inhabitants of the earth; for the judgment of our God is come. Behold, and lo, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him."
(Doctrine & Covenants 88:89-92; emphasis added).

God's specific prophecy of such calamities in our day helps establish that he is God and can be trusted. Therefore, such events should not leave us questioning God's existence or love. They should not turn us away from him -- but toward him. His plan of happiness for his children included sending his Son to rescue us from mortal suffering. (John 3:16). Indeed, the sinless Son suffered unjustly -- he was sinless, but willingly paid the price for our sins. What, then, can we tell him about suffering? His suffering was for an eternal purpose: our eternal life and joy. His death and resurrection made possible all of the reunions that matter: we will see our lost loved ones again. Likewise, he taught us to reach out to others to relieve their suffering. (Matthew 7:12). May we hear his voice, turn to him, and serve his purposes as we serve those who suffer. And may we have faith in the ultimate outcomes he promises.

Blogosphere: democracy of information

The Belmont Club has a nice piece on the impact of blogs over the past year.