Monthly Archives: April 2008

2007: Whats So Great About Christianity? (Global Triumph of Christianity) / Dinesh D’Sousa

This is excerpt from chapter one (without any notes) of Dinesh D’Sousa’s book What’s So Great About Christianity?, published in 2007. It talks extensively about the rise of Christianity’s new global south, as described in Philip Jenkins’s books, and examines the implications for the balance between Christianity and atheism.

Last Friday evening I heard a debate at Biola University between Dinesh and Peter Singer, a leading advocate of the secular viewpoint, and got an autographed copy of Dinesh’s book. He is an etraordinary thinker to have in the court of the theists and Christianity, and we will be hearing from him for many years to come.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair

Excerpts from Chapter 1:

The era of Western Christianity has passed within our life­times, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning.”‘ —Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom
The world is witnessing a huge explo­sion of religious conversion and growth, and Christianity is growing faster than any other religion. Nietzsche’s proclamation “God is dead’. is now proven false. Nietzsche is dead. The ranks of the unbelievers are shrinking as a proportion of the world’s popula­tion. Secularism has lost its identification with progress and moder­nity, and consequently it has lost the main source of its appeal. God is very much alive, and His future prospects look to be excellent. This is the biggest comeback story of the twenty-first century.
If God is back, why don’t we see it? The reason is that many of us live in the wrong neighborhood. “Visit a church at random next Sun­day:’ Brent Staples writes in the New York Times, “and you will proba­bly encounter a few dozen people sprinkled thinly over a sanctuary that was built to accommodate hundreds or even thousands: Yes, I’ve seen the “empty pews and white-haired congregants” that Staples describes.’ But then, Staples lives in New York and I live in California. We live among people who are practically atheist.

Of course my neighbors do not think of themselves as atheist. Very few of them belong to atheist organizations or subscribe to atheist lit­erature. Some of them who are highly educated like to think of them­selves as agnostic: they haven’t made up their minds because the evidence simply isn’t in yet. Others even consider themselves Christ­ian, either because they were born that way or because they attend church occasionally. The distinguishing characteristic of these people is that they live as if God did not exist. God makes no difference in their lives. This is “practical atheism:’ We all know people like this. Some of us hardly know anyone not like this. And sometimes we live this way ourselves.

If we live in the wrong neighborhood, we risk missing the most important development of our time: the global revival of religion. It’s happening on every continent. In my native country of India, Hin­duism is undergoing a resurgence. So is Islam. As I have written about Islamic radicalism and terrorism I am often asked, “When will the Muslims understand the importance of secularism? When will we see an Islamic Reformation?” My answer is that Muslims will never under­stand the importance of secularism. Nor do they need to, because as we shall see, secularism is increasingly unimportant as a global phe­nomenon. Moreover, Islam is in the middle of a reformation. We see a resurgence of Muslim piety not just in the Middle Past but also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey, and East Africa. At one time Turkey provided a model of Islamic secularism, but not any longer. No Muslim country is going the way of Turkey, and in recent years even Turkey has stopped going the way of Turkey.

Some Western analysts describe the religious revivals around the world in terms of the growth of “fundamentalism?’ This is the fallacy of ethnocentrism, of seeing the world through the lens of our own homegrown prejudices. Remember that fundamentalism is a term drawn from Protestant Christianity. It is an American coinage that refers to a group of early twentieth-century Protestant activists who organized against Darwinian evolution and who championed the lit­ eral reading of the Bible. Fundamentalism is a meaningless term out­side this context.

There are, of course, Hindu militants and Islamic radicals of the bin Laden stripe, and they are indeed a menace to the world. But the growth of religious militancy and the growth of religion are very dif­ferent. One may seek to benefit from the other, but the two should not be confused. The resurgence I am talking about is the global revital­ization of traditional religion. This means traditional Hinduism, tra­ditional Islam, and traditional Christianity By “traditional” I mean religion as it has been understood and practiced over the centuries. This is the type of religion that is booming.

Traditional religion is the mainstream, but it is not the only form in which religion appears today. There is also liberal religion. One can hardly speak of liberal Islam, as liberalism is essentially a nonexistent force in the Muslim world. But there are liberal Jews, whose Jewishness seems largely a matter of historical memory and cultural habits. Here in the West, there are lots of liberal Christians. Some of them have assumed a kind of reverse mission: instead of being the church’s mis­sionaries to the world, they have become the world’s missionaries to the church. They devote their moral energies to trying to make the church more democratic, to assure equal rights for women, to legit­imize homosexual marriage, and so on. A small but influential seg­ment of liberal Christianity rejects all the central doctrines of Christianity. H. Richard Niebuhr famously summed up their credo: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”‘

I have met liberal Christians who are good and sincere people. But their version of Christianity is retreating, in two senses. Liberal Chris­tians are distinguished by how much intellectual and moral ground they concede to the adversaries of Christianity. “Granted, no rational person today can believe in miracles, but….” “True, the Old Testament God seems a mighty vengeful fellow, but….” “Admittedly religion is responsible for most of the conflict and oppression in history, but….”

This yes-but Christianity in full intellectual withdrawal, and it is also becoming less relevant. The liberal churches are losing members in droves. Once these churches welcomed one in six Americans; now they see one in thirty. In 1960 the Presbyterian church had 4.2 mil­lion members; now it has 2.4 million. The Episcopal church had 3.4 million; now it has 2.3 million. The United Church of Christ had 2.2 mil­lion; now it has 1.3 million.4Traditional Christians who remain within liberal churches become increasingly alienated. Some have become so disgusted that they have put themselves under the authority of more traditional clerics based in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast

Unfortunately the central themes of some of the liberal churches have become indistinguishable from those of the American Civil Lib­erties Union, the National Organization for Women, and the homo­sexual rights movement. Why listen to Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong drone on when you can get the same message and much more interesting visuals at San Francisco’s gay pride parade?

The traditional churches, not the liberal churches, are growing in America. In 1960, for example, the churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conven­tion had 8.7 million members. Now they have 16.4 million .8

The growth of traditional religion and the decline of liberal religion pose a serious problem for a conventional way of understanding reli­gious trends. This is the way of secularization: the idea that as an inevitable result of science, reason, progress, and modernization, the West will continue to grow more secular, followed by the rest of the world. The more confident exponents of secularization believe, as Peter Berger puts it, that “eventually Iranian mullahs, Pentecostal preachers, and Tibetan lamas will all think and act like professors of literature at American universities:’

For a good part of the last century, this secularization narrative seemed plausible. Secular people believed it and reveled in it, while religious people believed it and bemoaned it. But now we see a prob­lem with the thesis. If secularization were proceeding inexorably, then religious people should be getting less religious, and so conservative churches should be shrinking and liberal churches growing. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Some scholars put this down to “backlash” against secularization, but this only begs the question: what is causing this backlash? The sec­ularization thesis was based on the presumption that science and modernity would satisfy the impulses and needs once met by religion. But a rebellion against secularization suggests that perhaps important needs are still unmet, and so people are seeking a revival of religion—perhaps in a new form—to address their specific concerns within a sec­ular society.

Of course the secularization thesis is not entirely invalid. In Europe, Australia, and Canada, religion has been expunged from the cultural mainstream. It has been largely relegated to a tourist phe­nomenon; when you go to Chartres and Canterbury, the guides tell you about architecture and art history and little about what the people who created those masterpieces actually believed. According to the European Values Survey, regular churchgoers number, depending on the country, between 10 and 25 percent of the population. Only one in five Europeans says that religion is important in life. Czech president Vaclav Havel has rightly described Europe as “the first atheistic civi­lization in the history of mankind.”7

The religious picture in Europe is not unremittingly bleak. Ninety percent of Greeks acknowledge the existence of God, and only 5 per­cent of Greeks are atheists. Ireland still has church attendance figures of around 45 percent, twice as high as the Continent as a whole, although Irish Catholicism has also weakened in recent decades. Along with Ireland, Poland and Slovakia are two of the most religious countries in Europe.8 And some commentators have noted that even Europeans who are not religious continue to describe themselves as “spiritual.” These analysts argue that Europe has not abandoned reli­gion in general but only “organized” religion.

But if Europe generally supports the secularization thesis, the United States presents a much more problematic case. America has not gone the way of Europe. True, church attendance in the United States has declined in the past three decades. Still, some 40 percent of Americans say they attend church on Sundays. More than 90 percent of Americans believe in God, and 60 percent say their faith is impor­tant to them. Surveying the data on religion, Paul Bloom writes in the Atlantic Monthly that well over half of Americans believe in miracles, the devil, and angels. Most Americans believe that after death they will actually reunite with relatives and get to meet God.”9 All of this is a serious difficulty for the secularization thesis, because America is at the forefront of modernity. The thesis would predict that America would be the most secular society in the world. In fact, America is the most religious country in the Western world.

Perhaps the greatest problem for the secularization theory is that in an era of increasing globalization and modernization, the world as a whole is becoming more religious, not less. In a recent survey, Pippa Norris and Ron Inglehart sum up the evidence. Despite the advance of secularization in the West, they write, “The world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before, and they constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population:’ Conse­quently, the West is more secular but “the world as a whole is becom­ing more religious.”10

Even more remarkable is that the religious revival is occurring in places that are rapidly modernizing. China and India today have the fastest growth rates in the world, and religion is thriving in both places. Turkey is the one of the most modern of the Muslim countries, and Islam has steadily gained strength there. In Central and South America, the upwardly mobile classes are embracing Pentecostal Christianity.

The global spread of American culture, with the secular values it carries, seems not to have arrested or even slowed the religious upsurge. The reason is that many non-Western cultures are actively resisting secularism. A common slogan in Asia today is “moderniza­tion without Westernization:’ Many people want American prosperity and American technology, but they want to use these to preserve and strengthen their traditional way of life. They want to live in a world of multiple modernities.

We often read that Islam is the fastest-growing religion. Not true. Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world today. Islam is second. While Islam grows mainly through reproduction—which is to say by Muslims having large families—Christianity spreads through rapid conversion as well as natural increase. Islam has become the fastest-growing religion in Europe, which for more than a thousand years has been the home of Christianity. Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc wrote in 1920 that “the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith:’ Belloc was convinced that the future of Christianity lay in Europe.

Ironically, while Europe has moved away from Christianity, the Christian religion has been expanding its influence in Central and South America, in Africa, and in Asia. For the first time in history, Christianity has become a universal religion. It is in fact the only reli­gion with a global reach. Buddhism and Islam, like Christianity, are religions with global aspirations, but these aspirations have not been realized. Buddhism never established itself even in the land of its founding, India, although it found adherents in the cultures of South­ern and Eastern Asia. Even though it has a few followers in the West, Buddhism remains a religion with, at best, a regional impact. Islam is vastly stronger, but even Islam is regional, with little or no sway in the United States, Canada, Central and South America, or Australia. By contrast, Christianity is a force on every continent and in every major region of the world, with the sole exception of the heartland of Islam, the Middle East.

The new face of Christianity is no longer white and blond but yel­low, black, and brown. “If we want to visualize a typical contemporary Christian,” Philip Jenkins writes in The Next Christendom, -we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela.” The vital centers of Christianity today are no longer Geneva, Rome, Paris, or London. They are Buenos Aires, Manila, Kinshasa, and Addis Ababa. “The era of Western Christianity has passed within our life­times: Jenkins observes, “and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning.””

In 1900, more than 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and America. Today 60 percent live in the developing world. More than two out of three evangelical Christians now live in Asia, Africa, and South America. Here are some numbers Jenkins provides: Europe today has 560 million Christians and America has 260 million, yet many of these are Christian in name only. In comparison, there are 480 million Chris­tians in South America, 313 million in Asia, and 360 million in Africa. The vast majority of these are practicing Christians. There are more churchgoing Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland.

Oddly enough, this Christian growth occurred after the period of European conquest and colonialism ended. The old boys in pith hel­mets are long gone, but the faith that first came with them has endured and now thrives without them. It’s just like the early times of Christianity. After Constantine converted and Theodosius pro­claimed Christianity the state religion toward the end of the fourth century, Christianity was carried by the Roman empire. Yet the faith spread fastest after the collapse of that empire, and soon all of Europe was Christian. Were witnessing a comparable pace of growth for Christianity in the rest of the world.

A century ago, less than 10 percent of Africa was Christian. Today it’s nearly 50 percent. That’s an increase from 10 million people in 1900 to more than 350 million today. Uganda alone has nearly 20 million Christians and is projected to have 50 million by the middle of the century12 Some African congregations have grown so big that their churches are running out of space. While Western preachers routinely implore people to come every Sunday to fill the pews, some African preachers ask their members to limit their attendance to every second or third Sunday to give others a chance to hear the message.

Central and South America are witnessing the explosive growth of Pentecostalism. As David Martin shows in his study Tongues of Fire, partly this is a shift within Christianity: millions of South American Catholics have become evangelical Protestants.13 In Brazil, for exam­ple, there are now 50 million evangelical Protestants whereas a few decades ago there weren’t enough to count. The movement of Catholics into Protestant evangelicalism should not be considered purely lateral, however, as the conversion of lackadaisical nominal Catholics to an active, energized evangelicalism can perhaps be con­sidered a net gain for Christianity. Even within Catholicism there is an expanding charismatic movement that has grown in response to the success of the Protestant evangelicals. This charismatic Catholicism emphasizes many of the same themes as “born again” Christianity, including a personal relationship with Christ. And the Catholic num­bers remain huge: Brazil had 50 million Catholics in 1950, but now it has 120 million.

Despite the limitations imposed by the Chinese government, it is estimated that there are now 100 million Christians in China who wor­ship in underground evangelical and Catholic churches. At current growth rates, David Aikman observes in his book Jesus in Beijing, China will in a few decades become the largest Christian country in the world.14 In Korea, where Christians already outnumber Buddhists, there are numerous mega-churches with more than 10,000 members each. The Yoido Full Gospel Church reports 750,000 members. The Catholic church in the Philippines reports 60 million members, and is projected to have 120 million by mid-century.

What distinguishes these Christians, Philip Jenkins writes, is that they immerse themselves in the world of the Bible to a degree that even devout Western Christians do not. For poor people around the world, the social landscape of the Bible is quite familiar. They, too, live in a world of hardship, poverty, money-lenders, and lepers. The themes of exile and persecution resonate with them. Supernatural evil seems quite real to them, and they have little problem in understanding the concept of hell.” Some of them even expect the miracles of ancient times to be witnessed in their own lifetimes. I remember an African preacher who visited a church I used to attend in Northern Virginia. He insisted that through God’s grace he had performed innumerable heal­ings. When one of the assistant pastors looked at him a bit doubtfully, he pointed to the Bible and said, “Young man, there is a big difference between you and me. You see this book right here? We believe it.”

This Third World Christianity is coming our way. South Korea has become the world’s second-largest source of Christian missionaries, with 12,000 preaching the faith abroad. Only the United States sends more missionaries to other countries:6 We may be seeing the beginning of a startling reversal. At one time Christian missionaries went to the far continents of Africa and Asia, where white priests in robes proclaimed the Bible to wide-eyed and uncomprehending brown and black people. In the future, we may well see black and brown missionaries proclaim the Bible to wide-eyed and uncomprehending white people in the West.

We might think that this preaching will fall on unreceptive ears. But I’m not so sure. The Washington Post reports that there are 150 churches in Denmark and more than 250 in Britain run by foreigners as “part of a growing trend of preachers from developing nations coming to Western Europe.” Stendor Johansen, a Danish sea captain, seems to reflect the sentiments of many Europeans who are joining the new congregations. “The Danish church is boring:’ he says. “I feel energized when I leave one of these services.”‘ If more people come to share these sentiments then secularization may ultimately be reversed even in Europe.

Peter Berger writes about what he calls the “myth of seculariza­tion.” He means that the thesis of inevitable secularization has now lost its credibility. In fact, it is going the way of Zeus and Baal. Berger’s work points to the reason for this. Ultimately secularization may be reversed even in Europe.

Berger argues that modernization helps people triumph over necessity but it also produces a profound crisis of purpose in modern life. The greater the effects of modernization, the stronger the social anxiety and the striving for “something more.” As Wolfhart Pannen­berg has it, “Secular culture itself produces a deep need for meaning in life and therefore also for religion.”18 This may not be religion in the same form in which it is imbibed in Nigeria or Korea, but it is tradi­tional religion all the same, no less vital for having adapted to new cir­cumstances. It is quite possible that a renewed Christianity can improve modern life by correcting some of the deficiencies and curb­ing some of the excesses of modernity.

I have found this to be true in my own life. I am a native of India, and my ancestors were converted to Christianity by Portuguese mis­sionaries. As this was the em of the Portuguese Inquisition, some force and bludgeoning may also have been involved. When I came to Amer­ica as a student in 1978, my Christianity was largely a matter of birth and habit. But even as I plunged myself into modern life in the United States, my faith slowly deepened. G. K. Chesterton calls this the “revolt into orthodoxy.” Like Chesterton, I find myself rebelling against extreme secularism and finding in Christianity some remarkable answers to both intellectual and practical concerns. So I am grateful to those stern inquisitors for bringing me into the orbit of Christian­ity, even though I am sure my ancestors would not have shared my enthusiasm. Mine is a Christianity that is countercultural in the sense that it opposes powerful trends in modern Western culture. Yet it is thoroughly modern in that it addresses questions and needs raised by life in that culture. I don’t know how I could live well without it.

In the end, though, my story doesn’t matter very much, and neither does it matter whether the West returns to Christianity. Perhaps the non-Western Christians will convert the Western unbelievers, and perhaps they won’t. Either way, they are the future, they know it, and now we know it too. Christianity may come in a different garb than it has for the past several centuries, but Christianity is winning, and sec­ularism is losing. The future is always unpredictable, but one trend seems clear. God is the future, and atheism is on its way out

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2006: Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures / Pope Benedict XVI

This post consists of excerpts from this address delivered while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, and then published shortly after his accession as Pope Benedict XVI.
This may be the most brilliant short exlanation of the reasons for the fall of Europe into secularism ever written. His Holiness Pope Benedict can say so much in just a few words, and bring understanding. Of course his great learning appeals to scholars, but his ideas are crucial for everyone.
Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures
Pope Benedict XVI

Reflections on Cultures That Arein Conflict Today

We are living in a period of great dangers and of great opportunities both for man and for the world, a period that also imposes a great respon­sibility on us all. During the past century, the possibilities available to man for dominion over matter have grown in a manner we may truly call unimaginable. But the fact that he has power over the world has also meant that man’s de­structive power has reached dimensions that can sometimes make us shudder. Here, one thinks spontaneously of the threat of terrorism, this new war without national borders and without lines of battle. The fear that terrorists may get hold of nuclear and biological weapons is not unfounded, and this has induced even states under the rule of law to have recourse to inter­nal systems of security similar to those that once existed only in dictatorships; and yet, the feeling remains that all these precautions will never really be enough, since a completely global con­trol is neither possible nor desirable. Less visible, but not for that reason less disturbing, are the possibilities of self-manipulation that man has acquired. He has investigated the farthest re­cesses of his being, he has deciphered the com­ponents of the human being, and now he is able, so to speak, to “construct” man on his own. This means that man enters the world, no longer as a gift of the Creator, but as the product of our activity—and a product that can be selected ac­cording to requirements that we ourselves stipu­late. In this way, the splendor of the fact that he is the image of God—the source of his dignity and of his inviolability—no longer shines upon this man; his only splendor is the power of hu­man capabilities. Man is nothing more now than the image of man—but of what man? To this we must add the great problems of our planet: the inequality in the distribution of the goods of the earth, increasing poverty, the depletion and exploitation of the earth and of its resources, famine, the illnesses that threaten all the world, the clash of cultures. All this demonstrates that the growth of our possibilities is not matched by an equal development of our moral energy. Moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science; on the contrary, it has diminished, because the technological men­tality confines morality to the subjective sphere. Our need, however, is for a public morality, a morality capable of responding to the threats that impose such a burden on the existence of us all. The true and gravest danger of the present moment is precisely this imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy. The security we all need as a presupposition of our freedom and dignity cannot ultimately be de­rived from technical systems of control. It can come only from the moral strength of man, and where this is lacking or insufficient, the power man has will be transformed more and more into a power of destruction.

It is indeed true that a new moralism exists today. Its key words are justice, peace, and the conservation of creation, and these are words that recall essential moral values, of which we genuinely stand in need. But this moralism re­mains vague and almost inevitably remains con­fined to the sphere of party politics, where it is primarily a claim addressed to others, rather than a personal duty in our own daily life. For what does “justice” mean? Who defines it? What pro­motes peace? In the last decades, we have seen plenty of evidence on the streets and squares of our cities of how pacifism can be perverted into a destructive anarchism or, indeed, into terror­ism. The political moralism of the 19705, the roots of which are far from dead, was a moralism that succeeded in fascinating even young people who were full of ideals. But it was a moralism that took the wrong direction, since it lacked the serenity born of rationality. In the last analysis, it attached a higher value to the political utopia than to the dignity of the individual, and it showed itself capable of despising man in the name of great objectives. The political moralism we have experienced, and still witness today, is far from opening the path to a real regeneration: instead, it blocks the way. Consequently, the same is true of a Christianity and a theology that reduce the core of the message of Jesus, that is, the “kingdom of God”, to the “values of the kingdom”, identifying these values with the great slogans of political moralism while at the same time proclaiming that these slogans are the syn­thesis of the religions. In this way, they forget God, although it is precisely he who is both the subject and the cause of the kingdom. All that remains in the place of God are the big words (and values) that are open to any kind of abuse.

This brief look at the situation of the world leads us to reflect on the situation of Christianity today and, hence, on the foundations on which Europe rests. We can say that while Europe once was the Christian continent, it was also the birth­place of that new scientific rationality which has given us both enormous possibilities and enor­mous menaces. Naturally, Christianity did not begin in Europe, and this means that it cannot be classified as a European religion or as the reli­gion of the European cultural sphere. But it was precisely in Europe that Christianity took on its most efficacious cultural and intellectual form, and this is why it remains intimately linked in a very special way to Europe. On the other hand, it is also true that this Europe, from the Renais­sance onward and in a fully fledged manner since the age of the Enlightenment, has developed precisely that scientific rationality which led to the geographical unity of the world and to the encounter between the continents and cultures in the age of the great discoveries. This same rationality leaves its imprint on all the world to­day in a much deeper way, thanks to the techno­logical culture that science has made possible. Indeed, in a certain sense, scientific rationality is imposing uniformity on the world. In the wake of this form of rationality, Europe has developed a culture that, in a manner hitherto unknown to mankind, excludes God from public awareness. His existence may be denied altogether or con­sidered unprovable and uncertain and, hence, as something belonging to the sphere of subjective choices. In either case, God is irrelevant to pub­lic life. This is a purely functional rationality that has shaken the moral consciousness in a way completely unknown to the cultures that existed previously, since it maintains that only that which can be demonstrated experimentally is “ratio­nal”. Since morality belongs to a different sphere altogether, it disappears as a specific category; but since we do after all need some kind of mo­rality, it has to be discovered anew in some other way. In a world based on calculations, it is the calculation of consequences that determines what should be considered moral and immoral. In this way, the category of the good vanishes, as Kant clearly showed. Nothing is good or evil in itself; everything depends on the consequences that may be thought to ensue upon an action. If, then, it is true to say that Christianity has found its most efficacious form in Europe, it is also true to say that a culture has developed in Europe that is the most radical contradiction not only of Christianity, but of all the religious and moral traditions of humanity. This shows us that Eu­rope is going through a genuine “traction” (to use a medical term), and we can understand how deep-rooted are the tensions that our continent must face up to. Above all, it is here that we also see the responsibility we Europeans must shoul­der in this moment of history: in the debate about the definition of Europe and its new political shape, we are not fighting some nostal­gic battle in the “rearguard” of history. Rather,we are taking seriously our tremendous respon­sibility for humanity today.

Let us look more closely at this antagonism between the two cultures that have both left their mark on Europe. In the debate about the preamble to the European Constitution, this an­tagonism has come to light in two controversies: the question of the reference to God in the Constitution and the question of mentioning the Christian roots of Europe. We are told that we need not be alarmed, since article 52 of the Constitution guarantees the institutional rights of the churches. But this in fact means that in the life of Europe, the churches are assigned their place on the level of day-to-day political compromises; but the message they proclaim is not allowed to make any impact on the level of the foundations on which Europe rests. Only superficial reasons are given in the public debate for this clear refusal, and it is clear that such justifications conceal the true motivation instead of disclosing it. The claim that a mention of the Christian roots of Europe would wound the feelings of the many non-Christians who live in this continent is not particularly convincing, since this basically involves a historical fact that no one can seriously deny. Naturally, this his­torical observation also contains a reference to the present, since the mention of the roots indi­cates the remaining sources of moral orienta­tion, which is one factor in the identity of the formation known as “Europe”. Who would be offended by this? Whose identity is threatened thereby? The Muslims, who so often tend to be mentioned in this context, feel threatened, not by the foundations of our Christian morality, but by the cynicism of a secularized culture that denies its own foundations. Nor are our Jewish fellow citizens offended by the reference to the Christian roots of Europe, since these roots go back to Mount Sinai and bear the imprint of the voice that rang out on the mountain of God. We are united with the Jews in those great basic orientations given to man by the Ten Com­mandments. The same applies to the reference to God: it is not the mention of God that offends those who belong to other religions; rather, it is the attempt to construct the human community in a manner that absolutely excludes God.

The motivations of this double refusal are deeper than one might suspect from the reasons we actually hear. They presuppose the idea that only the radical culture born of the Enlighten­ment, which has attained its full development in our own age, can be constitutive of European identity. Alongside this culture, various religious cultures with their respective rights can coexist, on condition (and to the degree) that they re­spect the criteria of the Enlightenment culture and subordinate themselves to it. This Enlight­enment culture is substantially defined by the rights to liberty. Its starting point is that liberty is a fundamental value and the criterion of every­thing else: the freedom of choice in matters of religion, which includes the religious neutrality of the state; the liberty to express one’s own opinion, on condition that it does not call pre­cisely this canon into question; the democratic ordering of the state, that is, the parliamentary control of the organs of state; the freedom to form political parties; the independence of those who administer the law; and finally, the protec­tion of the rights of man and the prohibition of discrimination. On this point, the canon is still in the process of formation, since there exist contrasting human rights, as we see in the con­flict between a woman’s right to freedom and the unborn child’s right to life. The concept of discrimination is constantly enlarged, and this means that the prohibition of discrimination can be transformed more and more into a limitation on the freedom of opinion and on religious liberty. Very soon, it will no longer be possible to affirm that homosexuality (as the Catholic Church teaches) constitutes an objective disor­dering in the structure of human existence, and the fact that the Church is convinced that she does not have the right to confer priestly ordi­nation on women is already seen by some as irreconcilable with the spirit of the European Constitution. I mention only some points here; I do not intend to provide an exhaustive list of the contents of this canon of the Enlightenment culture. It is obvious that it contains important values that are essential for us, precisely as Chris­tians, and we do not wish to do without them. At the same time, it is equally obvious that the concept of liberty on which this culture is based inevitably leads to contradictions, since it is either badly defined or not defined at all. And it is clear that the very fact of employing this con­cept entails limitations on freedom that we could not even have imagined a generation ago. A confused ideology of liberty leads to a dogma­tism that is proving ever more hostile to real liberty.

We must of course return to the question of the inherent contradictions in the form that the Enlightenment culture takes today; but first we must finish our description of it. Since it is the culture of a reason that has finally achieved com­plete self-awareness, it naturally boasts of its claimed universality and imagines that it is com­plete in itself, without needing any other cul­tural factors to complement it. We see these two characteristics clearly in the discussion of which states may join the European Community and, especially, in the debate about the potential en­try of Turkey to this Community. Here we have a state, or perhaps better a cultural environment, that does not have Christian roots but has been influenced by Islamic culture. Ataturk attempted to transform Turkey into a laicist state, seeking to plant on Muslim soil the secular attitudes that had matured in the Christian world of Europe, and one may of course ask whether this is in fact possible. But according to the thesis of the laicist Enlightenment culture of Europe, it is only the norms and substance of this same Enlighten­ment culture that can determine the identity of Europe, and it follows that every state that ac­cepts these criteria can belong to Europe. Ulti­mately, it is unimportant to know on which framework of roots this culture of liberty and democracy is planted. And we are told that this is precisely why the roots cannot be included in the definition of the bases of Europe—for these are dead roots that do not form part of today’s identity. Accordingly, this new identity, which is defined exclusively by the Enlightenment cul­ture, entails that God has nothing whatever to do with public life and with the foundations of the state.

This makes everything logical and even, in a certain sense, plausible. For what higher good could we wish than that democracy and human rights be respected everywhere? But at this point, we must ask whether this Enlightenment­laicist culture is truly the culture—finally re­vealed in all its universality—of a reason that is common to all men, a culture that must be ac­cepted everywhere, even if it is rooted in a soil that is historically and culturally diverse. And one must ask whether this culture is truly com­plete in itself, so that it does not need any roots outside itself.

The Significance and Limits ofToday’s Rationalistic Culture

We must now investigate these two questions. The first asked whether we have at last achieved the philosophy that is universally valid and com­pletely scientific, a philosophy in which the reason common to all men finds expression. We must begin by replying that we have undoubt­edly made important gains that can claim a gen­eral validity: the assurance that religion cannot be imposed by the state but can only be accepted in liberty; the respect of the fundamental rights of man, which are equal for all; the separation of powers and the control of power. These are fun­damental values, which we acknowledge to be generally valid; but we cannot imagine that they can be realized in the same manner in every historical context. The sociological presupposi­tions for a democracy based on political parties, as in the West, do not exist in every society, and in the great majority of historical contexts, the total religious neutrality of the state must be considered an illusion. This brings us to the problems raised by the second question; but let us first clear up the question of whether the modern philosophies inspired by the Enlighten­ment, taken as a whole, can be considered the last word of that reason which is common to all men. These philosophies are characterized by their positivist—and therefore anti-metaphysi­cal—character, so that ultimately there is no place for God in them. They are based on a self-limitation of the positive reason that is adequate in the technological sphere but entails a mutila­tion of man if it is generalized. The result is that man no longer accepts any moral authority apart from his own calculations. As we have seen, even the concept of liberty, which initially seemed capable of expanding without any lim­its, leads in the end to the self-destruction of liberty itself. It is true that the positivist philoso­phies contain important elements of truth; but these are based on a self-limitation of reason that is typical of one determined cultural situation, that of the modern West, and, as such, certainly cannot be considered the last word of reason. Although they may seem totally rational, they are not in fact the voice of reason. They, too, have their cultural ties, since they are linked to the situation of the West today. This is why they are not that philosophy which one day could enjoy validity throughout the whole world.

Above all, however, we must affirm that this Enlightenment philosophy, with its related cul­ture, is incomplete. It consciously cuts off its own historical roots, depriving itself of the pow­erful sources from which it sprang. It detaches itself from what we might call the basic memory of mankind, without which reason loses its ori­entation, for now the guiding principle is that man’s capability determines what he does. If you know how to do something, then you are also permitted to do it; to know how to do some­thing, but not be able to do it, is a state of affairs that no longer exists, since it would run counter to liberty—which is the absolute, supreme value. But man knows how to do many things, and this knowledge increases all the time. If this know-how does not find its criterion in a moral norm, it becomes a power for destruction, as we can already see in the world around us. Man knows how to clone human beings, and therefore he does so. Man knows how to use human beings as “storerooms” of organs for other men, and therefore he does so. He does so, because this seems something demanded by his own liberty. Man knows how to build atomic bombs, and therefore he makes them, and he is willing in principle to use them, too. Even terrorism is ultimately based on this modality of man’s “self-authorization”, not on the teachings of the Qur’an. The radical detachment of the Enlight­enment philosophy from its roots ultimately leads it to dispense with man. The spokesmen of the natural sciences tell us that man basically does not possess any liberty—in total contradic­tion of the starting point of the whole question. The more advanced spokesmen of a philosophy that is clearly separated from the roots of the historical memory of humanity tell us that man ought not to imagine that he is something dif­ferent from all other living beings. And it follows
that man ought not to be treated any differently from them.

We asked two questions: whether the ratio­nalistic (positivist) philosophy is strictly rational, and therefore universally valid, and whether it is complete. Is it enough on its own? May, or in­deed must, it abandon its historical roots to the sphere of the dead past, that is, to the sphere of that which can claim no more than a subjective validity? Our answer to all these questions must be an unambiguous No. This philosophy ex­presses, not the complete reason of man, but only one part of it. And this mutilation of reason means that we cannot consider it to be rational at all. Hence, it is incomplete and can recover its health only through reestablishing contact with its roots. A tree without roots dries up .. .

In affirming this, we are not denying all the positive and important contributions of this phi­losophy. Rather, we are stating that it needs to be completed, since it is profoundly incomplete. And this brings us back to the two controversial points in the preamble to the European Consti­tution. The failure to mention Christian roots is not the expression of a superior tolerance that respects all cultures in the same way and chooses not to accord privileges to any one of them. Rather, it expresses the absolutization of a way of thinking and living that is radically opposed (inter alia) to all the other historical cultures of humanity. The real antagonism typical of today’s world is not that between diverse religious cul­tures; rather, it is the antagonism between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on the one hand, and the great religious cultures, on the other. If we come to experience a clash of cultures, this will not be due to a conflict between the great religions, which of course have always been at odds with one another but, nevertheless, have ultimately always understood how to coexist with one an­other. The coming clash will be between this radical emancipation of man and the great his­torical cultures. Accordingly, the refusal to refer to God in the Constitution is not the expression of a tolerance that wishes to protect the non-theistic religions and the dignity of atheists and agnostics; rather, it is the expression of a con­sciousness that would like to see God eradicated once and for all from the public life of humanity and shut up in the subjective sphere of cultural residues from the past. In this way, relativism, which is the starting point of this whole process, becomes a dogmatism that believes itself in pos­session of the definitive knowledge of human reason, with the right to consider everything else merely as a stage in human history that is basically obsolete and deserves to be relativized. In reality, this means that we have need of roots if we are to survive and that we must not lose sight of God if we do not want human dignity to disappear.

The Permanent Significance of the Christian Faith

Does this amount to a simple rejection of the Enlightenment and modernity? Certainly not! From the very beginning, Christianity has un­derstood itself to be the religion of the Logos, to be a religion in keeping with reason. When it identified its forerunners, these were primarily, not in the other religions, but in that philo­sophical enlightenment which cleared the road from the various traditions that cluttered it in order to turn to the search for truth and to turn toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods. As a religion of the persecuted, and as a universal religion that was wider than any one state or people, it denied the govern­ment the right to consider religion as part of the order of the state, thus stating the principle of the liberty of faith. It has always defined men—all men without distinction—as creatures of God, made in his image, proclaiming the prin­ciple that they are equal in dignity, though of course within the given limits of societal order. In this sense, the Enlightenment has a Christian origin, and it is not by chance that it was born specifically and exclusively within the sphere of the Christian faith, in places where Christianity, contrary to its own nature, had unfortunately become mere tradition and the religion of the state. Philosophy, as the investigation of the ra­tional element (which includes the rational ele­ment in our faith), had always been a positive element in Christianity, but the voice of reason had become excessively tame. It was and re­mains the merit of the Enlightenment to have drawn attention afresh to these original Chris­tian values and to have given reason back its own voice. In its Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Second Vatican Council restated this profound harmony between Chris­tianity and the Enlightenment, seeking to achieve a genuine reconciliation between the Church and modernity, which is the great patri­mony of which both parties must take care.

This means that both parties must reflect on their own selves and be ready to accept correc­tion. Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the Logos. Christianity is faith in the Creator Spiritus, from whom comes every­thing that is real. Precisely this ought to give Christianity its philosophical power today, since the problem is whether the world comes from an irrational source, so that reason would be nothing but a “by-product” (perhaps even a harmful by-product) of the development of the world, or whether the world comes from reason, so that its criterion and its goal is reason. The Christian faith opts for this second thesis and has good arguments to back it up, even from a purely philosophical point of view, despite the fact that so many people today consider the first thesis the only “rational” and modern view. A reason that has its origin in the irrational and is itself ultimately irrational does not offer a solution to our problems. Only that creative reason which has manifested itself as love in the crucified God can truly show us what life is.

The dialogue between those outside the Church and us Catholics, us Christians, is a mat­ter of great urgency, and we must at all costs remain faithful to this basic principle of living a faith that proceeds from the Logos, from cre­ative reason, and is therefore open to all that is truly rational. But at this point, speaking as a believer, I should like to make a proposal to those outside the Church. In the age of the Enlightenment, the attempt was made to under­stand and define the essential norms of morality by saying that these would be valid etsi Deus non daretur, even if God did not exist. In the situation of confessional antagonism and in the crisis that threatened the image of God, they tried to keep the essential moral values outside the controver­sies and to identify an evidential quality in these values that would make them independent of the many divisions and uncertainties of the vari­ous philosophies and religious confessions. The intention was to guarantee the bases of life in society and, in more general terms, the bases of humanity. At that time, this seemed possible, since the great fundamental convictions created by Christianity were largely resistant to attack and seemed undeniable. But that is no longer the case. The search for this kind of reassuring certainty, something that could go unchallenged despite all the disagreements, has not succeeded. Not even Kant’s truly stupendous endeavors managed to create the necessary certainty that would be shared by all. Kant had denied that God could be known within the sphere of pure reason, but at the same time, he had presented God, freedom, and immortality as postulates of practical reason, without which he saw no co­herent possibility of acting in a moral manner. I wonder if the situation of today’s world might not make us return to the idea that Kant was right? Let me put this in different terms: the attempt, carried to extremes, to shape human affairs to the total exclusion of God leads us more and more to the brink of the abyss, toward the utter annihilation of man. We must there­fore reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even the one who does not succeed in finding the path to accepting the existence of God ought nevertheless to try to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God did indeed exist. This is the advice Pascal gave to his non-believing friends, and it is the advice that I should like to give to our friends today who do not believe. This does not impose limitations on anyone’s freedom; it gives support to all our human affairs and supplies a criterion of which human life stands sorely in need.

Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live. The negative testimony of Christians who spoke of God but lived in a manner con­trary to him has obscured the image of God and has opened the doors to disbelief.

We need men who keep their eyes fixed on God, learning from him what true humanity means.

We need men whose intellect is enlightened by the light of God, men whose hearts are opened by God, so that their intellect can speak to the intellect of others and their hearts can open the hearts of others. It is only by means of men who have been touched by God that God can return to be with mankind.

We need men like Benedict of Nursia, who, in an age of dissipation and decadence, im­ mersed himself in the uttermost solitude. Then, after all the purifications he had to undergo, he succeeded in rising again to the light. He re­turned and made his foundation at Monte Cassino, the “city on the hill” where, in the midst of so many ruins, he assembled the forces from which a new world was formed. In this way, like Abraham, Benedict became the father of many peoples. The recommendations to his monks with which he concludes his Rule show us, too, the path that leads on high, away from the crises and the ruins:

Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so is there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and life everlasting.

Let monks, therefore, exercise this zeal with the most fervent love. Let them, that is, give one another precedence. Let them bear with the greatest patience one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of character. . .. Let them practice fraternal charity with a pure love. Let them fear God…. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ. And may he bring us all alike to life everlasting.’ (Saint Benedict, the Rule of Saint Benedict. trans. Justin McCann, O.S.B. (London: Sheed and Ward, 1976), chap. 72.)

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2008: Pope Benedict’s Homily on St. Benedict and Europe / Pope Benedict XVI

This is the full text of the English translation of the homily delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s, Rome on April 9, 2008.

Pope Benedict XVI may be a major voice in the fight to save western civilization and the place of Christianity in Europe and North America.

See the original at Opinionated Catholic at this link.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair
Dear brothers and sisters,

I wish to speak today about St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism, and also the Patron of my pontificate. I will begin with a statement by St. Gregory the Great, who wrote of St. Benedict: “The man of God who shone on this earth with so many miracles does not shine any less for the eloquence with which he knew how to present his teaching” (Dial. II, 36). The great Pope wrote these words in 592.

The sainted monk had died some 50 years earlier and was still alive in the memory of the faithful, above all, in the flourishing religious Order that he established. St. Benedict of Norcia, with his life and his work, has exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture. The most important source about his life is the second book of Dialogues by St. Gregory the Great.

It is not a biography in the classical sense. According to the idea of his times, the great Pope wanted to illustrate, through the concrete example of a person – of St. Benedict’s, precisely – the ascent on the slope of meditation. Thus, he gave us a model of human life as an ascent towards the peak of perfection.

St. Gregory the Great also recounts, in this book of Dialogues, many miracles performed by the saint. Even in this, he did not simply want to narrate something wondrous, but to show how God – by admonishing, aiding and even punishing man – intervenes in the concrete situations of human life. He wanted to show that God is not a remote hypothesis situated at the origins of the world but that he is present in the life of man, of every man.

This perspective taken by the ‘biographer’ can also be explained in the general context of Pope Gregory’s time: on the cusp of the fifth and 6th centuries, the world was involved in a tremendous crisis of values and institutions caused by the fall of the Roman Empire, the invasion of new peoples and the decadence of customs.

By presenting St. Benedict as a ‘luminous star’, Gregory wished to show – in that grave situation, right here in the city of Rome – a way out of the ‘dark night of history’ (cfr John Paul II, Teachings, II/1, 1979, p. 1158). In fact, the work of St. Benedict, particularly his Rule, proved to be the bearer of an authentic spiritual ferment, which, in the course of centuries – far beyond the confines of his native land and his time – changed the face of Europe, by inspiring, after the collapse of the political unity created by the Roman Empire, a new spiritual and cultural unity: that of the Christian faith shared by the peoples of the continent. That is exactly how the reality we call Europe came into being.

St. Benedict is thought to have been born around 480, and according to St. Gregory, he came “ex provincia Nursiae” – out of the region of Nursia. His well-to-do parents sent him to Rome to be educated. St. Gregory points out quite credibly that the young Benedict found the lifestyle of many of his schoolmates distasteful – they lived dissolutely, and he did not wish to make the same mistakes. He wanted ‘to please God only’: “soli Deo placere desiderans” (II Dial., Prol 1). Therefore, before he could complete his studies, Benedict left Rome and retreated to the solitude of the mountains east of the city. After first staying in a village called Effide (today Affile), where he was associated for some time weith a ‘religious community’ of monks, he became a hermit in nearby Subiaco. He lived there for three years competely alone in a cave, which since the High Middle Ages, has been the heart of the Benedictine monastery called Sacro Speco. Benedict’s time in Subiaco, a time of solitude with God, was for him a time of maturation. Here he had to bear and overcome the three basic temptations to every human being: the temptation of self-assertion and the desire to place oneself at the center of things; the temptation of the senses; and finally, the temptation of anger and revenge.

In fact, Benedict was convinced that it was only after having conquered these temptations that he would be able to say anything useful to others who were in need. Thus, with his soul becalmed, he became able to fully control the impulses of the ego to become a man who could create peace around him. It was only then that he decided to found his first monasteries in the Anio valley, near Subiaco.

In 529, Benedict left Subiaco to establish himself in Montecassino. Some have interpreted his move as a flight from the intrigues of an envious local prelate. But this has been shown to be unconvincing since the prelate’s sudden death did not cause Benedict to return (II Dial. 8). In fact, his decision came about because he had entered a new phase of interior maturation and of his monastic experience.

According to Gregory the Great, Benedict’s transfer from the remote Anio valley to Monte Cassino – a height which dominates the surrounding plains and is visible from afar – had a symbolic nature: that a hidden monastic life has its reasons, but that a monastery also has a public purpose for the life of the Church and of society – it should give visibility to faith as a force of life.

In fact, when, on March 21, 547, Beneict’s earthly existence ended, he left – with his Rule and the Benedictine family he founded – a patrimony which has borne fruit throughout the world in the centuries that followed, to the present time. In the entire second book of Dialogs, St. Gregory shows us how the life of St. Benedict was immersed in prayer, the defining foundation of his existence. Without prayer, there is no experience of God.

But Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority remote from reality. In the unease and confusion of his time, he lived under the eye of God, and thus, he never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his concrete needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In his Rule, he desscribed monastic life as “a school in the service of the Lord” (Prol. 5) and asked his monks “not to place anything ahead of the Work of God” (that is, the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours)(43,3). But he underscored that prayer is, in the first place, an act of listening to God (Prol 9-11), which must then be translated into concrete action.

“The Lord expects us to respond daily with deeds to his holy teachings”, he says (Prol. 35). Thus, the life of a monk becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation “so that God may be glorified in everything” (57,9). In contrast to facile, egocentric self-realization, which is often exalted today, the first and irrenuciable commitment of a disciple of St. Benedict is the sincere quest for God (58,7) along the humble and obedient way shown by Christ (5,13), to whose love nothing and no one should come ahead (4,21; 72,11), thus becoming, in the service of others, a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience as an act of faith inspired by love (5,2), the monk achieves humility (5,1), to which the Rule devotes an entire chapter (7).

In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-realization as a creature in the image and likeness of God. To the obedience of the disciple must correspond the wisdon of the Abbot, who, in the monastery, ‘takes the place of Christ’ (2,2; 63,13). His figure, described above all in the second chapter of the Rule, with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, could be considered a self-portrait of Benedict since, as Gregory the Great writes – “the Saint could not teach what he himself had not lived” (Dial II,6). The Abbot should be a tender father as well as a severe teacher (2,24), a true educator.

Inflexible against vices, he is called above all to imitate the kindness of the Good Shpeherd (27,8), and “to help rather than to dominate” (64,8), “to emphasize more with deeds than with words everything that is good and holy” and to “illustrate the divine commandments with his example” (2,12). In order to be able to decide ressponsibly, the Abbot should himself listen to “the advice of his brothers” (3,2), because “often God reveals the best solution to the youngest” (3,3). This disposition makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility, even in small circles, should always know how to listen and to learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule as “minimal, intended only as a beginning”(73,8). In fact, it offers instructions useful not only to monks, but to all those who seek a guide in their way towards God. Because of its measured perspective, its humanity and its sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, the Rule has been able to maintain its illuminating power up to our day.

Paul VI, proclaiming St. Benedict a Patron of Europe on October 22, 1964, wished thereby to acknowledge the marvelous work carried out by the Saint through his Rule towards the formation of European civilization and culture. Europe today – just emerging from a century profoundly wounded by two world wars and the collapse of major ideologies that proved to be tragic utopias – is in search of its identity.

To create a new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are certainly important, but an ethical and spiritual renewal drawing from the Christian roots of the continent must also be inspired, otherwise Europe cannot be reconstructed. Without this vital lymph, man remains exposed to the danger of falling to the ancient temptation of self-redemption – a utopia which caused, in various ways during the 20th century, as John Paul II pointed out, “an unprecedented regression in the tormented history of mankind” (Teachings, XIII/1, 1990, p. 58).

In seeking true progress, let us heed the Rule of St. Benedict even today as a light for our way. The great monk remains a true teacher in whose school we can learn the art of living true humanism.

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2008: Is Islam in Global Flux? / Family Security Matters

This article points out that many Moslems are leaving Islam for Christianity, both in countries where they are free to do so like western Europe, and in countries in the Islamic world where it is dangerous to do so and must be done in secret.

Islam has been the fastest-growing religion for some time. But demographics show that the growth is all because many Moslems have large families in poor countries. Not many people join Islam through conversion to the faith.

See the original on the Family Security Matters website at this link.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair
Published: April 29, 2008
Is Islam in Global Flux?
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman

We tend to think of people being conservative about leaving the faith of their childhood. However, there have been times in history that a religion gained – or lost – large numbers. Apparently Islam is in such a period of growth, but at the same time experiencing an exodus of the disgruntled.

During the later years of the Roman Empire, millions of people abandoned the polytheistic state religion and converted to new competing religions: Mithraism, Judaism, and the young Jewish cult of Christianity. This free marketplace of religion ended with the accession of Emperor Constantine, who mandated Christianity as the only tolerated faith and all others to be persecuted.Islam began as a small cult that succeeded beyond all expectations because the powerful empires of the day (Persia and Byzantium) were weakened by long, expensive conflict. The Arabs unexpectedly swept over formerly Roman Christian and Jewish North Africa and forced mass conversion. The same was true for the conquest of Persia and across Central Asia, where the Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Hindus were persecuted.

After a thousand-year monopoly, the conversion of masses of people from the Catholic Church to dissenting sects (Protestants) was the consequence of political ferment in Europe and the advent of the printing press, which broke the monopoly of Catholic learning.

For the modern Western world, over a 400-year period, religion has lost the arm of state compulsion. Most of us today are free to believe, not believe, or shop around for a faith that suits us. We certainly do this in the United States; religion is a marketplace.

But what of Islam, which advertises itself as the world’s fastest-growing faith?

It may well be that it is also entering into a phase of losing followers disgusted with its current phase of militant fundamentalism and bigotry. This defection is particularly brave in countries with Muslim governments that execute defectors (apostates). The following are some numbers on this phenomenon, provided by Andrew Walden, editor of the Hawai`i Free Press in Hilo, Hawaii (

• Italian ex-Muslim Magdi Allam’s very public baptism by Pope Benedict on Easter Sunday made headlines. According to Walden, he is not an anomaly. He says that Muslims are leaving Islam in droves. The baptism of Allam was an act of defiance in the face of Islamic threats, among them threats by Osama bin Laden.

In Africa, Islam used to represent Africa’s main religion and there were 30 African languages written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million (out of a population of almost 1 billion), half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. (See Ahmad al-Qataani, Interviewed by al-Jazeera in 2006.)

In Iran as many as 1 million people have surreptitiously converted to Evangelical Christianity in the last five years, according to Pastor Hormoz Shariat (Google him), who claims to have converted 50,000 of them through his U.S.-based Farsi-language satellite ministry. The Iranian parliament is debating the death penalty for conversion.

• In Iraq, a similar phenomenon is growing. The March 4th New York Times reports: “After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.”

In southern Russia the same pattern is emerging. According to Roman Silantyev, executive secretary of the Inter-religious Council in Russia, two million Muslims converted to Christianity and as many as 100,000 have converted to Christianity in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.

In Kashmir, victim of Islamist war, evangelicals report thousands of sub-rosa converts. An Indian newspaper headline reads: “Urban Muslim Youth Out to Junk Faith.”

Palestinians, after decades of terrorist rule, are being quietly converted, holding in-home services to avoid detection. Says one evangelist: “I’ve been working among these people for thirty years, and I promise you I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The London Times estimates 15% of Muslims living in Western Europe have left Islam — 200,000 in the UK alone. Those who leave often face harassment, threats, and attack, but they are leaving.

This seems to be another era of religious defections in the face of very ugly religious warfare. We have been there before. Contributing Editor Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author. You may contact her at or She also writes for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

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2008: Elder Ballard urges good people to unite in cause of Christ / LDS Church News

This post consists of the text of an article in LDS Church News, April 26, 2008. It is a summary of the important address by Elder M. Russell Ballard at the BYU Management Society Meeting in Washington DC on April 19, 2008. The title and content stress the Christian nature of the better relationships we are trying to form with other churches.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair
Elder Ballard urges good people to unite in cause of Christ
By Page Johnson Church News Contributor

The Washington D.C. Chapter of the BYU Management Society pre­sented its Distinguished Public Service Award to Elder M. Russell Ballard on April 19.

Present in the Georgetown University Conference Center event honoring Elder Ballard. a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, were diplomats from nine coun­tries. Also attending were U.S. Senators Harry Reid (D-Nevada); Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah); Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah); and Gordon H. Smith (R-Oregon). Brian Bark­er, chapter president, presented the award.

Sen. Reid recapped Elder Ballard’s life­time of dedicated Church service, which includes callings as a bishop, high coun­cilor, president of the Canada Toronto Mission, and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy before being called as an apostle in 1985. He and his wife, Barbara, have seven children and 40 grandchil­dren.

In accepting the award, Elder Ballard noted that people of all faiths should “unite together in the great cause of Christ,” and he asked Latter-day Saints to “let your voices be heard” about religious beliefs and standards. He urged members to work within their communities to help correct misunderstandings and inaccura­cies about the Church that have prolifer­ated during an election season of intense media scrutiny.

“There’s more misinformation out there than we imagined,” he said, adding that Church members are grateful for those of other faiths who have rallied to counter falsehoods about the Church in the media and on the Internet.

The issue now, according to Elder Bal­lard, is what Church members are pre­pared to do about the problem. “Are you an active participant or a silent observ­er?” he asked.

He counseled Church members to let others know they are Latter-day Saints and to engage in thoughtful public or Internet discussions to explain what they believe and why. The goal, he believes, is not just to correct misperceptions about the Church, but also to present solid, accu­rate information that demonstrates how a member’s faith and life intersect. Discus­sions, he emphasized, should be “candid, honest, open observations.”

Elder Ballard also suggested that there is “great need for good people of good will to unite,” likening the result to leaven that helps the whole loaf to rise.

Church News • week ending April 26, 2008

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1989: The Abrahamic Test (Sperry Symposium) / Larry E Dahl

The content of this post was a presentation at the 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament. It was subsequently published in a book edited by Richard D. Draper called A Witness of Jesus Christ: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament, on page 53.

In my opinion, it is as good a description of the Abrahamic test as has been prepared by a Latter-day Saint scholar.

Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair
The Abrahamic Test
Larry E. Dahl, Brigham Young University

Everyone who achieves exaltation must successfully pass through an Abrahamic test. Let me repeat. Everyone who achieves exaltation must successfully pass through an Abrahamic test.

Joseph Smith, in speaking to the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo said:

You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.

That is not a particularly comforting thought, but it is one that cannot be ignored if the scriptures are taken seriously. Why must there be an Abrahamic test? And how can we all be tested like Abraham was tested? Why use Abraham as the standard? What is there about the test Abraham experienced that is universally applicable? When our test comes, will we recognize it? How can we prepare?

Mortal Testing Intended and Purposeful
It is interesting to review the Lord’s own statements about his intent to test and try his people. In the very beginning, in the planning stages of this earth, the Lord said, “We will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr. 3:24-25.) All things, not just some things!

The angel taught King Benjamin this same truth:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19; italics added.)

To the beleaguered Saints being driven out of Jackson County, Missouri, the Lord affirmed that he would

Give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.

And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.

Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.

For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me. (D&C 98:12-15.)

Five months later the Lord declared,

Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified. (D&C 101:4-5.)

Notice the two words chastened and tried. Is there a difference in meaning between the two? A careful examination of the scriptural use of these two words shows that chasten is generally employed when people are being corrected or punished because of disobedience. Tried, on the other hand, is used to describe what happens to the righteous.

In Doctrine and Covenants 98:12 the Lord specifies that the faithful were to be tried, even unto death. Both chastening and trying are needed in the process of becoming sanctified. Indeed, one of the meanings of chasten is “to make chaste or pure; purify; refine,” and one of the meanings of try is “to make pure by melting or boiling.” The Saints needed to be chastened “in consequence of their transgressions.” (D&C 101:2.) In addition, they needed to be tried, even as Abraham, in consequence of their righteousness. In a revelation to President Brigham Young, the Lord explained, “My people must be tried in all things, that they might be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.” (D&C 136:31.) The Lord’s intent is clear-those worthy of his kingdom will be tried and proven, even as Abraham.

Abraham’s Test
Even as Abraham! Concerning Abraham’s test, the biblical record says simply:

God did tempt [the JST says ‘try’ instead of ‘tempt’] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Gen. 22:1-2.)

What is not discussed at that point in the record is the seeming incongruities, even contradictions, that Abraham must have faced when he received that command.

First, consider the matter of human sacrifice. Abraham, as a young man, had been saved by the Lord from being offered as a sacrifice himself at the hands of an apostate priesthood who worshiped false gods. These idol worshipers offered to their gods “men, women, and children,” specifically those who “would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone.” (Abr. 1:8-11.) The Lord had told Abraham to leave the area because of those evil practices (Abr. 1:14) and go to a strange land that would eventually belong to his descendants (Abr. 1:16-18; 2:6). Now he was being asked to offer a human sacrifice-a hard thing to reconcile.

Further, God had made it clear to Abraham on several occasions that it was through Isaac the blessings of the covenant were to come to Abraham and to the whole world. Those blessings are the heart and soul of bringing salvation to the children of men, for the promise was that the seed of Abraham, through Isaac, would be scattered among and bless “all the families of the earth.” (See Abr. 2:8-11.) How could that promise be fulfilled if Isaac were killed?

Besides, Abraham loved Isaac dearly. After all, he had waited anxiously for Isaac to be born for at least twenty-five years from the time the Lord first promised him an heir. That wait alone would be an Abrahamic test for many. And this long wait troubled Abraham. Several years after the promise of a son at Haran, after Abraham had traveled from Haran, through Canaan, to Egypt, and back to Canaan, and still no child, Abraham asked the Lord for an explanation. He even proposed that perhaps a child born “in my house,” meaning a child of one of his servants, could become his heir. Without any details about how or when, the Lord simply reaffirmed the original promise of literal seed:

Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. (Gen. 15:1-5.)

To Abraham’s credit, “he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6.) More time passed. Sarai gave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. Thirteen more years passed. Abraham was now ninety-nine years old, and Sarai was eighty-nine.

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.

And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed [the JST says “rejoiced”], and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old bear?

And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!

And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. (Gen. 17:15-19.)

When Sarah heard the news, she “laughed within herself,” realizing that both she and Abraham were “old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with [her] after the manner of women.” (Gen. 18:11.) I suspect most of us can empathize with Sarah’s reaction. But the Lord’s response was sobering-“Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen. 18:12-14.) “At the set time of which God had spoken” Isaac was born. (Gen. 21:2.)

Can you imagine the joy that Abraham and Sarah must have felt-joy accompanied by deep gratitude and an undeniable realization of the power of God and the surety of his promises. They had waited for such a long time, yearning and praying and living righteously. The blessing had finally come. Surely now all would go smoothly. In their old age they could quietly witness the continued fulfillment of God’s promises through Isaac. Or could they? First came family problems: Ishmael mocked Isaac and concern grew over who would be Abraham’s heir. Hagar and Ishmael were sent away to be cared for by the Lord. Shortly thereafter came the unthinkable requirement: offer Isaac as a sacrifice!

Now, keeping in mind the historical events we have reviewed, try to put yourself in Abraham’s place for a moment. How might you have reacted? I can feel myself wanting to say:

No. It can’t be. Human sacrifice is an abomination. All the blessings of the covenant are to come through Isaac. This doesn’t make any sense to me. I have been obedient. I have been patient. And besides all that, I love him with all my heart. I don’t want him to die. This is too painful. Why does it have to be this way?

For some reason it did have to be that way, with all its seeming incongruities and inconsistencies. And it was painful for Abraham. Joseph Smith taught that “if God had known any other way whereby he could have touched Abraham’s feelings more acutely and more keenly he would have done so.”

In spite of the hurt, Abraham passed his test. The Genesis account does not describe Abraham’s thoughts or feelings or questions. It matter-of-factly says: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning . . . and went unto the place of which God had told him.” (Gen. 22:3.) But the apostle Paul bears witness of Abraham’s profound faith in God:

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Heb. 11:17-19.)

In spite of the mind-boggling contradictions of the situation, Abraham had faith to proceed. He had full confidence that somehow God could and would fulfill all his promises, even though the one through whom the promises were to come was bound on an altar and Abraham’s knife was raised to slay him. It was not until the last, precarious moment that the Lord stopped Abraham, saying,

Abraham, Abraham: . . . Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (Gen. 22:11-12.)

What faith! What discipline! What a sterling example! No wonder Abraham is held up as the model.

Our Tests
What about us? How are we to be tested “even as Abraham?” Being asked to offer a child as a sacrifice just does not relate to our time and circumstance. But wrenching heart strings does relate-to all times and circumstances. And there are many ways to wrench the heart in any age: being asked to choose God over other things we dearly love, even when those things are good and have been promised, and when we have worked for them, yearned for them, prayed for them, and have been obedient and patient; or being asked to persevere in righteousness and service (perhaps even Church service) in the face of terrible difficulty, uncertainty, inequities, ironies, and even contradictions; or watching helplessly as the innocent suffer from the brutal misuse of God-given agency in the hands of evil men.

We should remember that not all the difficulties that try the souls of men are specially designed Abrahamic tests from God. Most, in fact, are the inevitable consequences of living in a mortal, fallen world, where natural law and agency, for the most part, are allowed full sway. It is true that such conditions come from God in the sense that he created the earth and that the conditions here are allowed by him, even designed by him to be a universal, probationary testing ground for his children. Everyone experiences bumps in the road of life, which expose weaknesses and strengths, giving opportunity for self-understanding, growth, and refinement. We are not wise enough to sort out all the factors that contribute to our challenges in this life. The critical issue is not the source of the challenges, anyway. The critical issue is how we respond to them. We can lose our focus and our progress if we constantly examine every bump in the road to determine whose fault it is.

The same principle applies to anticipating tests. It is self-defeating to spoil the present by worrying incessantly about the “big test” that will someday come. And it just may be that the “big test” will be very different from what we expect. It is enough to know that God will try us-in his own time, and in his own way, and that the very best way to prepare for that eventuality is by faithfully dealing with present tasks.

It appears that in addition to the general trials of life that all people face, those who claim to be the people of the Lord are faced with special challenges both collectively and individually.

Collective or Generational Tests
The Prophet Joseph Smith, writing from Liberty Jail in March 1839 about the Saints being driven out of the state of Missouri, addressed the idea of different but equal generational Abrahamic trials:

And now, beloved brethren, we say unto you that inasmuch as God hath said that He would have a tried people, that He would purge them as gold, now we think that this time He has chosen His own crucible, wherein we have been tried; and we think if we get through with any degree of safety, and shall have kept the faith, that it will be a sign to this generation, altogether sufficient to leave them without excuse; and we think also, it will be a trial of our faith equal to that of Abraham, and that the ancients will not have whereof to boast over us in the day of judgment, as being called to pass through heavier afflictions; that we may hold an even weight in the balance with them; but now, after having suffered so great sacrifice and having passed through so great a season of sorrow, we trust that a ram may be caught in the thicket speedily, to relieve the sons and daughters of Abraham from their great anxiety, and to light up the lamp of salvation upon their countenances, that they may hold on now, after having gone so far unto everlasting life.

The Saints in 1839 were being persecuted, hounded by mobs, and driven from their homes, which the Prophet said was a test equal to that of Abraham and “the ancients.” What “ancients” might be included? Could the early Christians of nearly two thousand years ago qualify? Their generational trial involved a number of horrifying possibilities-being tortured, eaten by lions, dipped in oil and set afire, or being run through with a sword. Others of the ancients were stoned to death, scourged, forced to languish in vile prisons, burned at the stake.

Knowing what the ancients suffered and what the early Saints of this dispensation went through leads naturally to the question of our own generation. What is our collective, generational trial? Consider the teachings of President Ezra Taft Benson, as he spoke to regional representatives of the Church in 1977, while he was president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles:

Every generation has its tests and its chance to stand and prove itself. Would you like to know of one of our toughest tests? Hear the warning words of President Brigham Young, ‘The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth.

Ours then seems to the toughest test of all for the evils are more subtle, more clever. It all seems less menacing and it is harder to detect. While every test of righteousness represents a struggle, this particular test seems like no test at all, no struggle and so could be the
most deceiving of all tests.

Do you know what peace and prosperity can do to a people-It can put them to sleep. The Book of Mormon warned us of how the devil, in the last days, would lead us away carefully down to hell.

The Lord has on the earth some potential spiritual giants whom He saved for some six thousand years to help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly, and the devil is trying to put them to sleep. The devil knows that he probably won’t be too successful in getting them to commit many great and malignant sins of commission. So he puts them into a deep sleep, like Gulliver, while he strands them with little sins of
omission. And what good is a sleepy, neutralized, lukewarm giant as a leader?

We have too many potential spiritual giants who should be more vigorously lifting their homes, the kingdom, and the country. We have many who feel they are good men, but they need to be good for something-stronger patriarchs, courageous missionaries, valiant genealogists and temple workers, dedicated patriots, devoted quorum members. In short, we must be shaken and awakened from a spiritual snooze.

President Harold B. Lee adds his testimony about our current collective test:

We are tested and we are tried, we are going through some of the severest tests today and we don’t realize perhaps the severity of the tests that we’re going through. In those days, there were murderings, there were mobbings, there were drivings. They were driven out into the desert, they were starving and they were unclad, they were cold. They came here to this favored land. We are the inheritors of what they gave to us.

But what are we doing with it? Today we are basking in the lap of luxury, the like of which we’ve never seen before in the history of the world. It would seem that probably this is the most severe test of any test that we’ve ever had in the history of this Church.

That is a rather astonishing notion: ease and affluence can be an Abrahamic test equal, in the sense of proving one’s faith, to the sufferings and deprivations of earlier generations. But that is the testimony of the prophets, and the testimony of history. Given a choice (and maybe we were given such a choice long before we came to earth), who wouldn’t choose ease and affluence rather than pain and suffering? It sounds so attractive, so generous of the Lord. And all we have to do is keep the commandments, using our affluence to build the kingdom of God and serve others. Why is that so difficult? Because ease and affluence tend toward self-indulgence and self-importance. We can become spiritually flabby and casual in our prayers because we seem to need nothing, indifferent to the needs of others because we do not know how it feels to go without. Not liking to be reminded that others have needs, we remove ourselves from the inner city of life to the “quiet hedonism of suburbia,” both temporally and spiritually. We can gorge ourselves with temporal things to the point of spiritual death. Mormon’s editorial comment about a deteriorating Nephite society adds another witness:

And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men. . . . Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people . . . then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One-yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity. (Hel. 12:1-2.)

The test of ease and affluence is real for much of the Church today. And it will become more a factor as the Church expands into third-world countries where there is poverty instead of abundance. It will take the best within us to meet the challenge.

One more brief note about an additional collective trial we face today. It involves affluence but of a different kind. It is the affluence of knowledge. Elder Harold B. Lee called it sophistication. He said,

We are now going through another test-a period of what we might call sophistication. This is a time when there are many clever people who are not willing to listen to the humble prophets of the Lord. And we have suffered from that. It is rather a severe test.

The prophet Jacob warned of that very challenge and told us how to successfully meet it:
O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are

learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Ne. 9:28-29).

It behooves us to take stock of ourselves and come to grips with our generational Abrahamic tests-tests of luxury and sophistication.

Individual Tests
There are individual tests in addition to collective ones. Each person faces unique circumstances. Each person has a particular aggregation of strengths and weaknesses. What is a challenge for one may be simple for another, and vice versa. Elder Boyd K. Packer explained:

The crucial test of life, I repeat, does not center in the choice between fame and obscurity, nor between wealth and poverty. The greatest decision of life is between good and evil.

We may foolishly bring unhappiness and trouble, even suffering upon ourselves. These are not always to be regarded as penalties imposed by a displeased Creator. They are part of the lessons of life, part of the test.

Some are tested by poor health, some by a body that is deformed or homely. Others are tested by handsome and healthy bodies; some by the passion of youth; others by the erosions of age.

Some suffer disappointment in marriage, family problems; others live in poverty and obscurity. Some (perhaps this is the hardest test) find ease and luxury.

All are part of the test, and there is more equality in this testing than sometimes we suspect.

Our minds are almost paralyzed by the thought that these very different tests can be considered equal. Some of them seem so much more attractive than others. Would you rather be handsome, healthy, bright, and rich, or the opposite of those characteristics? And yet we are assured that all are being adequately tested with their particular circumstances and their unique combination of characteristics. Accepting and understanding that principle may be an Abrahamic test for some, maybe even for many. In our immaturity, we “see through a glass darkly.” (1 Cor. 13:12.) We “cannot behold with [our] natural eyes, for the present time, the design of [our] God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.” (D&C 58:3.)

“In time,” Neal A. Maxwell observed, “each person will receive a ‘customized challenge’ to determine his dedication to God.” The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that before one can have his calling and election made sure he must be “thoroughly proved”; God must find “that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards.” “All hazards” may at times mean there will be no ram in the thicket, no angel to stop the knife, as there were with Abraham. Paul faced that reality. He said, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me. . . . For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7-9.)

Paul’s particular “thorn in the flesh” is reminiscent of the more general principle spoken by the Lord to Moroni:

I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.)

Not only Paul but many of us may suffer from a thorn in the flesh or a weakness that is painful but purposeful, and which God may see fit not to remove. All of us know people, faithful people, who are afflicted with some debilitating illness that lasts and lasts, maybe for a lifetime. Neither prayers nor tears nor blessings nor medicine relieves the condition. All that is left is to endure patiently. Truly, that wrenches the heartstrings. Why is it necessary? What is gained?

The Purposes of Being Tested
There just have to be exalted purposes in all this testing. The scriptures help to identify some. Lehi explained that without opposition, neither righteousness nor happiness could be brought about. (2 Ne. 2:11.) In a revelation to Joseph Smith the Lord said, “If they never should have the bitter they could not know the sweet.” (D&C 29:39; see also Moses 6:55). To Brigham Young came the word that “my people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion,” though just how it prepares them is not said. (D&C 136:31.) The Lord indicates that being chastened and tried is a prerequisite to being sanctified. (D&C 101:4-5.) James taught that the “trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:3.) We learn from 2 Chronicles 32:31 that being tried exposes the heart: “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” Note what Christ’s suffering did for him, in addition to all that it did for us.

Alma taught,

And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12.)

Paul wrote, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18.) In Abraham’s case, his trial, being “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5), brought to him a piercing understanding of Another’s feelings. The same is true for all of us-experiencing trials can bring deep empathy. Perhaps all these purposes just mentioned are encompassed in the following explanation given in the Lectures on Faith:

An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. . .

Such was, as always will be, the situation of the saints of God, that unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God they will grow weary in their minds, and faint. . . .

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

Simply put, choosing to do the will of God at all hazards brings a righteous and necessary self-awareness and self-confidence, a perfect faith in God and in our ability to do his will. We then know something about ourselves that God has known all along.

President Hugh B. Brown, in answer to the question of why Abraham was asked to “offer as a sacrifice his only hope for the promised posterity,” said: “Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham.” Knowledge about ourselves thus gained puts our relationship to God on a higher plane. We truly become heir to “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38), and our “confidence” will “wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) That confidence is not arrogance or self-righteousness; it is not a feeling we have simply received that which we have earned. It is, rather, being at ease or comfortable in the presence of Goodness, having complete faith and trust in One who has been gracious-who has given us that which we could never, on our own, achieve, once we have proven what the deepest yearnings of our heart and soul really are. Note the confidence with which Job, as he successfully dealt with his own Abrahamic trials, withstood those who accused him of unrighteousness:

Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will. . . .

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. . .

He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him. Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears.

Behold now, I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified. (Job 13:13-18.)

But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10.)

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. (Job 19:25-27.)

There is a profound difference between submitting to God by choosing to serve him at all hazards, and submitting to God by simply giving up, crumbling as it were under the load of suffering. The first brings power and confidence; the other results in impotence and despair.

President John Taylor described the spirit of that difference:

I was not born a slave! I cannot, will not be a slave. I would not be a slave to God! I’d be His servant, friend, His son. I’d go at His behest; but would not be His slave. I’d rather be extinct than a slave. His friend I feel I am, and He is mine. A slave! The manacles would pierce my very bones-the clanking chains would grate against my soul-a poor, lost, servile, crawling wretch, to lick the dust and fawn and smile upon the thing who gave the lash! . . . But stop! I am God’s free man; I will not, cannot be a slave!

The object of Abrahamic tests is to make us God’s free men and women, not slaves. There is no eternal life in slavery. Eternal life comes with freely choosing to become an heir, at all hazards.

About Perspective
The stark reality is that understanding the need for Abrahamic tests and the and nature of such tests does not take away the pain that comes with them. It helps, however, to realize that we are not alone. Others have traveled similarly and endured it well. And so can we. It is at the same time both comforting and somewhat disquieting to read the exchange between the Lord and Joseph Smith as the Prophet cried out in frustration from his cell in Liberty Jail:

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

How long shall thy hand be stayed? . . . (D&C 121:1-2.)

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. . . .

Thou art not yet as Job. (D&C 121:1-2, 7-8, 10.)

Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Therefore, hold on thy way. . . . Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; . . . God shall be with you forever and ever.
(D&C 122:7-9.)

That promise applies to us. Few of us are as Job, and none of us suffers as did the Son of Man. To be sure, God will try us-to see if we are determined to serve him at all hazards. Just as surely, he will be with us and sustain us in our faithful strivings to meet those trials successfully.

1. As reported by President John Taylor in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards & Sons, 1851-86), 24:197.
2. World Book Dictionary (Chicago: Doubleday & Co., 1986), s.v. “chasten.”
3. Ibid., s.v. “try.”
4. The promise of a great nation coming from Abraham came while he resided in Haran. (Gen. 12:1-3; Abr. 2:1-11.) According to Genesis 12:4,Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Isaac was born when Abraham was one hundred years old. ( Gen. 21:5.) Hence the twenty-five-year wait. If, however, Abraham 2:14 gives Abraham’s correct age at leaving Haran (sixty-two years old), then the wait was thirty-eight years.
5. Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 24:264.
6. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), pp. 135-36.
7. Ezra Taft Benson, “Our Obligation and Challenge,” Regional Representatives Seminar, 30 Sept. 1977, pp. 2-3. Unpublished typescript in author’s possession.
8. Harold B. Lee, address to Church employees, Salt Lake City, 13 Dec. 1973. Unpublished typescript in author’s possession.
9. Neal A. Maxwell, “The Gospel Gives Answers to Life’s Problems” (ad-dress to seminary and institute personnel), Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University, Summer 1970, p. 2.
10. Harold B. Lee, “Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity,” Instructor, June 1965, p. 217.
11. Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1980, p. 29.
12. Neal A. Maxwell, as quoted in Daily Universe, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 7 Oct. 1983.
13. Smith, Teachings, p. 150.
14. Rabbinic traditions and apocryphal writings contain the notion that Isaac was a grown man and fully subscribed to his being offered as a sacrifice. Such an idea, though not affirmed in the scriptures, makes the comparison with the atonement of Christ more poignant and meaningful. (See Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968), pp. 271-283; and The Book of Jasher (Salt Lake City: J. H. Parry & Co., 1887), pp. 59-63.
15. Joseph Smith, “Lecture Sixth,” Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), pars. 2, 4, 7.
16. As reported by Truman G. Madsen in Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), p. 93.
17. Oil for Their Lamps, comp. M. Lynn Bennion (Salt Lake City: LDS Department of Education, 1943), p. 73; see also Elder Boyd K. Packer in “Follow the Brethren” (address to Brigham Young University students), Provo, Utah, 23 Mar. 1965.

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1985: Saved or Damned: Tracing a Persistent Protestantism in Early Mormon Thought / Grant Underwood

1See the original of this article in BYU Studies of Summer 1985

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair
“Saved or Damned”: Tracing a Persistent Protestantism in Early Mormon Thought
By Grant Underwood
BYU Studies, vol. 25 (1985), Number 3 – Summer 1985, p.85

In the July 1838 issue of the Elders’ Journal, Joseph Smith responded to series of questions which he said were “daily and hourly asked by all classes of people.” To the question “Will every body be damned but Mormons?” he replied, “Yes, and a great portion of them, unless they repent and work righteousness.”

For years, I have assumed, along with others, that Joseph’s response was rather tongue-in-cheek. Actually, as we shall see, he was very much in earnest and was simply reflecting a sentiment widely held among the early Saints. Benjamin Winchester, for example, reasoned that as “Mormonism” was the restoration of the New Testament Christianity “all who reject this will be damned, if the scriptures are true.” Such categorical statements were indeed rooted in the scriptures, particularly passages like Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall damned.” One finds this verse frequently and unequivocally invoked in the early literature.

In an article entitled “Gospel I,” Sidney Rigdon wrote:

And unless God had sent the apostles, or others authorized as they were, the world must have perished: every creature in it must have been damned:

for they were to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature, he (that is, every creature) that believed and was baptized, should be saved; but he (that is, every creature) that believed not, should be damned. Had there been one creature in all the world who has in a state of salvation, or could have attained that state without the apostles, this commission would not have been correct, that is, that every creature in all the world who did not believe them and be baptized by their direction should be damned.

But what of the honest and honorable of other churches? A Times and Seasons editorial answered bluntly that it did not matter “how often a man prayed, how much alms he gave, how often he fasted, or how punctual he was in paying his tithes, if he believed not, he would be damned.”

Such “either/or” thinking did not belong to some fanatic fringe; it permeated the membership from the Prophet on down. In a Nauvoo address Joseph referred to “the various professors of religion who do not believe in revelation & the oracles of God” and said, “I tell you in the name of Jesus Christ they will be damned & when you get into the eternal world you will find it to be so they cannot escape the damnation of hell.” A week later, he singled out the Presbyterians as an example and declared, “If they reject our voice they shall be damnded.”

That the Saints did not balk at laying out the consequences of rejecting the message of the restored gospel is also evident from the frequency with which anti-Mormons and other observers commented on this very point, an emphasis they found suffocatingly exclusivistic. La Roy Sunderland, an active abolitionist minister who wrote one of the more widely circulated anti-Mormon pamphlets of the 1830s, decried Mormonism’s “monstrous cruelty” in “pretending to send all to hell who do not believe it.” In Truth Vindicated, Parley P. Pratt replied:

Every dispensation that God ever sent, is equally cruel in this respect; for God sends all to hell who reject any thing that he sends to save those that believe.

And I add, if Methodism be true, God will send every man to hell who rejects it. And a man must be very inconsistent, to come with a message from God, and then, tell the people that they can be saved just as well without, as with it.

For modern Latter-day Saints accustomed to extolling the vision of the three degrees of glory as the antidote to the confining polarities of Protestant conceptions of the afterlife, the idea that early Mormons spoke almost entirely in terms of either being saved in the celestial kingdom or else being damned, rather than discussing terrestrial or telestial salvation, seems foreign indeed. Yet it is the purpose of this article to trace within Mormon thought the persisting lineaments of traditional salvationist rhetoric and to demonstrate that the vision of the three degrees of glory did not begin to alter such notions until the end of the Nauvoo period.

We begin with a word about background. After surveying the religious landscape in America in 1844, the eminent German churchman Philipp Schaff remarked that “the reigning theology of the country . . . is the theology of the Westminster Confession.” The Westminster Confession, a creedal delineation of faith formulated two hundred years earlier by Reformed divines from both England and Scotland, had announced that, upon death, the souls of the “righteous” are received in heaven while the “wicked” are cast into hell. “Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies,” concluded the Confession, “the Scripture acknowledgeth none.” The final chapter of the Confession dealt with the Last Judgment and explained:

The end of God’s appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of Joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

For centuries, the polarities of heaven and hell, election and reprobation, had informed the contours of Protestant thought. Thus, in the world into which Mormonism was born, it was customary to conceptualize man as either saint or sinner, righteous or wicked, bound for heaven or headed for hell; and this formed an important part of the cultural baggage early converts carried with them into the Church.

Significantly, such sharply contrasting categories were not explicitly contradicted either in the Book of Mormon or in the new revelations. One early revelation described the Last Judgment in these familiar terms: “And the righteous shall be gathered on my right hand unto eternal life; and the wicked on my left hand. . . . I will say unto them–Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” On another occasion the Lord spoke of the gathering “that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory . . . while the tares shall be bound in bundles . . . that they may be burned with unquenchable fire.” To portray Judgment Day outcomes only as either “celestial glory” or “unquenchable fire,” “eternal life” or “everlasting fire” without mentioning the intermediate glories seems incomplete from a modern perspective. Yet, with the exception of the Vision, a subject to which we will later return, the revelation of the Restoration perpetuated such traditional polarizations.

In fact, they seemed to strengthen the dichotomies by crystalizing into a single criterion the distinction between the two groups. That criterion was an individual’s response to the Mormon message. “Mine elect,” declared the Lord, “hear my voice and harden not their hearts.” By divine definition, the “elect” were only those who accepted the restored gospel. The same criterion was extended to the definition of “goodness.” “And there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation.”

Conversely, the Lord defined the “wicked” just as succinctly. They were simply those “that will not hear my voice but harden their hearts.” Even the casual observer will note that this is phrased as the exact negation of what constituted election. As if it were not already clear enough, a year later the Lord taught his Saints how to distinguish the two types of people: “Whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin. . . . And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked.” When talking theology, then, the Saints used the word wicked as a sort of generic term for all unbelievers whether or not they were morally bankrupt. Parley P. Pratt, for instance, defined “the wicked” as “that portion of the people who were not of the Kingdom of God.” On the other hand, believers were collectively described as “the righteous.” A Times and Seasons article explained that when a man “is adopted into the church and kingdom of God, as one of his Saints; his name is then enrolled in the book of the names of the righteous.”

In terms of these polarities, what was true for the one was also true for the many. Whole churches of non-Mormons were designated in various revelations as “the congregations of the wicked.” “Babylon, literally understood,” wrote John Taylor,”is . . . the Roman Catholics, Protestants, and all that have not had they keys of the kingdom.” Entire cities were also classified collectively. After their initial failure in London, early missionaries wrote home that though it was “the boast of the Gentiles” London contained “one million five hundred thousands souls who are ripening in iniquity and preparing for the wrath of God; and like the ox going to the slaughter, know not the day of their visitation.” Yet, as Parley P. Pratt later explained:

The people of England may repent, and never be destroyed; but if they do not repent, they will perish, in common with all nations who are unprepared for the second advent of the Messiah: For lo! the time is near–very near, when every one who does not give heed to Jesus Christ “will be destroyed from among the people.” This applies equally to England, and all other places.

Thus, this was not just Yankee arrogance, for the American cities of Boston, Albany and Cincinnati were also promised “desolation and utter abolishment” if they rejected the gospel. Even close friends were not exempt. Edward Partridge once penned this earnest entreaty to all his former acquaintances: “O take the advice of one that wishes you well . . . humble yourselves before god and embrace the everlasting gospel before the judgments of God sweep you from the face of the earth.”

Here we pause to notice a subtlety of early Mormon thought. Given its markedly millenarian character, it tended to move ahead the traditional saved-damned reckoning of Judgment Day to a saved-destroyed outcome apparent at Christ’s coming. “In the day of the coming of the Son of Man,” declared an early revelation, “cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire.”

The first Mormons spoke often of the Second Advent as a day of judgment or vengeance, demonstrating their focus on the attendant destruction of the unbelievers as much as on the salvation of the Saints. And there was no middle ground. Only Mormons would survive the second coming of Christ. According to Sidney Rigdon, all people on the earth during this period would be Saints: “all the rest of the world will without exception be cut off.” When in 1841 Joseph first advanced the idea that there would be “wicked” men on the earth during the Millennium, it represented an abrupt about-face from a decade’s consensus to the contrary, and it would be at least another decade before the idea really caught hold even among Church leaders. To introduce the color gray to those so accustomed to black and white was not easy. Because of their apocalyptic orientation, then, early Saints spoke more often of a “temporal” judgment to be effected at Christ’s coming than they did of the far-off Final Judgment.

Such an apocalyptic scenario infused the saved-damned dichotomy with an imminence and a tangibility that provided both motivation and rationale for missionary outreach. Orson Hyde, in what is recognized as the earliest LDS missionary tract, urged: “Pray, therefore, that God may send unto you some servant of his, who is authorized from on high, to administer to you the ordinances of the gospel. Except you do this, you . . . must fall victims to the messengers of destruction, which God will soon send upon the earth.” And in the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith petitioned the Lord thus:

And whatsoever city thy servants shall enter, and the people of that city receive not the testimony of thy servants . . . let it be upon that city according to that which thou hast spoken . . . terrible things concerning the wicked, in the last days–that thou wilt pour out thy judgments without measure.

If in the early years the phrase “voice of warning” carried very literal connotations, it must be balanced with an acknowledgment that the elders were occasionally counseled to avoid overzealousness in declaring judgments against the wicked. As W.W. Phelps advised:

Warn in compassion without threatening the wicked with judgments which are to be poured upon the world hereafter. You have no right . . . to collect the calamities of six thousand years, and paint them upon the curtain of these last days to scare mankind to repentance; no; you are to preach the gospel . . . even glad tidings of great joy unto all people.

In the same dedicatory prayer, it was remarked, “O Lord, we delight not in the destruction of our fellow men; their souls are precious before thee; but thy word must be fulfilled.”

It is not surprising that people weaned on the Bible and steeped in its literal interpretation would feel there were simply too many graphic passages predicting “wo” upon unbelievers to have the notion “spiritualized” or “explained away.” Time and again in early Mormon periodicals and pamphlets one encounters references to Moses’ prophecy that all who will not hearken to Christ will be cut off form among the people or to Paul’s portrayal of a Savior descending in flaming fire to take vengeance “on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel.” No Bible verse, however, more effectively bolstered the saved-destroyed dichotomy that Luke 17:26: “And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” This scripture told the Saints two things. First, the majority of mankind in their day would reject the message; and second, such people would therefore be destroyed. “Just precisely as it was then,” wrote the editors of the Times and Seasons,” ‘so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man.’ Revelation shall precede his coming, the whole world shall ridicule them and cast them off, for so it was in the days of Noah, and the consequences were, inevitable destruction; and so it will be with this generation, the righteous only, will be saved.” That this would leave few men to enjoy the Millennium merely accorded with their understanding of Isaiah’s prophecy that “the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.”

“This destruction,” explained Parley P. Pratt in his Voice of Warning, “is to come by fire as literally as the flood in the days of Noah; and it will consume both priests and people from the earth . . . or else we must get a new edition of the Bible, leaving out the 24th of Isaiah.” For literalist Latter-day Saints, it was no more difficult to conceive of the earth being swept clean of every single non-Mormon at the Second Coming than it was to accept the fact the the Flood had destroyed all but the eight believers then in existence. As Parley P. Pratt explained to Queen Victoria, “As Noah was a survivor of a world destroyed, and himself and family the sole proprietors of the earth, so will the saints of the Most High possess the earth, and its whole dominion, and tread upon the ashes of the wicked.”

From all that has been presented thus far, it seems clear that a saved-damned duality was deeply entrenched in early Mormon thought. But what about the vision of the three degrees of glory? Did it not immediately uproot all the old “either-or” notions? Did not the Saints quickly discard their former thinking as theologically naive when presented with this vision of a pluralized rather than a polarized afterlife? The answer is “no”, and that should not come as much of a surprise to those aware of the historical development of ideas within the Church. Nonetheless, that early Mormons neither understood the implications of the vision of the three degrees of glory nor lampooned notions they still retained is significant enough to merit careful consideration.

First, a brief history. The “Vision”, as it was commonly called in the early years, was received by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in February 1832. Five months later what appears to be the earliest identifiable copy of the revelation was published in The Evening and the Morning Star. The Vision seemed to attract some attention for the first year or two. Though a few “Stumbled at it”, at least one individual considered it “the greatest news that was ever published to man.” Some developed strange ideas about it that required reproof, but even legitimate comments were sufficiently superficial that they offered no real interpretation or elucidation of the Vision and certainly no repudiation of the traditional Christian cosmos. A specific search of presently available periodicals, pamphlets, and tracts, as well as hundreds of unpublished diaries, journals, and letters from this time period reveals that throughout the rest of the decade and on into the early 1840s, the Vision was virtually ignored. Admittedly there were numerous references to the celestial kingdom, but that term for most Mormons seems to have been just another name for the heaven Christians had always talked about, and it required no new mental framework to adopt it. Celestial, after all, was a common synonym for heavenly. Discussion, even mention, of the terrestrial and telestial glories, however, which might have hastened the demise of dualistic thinking, appears to have been almost nonexistent.

The only example of anything like a substantive commentary on the Vision was Joseph Smith’s 1843 poetic version. Perhaps the experience of reissuing the revelation as a kind of epic poem stimulated the Prophet’s pondering of the overall significance of the Vision, for in the remaining sixteen months of his life he discussed in new ways the nature of hell and the torment of the damned. Furthermore, he specifically ridiculed the pervasive Protestant rhetoric that in the hereafter there were only two possible outcomes–heaven or hell. This represents a watershed in Mormon thought.

Until the time, if the Vision were discussed at all, it was done from within an interpretive framework that was still patently polarized. Even the Prophet himself, when describing the thinking which led to revelation, wrote:” It appeared self-evident from what truths were left in the Bible, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body the term ‘Heaven’, as intended for the Saints’ eternal home must include more kingdoms than one.’ There is a subtle difference between saying that there are divisions within heaven and saying that there are different heavens, and the Saints had not yet shifted to the latter position. W. W. Phelps felt that the great value of the Vision lay in providing details on the various heavenly mansions. To be sure, those mansions were distinguished as “the great, greater, [and] greatest,” but conceptually they all blended into one “heaven.” As Joseph Smith put it:

The glory celestial is one like the sun;
The glory terrestrial is one like the moon;
The glory telestial is one like the stars,
And all harmonize like the parts of a tune.

“Men are agents unto themselves,” declared an early Saint, “and they can prepare for a kingdom of glory, or, for one without glory” — as much as if to say, though clothed in new terminology, men can prepare for heaven or for hell. Even part of the poem’s final quatrain summed up the entire revelation in dualistic terms: “The secret of life is blooming in heaven, and blasting in hell.”

Telling evidence that the Vision did not immediately force an abandonment of traditional notions of damnation and hell is manifest in the Mormon reaction to Universalism. Universalism reflected the optimism of the Age of Enlightenment from which it emerged and, as its name implies, taught that all men would ultimately be redeemed, that damnation would be done away, and that the notion of eternal torment in a lake of sulfurous fire was superstition. Modern Mormons might find much that is appealing in such ideas, believing, as they do, that the vast majority of mankind will ultimately receive some degree of salvation. Early Saints, however, did not react this way. When a Universalist preacher came to Kirtland in 1835, Oliver Cowdery withstood him with the same zeal that Gideon did Nehor, a Book of Mormon “Universalist.” What incensed Oliver Cowdery was the audacity of asserting, in the face of overwhelming scriptural proof to the contrary, that there would be no damnation: “If no such principle exists as damnation, and that eternal,” Oliver exclaimed,[“[God] certainly has spoken nonsense and folly.”

It must also be remembered that before the late Nauvoo period there was little explanatory discussion of the term unpardonable sin. Therefore, even if the early Saints had talked of damnation coming in its fullest sense only to “sons of perdition,” there were then no conceptual restraints limiting that category to apostate Mormons alone. Again we see that circumstances and understandings in the 1830s did not require interpretations of the Vision that undermined the old saved-damned dichotomy.

As for hell itself, Joseph’s belief in its reality, and his use of traditional jargon to describe it, is conspicuous as late as his 1843 poem. Whereas in the original scriptural text of the Vision the word hell is found only once, the Prophet uses it six times in his poem. In terms familiar to any evangelical Protestant, he talks of the ungodly suffering “in hell-fire, and vengeance, the doom of the damn’d.” No passage, however, is more striking than this quatrain describing the fate of the sons of perdition:

They are they who must go to the great lake of fire,
Which burneth with brimstone, yet never consumes,
And dwell with the devil, and angels of his,
While eternity goes and eternity comes.

If to later Saints a hell that is continually burning but never consumes is a mass of confusion, such was not always the case.

That the Vision is not mentioned in the earliest anti-Mormon works is further evidence that it was not initially seen as subversive to contemporary Protestant thought. Given the tenor of their writings, it is hardly conceivable that such men as Philastus Hurlbut, Origen Bacheler, or La Roy Sunderland would not have eagerly seized the chance to ridicule the Vision had they known about it and perceived its eschatological implications. Yet the earliest I have found mention of the doctrine is in ex-Mormon John Corrill’s A Brief History published in 1839. Though Corrill had been a leading elder almost from the first, his comments evidence little more than a mere awareness of the revelation. Furthermore, later anti-Mormon commentators like Henry Caswall or J. B. Turner seem only to be borrowing from Corrill. The question that follows, then, is why did all these early anti-Mormons overlook that which would later be stock-in-trade for such polemicists if the Vision’s revolutionary significance were widely perceived?

Also significant is the case of former Mormon William Harris. In his expose, he claimed that the Saints felt that their idea of heaven “shows the superiority of their system over all others” and that they “ridicule as absurd the notion generally entertained of the location and nature of heaven. As a matter of curiosity, then,” William Harris continued, “. . . I will here insert a description of the Mormon Paradise.” What follows is not a recapitulation of the Vision, as might be expected from his lead-in, but rather an excerpt from Parley P. Pratt’s Voice of Warning showing heaven would be material, not spiritual, and here on earth, not out in the ethereal blue. This recollection from Harris’s seven years in the Church as to what the Saints actually ridiculed about contemporary notions of heaven further confirms the minimal role of the Vision in early LDS thought.

That which persisted, however, eventually began to break up. Just four months after the Prophet versified the Vision, he began to publicly and repeatedly denounce the heaven-hell dichotomy. Wilford Woodruff recorded this comment, for example: “Says one I believe in one hell & one heaven all are equally miserable or equally happy, but St Paul informs us of three glories & three heavens.” Later, Joseph reiterated, “I do not believe the methodist doctrine of sending honest men, and noble minded men to hell, along with the murderer and adulterer.” In the 1844 King Follet discourse we find the culmination of his latest thinking about salvation and damnation. During recent months hell had been acquiring an explicitly nonphysical dimension, and he here announced, “I have no fear of hell fire, that doesn’t exist, but the torment and disappointment of the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone.”

If salvation or damnation still revolved around one’s reaction to Mormonism, there was now a qualifier attached: “I call upon all men– priests, sinners and all . . . [to] obey the gospel. For your religion won’t save you, and if you do not, you will be damned, but,” he added, “I do not say how long.” Though the concept of a terminable hell was provided for in revelation received even before the Church was organized (D&C 19), not until Joseph led the way interpretively did others begin describing hell as a purgatory for unrepentant sinners. At the same time, he acknowledged that those who had committed the unpardonable sin “must dwell in hell, worlds without end” and that “they shell rise to that resurrection which is as the lake of fire and brimstone.” Only the sons of perdition would be damned in the fullest and most traditional sense. Toward the close of this life, then, Joseph Smith began to emphasize a pluralized, rather than a polarized picture of eternity. He symbolized hell, diminished damnation’s domain, and expanded salvation.

The fact that he repeatedly discussed these concepts the last months of his life did not, however, guarantee that they were instantly internalized by the Saints. This is perhaps best illustrated in the case of John Taylor. Throughout this period, John Taylor was closely associated with the Prophet both as editor of the Times and Seasons and, from September 1843, as a member of the Anointed Quorum, a select group who had received their temple endowments from the Prophet. John Taylor was thus well exposed not only to Joseph’s public but also his private teachings. Yet, in a Times and Seasons editorial published less than a year after Joseph’s death, John Taylor declared that “hell” is literally “in the midst of the earth, and when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed they sunk down to hell, and the water covered up the unhallowed spot. . . . No wonder we have earthquakes, hot springs and convulsions in the earth,” he continued, “if the damned spirits of six thousand years . . . have gone down into the pit. . . . No wonder the earth groans and is in pain to be delivered as saith the prophet.”

If a man as intelligent and literate as John Taylor either did not understand or ignored the Prophet, one can imagine to what degree the finer doctrinal subtleties that Joseph was introducing in the late Nauvoo period actually settled into the conscious understanding of the ordinary member. It is a truism that what one who speaks (or writes) intends to convey is not necessarily what the man who hears (or reads) understands. We simply cannot assume that once an idea was revealed or once it was taught by the Prophet the Saints immediately assimilated it into their mental world. “Mormon thought” was the sum total of the thinking of individual Mormons rather than some creedal collectivity. Thus it is difficult indeed to assert that the Prophet’s ideas or even revealed ideas were “Mormon” ideas equally ascribable to leader and layman alike. As Darrett Rutman pointed out some years ago in his study of the Puritans:

The idea that filters past the preconceptions, values, and particular concerns of the imparter, travels the sound waves or light rays to the recipient, filters past the recipient’s own preconceptions, values, and concerns, mixes in the melting pot that constitutes the recipient’s mind with all the other notions and impressions stored there.

The point here is that even though Joseph opened the door for a further break with traditional Protestant views, the old saved-damned dichotomy did not die out immediately. If by the 1850s some leading Mormons grasped and elaborated on what the Prophet was saying a decade earlier, it should not be assumed that as of 1844 the entire Church shelved “sectarianisms” in favor of less Calvinistic conceptions of salvation and damnation. Nonetheless, Joseph’s late Nauvoo teachings did signal the beginning of the end, even if that end came gradually.

If it is true that the saved-damned dualism persisted, if indeed the Vision was not initially appreciated for its revolutionary significance, then it remains for us to consider briefly two questions: “Why?” and “So what?” In responding to the first question, we can hardly overemphasize the biblicism and literalism of the early Saints. In his study of antebellum Protestant theology, George Marsden discusses the period polarities of exegesis then known as “spiritualist” and “literalist” hermeneutics. For those who applied a strictly literal hermeneutic to the scriptures, the numerous graphic descriptions of the physical destruction of the wicked and a plethora of passages basing salvation on belief and damnation on disbelief had to be taken at face value. There was little interpretive leeway. With early Mormons coming from such a tradition, it would have been almost inconceivable that they would immediately drop their polarized perceptions of life and afterlife because of a single revelation, especially when so many other passages in modern scripture seemed to support the age-old dualisms. As the prophets, however, led out in metaphorical and figurative interpretation of certain portions of the Word of God that had usually been interpreted literally and as they explicitly rejected certain facets of contemporary theology, the people generally began to follow suit.

Furthermore, the early Saints had different notions about latter-day revelation. Calling them “commandments” as often as they called them “revelations” evidences a subtle distinction. They utilized these messages more for their directional rather than for their doctrinal value. The excerpts most frequently cited in the periodical literature dealt with some task to be performed rather than some truth to be taught.

Closely related, and also helpful in explaining our findings, is the manifest millenarianism of the early Church. It was truly “a day of warning, not a day of many words.” It was a day for first principles, not far-reaching theology. Even if they had been wont to discuss new and unique doctrines not central to the message of the Restoration, how much could an individual have assimilated in the brief transition from hearer to herald? For it was not uncommon that a man who heard the message of the Restoration one day would be out preaching it the next, and with good reason. They felt the end was imminent. All had to be warned and that warning was to come both “by word and by flight.” There simply was no time to extensively catechize prospective converts and no systematic creed with which to do it.

So what is the significance of all this? In the first place, it confirms what Brigham Young later said when reflecting on those early years: “I never could believe like the mass of the Christian world around me; but I did not know how nigh I believed, as they did. I found, however, that I was so nigh, I could shake hands with them any time I wished.” Aside from the core concepts of the message of the Restoration, the early Saints do seem handshakingly close to contemporary Christianity. Realizing their proximity to Protestantism also helps explain why some anti-Mormons could charge that the elders “dwell upon the common topics of Christianity” or that “they preach the doctrines they held in other churches, slightly modified by some of their new notions.” Even Joseph Smith himself admitted, “It is often the case that young members in this church, for want of better information, carry along with them their old notions of things and sometimes fall into eggregious errors.”

More importantly, however, is that we are a step closer to what LDS church historian James B. Allen called for when he said, “Only recently have Mormon historians begun to study in detail the historical development of ideas within the Church but such a study, if complete, could provide valuable insight into why some concepts have changed from generation to generation while others have remained constant as pillars of the faith.” Absolutely essential to a proper understanding of Mormon thought is that one recognize the “line-upon-line” principle, that is, the construct which allows for a gradual focusing and refining of doctrine based on both human capacity and divine design. From those who would hamstring us with our history, we have little to fear. The more it is studied, the more we realize the naivete of intersecting our past at any given point in time and expecting to hold the Church accountable for the finality of all views there discovered. Indeed, to pursue Paul’s metaphor, the Church is like a body, and all bodies go through successive stages of development from infancy to adulthood. A wise and loving father does not immediately correct all his children’s mistaken notions nor attempt to teach them all truth at once. Rather, he closely monitors their development, adding, subtracting, and refining until they reach maturity. Would a perfect Father in Heaven be less wise? Continuous revelation is merely his method, the “light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” For now, however, the Saints must be content to say with Paul:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor. 13:11-12)

Grant Underwood teaches at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to California State Universtity Los Angeles.
NOTES (without reference numbers for now)

Elders’ Journal of the Church of Latter Day Saints 1 (July 1838): 42.

Times and Seasons 1 (November 1839): 10.

Similarly worded declarations are found in three revelations received during the 1830s. Throughout this article the following abbreviations will be used: D&C for Doctrine and Covenants (current edition); BC for the Book of Commandments; and D&C (1835) for the Doctrine and Covenants (1835 edition). This is also the order in which they will appear in the notes. If the revelatory text was published in an early Church periodical, it will be noted at the end. Those passages similar to Mark 16:16 are (1) D&C 68:9; D&C(1835 The Evening and the Morning Star 1 (October 1832): [35]; (2) D&C 84:74; D&C(1835 and(3) D&C 112:29.

Evening and Morning Star 2 (September 1834): 187. Emphasis in original. This article was later reprinted in the Times and Seasons (see Times and Seasons 2 [November 1840]: 197). Other examples in the early literature of how this verse was used include Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1 June 1835): 131, 135; 1 (July 1835): 151; 2 (March 1836): 283-84. Of the sixty most frequently cited scriptural passages in LDS periodical literature between 1832 and 1838, only two were quoted more often than Mark 16:16 (see Gordon Irving, “The Mormons and the Bible in the 1830s,” Brigham Young Universty Studies 13 [Summer 1973]: 481).

Times and Seasons 4 (February 1943): 106.

This excerpt from the Wilford Woodruff Journal is reproduced in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), 156.

Ehat and Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith, 162.”Saved Or Damned”: Tracing a Persistent Protestantism in Early Mormon Thought by Grant Underwood , BYU Studies, vol. 25 (1985), Number 3 – Summer 1985, p.103La Roy Sunderland, Mormonism Exposed and Refuted (New York: Piercy and Reed, 1838), as cited in Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman unmasked, and its editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland exposed: Truth Vindicated. The devil mad, and priestcraft in danger! New York O. Pratt and O. Fordham, 1838), 25.


The terms salvation and damnation and their cognates present semantic problems which should be addressed briefly at the outset. “Just as there are varying degrees and kinds of salvation,” writes Bruce R. McConkie, “so there are degrees and kinds of damnation.” He distinguishes four usages of the term damnation: “1. Those who are thrust down to hell to await the day of the resurrection of damnation; 2. Those who fail to gain an inheritance in the celestial kingdom or kingdom of God; 3. Those who become sons of perdition; and 4. Those who fail to gain exaltation in the highest heaven within the celestial world, even though they do gain a celestial mansion in one of the lower heavens of that world” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 176-77). In other words, damnation can be said to come to anyone not exalted to the highest level of the celestial kingdom (sense 4), or to anyone not inheriting either the celestial kingdom at all (sense 2), or to anyone not inheriting either the celestial or terrestrial kingdoms (sense 1), or to anyone not inheriting either the celestial, terrestrial, or telestial kingdoms (sense 3). The range of interpretations is thus sufficiently broad that aside from “exalted” beings and “sons of perdition,” it is possible to conclude that all the rest of humanity will in a sense be both “saved” and “damned.” For reasons made clear in the remainder of this paper, such semantic options were not articulated in the years under study (1830-46). Admittedly, in the strictest sense, “official” LDS doctrine is very limited in nature. That Bruce R. McConkie’s ideas, however, epitomize currently acceptable doctrine is clearly revealed in the following: The Church Educational System recently completed preparation of college level student manuals for each of the four standard works. These volumes (five in all) are organized like scriptural commentaries and contain numerous explanatory quotations. They are read and approved by the Church Correlation Committee and published under the name of the Church itself. Thus, they come as close as any literature to receiving the Church’s doctrinal imprimatur. A total of 3,830 quotations from over two hundred different authors appear in these five manuals. The single most frequently cited author is Bruce R. McConkie; 543 quotations, or one in seven, are attributed to him. The next most frequently quoted is Joseph Fielding Smith with 447, followed by Joseph Smith with 345, and Spencer W. Kimball with 227. Elder McConkie’s primacy is obviously due in part to the sheer volume of his writing. However, since other prolific Mormon authors, even among the General Authorities, are not cited with anywhere near the same frequency, it is clear that Elder McConkie is looked to today as the leading doctrinal exponent in the Church. At the very least, it seems safe to cite his works as representative of currently acceptable doctrinal positions.

The Principle of Protestantism As Related to the Present State of the Church (Chambersburg, 1845),114, quoted in Winthrop S. Hudson, Religion in America, 3d ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981), 8. Modern historians of religion concur. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, for example, speaks of its “enormous impact on subsequent history” and calls it “by far the most influential doctrinal symbol in American Protestant history” generally (Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, 2 vols. [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1972; Image Books, 1975], 1:118, 177).

Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966), 3:671. This is in sharp contrast to the Roman Catholic ideas of Purgatory and Limbo. Purgatory is defined as “the state, place, or condition in the next world, which will continue until the last judgment, where the souls of those who die in the state of grace, but not yet free from all imperfection, make expiation for unforgiven venial sins or for the temporal punishment due to venial and mortal sins that have already been forgiven and, by so doing, are purified before they enter heaven” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967 ed., s.v. “Purgatory”). Limbo is “the state and place either of those souls who did not merit hell an its eternal punishments but could not enter heaven before the Redemption (the fathers’ Limbo) or of those souls who are eternally excluded from the beautific vision because of original sin alone (the children’s Limbo)” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967 ed., s.v. “Limbo”).

Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 672.

Some of the more obvious examples from the Book of Mormon of a polarized afterlife are 1 Ne. 15:29-36; 2 Ne. 9:11-19; and Alma 40:11-26.

D&C 29:27-28; BC D&C (1835):114; Evening and Morning Star 1 (September 1832): [26].

D&C 101:65-66; D&C (1835):238.

In the current lexicon of Mormon theology, eternal life “is the kind, status, type, and quality of life that God himself enjoys. Thus, those who gain eternal life receive exaltation” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 237). On the other hand, those whose destiny “is to be cast out with the devil and his angels, to inherit the same kingdom in a state where ‘their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched’ “are defined as “sons of perditon” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 746). Thus, to apply these definitions to the quoted passages would seem to present only a partial picture of the results of Judgment Day.

D&C 29:7; D&C (1835):113; Evening and Morning Star 1 (September 1832): [26].

D&C 35:12; D&C (1835):117.

D&C 38:6; 81; D&C (1835):118; Evening and Morning Star 1 (January 1833): [61].

D&C 84:49- 53; D&C (1835):91.

Parley P. Pratt, An Answer to Mr. William Hewitt’s Tract against the Latter day Saints (Manchester, England: W. R. Thomas, 1840), 8.

Times and Seasons 4 (March 1843): 141.

D&C 60:8, 13; 61:30, 32-33; 62:6; 68:1; 148-49; D&C(1835):148, 199-202; Evening and Morning Star 1 (October 1832): [35]:1 (December 1832): [53].

Times and Seasons 6 (June 1845): 939.

Ibid., 2 (December 1840): 250.

Pratt, An Answer, 41.

D&C 84:114; 61:30; D&C (1835):95, 201; Evening and Morning Star 1 (December 1832): [53].

Messenger and Advocate 1 (January 1835):61.

D&C 63:53-54; D&C(1835):144; Evening and Morning Star 1 (February 1833): [71].

See, for example, Evening and Morning Star 1 (February 1833): [67]; 1 (January 1833): [60].

Messenger and Advocate 3 (November 1836): 403.

The first time on record of Joseph’s having taught that “wicked” men would be upon the earth during the Millennium is in a 16 March 1841 sermon (see Ehat and Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith, 65). As late as 1857, Orson Hyde was still talking of all the wicked being consumed at the Second Coming (see Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1855-86], 5:355-56). On the other hand, Brigham Young clearly felt that there would be “wicked” men–unbelievers–on the earth during the Millennium (see Journal of Discourses, 2:316, 7:142).

See Grant Underwood, “Seminal versus Sesquicentennial: A Look at Mormon Millennialism,” Dialogue. A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 (Spring 1981): 32-44.

Messenger and Advocate 2 (July 1836): 346. The tract was published separately as a broadside entitled A Prophetic Warning (Toronto, August 1836).

D&C 109:41,45 Messenger and Advocate 2 (March 1836): 279.

The relationship between millenarianism and missionary work during the early years is explored at greater length in my article, “Millenarianism and the Early Mormon Mind,” Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982): 41-51.

Evening and Morning Star 1 (July 1832): [14].

D&C 109:43-44; Messenger and Advocate 2 (March 1836): 279. That such comment was more than mere rhetoric is obvious from diary entries such as Orson Hyde’s record for 16 September 1832: “Called on sister Laura and her husband Mr. North. They disbelieved. We took our things and left them, and tears from all eyes freely ran, and we shook the dust of our feet against them, but it was like piercing my heart; and all I can say is ‘The will of the Lord be done.'” (Cited in Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter day Saints [New York: Knopf, 1979], 193.)

Moses’ prophecy was originally recorded in Deut. 18:15-19, but the Mormons preferred Peter’s version as recorded in Acts 3:22-23. Examples of their discussion of this passage can be found in Evening and Morning Star 1 (September 1832): [30]; 2 (June 1843): 161; and Times and Seasons 2 (April 1841): 359. Paul ‘s words are found in 2 Thes. 1: 7-10. Examples of how the Mormons used this passage are Evening and Morning Star 2 (May 1834): 155; Messenger and Advocate 1 (January 1835): 56-57; and Times and Seasons 1 (December 1839): 26.

Times and Seasons 2 (March 1841): 351.

Isa. 24:6.

Parley P. Pratt, Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People (New York: Sanford, 1837). Unless the original wording is different, the 1881, Salt Lake edition has been used.

Pratt, Truth Vindicated, 6.

Evening and Morning Star 1 (July 1832): [10-11]. See Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974).

For the “stumbling,” see John Murdock Journal, 18, 27-29; and Orson Pratt Journal (1833-34), both in Library-Archives, Historical Division, Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. For the “praise,” see Evening and Morning Star 1 (July 1832): [14].

For an account of some who advance doctrinally unacceptable positions, see Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, 2d ed. rev., 7 vols. (reprint, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951), 1:366. For an early but brief discussion that was apparently acceptable, see Evening and Morning Star 1 (June 1832): [6]; 1 (July 1832): [22] (this source is reproduced in History of the Church, 1:283); and Evening and Morning Star 1 (February 1833): [69].

Some have felt that the absence of the three degrees of glory was by design, that due to its revolutionary nature, it was considered too advanced for those still needing milk and was therefore intentionally suppressed during the early years. Such thinking is based on the Prophet’s recorded counsel to the English missionaries to “remain silent concerning the gathering, the vision, and the book of Doctrine and Covenants, until such time as the work was fully established” (History of the Church,2:492). The assumption is that similar restrictions must have been in effect in the United States. There are problems, however. In the first place, there is no documentary evidence to support this extrapolation. On the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence to show that such a limitation was not in effect. American missionaries constantly talked of the Gathering. It was central to their millenarian message. They were also occasionally encouraged to preach the “late revalations” (Times and Seasons 4 [April 1843]: 175, for example). Thus two of the three doctrines restricted in Britian were openly advanced in America. Since the vision of the three degrees of glory was merely listed along with other delicate doctrines, rather than being singled out, can its absence in America be considered intentional when the other controversial concepts were freely advocated? Furthermore, it should be remembered that even in the Prophet’s proscription, provision was made for a later learning when “the work was fully established,” Yet we have no evidence of anything more than passing mention of the vision of the three degrees of glory in any of the early Church headquarters, be it Kirtland, Far West, or early Nauvoo. Though in extant reports of sermons and in the early periodicals we find that the plan of salvation and the afterlife were frequent topics of discussion, they almost never included the Vision, even when written to a gathered Mormon audience accustomed to the deep doctrine.

One exception to this is the following from W.W. Phelps: “All men have a right to their opinions, but to adopt them for rules of faith and worship, is wrong, and may finally leave the souls of them that receive them for spiritual guides, in the telestial kingdom: For these are they who are Paul, and of Apollos… but received not the gospel” (Evening and Morning Star 1 [February 1833]: [69]). Also interesting along this line, though from a decade later, is Joseph’s poeticized version:

These are they that came out for Apollos and Paul;
For Cephas and Jesus, in all kinds of hope;
For Enoch and Moses, and Peter and John;
For Luther and Cavin, and even the Pope.(Times and Seasons 4 [February 1843]: [85].

Another exception which illustrates the conceptual confusion apparent when these kingdoms were mentioned is Wilford Woodruff’s record of Zebedee Coltrin’s prophecy upon his head when he was ordained a seventy: “Also that I should visit COLUB [Kolob] & Preach to the spirits in Prision & that I should bring all my friends or relatives forth from the Terrestial Kingdom (who had died) by the Power of the Gospel” (Dean C. Jessee, ed., “The Kirtland Diary of Wilford Woodruff,” BYU Studies 12 [Summer 1972]: 380).

Times and Seasons 4 (February 1843): 82-85.

Ehat and Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith, 183, 206, 211-14, 240, 244, 319, 330-31, 335, 342-61, 367-72, 381. Of course, Joseph Smith was not the first individual to challenge traditional formulations. Mitigated conceptions of hell, eternal damnation, and divine punishment have been advanced periodically since the days of Origen and the Cappadocian Fathers (see D. P. Walker, The Decline of Hell [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964]).

History of the Church, 1:245. Such an idea had also occurred to earlier religionists. “The idea of different degrees of felicity in future life, as differences of reward was widely prevalent” among patristic theologians. This was also true even of some later Protestant divines. “In opposition to Rome, the influence of personal merit on the future state was denied by these theologians; but some of them, while admitting that blessedness is essentially the same for all, hold to several degrees of blessedness.” (John McClintock and James Strong, eds., Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 10 vols. [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1867-81; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969], 3:315, 317.)

Evening and Morning Star 1 (July 1832): [14].

Times and Seasons 4 (February 1843): 85.”

Evening and Morning Star 1 (March 1833): [77]. Or as W. W. Phelps later put it, “The vision points out the degrees of happiness and misery” so plainly that “all of the commonest understanding may learn for themselves what kingdom the Lord will give them an inheritance in” (Messenger and Advocate 1 [February 1835]: 66).

Times and Seasons 4 (February 1843): 85.

Good introductions to Universalism are provided in George H. Williams, American Universalism: A Bicentennial Essay (Mealford, Mass.: Universalist Historical Society, 1971); and Stephen A. Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982). The definitive study is now Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770-1870 (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979).

Messenger and Advocate 1 (July 1835): 151. Lewis O. Saum has recently reminded us of the widespread antipathy to Universalism among the common man in antebellum America (see his The Popular Mood of Pre-Civil War America [Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980], 44-47).

A standard current statement on the nature of the unpardonable sin and the sons of perdition is McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 746, 816-17. Joseph began discussing these topics in depth about the same time he was also modifying his conception of hell and the afterlife, that is, during the final months of his life (see Ehat and Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith, 330, 334-35, 342, 347-48, 353-54, 360-61). It is true that in June 1833, Joseph mentioned the sons of perdition, but, as we have already noted, this was only to say that not enough was known about them or their destiny to justify discussing it (History of the Church, 1:366).

Times and Seasons 4 (February 1843): 83.

Doctor Philastus Hurlbut was the principal collaborator, but the book was published as Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: E. D. Howe, 1834); Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed (New York: Published at 162 Nassau St., opposite the Park, 1838); and La Roy Sunderland, Mormonism Exposed and Refuted (New York: Piercy and Reed, 1838). There is neither direct mention nor allusion to the vision of the three degrees of glory in any of these works.

John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (Commonly Called Mormons) (St. Louis: Printed for the author, 1839), 47.

Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century (London, 1843), 98-99. Caswall admits dependence on Corrill (Jonathan Baldwin Turner, Mormonism in All Ages [New York: Platt and Peters, 1842], 243).

William Harris, Mormonism Portrayed (Warsaw, Ill.: Sharp and Gamble, 1841), 23. Harris is mentioned in the context of faithful missionary service in Messenger and Advocate 3 (January 1837): 446.

Pratt, Voice of Warning, 217-18.

Harris’s recollection is confirmed in the words of this early Mormon song:The heaven of sectarians is not the heaven for me;So doubtful is location, neither on land nor sea.But I’ve a heaven on the earth-The land and home that gave me birth,-A heaven of light and knowledge-O, that’s the heaven for me, &c. (Times and Seasons 6 [February 1845]: 799)

Ehat and Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith, 214.

Ibid., 368.

For this and subsequent quotations from the King Follett address, I have used the Larson amalgamation of the various contemporary accounts (Start Larson, “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies 18 [Winter 1978]: 205). Seven verses in the Book of Mormon directly equate “torment” with a “lake of fire and brimstone” (2 Ne. 9:16, 19, 26; 28:23; Jacob 6:10; Mosiah 3:27; and Alma 12:17). A symbolic connection, however, seems necessary only in Mosiah 3:27 and Alma 12:17, where the word as is used to link the two terms (for example, “Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” [Alma 12:17] For individuals accustomed to a literal hermeneutic, the remaining passages would not have seemed unusual. In well-worn cadences, Jacob 6:10 speaks of going “away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment”; 2 Ne. 28:23 also warns of a “place” prepared for them, “even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.” It is easy enough to see how such verses with their spatial allusions would not have forced abandonment of traditional perceptions of a physical hell. Of related interest is the textual change from the 1830 edition in 2 Ne. 9:16. Originally it read, “And they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is a lake of fire and brimstone” (1830 ed., 80). Later the important word as was inserted, and today this verse and the other two mentioned above are invoked to provide scriptural justification for the metaphorical interpretation Joseph Smith began explicitly employing in the last months of his life (for example, McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 280-81). Significantly, I could find no instance in which either Joseph Smith or any other Latter day Saint used these verses in such a fashion during the period studied (Grant Underwood, “Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology,” Dialogue 17 [Autumn 1984]: 35-74).

Larson, “King Follett Discourse,” 207. Duration of postmortem punishment was an issue raised by the Universalists.

The early revelation is D&C 19:5-12; D&C (1835):174-75. The “chains of hell” are given symbolic meaning in Alma 12:9-11, but again, the verses were not discussed in the early years (Underwood, “Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology,” 35-74).

Larson, “King Follett Discourse,” 207-8.

Times and Seasons 6 (February 1845): 792.

The anti-creedal nature of early Mormonism is discussed in Peter Crawley, “The Passage of Mormon Primitivism,” Dialogue 13 (Winter 1980): 26-37.

Darrett B. Rutman, American Puritanism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), 33.

A shift is evident in Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855); yet the old saved damned dichotomy persists in Lorenzo Snow’s The Only Way to Be Saved which, though originally published in 1841, went through nineteen later English editions and over two dozen foreign language printings right up to the turn of the century.

George M. Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1970), 182-99. For a more comprehensive discussion of Christian hermeneutics (hermeneutica sacra), see Daniel P. Fuller, Hermeneutics, 3d ed. (Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1974). Also valuable for perspective because of its extension into secular hermeneutics (hermeneutica profana) is E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1967).

This is not unusual in light of the fact that less than one-fifth of the canonized revelations have a purely doctrinal message. “Most of the revelations he [Joseph] received in the early part of his ministry,” explained Brigham Young, “pertained to what the few around him should do in this or in that case– when and how they should perform their duties” (cited in Lydon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Provo: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981], xii. Cook supports the “task” orientation of the early Saints throughout his book).

See S. George Ellsworth, “A History of Mormon Missions in the United States and Canada, 1830-1860” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California, Berkeley, 1951), 38-39.

Journal of Discourses, 6:281.

The first quotation is from John A. Clark, Gleaning by the Way (Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simon, 1842), 347; the second is from J. B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages, 298.

Times and Seasons 3 (June I842): 823. For a similar but earlier statement by the Prophet, see Messenger and Advocate 1 (September 1835): 180.

James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 43.

BYU Studies, Volume 25–1985

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2006: Isaiah 53 and Believing Christ (Gospel Doctrine Lesson) / Kathy St.Clair

This post is notes from a Lesson in Sunday School in 2006 on the subject ofIsaiah 53, and usesthe concepts taught by Stephen Robinson to teach the important lesson that, not only must we believe in Christ, but we must believe that he can do for us what he says he can do.
Love & Thanks,
Steve St.Clair
In Relief Society we spent one Sunday singing our favorite hymns, and I was excited to see that several chose my two favorites—I Stand All Amazed and There is A Green Hill Far Away.

Isaiah prophesied 700 years before the birth of Christ leaving with those who were to follow him signs to help identify the coming Redeemer and Deliverer of Israel and of all the world. As the signs were fulfilled in the life of Christ, others remembering the prophesies of Isaiah had their eyes opened and they began to see.

Identity of Christ during his earthly life:
Scriptures have multiple applications; apply this suffering servant psalm to Isaac, Abraham, even Joseph Smith but most commonly to Jesus Christ.
Earlier in Isaiah 9:6-7 we see the Wonderful, Councilor—probably referring to the 2nd Coming but the set we study today would apply to Christ during his mortal ministry.

Isaiah 50:2 Words Redeem and deliverer
Control over the water: he would be the Living Water-woman at the well John 4:10, 14

Isaiah 50:4 Learned Luke 2:47-as child in temple instructing those there

Isaiah 50:5 Was not rebellious — Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine

Isaiah 50:7 The Lord will help me and not confound me — Mount of Transfiguration

Isaiah 53:2 Grew up as a tender plant, in dry ground-humble birth, pretty barren circumstances

Isaiah 53:2 No form nor comeliness that man should him desire—again poor, humble, without prestige, place or honor. Fairly unknown til he began his ministry—Is this not the carpenter from Nazareth—no honor in your own country John 4:44

Isaiah 53:3 Despised and rejected of men— Pharisees hated him, many rejected—even family
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief—Death of Lazarus—lack of faith
We hid as it were our faces from him—Peter’s 3 denials
He was despised and we esteemed him not—how many sessions of conference did you watch

Isaiah 53: 4 Surely he hat born our griefs—comforted so many, healed, forgave
Carried our sorrows-Garden of Gethsemane; The chastisement of our peace was upon him; With his stripes we are healed-his scourging

Isaiah 53: 5 Wounded for our transgressions, Bruised for our iniquities

Isaiah 53: 6 all have turned away-eveyone deserted him on the night of his captivity

Isaiah 53: 7 Oppressd and beaten yet he was quiet

Isaiah 53:8 Taken from prison and judgement—illegally arrested, falsely accused, found without fault by Pilate but crowds demanded his death

Isaiah 53:9 Made his grave with the wicked and with the rich; two who hung next to him were criminals and buried in tomb of Joseph of Arimethaea

What was the Purpose of this Servant’s sacrifice?
Isaiah 53:10 make his soul an offering for sin to allow him to see his seed and to prolong his days

Bishop Merrill J. Bateman, The Power to Heal from Within, Ensign (CR), May 1995, p.13

The Savior, as a member of the Godhead, knows each of us personally. Isaiah and the prophet Abinadi said that when Christ would “make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed” (Isa. 53:10; compare Mosiah 15:10). Abinadi explains that “his seed” are the righteous, those who follow the prophets (see Mosiah 15:11). In the garden and on the cross, Jesus saw each of us and not only bore our sins, but also experienced our deepest feelings so that he would know how to comfort and strengthen us.

Isaiah 53:11 God will see the sacrifice and accept it,
By his knowledge shall Christ Justify many for he shall bear their iniquities-satisfy justice

Isaiah 53:12 Receive a royal inheritance which he will share with those that choose to follow him
He bare the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 51:1 Those that follow righteousness will know who to look for for guidance

Isaiah 51: 3 Lord will comfort Zion and restore her
Joy and gladness will be found

Isaiah 51:6-8 Though worldly things will pass away, this salvation that Christ offers will endure forever

What is the Atonement and how does it work?
2 Nephi 2:27 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy
Abraham 3:25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.
Matthew 5: 48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect
D & C 1:31 For the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us
John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him
might be saved
3rd Article of Faith: We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by
obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

So what is the Atonement? It is a plan that will allow mercy to placate the demands of justice and when applied, allows imperfect men to take on the perfection of Christ and come back into the presence of God.

Before going any further, let me ask you to mentally answer the following questions just to get a base line on which you can begin to know where you stand with the Atonement.

Do you believe that there is a God in heaven?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the Only Begotten Son of the Father?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ really did come and take on a mortal body of flesh and blood and live on earth in the meridian of time?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ atoned for your sins while in Gethsemane and on the cross?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected and overcame physical death for all mankind so that you will be resurrected some day?
Do you believe that Joseph Smith was called and directed by God to reestablish His Church here on earth in the latter days?
Do you believe that we have the true priesthood of God active here on earth today?
Do you believe that God still speaks to mankind today?
Do you believe that we have a living prophet in our times?
Has God given you spiritual gifts and if so, do you know what they are and do you use them?
Do you participate in the law of tithing?
Do you believe the scriptures to be the word of God?
If you were to meet the Savior today, would you be able to recognize him, how?
Do you know what you need to do to get back into Gods’ presence?
If you died today, would you go to the Celestial kingdom?

For those who might have answered “NO” to that last question, let me read a quote from a book by Steve Robinson called “Believing Christ”

We often think that having faith in Christ means believing in his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But believing in Jesus’ identity as the Christ is only the first half of it. The other half is believing in his ability, in his power to cleanse and to save – to make unworthy sons and daughters worthy.

Not only must we believe that he is who he says he is, we must also believe that he can do what he says he can do. We must not only believe in Christ, we must also believe Christ when he says he can clean us up and make us celestial.”

We spend so much time focused on the first part of today’s discussion-knowing all the signs, that we fail to do the most critical thing, to believe and apply. I know everything there is to know about how to cook a meal, I’ve bought all the supplies, studied the cookbook til I can
recite what I am to do with my eyes closed but I never actually put the ingredients together and bake it and so I end up starving with all I need right in front of me.

Some of us believe that the Atonement works like a set of scales. On one side is all the sins we have or will commit as we go through the trials of this life. Be ye therefore perfect is always in front of us so we try to off set the negative side with lots of good works. But for some discouragement sets in as being perfect becomes an impossible goal we just can’t do it, we can’t overcome all of our bad habits. We try not to get angry but still some days things pile up so high that soon we get upset and then we feel a failure again. For the perfectionist it becomes impossible-one simple B on a test in life means that no matter how hard we try, we can never get back up to the perfect 4.0 A.

Richard G. Scott addressed this in October conference when he said;

Each of us makes mistakes in life. They result in broken eternal laws. Justice is that part of Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness that maintains order. It is like gravity to a rock climber, ever present. It is a friend if eternal laws are observed. It responds to your detriment if they are ignored. Justice guarantees that you will receive the blessings you earn for obeying the laws of God.

Justice also requires that every broken law be satisfied. When you obey the laws of God, you are blessed, but there is no additional credit earned that can be saved to satisfy the laws that you break. If not resolved, broken laws can cause your life to be miserable and would keep you from returning to God. Only the life, teachings and particularly the Atonement of Jesus Christ can release you from this otherwise impossible predicament.

The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God. Such repentance and obedience are absolutely essential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life. The Redeemer can settle your individual account with justice and grant forgiveness through the merciful path of your repentance. Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience. Through His mercy you can resolve the consequences of broken laws.

Jesus Christ possessed merits that no other being could possibly have. He was a God, Jehovah, before His birth in Bethlehem. His beloved Father not only gave Him His spirit body, but Jesus was His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. Our Master lived a perfect, sinless life and therefore was free from the demands of justice. He is perfect in every attribute including love, compassion, patience, obedience, forgiveness, and humility. His mercy pays our debt to justice when we repent and obey Him. Since with even our best efforts to obey His teachings we will still fall short, because of His grace we will be “saved, after all we can do.

Draw picture of pre-mortal life—-
Draw line not back up to heaven, but to Jesus Christ.
Parable of the bicycle.

So where do good works fit in????
1 John 2: 1-6
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him.
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

The more we accept the Savior’s Atonement, the more we strive to be like him and have his image in our countenance (Alma 5:4) so works become the fruit of our love and acceptance of him. They do not necessarily create love, they are the natural result of that love. By their fruits ye shall know them.

Br. Dallin H. Oaks stated in October conference:

The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the healing it offers do much more than provide the opportunity for repentance from our sins. The Atonement also gives us the strength to endure “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,” because our Savior also took upon Him “the pains and the sickness of his people” (Alma 7:11).

Br. Richard G. Scott added his testimony to this as he said:

True, enduring happiness, with the accompanying strength, courage, and capacity to overcome the greatest difficulties, will come as you center your life in Jesus Christ. Obedience to His teachings provides a secure ascent in the journey of life. That takes effort. Wile there is no guarantee of overnight results, there is the assurance that, in the Lord’s time, solutions will come, peace will prevail, and happiness will be yours.

Adam fell that man might be and men are that they might have joy.

1 2 Nephi 2:27 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy

2 Abraham 3:25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the
Lord their God shall command them.

3 Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect

4 D & C 1:31 For the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.

5 Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

6 1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us

7 John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved

8 3rd Article of Faith: We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

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2008: Understanding the Atonement (EasterTalk) / Kathy St.Clair

Anyone familiar with my wife, Kathy St.Clair, knows that she is the most avid “Latter-day Saint Focussing on Jesus Christ” of anyone in the family, or the county.
This post is the text of a talk she gave in Sacrament Meeting on Easter Sunday, 2008, which builds to a focus on Steve Robinson’s “Believing Christ”.
Thanks, Sweetie!
Steve St.Clair
The world has so many varied views of what Easter means stretching from the strictly commercial celebration of the return of spring all the way to the celebration of the greatest love story ever experienced. Elder Jeffery R Holland in his recent article entitled “The Atonement of Jesus Christ” states that the Atonement was the voluntary act of the Only Begotten Son of God in which He offered His life and spiritual anguish to redeem man from the effects of the Fall.

By His willing sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, Christ freed all men from the grave. It is a wonderous gift of love that he has freely given to all mankind—all will have their spirit and their body reunited again someday, unblemished, whole and healthy. And through the atonement in the Garden and on the cross Christ has overcome the consequences of Adam and Eve’s original transgression. Our second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.” Joseph Smith followed that with the 3rd Article of Faith which says, “We believe that all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

I remember reading the story of a young man who was out hunting one day. While being out in the quietness of nature, having it’s serenity pressed upon him, he began to think back on his life, the things he had done. He wondered about what kind of man he had become. As he pondered these questions he remembered how often his father had spoken to him of a Jesus Christ who would have to power to overcome death and all men’s sins. This is what followed:
“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.”
“And there came a voice unto me saying; Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.”
“And I, Enos knew that God could not lie; wherefore my guilt was swept away.”
And I said; Lord, how is it done?”
“And he said unto me: “Because of thy faith in Christ…go to, thy faith hath made the whole.” Enos 4-8

Unfortunately much of the world thinks that all they have to do is to confess once in their life that Jesus is the Christ and they are eternally saved from the consequences of their sins but Br. Holland points out, “…while all members of the human family are freely given a reprieve from Adam’s sin through no effort of their own, they are not given a reprieve from their own sins unless they pledge faith in Christ, repent of their sins, are baptized in His name, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and confirmation into Christ’s Church, and press forward in faithful endurance the remainder of life’s journey.”

Some criticize the Church saying it sounds like we think we can save ourselves but Abinadi in the Book of Mormon states very clearly, “Salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.” Mosiah 13:28.

Songwriter Br Kenneth Cope has put it for us in more modern terms in the first verse of a song as he said:
How could I think it’s mine to merit
Or speak of my share in it
This saving work He wrought alone
I’ve been a fool to believe I’d earn it
Or suppose I could deserve it
By words and deeds I’d call my own
From this day on
I know I’m saved by Him alone

And in another song Br. Cope again tries to explain how we approach our part in it as he writes
Bowing in awe of You, wanting to follow You
Tirelessly trying, but hopelessly flawed.
Failing and fretting, each fall more upsetting,
So near to regretting the child You made me
Bankrupt and begging more time to pay what’s due
But, then I learned the truth

After all I can do, it’s still You, it’s still You
You have come and corrected my view
Though I strain in pursuit, even after all I can do, it’s still You

So again we might ask as did Enos—how is it done? I think it is like a feast the Savior invites us to come and share in. He has already made the food-he has already paid the price for our sins but until we feast at the table, until we actually accept the food and make it part of us, it will do us no good. Without partaking even though the food is there and ready-we will starve to death and perish. Our purpose in life is to perfect our love and trust in the Savior-to believe and accept his atonement and when we do that-he will take care of the rest.

So how do I develop that love and trust and how do I show that I accept the atonement? May I share just two events that occurred during that pivotal Passover week that may help get us started.

While looking for some pictures of the life of Jesus Christ to share with the Primary children I happened upon a Simon Dewey picture called “Behold the Man.” Many of you will not be able to see this but it is a portrayal of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea who after interviewing Jesus and finding no fault with him, presented him to the gathered crowd to ask what they would have him do with Jesus. It was the Roman custom in Israel that on the feast day of the Passover, the governor would present two prisoners to the crowd and they would choose one to set free and the other to condemn to death. As I looked at this picture I was struck with the thought-how did they dare to think that they had the right to judge the Son of Man. Here was the very creator of heaven and earth, the one who would act as their advocate at the great judgment seat and they took it as their right to judge Him, to take away life from the giver of all life???? Here was a man who had never done wrong, falsely condemned for conspiracy and sedition who deserved to be free and yet who did they set free, the very one who truly had committed treason and sedition and condemned the innocent to the cross.. I felt overwhelmed with sorrow for what had happened and then I thought back to that night as his disciples gathered for the final supper and as he told the twelve that one of them would betray him and I asked as I looked at the picture, is it I? The world offers me a daily choice between Christ and Barabbas. I look at this picture and thin,-how could they and yet each day in the many decisions I make, how many times do those choices shout Barabbas. That which I really love determines my choices. They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.(JSH1:19, Isa 29:13) As I learn to love the Savior, I will have less and less desire to choose the world and I will find more and more joy in following him. It is that love that will allow him to lift my guilt and make my burdens light.

The second event is that which occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane and was completed upon the cross a few days later. The Prophet Jacob refers to the need for an infinite atonement which King Benjamin later reiterated to his people centuries later. The atonement takes we who have been abolished from God’s presence for our sins, for no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God, and bridges the gap and brings us back into his presence again. I think we get hung up on the word infinite which is so huge and overwhelming and forget to focus on the at-one-ment. Or we think of the at-one-ment strictly in terms of bringing us all back into His presence and we forget the comment that the good shepherd will leave the ninety and nine to go after the one. The atonement or at-one-ment while infinite, is done one person at a time, it is a very personal thing. While Christ took upon himself all of our sins, he suffered for each one of us individually, he knows us and our weaknesses and yet he still loved us enough to die for us. Regarding this Luke records in his gospel:
“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed.
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will , but thine be done.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:41-44

A fairly new book out depicts this moment as it beautifully tells the story of that first Easter season.

In the year of 2001 Br. Kenneth Cope was working on a special project to depict the life of Christ called “Son of Man.” During this project his group spent a great deal of time in Jerusalem studying those sacred places and walking where Jesus had walked. Just as a side note, we do not have to travel all the way to Jerusalem to be able to walk where Jesus walked-any time we step within the walls of the temple-we are walking where he continues to walk! but back to Brother Cope– They spent an especial amount of time in the Garden of Gethsemane as they tried to visualize and understand what took place there that awful dark night.

Some time later as they tried to portray that Garden experience for their program Br. Cope records this experience that lead to the composition of the song “Gethsemane”.

“We had dramatic music playing as Christopher, our Christ bearer came into the picture and began to put himself, as best he could, in Jesus’ place. My work at these photoshoots is to take video…that can be used later and to also serve me as emotional stimulus for the writing process. At one point in the photoshoot that night, the gentleman portraying the angel that came to strengthen Jesus entered the scene and began to comfort the exhausted Christ. Watching this display of reverenced love rendered by this mighty angel to his Savior had a powerful effect upon me. While the emotion surged I was overcome with great love for my Savior. I realized at that moment, that I wanted to be that angel. I wanted to comfort Jesus, and wipe away His blood, and hold Him in my arms, encouraging, strengthening; “You can do it Jesus. Don’t fail us. You can do it.” I knew I was looking at actors.. I knew it was the year 2001, but somehow that night, through that video viewfinder, the image of that event had its unforgettable effect upon me… Oh, how I wanted to be the real blessed angel! Now, I’m certain that I was not—but at that moment I wanted to be…which later got me to thinking….If seeing a dramatization of that event—a pretended version—had such an impact on me, what must the real night of blood and tears so long ago have caused me to feel if I had been permitted to watch it from my heavenly window? And if I felt that way through His Gethsemane, what does my faithful, loving Savior feel as He looks upon me in mine?”

I’d like to share with you the words of the song that are the result of that experience. Gethsemane
By Kenneth Cope

My Lord Jesus
Me in heaven—You on earth
You’re in the garden
And Your heavy burden is growing worse
I weep for You, Jesus

My poor Jesus
I’m so sorry to make You cry
But I’m far from like You
And all my sins Lord demand this price

I wish that I could come to You
And wipe away the blood
And then I’d bear Your cross Lord
If I could
But I’m up here
And you’re down there, Jesus

My poor Jesus
I’m so sorry to make You die
But, please, for me Jesus

Now Lord Jesus
You’re in heaven and I’m on earth
Now it’s my turn
And my little burden is getting worse
I weep for me Jesus

Oh kind Jesus
I keep trying to win the fight
But I just can’t change me
I need Your grace Lord
Please provide

I wish that I could run to You
And all of this would end
If I could see Your face
Have You close again,
But You’re up there
And I’m down here, Oh Jesus

My Lord Jesus
If you’ve got time to spend with me tonight
Then fly to me Jesus

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2008: The Pope Comes to America: Evangelical Thoughts / Baptist Dr Albert Mohler

Brothers and Sisters in LDS Interfaith Relations,
Please read this most revealing article about the relationship between Catholics and evangelicals, written by a brilliant Baptist leader Albert Mohler responding to the visit of Pope Benedict to the United States. Read it below, or
see it in its original location at this link.

Notice that there is no hint of religious pluralism here, the idea that all path lead back to God, because most Christian organizations that are growing (including the Catholics and the Baptists) do not.

From our Latter-day Saint perspective, these are two of the most “insider” churches within Christianity, compared to ourselves and how we feel we are treated. But notice how they talk about their differences, and the terms they use.

Do they talk about doctrine and differences in doctrine? On every interaction!

Do they castigate each other for claiming, implicitly or explicitly, to be the “only true Church”? It never ends.

Do they see each other as being in great spiritual danger or having the threat of eternal punishment hanging over themselves? Yes, yes, yes.

That is how successful Christian leaders and churches talk about or with each other, all the time. We can’t be upset when, in meetings and dialogs with them in Southern California, they talk about us using similar terms. . We should be proud that they include us in the Christian family enough to treat us like they treat other Christians. In the meeting between Elder Jeffrey Holland and Robert Millet with 20 Evangelical leaders at Biola, they talked about doctrine and differences in doctrine; and peole who were there have told me that the Evangelicals ended up agreeing that the differences were not as serious as they had previously concluded.

Note the underlying tone of the entire article, though, and you will see why conservative Christian leaders always work together. It is clear that both Pope Benedict and Dr. Albert Mohler agree one hundred percent on the big things.

They are 100% in agreement on the social issues (abortion, preservation of marriage and the family),

They have total agreement on the extreme danger of western society’s rapid slide into secular humanism, post-modernism, and immorality;

They share a fear of the rise of Militant Islam, and the dangers from it to Christianity’s survival and flourishing

They are in agreement on a primary goal of taking the message of Jesus Christ to all nations.

They know that, for success in these areas, they are completely dependent upon each other. Consequently, they are agreeing to work together on those issues, and put up with their doctrinal disagreements. And they are trying to figure out how we Latter-day Saints fit in with them on what they consider the crucial matters.

Love and Thanks,
Steve St.Clair
LDS Interfaith

Point of View
The Pope comes to America: Evangelical thoughts
Published: April 24, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to America as Pope will not be his introduction to this country, but it will be the first opportunity for Americans to see this Pope up close—three years after his election as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Along with others, many evangelical Christians will be watching with interest. The long pontificate of the globe-trotting John Paul II is all an entire generation of evangelicals now remember as background, and Benedict is a comparatively unknown figure.

Writing immediately after Benedict’s election, I wrote these words, referencing the Pope’s previous role in the Vatican as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

“Yet, there is no reason to believe that the election of Pope Benedict XVI will do anything to breach the divide between evangelicals and Roman Catholics on issues related to biblical authority, the Gospel, and a host of other essential theological questions. We hold no expectation that this pope holds views of justification and the Gospel that are any more harmonious with evangelical conviction than those held by his predecessors. Indeed, Ratzinger’s theological brilliance may be deployed in ways that will cause evangelicals even greater frustration.”

As the Vatican’s most influential theologian, Cardinal Ratzinger was already known for his brilliant and incisive critiques of modern secularism and postmodernism’s retreat from truth. At the same time, he was also a staunch defender of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church—doctrine he had defined and defended as Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Thus, I did not expect that Pope Benedict would move to breach the theological divide between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Indeed, I would have been most surprised if, now elected as Pope, Benedict would reveal himself as someone other than who he had been as Cardinal Ratzinger.

I have not been surprised. Pope Benedict has continued his incisive work on the challenge of modern secularism. His speech at Regensburg, Germany in 2006 and his baptism of a prominent Muslim convert this past Easter were clear signs that this is not a Pope primarily concerned with ecumenical relations. Even so, his statements about the address and the baptism—and the general question of Islam—were perfectly in keeping with Catholic doctrine since Vatican II. Evangelicals can admire his boldness without appreciating his inclusivism.

Perhaps the most clarifying moment since his election came last July when the Vatican released the document known as “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church”—a document that reasserted the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church.

The secular press and a good many non-Catholic church leaders expressed outrage and offense at the Pope’s comments—assuming that such teachings were simply out of place in the modern world. But Benedict was restating the tradition and teaching of his church—and he did so because he cared for those he believes are outside the blessings of grace he is certain are given to those in the communion of his church—and to that communion alone.

I actually appreciated the Pope’s concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Yet, I am convinced that he is not right—not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right in understanding the church.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that evangelicals are in spiritual danger for obstinately and disobediently excluding ourselves from submission to its universal claims and its papacy. Evangelicals are concerned that Catholics are in spiritual danger for their submission to these very claims. We both understand what is at stake.

The divide between evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholic Church remains—as this Pope well understands. And, in so many ways, this is a Pope we can understand. In this strange world, that is no small achievement.

R. Albert Mohler Jr is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column originally appeared in an “On Faith” Web site, a joint project of Newsweek and It is used here with permission.
Copyright © 2001-2008, Florida Baptist Witness,All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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