‘The Lord is My Shepherd’

I just finished a book titled, And God Said — a fascinating linguistic approach to why the King James Version hides some of the Bible’s true meanings. My favorite example was that of a shepherd (ro’eh) in ancient Israel. Dr. Joel M. Hoffman gives some good examples of why a shepherd was not who we think of. Anticipating this chapter, I thought I knew what he was going to say because of the many discourses over the years comparing shepherds (leaders) to sheep herders (managers). Fortunately for me (and my lack of patience for things I already know), this was not what I’d expected at all.

In Jeremiah 25:35, God shows his power by saying that “the shepherds will have no way to flee.” Dr. Hoffman goes on to compare shepherds to marines, saying they had to be able to protect the sheep from wolves, lions, and bears. He later compares them to lawyers (since that’s a more modern way of protecting from danger), knights in shining armor (because there was a heroic element to their work) and even to kings (since there was something regal about a shepherd’s ability). They were fierce and noble. In fact, when David says that he’s a shepherd that can slay lions and bears to protect his herd (I Sam 17:34-35), he was actually declaring his confidence that he could take on Goliath, rather than demonstrating some smallness or humility. He was a killer shepherd and knew the Lord was on his side.

So when Dr. Hoffman brings this to the point in Psalm 23 where the Psalmist writes, “The Lord is My Shepherd”, instead of picturing a humble sheep herder with a staff, perhaps we should picture someone more like Ammon in the Book of Mormon who protects the king’s flocks by cutting off the enemies’ arms. Hoffman says, “The original model was a brave, strong, valiant, regal protector of the weak, providing safety and food, and ensuring tranquility.” (p. 144) On the next page he continues, “God will give me protection, guidance, security, and safety—like a ro’eh—so I’ll have everything I need and I won’t have anything to worry about.” I love that. We shouldn’t worry when we have faith in the Savior. He’s there for us and will always provide a way to get through our challenges, if we have patience and trust in Him.

Changing the Definition of Marriage

A friend sent me a long but very thorough article on the effects of changing social norms. It was interesting because it started with this, “Unlike most libertarians, I don’t have an opinion on gay marriage, and I’m not going to have an opinion no matter how much you bait me.” But, she went on to give various reasons why this decision goes much further than whether or not we’re discriminating. She discusses the changes to welfare, social security, and divorce law. I found it very helpful to see through the flawed arguments on both sides. Towards the end she says, “My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes.” Humble? What’s that?

Religious Discrimination?

I recently read an interesting comment about Proposition 8 apparently from a gay man:

As a gay man….none of my rights are being violated or taken away by prop.8! I already have “domestic partnership” rights! I do believe, however, that the rights of parents, and religion as a whole, are about to be disrupted and violated in a very profound way. The moral fabric of our society has been slowing eroded by liberal views over the years. If prop 8 fails to pass, in order to protect civil rights we will likely be forced to return to the courts for additional protections of religious rights. It’s not unreasonable to assume that failing to pass prop 8 presents real possibility for restrictions on religious freedoms. Same-sex marriage could lead to more widespread social acceptance of homosexuality that would create a polemic tension with religious groups whose negative attitudes towards homosexual behavior derives from faith in the divine inspiration of church leaders or traditional scripture. Their doctrines and institutions could more and more find themselves under the label of bigotry. And since members of religious institutions behaviors, practices, and even perceptions are framed within these doctrines, individuals will find their very conscience under siege. We may very well find ourselves in a situation where we must choose whether we would prefer religious discrimination over orientation discrimination!

When those who say that gay rights are a civil matter and not a religious one, they forget that most of our laws are based on morality. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a Utah Supreme Court Justice and U of Chicago Law professor, said the following when addressing BYU students in 1999, “[Some say] we should not legislate morality. Those who take this position should realize that the law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes.”

I’m sad to see the world change so drastically in the last few years. The protests against LDS members in California are disheartening to say the least, but we have to remember that a vote is an opportunity to give your opinion, and everyone is entitled to one. Comparing lifestyle and behavior to skin color is disrespectful to those who’ve suffered centuries of hatred and bigotry simply because of their family tree. The experience of this LA Detective is insightful.

There Were Only Free Men and Slaves

In the middle of a crazy war where everyone has an opinion about its validity, I found some insight from the words of Michael Shaara in his book, The Killer Angels, about the battle at Gettysburg. Chamberlain’s thoughts according to Shaara (p. 27):

This was the first place on earth where the man mattered more than the state. True freedom had begun here and it would spread eventually over all the earth. But it had begun here. The fact of slavery upon this incredibly beautiful new clean earth was appalling, but more even than that was the horror of old Europe, the curse of nobility, which the South was transplanting to new soil. They were forming a new aristocracy, a new breed of glittering men, and Chamberlain had come to crush it. But he was fighting for the dignity of man and in that way he was fighting for himself. If men were equal in America, all these former Poles and English and Czechs and blacks, then they were equal everywhere, and there was really no such thing as foreigner; there were only free men and slaves. And so it was not even patriotism but a new faith. The Frenchman may fight for France, but the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land.

In an era when people forget that freedom started in America, it’s important to remember the blood spilled for us. That courageous blood was spilled not just for a free America, but for a “new faith” that spread throughout the world.

Religious Nutjobs

It’s increasingly difficult to vote for those with conservative values when there are very few people who represent them well. I read a NY Post article, Why Our Elites Fear Faith, about Washington’s problem with Sarah Palin’s faith:

Such a woman wouldn’t fit in Washington (nor would a man of equal faith). In the DC area (where I live), plenty of government-affiliated men and women regularly attend a church or synagogue. But their appearances are perfunctory and well-mannered. Passionate faith is regarded as an embarrassment.

So, even though Sarah Palin isn’t someone I would choose to vote for (it always seems to be the lesser of the evils), I find myself increasingly astonished at how out of touch America is with those of us who are still religious. An example of that is found in this article by Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone where he talks about how Huckabee is a cool guy, but still a “nutjob”: “The troubling thing about Huckabee’s God rhetoric is that a man who is glad that Christians will “win” at Armageddon must be happy about the rest of us losing.”

Speaking from the perspective of a Christian who still believes in Armageddon, I don’t think anyone will be happy when others lose. A true Christian wants everyone to be happy, but knows that happiness only comes through righteous living. We urge others to choose good over evil but we don’t force anyone. And, despite what other people might say, we don’t even force our opinion on people. If you don’t want to read what I write, click away. If I’m saying something you’re not interested in, change the subject. Mormons may be guilty of a lot of things, but you’ll never find a time in our history when we’ve attempted to force our faith on others. Elder Maxwell explains that well in his talk on Patience.

My brothers and sisters, the longer I examine the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I understand that the Lord’s commitment to free agency is very deep—indeed, much deeper than is our own. The more I live, the more I also sense how exquisite is His perfect love of us. It is, in fact, the very interplay of God’s everlasting commitment to free agency and His everlasting and perfect love for us which inevitably places a high premium upon the virtue of patience. There is simply no other way for true growth to occur.

So while I may want to force others to see my perspective, to feel what I feel, or to hope the same future I hope for, that would be exactly contrary to what I believe God’s plan is all about. My salvation will be worked out through obedience and faith in Jesus Christ despite what others choose, what others say about me, and what direction the world is headed. I know in the end God will win and greed, violence, hatred, terror, selfishness, and all other evils will lose. Since the world embodies these traits, James tells us, “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

According to my view of religion, I am commanded to love my neighbor. I don’t choose who to love, either, because Christ tells us, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt 25:40). The difference between the fanatics who are blowing up buildings and the passionate faithful who are choosing to follow the teachings of Christ is whether they think they can decide who should be loved and who should be killed. That’s the very reason why the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were so un-Christian.

So, call me a nutjob but don’t confuse with me the nutjobs who will kill people. As I said in a forum on wired.com:

And thus the faith (irrationality) vs. science (rationality) argument lives on.

You go on calling me irrational until one day, you become the extremist who wants to rid the world of all those who might possibly become an extremist by believing in something beyond what can be proven. By wanting to remove the threat, you become the threat.

The only Christian who becomes an extremist is one who, as George Sanayana put it (paraphrased), redoubles their effort when they forget their aim.

The aim of any Christian is to love God and their neighbor. I may not agree with you, but I don’t hate you. I also won’t accuse you of not using your brain. I appreciate the challenge to have faith in something beyond.

So, if Washington doesn’t appreciate the passionately faithful, they must think of religion more as a philosophy. And, if it’s a philosophy, then the government is accountable for carrying out good. Government can replace religion. Indeed, in the wake of the destruction of Hurricane Gustav, Obama said:

All across America there are quiet storms taking place. There are lives of quiet desperation. People who need just a little bit of help. Now, Americans are a self-reliant people, we’re an independent people. We don’t like asking somebody else to do what we can do ourselves but you know what we understand is that every once in a while somebody’s going to get knocked down. Every once in a while somebody’s going to go through some hard times. When we least expect it tragedy may strike. And what has always made this country great is the understanding that we rise and fall as one nation, that values and family, community and neighborhood, they have to express themselves in our government. Those are national values. Those are values that we all subscribe to. And so that the spirit that we extend today and in the days to come as we monitor what happens on the Gulf that’s the spirit that we’ve got to carry with us each and every day. That’s the spirit that we need in our own homes and it’s the spirit that we need in the White House. And that’s why I’m running for president of the United States of America.

Because if there’s a poor child out there, that’s my child. If there’s a senior that’s having trouble, that’s my grandparent. If there’s a guy who’s lost his job, that’s my brother. If there’s a woman out there without healthcare, that’s my sister. Those are the values that built this country. Those are the values we are fighting for.

Obama’s comments are very appealing. It’s almost Christ-like. I want a president who views the American people as brothers and sisters and cares for us. However, with socialism as with communism, government is the new God. That’s why I am turned off by Obama. The more candidates push government to replace God, the more wary I become. In fact, if government declares that a woman without healthcare is my sister and forces me to support her through (coercive) redistribution of wealth, then government is taking away freedom of choice. I believe in the words of the prophet Nephi, that men are free to choose liberty (helping others) or death (selfishness). Please don’t take away my liberty to serve and support others. I have no desire to take away people’s liberty to call me a nutjob.

Why Uberous Hubris?

Why did I name my blog such a funny name? My intention was to point out the mistakes men make when we think we have it all figured out. There’s a verse in Isaiah (55:6-10) that says:

6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So, while my original intent was to point out other people’s hubris, I realize that many of the decisions I make are based on my own perception (on Earth), which is nowhere near that of God’s (in Heaven). I’m guilty of hubris, no doubt, but my intentions are such that I hope to point out differences between what God has revealed through prophets and what man is doing despite the warnings. This post is also a caveat to what I’m posting next, since I hope I don’t come across proud.

Silas Smith and Mountain Meadows

Silas Sanford Smith

I recently discovered that an ancestor, Silas S. Smith, was a valuable witness to the occurrences leading up to the Mountain Meadows massacre:

Know George A. Smith; saw him in August of 1857 at Parowan and traveled with him through the southern settlements, returning with him to Cedar Springs, Millard County. George A. Smith, in his speeches, referred to the necessity of saving grain and not feeding it to horses or stock; he disapproved of selling it for any such use. Heard nothing said to discourage the sale of provisions to emigrant trains for food. Witness camped at Corn Creek and found the Arkansas train in camp there on arrival. Some of them came over to witness’ fire and simply made inquiries. Nothing special was said. One of the party asked if the Indians would be likely to eat the flesh of an ox that lay dead near camp. Some said that they probably would.

Two days after, came to Beaver, passing the emigrants at Indian Creek, six or seven miles from here. Took supper with the emigrants there. Four days after this the emigrants passed through the town where witness lives, thirty miles south, and camped there. Spoke to some of the party; saw the leader; heard him called Mr. Fancher. Duke’s party followed several days after. They got into trouble with the Indians near Beaver and witness was sent over with ten men by Col. Dame, who called at his house to request witness to go to the relief of the emigrants. Reached Beaver at night, and in the morning found the train corraled and a rifle pit dug for their protection. Sent a runner, who brought in the chief, and witness placated the wrath of the red men by a liberal distribution of beef. The Indians claimed that some of their braves had been shot by men belonging to the train, and they must wash out the offense in blood. Witness understood that his intervention had settled the difficulty. Had no further connection with the emigrant trains.

Traveled with George A. Smith from Parowan to Santa Clara, I50 miles. Held five or six meetings on the way. George A. Smith invited witness to accompany him. The object of his visit was to preach to the people to lay up grain for their future support. Col. Johnston’s army was then approaching Utah. Heard nothing said against allowing emigrant trains to pass through the country.

It’s amazing how connected my ancestor was to this sad incident. Since I don’t have all the right words to say how I feel about this, I’ll quote the feelings of Elder Dallin H. Oaks from his interview with Helen Whitney for the PBS documentary The Mormons:

As a fourth- or fifth-generation Mormon growing up in Utah—but not in the area where the Mountain Meadow Massacre happened—I have learned about that tragic episode, and my heart has gone out to the descendants of those who perpetrated that atrocity and to the relatives of those who suffered it. I can only imagine the kind of pain that comes from contemplating the involvement of those that you love in such a tragic episode in the history of the West, so unexplainable. I have no doubt on the basis of what I have studied and learned that Mormons were prime movers in that terrible episode and participated in killing. What a terrible thing to contemplate, that the barbarity of the frontier and the conditions of the Utah War, whatever provocations were perceived to have been given, would have led to such an extreme episode, such an extreme atrocity perpetrated by members of my faith. I pray that the Lord will comfort those that are still grieved by it and I pray that He can find a way to forgive those who took such a terrible action against human beings.