Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why We Remember

Since my last post was simply a President Kimball talk, I may as well use another quote of his as a segue way to today's link.

I have the following quote stuck into in my 9th grade Seminary scriptures right where Helaman is quoted on the importance and effects of "remembering" (Helaman 5:6-12):
"When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be remember. Because all of you have made covenants - you know what to do and you know how to do it - our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day - to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that 'they may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them.' Remember is the word. Remember is the program."
Kimball, Spencer W. "Circles of Exaltation," Address to Seminary and Institute Personnel, BYU, June 28, 1968.
As Helaman taught his sons [and our modern Prophets have reminded us] – what we remember and how we go about it – has significant effect on our lives.

Connnor Boyack – one of my favorite bloggers – posted today on 'appropriate remembrances' with an eye towards the "We Will Never Forget" themes that play out in 9/11 memorials. Here's an excerpt:

But for what purpose are we remembering?

If our memorials, songs, tributes, and political propaganda serve only to help us remember the lives of our loved ones who died that day, then we have acted appropriately. But I fear that the continual display of 9/11 fanfare is intended not specifically to honor the fallen, but instead to continually evoke feelings of revenge, hatred, frustration, and fear.

You can read the whole post "We Will Never Forget"at his blog. Connor paints a larger picture that includes some other things we shouldn't forget and the actions such remembrances might more appropriately inspire.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The False Gods We Worship

I've had a number of people tell me I need to post the entire text of President Kimball's talk "The False Gods We Worship". [I've linked to it before and quoted passages.] Given that the motivating event was the Prophet's thoughts upon the bi-centennial celebration of the United States of America, it seems especially appropriate to consider on a blog like this one.

By President Spencer W. Kimball

First Presidency Message, Ensign, June 1976

I have heard that the sense most closely associated with memory is the sense of smell. If this is true, then perhaps it explains the many pleasing feelings that overtake me these mornings when I am able to step outdoors for a few moments and breathe in the warm and comfortable aromas that I have come to associate over the years with the soil and vegetation of this good earth.

Now and then, when the moment is right, some particular scent—perhaps only the green grass, or the smell of sage brought from a distance by a breeze—will take me back to the days of my youth in Arizona. It was an arid country, yet it was fruitful under the hands of determined laborers.

We worked with the land and the cattle in all kinds of weather, and when we traveled it was on horseback or in open wagons or carriages, mostly. I used to run like the wind with my brothers and sisters through the orchards, down the dusty lanes, past rows of corn, red tomatoes, onions, squash. Because of this, I suppose it is natural to think that in those days we were closer to elemental life.

Some time ago I chanced to walk outdoors when the dark and massive clouds of an early afternoon thunderstorm were gathering; and as the large raindrops began to drum the dusty soil with increasing rapidity, I recalled the occasional summer afternoons when I was a boy when the tremendous thunderheads would gather over the hills and bring welcome rain to the thirsty soil of the valley floor. We children would run for the shed, and while the lightning danced about we would sit and watch, transfixed, marveling at the ever-increasing power of the pounding rainfall. Afterward, the air would be clean and cool and filled with the sweet smells of the soil, the trees, and the plants of the garden.

There were evenings those many years ago, at about sunset, when I would walk in with the cows. Stopping by a tired old fence post, I would sometimes just stand silently in the mellow light and the fragrance of sunflowers and ask myself, “If you were going to create a world, what would it be like?” Now with a little thought the answer seems so natural: “Just like this one.”

So on this day while I stood watching the thunderstorm, I felt—and I feel now—that this is a marvelous earth on which we find ourselves: and when I thought of our preparations for the United States Bicentennial celebration I felt a deep gratitude to the Lord for the choice land and the people and institutions of America. There is much that is good in this land, and much to love.

Nevertheless, on this occasion of so many pleasant memories another impression assailed my thoughts. The dark and threatening clouds that hung so low over the valley seemed to force my mind back to a theme that the Brethren have concerned themselves with for many years now—indeed a theme that has often occupied the attention of the Lord’s chosen prophets since the world began. I am speaking of the general state of wickedness in which we seem to find the world in these perilous yet crucially momentous days; and thinking of this, I am reminded of the general principle that where much is given, much is expected. (See Luke 12:48.)

The Lord gave us a choice world and expects righteousness and obedience to his commandments in return. But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. Iniquity seems to abound. The Destroyer seems to be taking full advantage of the time remaining to him in this, the great day of his power. Evil seems about to engulf us like a great wave, and we feel that truly we are living in conditions similar to those in the days of Noah before the Flood.

I have traveled much in various assignments over the years, and when I pass through the lovely countryside or fly over the vast and beautiful expanses of our globe, I compare these beauties with many of the dark and miserable practices of men, and I have the feeling that the good earth can hardly bear our presence upon it. I recall the occasion when Enoch heard the earth mourn, saying, “Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me?” (Moses 7:48.)

The Brethren constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord: against pollution of mind, body, and our surroundings; against vulgarity, stealing, lying, pride, and blasphemy; against fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and all other abuses of the sacred power to create; against murder and all that is like unto it; against all manner of desecration.

That such a cry should be necessary among a people so blessed is amazing to me. And that such things should be found even among the Saints to some degree is scarcely believable, for these are a people who are in possession of many gifts of the Spirit, who have knowledge that puts the eternities into perspective, who have been shown the way to eternal life.

Sadly, however, we find that to be shown the way is not necessarily to walk in it, and many have not been able to continue in faith. These have submitted themselves in one degree or another to the enticings of Satan and his servants and joined with those of “the world” in lives of ever-deepening idolatry.

I use the word idolatry intentionally. As I study ancient scripture, I am more and more convinced that there is significance in the fact that the commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments.

Few men have ever knowingly and deliberately chosen to reject God and his blessings. Rather, we learn from the scriptures that because the exercise of faith has always appeared to be more difficult than relying on things more immediately at hand, carnal man has tended to transfer his trust in God to material things. Therefore, in all ages when men have fallen under the power of Satan and lost the faith, they have put in its place a hope in the “arm of flesh” and in “gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know” (Dan. 5:23)—that is, in idols. This I find to be a dominant theme in the Old Testament. Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.

It is my firm belief that when we read these scriptures and try to “liken them unto [our]selves,” as Nephi suggested (1 Ne. 19:24), we will see many parallels between the ancient worship of graven images and behavioral patterns in our very own experience.

The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity unequaled in times past. The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth. But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand? Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful. Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires, and as Moroni said, “Ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not.” (Morm. 8:39.)

As the Lord himself said in our day, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:16; italics added.)

One man I know of was called to a position of service in the Church, but he felt that he couldn’t accept because his investments required more attention and more of his time than he could spare for the Lord’s work. He left the service of the Lord in search of Mammon, and he is a millionaire today.

But I recently learned an interesting fact: If a man owns a million dollars worth of gold at today’s prices, he possesses approximately one 27-billionth of all the gold that is present in the earth’s thin crust alone. This is an amount so small in proportion as to be inconceivable to the mind of man. But there is more to this: The Lord who created and has power over all the earth created many other earths as well, even “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33); and when this man received the oath and covenant of the priesthood (D&C 84:33–44), he received a promise from the Lord of “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38). To set aside all these great promises in favor of a chest of gold and a sense of carnal security is a mistake in perspective of colossal proportions. To think that he has settled for so little is a saddening and pitiful prospect indeed; the souls of men are far more precious than this.

One young man, when called on a mission, replied that he didn’t have much talent for that kind of thing. What he was good at was keeping his powerful new automobile in top condition. He enjoyed the sense of power and acceleration, and when he was driving, the continual motion gave him the illusion that he was really getting somewhere.

All along, his father had been content with saying, “He likes to do things with his hands. That’s good enough for him.”

Good enough for a son of God? This young man didn’t realize that the power of his automobile is infinitesimally small in comparison with the power of the sea, or of the sun; and there are many suns, all controlled by law and by priesthood, ultimately—a priesthood power that he could have been developing in the service of the Lord. He settled for a pitiful god, a composite of steel and rubber and shiny chrome.

An older couple retired from the world of work and also, in effect, from the Church. They purchased a pickup truck and camper and, separating themselves from all obligations, set out to see the world and simply enjoy what little they had accumulated the rest of their days. They had no time for the temple, were too busy for genealogical research and for missionary service. He lost contact with his high priests quorum and was not home enough to work on his personal history. Their experience and leadership were sorely needed in their branch, but, unable to “endure to the end,” they were not available.

I am reminded of an article I read some years ago about a group of men who had gone to the jungles to capture monkeys. They tried a number of different things to catch the monkeys, including nets. But finding that the nets could injure such small creatures, they finally came upon an ingenious solution. They built a large number of small boxes, and in the top of each they bored a hole just large enough for a monkey to get his hand into. They then set these boxes out under the trees and in each one they put a nut that the monkeys were particularly fond of.

When the men left, the monkeys began to come down from the trees and examine the boxes. Finding that there were nuts to be had, they reached into the boxes to get them. But when a monkey would try to withdraw his hand with the nut, he could not get his hand out of the box because his little fist, with the nut inside, was now too large.

At about this time, the men would come out of the underbrush and converge on the monkeys. And here is the curious thing: When the monkeys saw the men coming, they would shriek and scramble about with the thought of escaping; but as easy as it would have been, they would not let go of the nut so that they could withdraw their hands from the boxes and thus escape. The men captured them easily.

And so it often seems to be with people, having such a firm grasp on things of the world—that which is telestial—that no amount of urging and no degree of emergency can persuade them to let go in favor of that which is celestial. Satan gets them in his grip easily. If we insist on spending all our time and resources building up for ourselves a worldly kingdom, that is exactly what we will inherit.

In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)

Enoch, too, was a man of great faith who would not be distracted from his duties by the enemy: “And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch.” (Moses 7:13.)

What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.

We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24.)

When Peter preached such a message as this to the people on the day of Pentecost, many of them “were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37.)

And Peter answered: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and … receive the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38.)

As we near the year 2,000, our message is the same as that which Peter gave. And further, that which the Lord himself gave “unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear:

“Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh.” (D&C 1:11–12.)

We believe that the way for each person and each family to prepare as the Lord has directed is to begin to exercise greater faith, to repent, and to enter into the work of his kingdom on earth, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It may seem a little difficult at first, but when a person begins to catch a vision of the true work, when he begins to see something of eternity in its true perspective, the blessings begin to far outweigh the cost of leaving “the world” behind.

Herein lies the only true happiness, and therefore we invite and welcome all men, everywhere, to join in this work. For those who are determined to serve the Lord at all costs, this is the way to eternal life. All else is but a means to that end.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Call For Papers

I've been finding more and more sites similar to this one where Mormons are sharing thoughtful insights on "Post 9/11 American Foreign Policy" (most often with better writing, documentation, and perspective :] ). Initially when I started my blog I hoped to invite writers like that to contribute. Otherwise I would have named my blog "One Random, Often-Uninformed, Busy Guy who Happens to be Mormon and Sometimes Blogs against Tyranny and Obvious Lapses in Governmental Wisdom".

"Mormons for Peace" seemed a better project to bring into the blogosphere.

So anyways, I'd really like to finally invite more writers and participation on this blog. If you've always wanted to pour out your heart and mind about what your nation is doing with your trust, your tax dollars, and in your name – including any insights you might have from a restored gospel perspective – please email me your essay at

Even if you've already cross-posted your essay at Mormon Peace Project or LDSFreemen or some other forum, chances are that at least one person who visits here hasn't seen it (even if it is only me I suppose) – and it can't hurt to get your message and the widening discussion out in other venues.

I don't have any funding to pay for great writing. I don't advertise on my site and don't intend to. (I also don't have any costs other than time since we're hosted on blogspot.) This is simply a labor of love.

If you want to write something and send it, please do! Thank you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Small Note on The Worth of Souls

I believe in people. I believe that in every person there is a divine spark of decency, goodness, and wisdom that they have a choice to foster or ignore.

As a Latter Day Saint, I believe that not only is every person I encounter quite literally a child of God and an inheritor of divine talents and goodness, but further that each person I encounter made a conscious choice in the premortal world to follow the "choice, responsibility, and growth" plan championed by our Savior, Jesus Christ and not the "security, slavery, and stagnation" plan of Satan. Indeed, that is our doctrine.

Consequently, I try not to oppose any specific person or group of people but rather to fight against sin, deceitful propaganda, and misguided philosophy. I think it is vital to remember to 'hate the sin, not the sinner.'

In war, hatred is often unleashed against people instead of the underlying problems. Worse yet, aggression in war (as opposed to just and defensive war) requires dehumanizing entire groups of people in order to unite the aggressive nation and allow soldiers to ignore their divine sense of 'right and wrong' as they carry out orders.

Indeed, I keep hearing from otherwise sensible people about the need to punish and bomb whole nations in the Arab world as if there are not innocent people in the way of these supposedly "precautionary bombings". Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought it was terrorism to kill innocent people in order to send "a message." Quite frankly I cannot condone terrorist tactics no matter who is conducting them.

I hear people say that those lives [the 'collateral damage' at Iraqi checkpoints, or in mistaken bombings in Afghanistan, or in a potential "pre-emption" in Iran] are worthless simply because the people are a certain religion or – just as thoughtlessly – because they haven't shown 'the sense to rise up against their own government'. The latter really riles me because how many Americans are willing to stand up against their own government when it behaves unwisely or immorally?

When people cite hateful newspaper articles and even State-sponsored propaganda in some of these countries, I marvel that we overlook our own inaccurate propaganda about the Muslim nations and our own hateful newspaper articles and media. How can we forget that President Bush pronounced four entire cultures as part of a so-called "Axis of Evil" not so many years ago. I don't know about you, but when somebody calls my whole country "Evil" it bothers me even if there are certain people, elements, [and even official State actions] in my country that I would agree are clearly immoral.

That kind of belligerent propaganda dehumanizes people. It allows atrocities to be committed. It is exactly the opposite of what brings peace or how Christ taught that we should behave.

The apostle Paul says - when talking about the need for the "whole armour of God" - that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

Paul knew well. He was at one time the infamous "Saul" – a frighteningly successful fanatic in his persecution of what he considered blasphemy: the new Christian religion. But instead of opposing "Saul" (the person), the Savior countered the incorrect principles Saul had accepted – opening for Saul a chance at redemption and the opportunity to put considerable talent to better use. I'd like to see more Saul-to-Paul experiences all over the world. Our current political culture will certainly not accomplish that.

One of my main reasons for this blog is to do my small part to counter what I see as a major de-emphasis on the 'worth of souls' as people get caught up in the fear, excitement, and rhetoric of war. The rhetoric is really what I meant to address when I sat down to write this but I'll get to that in my next post.

There are most certainly dangerous people in this world mis-using their freedoms. But they can't be clearly defined by the arbitrary conveniences of ethnicities and national boundaries – and any campaign using those designations to justify violent engagement and conquest should be opposed by good people everywhere.

Any time one group of people starts believing they've forever cornered the market on 'civilization' and 'righteousness' to the denigration, exclusion, and exploitation of 'other' groups of people then they are ripe for God's wrath, not His blessings. Perhaps more so than any time in our history, our current foreign policy is extraordinarily condescending, prideful, and dismissive of other cultures and peoples.

The United States was founded on legally recognizing the divine value of each individual, the right of each nation to sovereignty, and the general application of the Christian "golden rule". Much of what the United States is pursuing today (both at home and abroad) is totally at odds with these bedrock principles; I believe we ignore 'the worth of souls' at our peril.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Finishing the Job and Fighting to Win

I am tired of the worn out and misguided meme about "finishing the job" in Iraq.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

First of all – let's get this out of the way – the Iraqi invasion had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of 9/11. Yes, it was sold that way. Yes, I initially supported it on those grounds since I was still in 'shock and awe' from the horrific attacks of 9/11 and so believed all the tenuous connections that the Bush administration was avowing. But in the years since they have disavowed every single one of those connections. Many government leaders have come forward and admitted that many in the administration knew that most or even all of them were untrue from the beginning (but that the ends justified the means). Now the war is justified based on other reasons – some still push 'WMD' claims for instance, Sadaam's evils are enumerated, etc. But none of the reasons put forth by any government official have to do with the actual attack on U.S. soil by the [mostly Saudi Arabian] thugs associated with Osama bin Laden and motivated – according to our official Intelligence reports – by decades of U.S. interference and warmaking in the MidEast.

So what are we doing in Iraq?

1) We are building an unprecedented network of American military and intelligence bases set to be our permanent bastion in the Middle East and from which we can conduct all further "national security operations" in the Mideastern Theatre into the conceivable future.

2) We are securing American [and other promised Western] Oil contracts -- again, in the interest of "national energy security".

3) We are employing slave labor to build a high walled city-within-a-city (larger than the Vatican) in Baghdad in order that Iraq (and their neighbors) never, ever forget who is really in charge over there.

4) In addition to the slave labor [conveniently contracted out to firms in Dubai, Kuwait, etc.] we are employing nearly as many U.S. based contractors as military personnel to do various and sundry (often fiscally irresponsible, even criminal) jobs around the country. Not the least of which are the security operations ("too . . . 'messy' for 'official' US forces to be involved in" as one returned soldier described to me recently) in which corporations like BlackWater USA send trigger happer thugs to secure safety for diplomatic vehicles, etc. often by simply machine gunning innocent citizens who get too near their charges. In a shining example of liberty, freedom, and 'justice for all' these security contractors are carefully held innocent of both Iraqi and US laws.

5) We are completely failing to promote peace, democracy, religious harmony, prosperity, or even – five years later – basic living standards of clean water, power, health, and education that used to exist before our violent invasion.

Tell me again why we should "finish" that job.

Or, even worse, I often hear the idea that regardless of how the fight started we should now "fight to win!" In what sphere of morality is this "good"? So now that we have destroyed the infrastructure of a nation, set various factions to fighting, and are still struggling to carve out our initial unwise, un-Constitutional, selfish, and illicit goals: it "behooves" us to "fight to win"?

I simply do not subscribe to that perverted idea of fervent nationalism. The USA is a great nation because our carefully preserved ideals -- as enshrined in the Constitution and [more or less] exhibited through over two centuries of action preclude us from doing what this administration has taken us over to Iraq to do. I am tired of the inconsiderate dismissals of any honest discussion of our foreign policy as simply being "Blame America First".

I love America because of what we stand for, what I truly believe God intended us to be and do. I am patriotic because I believe in the ideals our Founding Fathers lived and died for. I do not for a second believe that America will receive and deserve God's blessings regardless of her actions in the world simply by virtue of 'being America'. God's promises do not work that way.

Between the broadcasts of our last General Conference, there was a special presentation on President J. Reuben Clark. President Clark was a counselor in the First Presidency of Presidents Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay. Previous to that time he had practiced law, and served in the U.S. State Department, eventually becoming the Undersecretary of State for President Coolidge. He also held other various government positions such as being the American ambassador to Mexico.

I've quoted him before on this site, but it bears repeating:
"For America has a destiny – a destiny to conquer the world – not by force of arms, not by purchase and favor, for these conquests wash away, but by high purpose, by unselfish effort, by uplifting achievement, by a course of Christian living; a conquest that shall leave every nation free to move out to its own destiny; a conquest that shall bring, through the workings of our own example, the blessings of freedom and liberty to every people, without restraint or imposition or compulsion from us; a conquest that shall weld the whole earth together in one great brotherhood in a reign of mutual patience, forbearance, and charity, in a reign of peace to which we shall lead all others by the persuasion of our own righteous example."
I also think it is relevant to recall once again what President Kimball said in the First Presidency Message of June, 1976:
"We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel – ships, planes, missiles, fortifications – and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan's counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior's teaching:

"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45). "

That may seem a bit extreme, but I think it puts our aggression in an appropriate context. For instance, my strongest objection as an American citizen is that the people we are attacking and punishing – ostensibly for the events of 9/11 – are not even our enemies. They are certainly not the ones who actually attacked us. But, even if amongst their nations there were those who were indeed 'our enemies' in some respect (through historical Anti-American rhetoric or trade negotiations or in some other way) it would not justify the hatred, dehumanizing, inaccuracies, and literal murder of innocents ('collateral damage' it is politely termed) that so many Americans are willing to close their eyes to.

I write on this blog because I love America and everything it stands for. When our mission and purpose become perverted by powerful people who do not share these ideals, it behooves me to speak out. And, quite frankly, though much of my concern is for the larger human family of God's children [and I believe He loves all of us equally], when we allow our nation to behave like an Imperial Conquistador it also affects our specific freedoms at home in adverse ways. Not just "blowback" which clearly makes our nation less safe (setting the fallacious arguments of the warmongers on their heads), but also – as holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt presciently described it: "Empire abroad entails tyranny at home." Our behaviors in regards to these issues of national security – both at home and abroad – send the wrong messages to any that would look to us as the example of "the" nation most blessed with liberty and freedoms "for all".

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Has the American invasion and occupation of Iraq provided freedom and liberty for its people?

Does the average Iraqi have more freedom today than they had under Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime?

What does freedom mean to you? Do they have freedom of assembly, the press, religion? Do they even have freedom to travel the streets, find food, clean water, and basic utilities, or even the freedom to make use of the much-touted energy resources of their native lands?

Americans don't ask these questions. The American Press generally avoids them as well. Americans question how German citizens could have so easily bought into the group-think propaganda of Hitler and yet we, as a people, close our eyes to the violent truths of American Imperial conquests.

Despite all the heartwarming images of purple fingers, despite the early footage of Iraqis toppling the statue of Saddam, our intentions and actions in Iraq continue to do more harm than good and they [our illicit intents] become more clear to the rest of the world daily. As citizens, we cannot close our eyes in impunity forever.

The truth is that before America began its violent "re-making" of the Middle East, Baghdad, for instance, was a relatively peaceful city with clean water, working electricity, functional hospitals and Universities – and people were able to live decent lives. There was not freedom of assembly, but neither is there now. There was not freedom of the press, but [in the name of 'temporary restrictions' to protect Iraqi and US national security] there is not now either. Some freedoms of religiosity have fledgling starts but there is violent warfare as a result and the US has no interest in providing either a good example of how to resolve them nor thoughtful discussion of the matter. Rather, we fuel the discord when it suits our needs, we make shifting alliances with different violent and intolerant factions – and we even arm and support them when we see a selfish advantage.

It is certainly true that Saddam and his sons were tyrannical monsters who claimed absolute authority to torture, kill, and exploit their perceived enemies within the populace. I won't make the obvious comparison here, but the fact remains that – five 'freedom building' years later – the newly violent Baghdad is much worse off in nearly every regard (including the *increase* in the number of feuding groups that all claim 'absolute authority to torture, kill, and exploit their perceived enemies'). The *only* place that gets 24-hour electricity these days is the gargantuan embassy-city of the conqueror-occupiers (the United States). Even the once secure hospitals regularly lose electricity because our only true concern is that we finish the mission of establishing permanent military bases (and "diplomatic" hegemonic city-states) from which to continue re-shaping the Mid-East in order to more surely control energy, water, shipping, and other resources in the region all in the name of our own "national security".

Does this sound like exporting freedom and liberty to you? What should American citizens do about it? And, honestly I hope somebody has some encouraging comments for me because, what can we do about it?

P.S. Don't get me wrong. I know that many (from my experience, the vast majority) of our good men and women in uniform go 'over there' and do the right thing. They bring hope, order, and love to a war-torn people (generally sidestepping the complication that we brought the war in the first place). I've seen the pictures. I've read the stories. I have personal knowledge that many such stories are certainly true. But this breaks my heart more because it drives home the ease with which the architects of these Imperial conquests are able to successfully use good people for illicit causes.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Reflection on the "War on Terror"

I find myself increasingly being asked to explain my disapproval of the current war to friends and family.

It's simple really. I'm against war. I know for a fact that war brings with it attendant murder, lies, and intractable problems. The very act of "declaring war" [or in this case "claiming" war without a Constitutional declaration . . . but I digress] . . . the very act of "declaring war" should be so detestable, so debatable, so far from desirable that Christian people ought to treat it like late, third-trimester abortion or the dropping of an atomic bomb on a civilian population.

Abortion, in fact, is the example that I most recently cited in a comment to a friend here on my blog. I share the Church's stance on abortion, but one of the reasons we have pro-life protesters at LDS General Conference is because official Mormon doctrine is not 100% anti-abortion. I suppose you could even call it pro-"choice" but not in any conventional use of the term. The official stance [as I understand it] is that abortion is strongly counseled against - even considered a heinous sin in most cases - but in certain cases such as rape, incest, and where the mother's life is seriously endangered then the counsel is to consider it prayerfully on an specific basis.

I do not believe a declaration of war should be undertaken with any less consideration. Generally in the abortion debates every individual life is given consideration by the kind of people I find at Church . . . but somehow when the topic of war gets debated the whole idea of "the worth of souls" too often gets sidelined, shunned, and forgotten. Worse, it seems that if we find any legitimate-seeming reason for U.S. military action in a foreign country we seem to act as if it means that conventional morality no longer applies to that entire region of the world from that moment and into the forseeable future.

We are not – by any stretch of the imagination – under imminent attack way back here in the U.S. by the specific Iraqi and Afghani rebels who want us out of their countries. Furthermore, however you might feel about our original missions in those two countries, we have long ago abandoned them and replaced them with far-less-respectable, brazenly imperialist goals. In Iraq when Bush declared "Mission Accomplished," the best information I can gather indicates that we should have been honest about it and left. We didn't even have "Al Queda" copycats in the country at that point. In Afghanistan it is increasingly unclear why we should not have followed bin Laden and his enterprise into Pakistan instead of continuing the strange dual objectives of occupying Ahghanistan and propping up the dictator Musharrif who promptly allowed bin Laden what has effectively been permanent sanctuary.

I am greatly troubled that many tenets of our current foreign policy only make sense from the point of view that American Corporate interests (oil, shipping, military-industrial, World Bank investments, etc.) and American Empire (our power, prestige, and control in the world) are the actual driving forces behind our actions and not - as too often claimed by pundits and politicians - the evil boogiemen of 'global jihad'. Our own intelligence services issued a non-classified report this very month citing the great strengthening of Al Queda in particular (in its new stronghold in Pakistan) – and global terrorism generally – precisely because of our current foreign policy. I worry sometimes that the problem isn't that we're not smart enough to fight terrorists any more intelligently; the problem is that for many of the policymakers and politicians [whether they realize it or not – and I opine that the great majority do not realize this] fighting terror isn't even really the goal. And that, to me, is pretty terrifying.

I believe that as citizens we can be more engaged in learning about the 'big picture' of our foreign policy and our decisions to engage conflicts using our military might. I believe that there have never been more opportunities for an informed or an involved electorate. My outlook on these things is anything but bleak, but I do fear that we are not exactly headed the right direction. If anybody has good suggestions for being productively involved I'm very interested.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Some of the Reasons I'm Voting Ron Paul on Super Tuesday

Well, tomorrow's the day. Utah is one of the 24 states voting on "Super Tuesday". I'm voting for Ron Paul despite the fact that Romney is at 84% in Utah in the poll I heard about on the radio this morning. It's too bad the polls become such self-fulfilling prophecies – numbers like that make me wonder if I might as well just give up on the Republican primary altogether but I'm registering my vote for Paul tomorrow regardless.

Paul got less than 8 minutes of the two-hour debate in the last pre-Super-Tuesday Republican debate on CNN but the upside of that is you can hear a lot of Paul condensed to very little time.

Here's the tape [If you really want to get right to the good stuff drag the slider to about 3minutes and 10seconds]:


0-1:20 Paul says our economy is in bad shape. Says we're bankrupting the country and the standard of living is going down especially for the middle class. Talks about fiscal policy and monetary policy and throws out terms that cause people's eyes to glaze which is really too bad since Paul understands these things far better than any other candidate in the running.

1:20-2:00 Paul answers the question about whether it is OK for Schwarzenegger to implement his plan for "greenhouse gasses" by saying that CA should be free to do whatever they like. In typical Paul fashion, however, he overestimates how informed his audience is and mentions in passing that he thinks it's too bad that nobody ever discusses property rights when they talk about pollution. This is an area Paul could really shine since his discussion of pollution is really unorthodox and pragmatic. He believes allowing big corporations to pollute public water, air, and land violates the property rights of those whose land or water gets polluted. This is simple truth, regardless of your political persuasion and yet you don't hear many politicians talking about it. It avoids simply siding with big business (all-too-typical Republican stance) against public health or siding with some indefinable "global village" against the property rights of big businesses (all-too-typical Democratic stance).

At any rate, Paul pushes right past this opportunity to press for what he correctly identifies as a topic that really needs addressing: talking about how silly the "mainstream conventional wisdom" is about conservative or liberal. Even most talk-radio extremists agree that those words get overgeneralized and abused [and apart from this strange notion where it's considered "conservative" now to police the world, Paul is the only traditional "conservative" on the stage]. But Anderson Cooper shuts him down with a lie about a question that addresses "exactly that" "in like 2 minutes or 2 questions." Big surprise -- the question and opportunity to speak on the topic never comes.

2:00-3:00 Paul is glad Huckabee is also making the point that it is absolutely ludicrous that we are borrowing from the Chinese to fund our government largesse. He notes that nobody else is talking about cutting spending (which I think is strange too because I would expect Romney to talk more about it . . . only he can't since he has signed onto this idea of pre-emptive worldwide military strikes which are unimaginably expensive). Paul notes our military expeditions are hitting $1trillion a year (with a lot of it being unbudgeted "emergency" addons during the year each year). He points out that our official foreign policy calls for taxing our people to blow up bridges overseas, then taxing our people to rebuild bridges overseas while all along we're falling behind on checking the aging infrastructure and bridges in our own country because there is simply not enough money to do both.

3:00-3:10 Paul starts a short answer about why he feels Sandra Day O'Connor was not a strict enough Constitutionalist but the CNN moderator Anderson Cooper frankly doesn't care and cuts him off at an awkward point (after less than 5 seconds) to simply turn it over to McCain.

3:10-5:10 Paul's best question and answer of the night. Paul is asked if he agrees with McCain's quote about keeping troops in Iraq for "100 years or more". Paul's answer is the reason I'm praying he's still in the media after tomorrow.

5:10-7:15 Paul's other best answer of the night. Even if you don't agree with him on foreign policy, this is the right answer on the economy. The fact that none of the other Republican candidates is willing to talk about these things is remarkable in my opinion.

7:15-7:55 Paul notes that though he doesn't pretend to know what Ronald Reagan would do that Reagan and he often campaigned for each other from before Reagan finally gained traction within the party. Furthermore, Reagan solidly agreed with [perhaps Paul's most infamous "crazy idea"] Paul that the U.S. needs to return to the gold standard to save the dollar. He backed that claim up with a great Reagan quote about it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Standing for Something

Gordon Bitner Hinckley
June 23, 1910 - January 27, 2008

President Gordon B. Hinckley is far and away one of the most inspiring people I have ever studied. He certainly exemplified his oft repeated challenges to "Stand for Something" [great and good] and to "Be!" 'grateful', 'smart', 'clean', 'true', 'humble', 'prayerful', 'positive', 'involved', and 'still'.

I can in no way sufficiently summarize my estimation of this man. But he leaves behind an astonishing legacy of words, actions, and example that speak to all who take the time to notice. I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity of his passing to remember the life he lived and find renewed inspiration in it.

I particularly admired his courage, his wisdom, his love, his open-mindedness, his humor, his kindness, his encouragement of learning, his positive outlook, his hope, and his ever-ready, strikingly-sincere smile. He was a brilliant ray of light in a often-darkened world and the world is a better place for having had him here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amazing Grace: an Inside Job

I recently watched the film Amazing Grace with my wife and my oldest son (on the MLK holiday which made it even better).

I can't believe I'd missed this one!

The film retells the true story of William Wilberforce and his unceasing crusade to end slavery in the British Empire. It does not shy away from either his overt religiosity or his personal struggles.

I'd never heard the background of how Amazing Grace came to be composed. The song means even more to me now. I immediately went online to read more about John Newton (Amazing Grace writer and former Slave Ship captain who repented, became a minister, and profoundly inspired the British abolitionist Wilberforce), William Wilberforce, and William Pitt (British Prime Minister at 24 and sometimes Wilberforce's friend and co-conspirator in the abolitionist movement).

There is a lot I'd like to write about the parallels between the Slave Trade of the British Empire (ie the American Slave Trade) and our new slavery wherein we off-shore all of our manufacturing, textile production, etc. to third-world "sweat shops" but have to neither see nor consider it. There were a few interesting parallels to our current fascist-Empire building and those in parliament who would argue, for instance, that slavery was a necessary evil for the economic health of the empire (much as, I would contend, many in our government argue that the conquest and sacrifice of innocent civilians abroad is a necessary evil for our current oil economy) and that consequently anyone arguing for abolition was nothing less than a traitor.

But I only have time for three quick notes at the moment.

The first is how moving it is to read the full text of the hymn Amazing Grace and consider the awesome power of the atonement of our Savior in overcoming our own personal trials, mistakes, and evils. It was very inspiring early in the film when Wilberforce leaps to top of a table in what was essentially a gambling bar-room and sings the hymn with perfect baritone.

The second thing I wanted to note was that, interestingly, the film spends some time showing Wilberforce's personal struggles with depression, disillusionment, discouragement, and confusion about what to pursue in life. He ends up being shepherded into a dependency on heroin prescribed by a well-meaning family doctor and has to break free of that addiction (due to what he and his wife recognize as negative side effects) despite the fact that his society tended to overlook the ill effects of that drug's abuse.

The final thing I wanted to mention was a brief scene where one of Wilberforce's close personal allies in the abolition movement tries to recruit him into the bloody French (and potentially British) Revolution. Wilberforce – who has earlier in the film indicated that he favors sovereignty for the Americans and harbors other concerns about the the British Empire – explains forcefully to his friend that he has taken an oath to the King which he still cherishes and clearly sees cause for hope within the current British system. Even when another friend (the Prime Minister, Pitt) abandons the abolitionist movement [and Wilberforce himself] as being too anti-British during a time of war, Wilberforce remains true and keeps trying to work within the system he cherishes. I don't think it will ruin the movie to reveal what history already tells you – that ultimately Wilberforce prevails against incredible odds.

Amazing Grace reaffirmed my deep belief that if we can start within ourselves, within our families, and within our communities there is an insuperable power of God that can come to the rescue of all that is good and right. I'd recommend it to anyone.