Five Chapters Per Day

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Just over a month ago I thought that I needed to start reading more of the Book of Mormon each day. Reading quickly (or in my case, listening and reading) isn’t studying the scriptures but I believe there is a benefit to such immersion. Going through quickly can lead to insights about major themes and characters that are not as obvious when going through as a slower pace.

As a full-time missionary I read the Book of Mormon 11.5 times (because of transfers timings I served for 23 months). I also read the other books of scripture and a number of gospel-related books and articles. Depending on what mission a missionary is in (i.e., learning a new language or what a particular expected schedule is), there is a minimum of one hour to study and read. I typically averaged 2-3 hours per day. This is shared only as an example of how much time full-time missionaries have to read and study the scriptures. Currently, I don’t have as much time available to read and study but I knew I could spend more time than I was spending.

So over a month ago I decided to get through five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day. Why five? It was arbitrary. It worked out, however, to be a good number of chapters to listen to during my commutes to work each weekday. I can get through five chapters listening at 1.5 speed within the span on my commute (sometimes including time while walking from the parking lot to my office). When there are shorter chapters (such as the first chapters of Moroni) I listen to or read more but I always try to get through at least five chapters (there were a couple days when I read fewer than five chapters but I made sure I caught up to the 15 chapters by the end of the third day).

How long does it take to read or listen to five chapters in the scriptures per day? Since I typically listen to the chapters at 1.5 speed, I usually get through five chapters in 20-35 minutes. At a slower pace five chapters would take 30-53 minutes of time per day (these are rough estimates based on my  recent experience with the Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon has 239 chapters. At five chapters per day, it take 48 days to finish the book (47.8 days to be precise). At this rate, one can go through the Book of Mormon seven times completely and be 63% through it for the 8th time.

What if someone wanted to read through all the LDS Standard Works? Based on the current English versions of the texts that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use, there are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, 260 chapters in the New Testament, 239 chapters in the Book of Mormon, 140 ‘chapters’ in the Doctrine and Covenants (including the two official declarations), and 19 chapters in the Pearl of Great Price. This is a total of 1587 chapters. At 5 chapters per day, one will finish the entire standard works in 318 (317.4) days.

Additionally, there have been an average of 36.75 talks given per General Conference over the past four General Conferences. We’ll round that up to 74 Conference talks per year (this includes the General Women’s Session and the General Priesthood Session). Reading or listening to two General Conference talks per day would allow someone to finish the standard works and all conference talks in just under one year.

The problem with reading and listening at this rate is that it does not count as in-depth study so other time could be spent reading topically or more slowly. I’ll certainly modify my reading pattern over time but five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day has been a wonderful experience.

Share Goodness: Part 2

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In part 1 of this series on finding and sharing what’s good in the world, I shared shows, songs, and a book I find positive and uplifting. I share more in this post.

Shows

Cinderella (2015). This live action retelling of the classic Disney animated film is beautifully written, filmed, and acted. I love this movie. One of my favorite lines is a repeated theme throughout the movie: “I have to tell you a secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer. Have courage and be kind.” That I will be kind and that my children will be kind is a recurring petition I make in prayer.

Music

It’s Good to Be Alive by Regan Rindlisbacher. The delightful song is catchy and uplifting. It’s one of my family’s favorites. Her song is “about having a positive outlook on life, looking for the beauty in the world, and cherishing relationships with those we love.”

Handel’s Eternal Source Of Light Divine (officially known as Ode for the birthday of Queen Anne). There are a number of lovely recordings of the song; here is one I enjoy. The lyrics are a prayer for birthday peace.

Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone performed by BYU’s Noteworthy. This is a cover of Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace (Noteworthy’s cover is the better version, in my opinion). I love the purity of the presentation and the power of the music.

Books

The books I’m posting fall in the self-help category. That’s one of my least favorite book categories, which is why these books are notable (I actually like them).

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen. Clayton M. Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He’s currently one of the most influential thinkers in the business world. The book has application to just about anyone of any age but will not be particularly interesting to anyone younger than 16. The book is “full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.”

Bonds that Make Us Free: Healing our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves by C. Terry Warner. This is not an easy read and won’t be of much interest to many people younger than 18 (and probably isn’t of much interest to most people 18 and older). If you want the shorter, more digestible version read Leadership and Self-deception: Getting Out of the Box, released by the Abridger Institute. Bonds that Make Us Free is the better book but is quite technical. The book provides guidance on “how we betray ourselves by failing to act toward others as we know we should — and how we can interrupt the unproductive cycle and restore the sweetness in our relationships.”

Posts Resuming Shortly

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Remain calm and in your seats – posts will resume soon! I’ve recently completed my degree, moved with my family to another state, and started a new job. Once things settle down a bit I’ll be back posting.

Update

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I wanted to let my reader know that my rate of posts will likely remain slow for the next few months as I focus my efforts on finishing a book (as well as projects related to my career – time with family and church are givens). While I cannot put a firm timeline on my book, I hope to be publishing it as an ebook sometime next year. Much of the text of the book is done, I’m in the editing stages but it’s a slow process, especially for one with fastidious tendencies towards writing. Posts from this website will serve as the foundation of the book, which will consist of a collection of essays that are loosely connected with one another but with the hope that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.

I know that’s a cryptic description of the book but it’s too early to say much more about it. I just wanted to let the one person who does read my posts know that finishing my book has taken precedence over writing new posts for this website although I have many thoughts I want to write down so I’ll try to write when I am able.

Meanwhile, feel free to watch and listen to this lovely arrangement of the gospel tune Poor Wayfaring Stranger (lyrics below the video).

LYRICS:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While traveling through, this world of woe.
But there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright land, to which I go.
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam;
I’m just a’goin’ over Jordan
I’m just a’goin’ over home.

I know dark clouds will gather round me
I know my way is rough and steep;
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed no more shall weep
I’m going there to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come;
I’m just a’goin’ over Jordan
I’m just a’goin’ over home.

I’ll soon be free from earthly trials,
my body sleep in the old church yard,
I’ll drop the cross of self denial and enter in my great reward,

I’m going, I’m going there to see my Savior
I’m going there – no more to roam,
I’m just a’goin’ over Jordan.
I’m just a’goin’ over home.

Over Home, over home…..I’m just a’goin’ over home.

A Call to a New Life

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There’s a song at the end of the movie Prince Caspian that always makes me think of what it might have been like leaving our Heavenly Father’s presence to be born into mortal life.

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word
And then that word grew louder and louder
‘Til it was a battle cry

I’ll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

Just because every thing’s changing
Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before
All you can do is try to know
Who your friends are as you head off to the war
Pick a star on the dark horizon
And follow the light

You’ll come back
When it’s over
No need to say goodbye
You’ll come back
When it’s over
No need to say goodbye

Now, we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes

You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye
You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye

We were born onto a battleground. Earth life is not always easy. There is a battle raging between good and evil; we are all called as soldiers. Do we fight for the Lord or do we desert Him and fight for the enemy of all souls?

“I’ll come back\ When you call me\ No need to say goodbye” We are all here on earth until we are called home (hopefully we don’t try to return before we are called, but it happens). Our time in mortality is short. We are from eternity to eternity so a few years here on earth in mortality is less than a blink. That’s one thing I love about the Narnia stories is all of the adventures that Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have are long and real in Narnia but when they return home, it is almost like they never left – I say almost because they still remember their time in Narnia when they return back to their original lives. I think that we will find that that is true about our mortal lives – we will find that we were just gone for a blink of an eye. Being gone for such a short time from the eternal worlds, there is almost no need to say goodbye.

“Just because every thing’s changing\ Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before\ All you can do is try to know\ Who your friends are as you head off to the war\ Pick a star on the dark horizon\ And follow the light.” Life changes so much but we can learn from the past; that’s one of the purposes of the scriptures – the Book of Mormon, the Bible – to help us be able to learn from the past. One thing that is important in life is to know who our friends are, both seen and unseen. If we surround ourselves with good friends, people who will watch our backs in this battle against evil, we will be blessed and protected. Some of our best friends can be our family members. We need to stick together and follow the light of Christ.

“Now, we’re back to the beginning\ It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet\ But just because they can’t feel it too\ Doesn’t mean that you have to forget\ Let your memories grow stronger and stronger\ ‘Til they’re before your eyes\ You’ll come back\ When they call you\ No need to say goodbye.” When we return home, it will all be so familiar; we need to remember what we learned in this life. We will have memories from this life and the previous life, we will have our friends and family there before us, to embrace us in reunions of joy. Above all, we need to remember the words of Christ and build upon His foundation: “And now…remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).

When we all return after the battle of this life, to God who gave us life, I pray we will have a happy reunion knowing that we were true and faithful to all God required of us. Life is a calling, are we magnifying it?

Song: The Call
By: Regina Spektor

Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God

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I have a different post (different from my usual ones) that I’d like some reader feedback on (should you care to respond). I’d particularly like any critiques of my reasoning with this post. However, there is some background you need first. Read this post first to provide the context of my comments: Everyday Philosophy: Epistemological Realism vs. Epistemological Idealism.

On a different site that tends to be populated by rationalist commenters, a discussion of the existence of God occurred; I didn’t hesitate to jump in. Most of the comments were, of course, opposed to the existence of God. In response to someone I wrote the following:

[Two people not being able to have a fully rational discussion about God without both having experienced Him] might appear circular but it certainly is not solipsistic [which the commenter accused me of being]. I am a materialist [actually a monist but I’ll use the word materialist for ease of understanding even though philosophers would be horrified at my inaccuracy]; I believe that the external world exists and can be known (that’s one reason I’m a scientist). [As a side note, Mormons tend to be even stronger materialists [again, this is using “materialism” differently than what is typical] than many other people because we know that spirit is also matter, just finer than what we experience in this world. Matter matters because that’s what there is!] I also was not making an argument [in a formal logic sense with my previous comment, which is not included here because it is not relevant to this post], I was merely setting up the philosophical structure upon which a rational discussion of the existence or non-existence of God might be built.

In any case, let’s substitute pink unicorns [instead of God – the person to whom I was replying wanted to discount my statement because if you put in something fanciful like pink unicorns or fairies, on the surface, by comments then appear to be ludicrous. What I want to show is that my comments are completely rational even with something like pink unicorns put in instead of God].

Person X says, “I have seen a pink unicorn.” Can person Y, who has not seen a pink unicorn, say, “Pink unicorns do not exist”? Yes, person Y can say that but how does person Y know that? Has he omnipresently and omnisciently checked the entire universe and thus ruled out the existence of pink unicorns? No, he has not.

Now let’s say that person Z enters the picture. Person Z says, “I have seen a pink unicorn.” Person X says, “That’s great! The pink unicorn I saw looked like such and such.” Person Z says, “The pink unicorn I saw did not look like that.” Person X replies, “Oh, maybe you saw a different one or maybe you did not really see one.” Person Y chimes in, “You both were hallucinating.” Person Z states, “Maybe, but it was very convincing.” So who’s right now? Person X or person Z? Maybe they are both right or maybe they are both wrong. How can they figure it out? They could try and see the pink unicorn again. If their experiences keep not being congruent then maybe someone is wrong or maybe they really are seeing different unicorns. What if person Z had seen the pink unicorn and it matched what person X saw? Then both person X and person Z can talk about their experiences with each other in a way that persons X and Z cannot with person Y. This is because person Y, having not seen a pink unicorn, does not have the personal experience that is necessary for a fully effective discussion with those who have seen pink unicorns.

So who is right? Is the person who has not seen a pink unicorn right? Do pink unicorns not exist? Maybe but maybe not. Are the two people who have seen (or at least claimed to have seen) pink unicorns right? Maybe, maybe not.

Let’s say that there are now 80 billion people who have not seen a pink unicorn and 1 person who has (or, at least claimed to have seen one). Who is right? Are the 80 billion who have not seen correct? Maybe, maybe not. Is the 1 person wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Can the 1 person have a fully rational discussion with any of the 80 billion who have not seen a pink unicorn? Probably not. Does that make the 1 person irrational? Not necessarily.

I know that’s a lot of non-commital language but that’s the nature of empiricism (used in the broader, experimental sense and not necessarily in the sensory-based sense).

Now, what if the 80 billion people say to the 1 who saw a pink unicorn (again, at least claimed to see), “OK, we’re willing to believe you if you can prove its existence.” The 1 replies, “Good, here is how you do it. Go to the Ural Mountains, hike to the top of Mount Narodnaya, spin around 3.5 times, and you will see a pink unicorn.” Most of the 80 billion say, “You are crazy” and don’t do it. Some say, “Ok, we’ll try it” and then go and do it. They all come back and say, “We have seen a pink unicorn. The 1 was correct.” The rest of the 80 billion say, “There are no pink unicorns. We have done scientific experiments here and never have seen evidence of pink unicorns.” Those who have seen say, “You’re not doing the correct experiments; the 1 told you the process by which you can verify the truth of his claim but what you’ve been doing will not work. This does not mean that his claim is not true, it’s just that some of the methods you are trying are not suited to the question. A discussion of your claims of the non-existence – or, even if you want to remain agnostic about the matter – of pink unicorns and our claims of their existence, at least the existence of one of them, can really never be rational and fully productive until you try.”

That example might be severely flawed (there are some flaws: I could have expanded and added in that the pink unicorn might be invisible so you can’t see it, you have to experience it in other ways; that would lead on to another discussion about the nature of knowing, which is too long for now – philosophers have been debating this for 1000s of years). It might even seem completely fanciful, but I find this an extremely helpful argument [the one explained in the post I linked to at the beginning of this post] because it lays a groundwork of reproducibility. I claim X. I came to know X by doing Y. What does an experimentalist do? The experimentalist goes, “Ok, if I do Y, I can verify whether or not X is true.” So what if the experimentalist does Y and doesn’t find X? Does that rule out X? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean there is less evidence for X? Possibly, but it depends on if the experimentalist did Y correctly and if the experimentalist is honest. It’s also assuming that X is determined by Y, which is not the case when we are talking about God, which does not make a fully rational, experimental approach to this type of knowledge entirely possible. Not finding X does not make X false. Does finding X over and over make it true? Not necessarily but it’s easier to believe something based on X rather than base a categorical negative based on “not X”.

In another post, with someone continuing to ask for my evidence of the existence of God [while at the same time denying that I have any evidence], I responded:

What evidence would it take to convince you? Is there anything I could ever say on [here] that would convince you?

If you are anything like me then the answers to those questions are: Personal experience; no. Personally, I don’t find philosophical arguments for the existence of God helpful (yes, some are clever and thought-provoking but so is science and so are many other things). All are flawed in some manner – including the one I just proposed above. I like real evidence. However, the evidence I have cannot be conveyed to you, it’s based on a hypothesis you have to be willing to test yourself. Would it be nice to email you evidence? Yes, but unfortunately that’s not how it works (I know some of the counter arguments, which I’ve heard a number of times: yes, really convenient, isn’t it? It’s certainly a nice “out” from providing evidence, huh?). Does that mean that I have no evidence, as you say? Not at all. You cannot say I have no evidence just as I can’t say anything about you [I had no idea who the random person I was having an online discourse with actually is].

Could I send you evidence that I love my wife or children? No: pictures or lists of deeds or even their testimonies under sworn oath of “Yes, he loves us” will not work. I might tell them I love them or I might do things for them that they interpret as motivated by love but I could simply be misleading them. So where is the evidence of my love? Is it tied completely to my actions and words? Some people argue that but I find that insufficient because I know that people can be dishonest and that what they do is not always what they believe. I also find it problematic to completely operationalize things like emotions, which love is. Observable and measurable behavior is great (and important evidence) and it certainly supports the idea of my love but it’s not the entire picture; it’s necessary but not sufficient. But I do love my wife and kids. You don’t have to believe me but you also might not believe me even if I could produce evidence of it.

Furthering this discussion is useless [that’s not entirely true but it’s pretty close to the truth]. I would not believe the way I do without personal experience that verifies the truth of it. This is not knowledge I can convey to you but you could know for yourself whether what I know (or, believe I know) is true or whether I’m simply delusional, dishonest, or just misguided (or maybe all three). The scientific method will not work in this case (although some of the philosophical foundations of it apply); in order for you to find out whether or not I really am delusional you have to be willing to try a different method (one that involves faith, prayer, and a lot of work) but one with real results.

I’m not dodging your request for evidence; I just cannot transfer it to you. What I can do is tell you more about how you can verify what I claim I have as evidence yourself by having it yourself. That’s much better than me telling you. Yes, I could provide examples of some of what adds to my evidence but what is the real, strongest evidence is internal and no amount of other evidence that I can provide would work.

I think this is a fairer answer than you’d get from many other people because there’s no “trust me”; it’s all, “You can know for yourself”, you just have to be willing to do the experiments yourself.

So how do other people come to this same knowledge? Here is one other comment I made about the process.

Here is part of the method: “Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay… Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.” (Book of Mormon, Alma 32).

I’ve done that and have that experience. First you have to want to believe. Then you need to act on that belief. You have to have faith first if you want to know. As part of this process you also need to read the scriptures, which include the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and do this:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:3-5).

The method thus far is want to believe. Act on that belief, read the scriptures (including the Book of Mormon), remember the mercies of Jesus Christ, really think about them, then pray to God in the name of Christ with a sincere heart, real intent, with faith in Christ. Then you will feel the Holy Ghost (Spirit) and know that what you have read and what you are doing are true.

It’s simple but you have to be willing to do it just like that. That’s the method, or at least a portion of it. If it came across as preachy, that’s the way it is. I’ve done all that and have the evidence provided by God’s Spirit that it’s true. I’ve seen other things, miracles if you will, but [this site] really is not the forum for sharing those experiences. I’ve seen this process change people’s lives, all for the better. You might counter, so can therapy or X or Y or Z but just because those can result in positive changes doesn’t mean personal experiences with God are not real.

There are other experiments that can be done but the process I wrote is the start and then you can go from there. You might ask, where’s the knowledge – that all seems like belief. That’s the start. Our traditional sensory experience is not sufficient for knowledge. Jesus walked and talked with people, people saw Him perform miracles, people heard Him say He was the Son of God but they did not believe him. Some did but most didn’t. Hard, sensory evidence is never enough without the feelings and thoughts and witness of God’s Spirit (the Holy Ghost). That is the primary evidence; sensory evidence (which is real too) is secondary. I know people of other religions and faiths would tell you different ways that led to their beliefs/knowledge and many claim that because I am a Mormon that I’m delusional but we’re not apologetic for our teachings. That’s the way it is. Yes, it’s audacious and bold but it’s not something that you or anyone else has to take my word for. I outlined a method by which you can verify the veracity of my words. You can take it or leave it; most leave it. But there it is.

Okay, without having all the background to my comments (but with the background from The Eternal Universe post), where are the flaws?  Sorry, that’s not meant as a challenge (i.e., “try and find flaws if you can!”), I just haven’t had the opportunity to really think this through all the way and I’d like to hone my approach to the issue.

The Beast in the Shadow

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This post is something I wrote for a political blog I (infrequently) write. I am posting it here with only slight edits because of the our recent holiday – Thanksgiving – and the juxtaposition with the consumerism of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the “holiday shopping.” Today in our secular world, holy-days are little more than vacations from work. While family and giving are generally important, there is a huge focus on money and consumerism and other worldly things. Now, this is not necessarily bad but when our main focus becomes money and stuff, we have lost sight of what really is important, even if that money and stuff ostensibly is for our family. And so, here is my post. It is considerably more economic and political than typical posts on this blog but I feel it is am important topic; additionally, I have kept it as neutral politically and economically as possible. This post has influences from Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion, in which Nibley is very critical of consumerism.

I have very mixed feelings about Black Friday. On one hand I enjoy finding good deals on things. When I can purchase items for significantly less than their actual retail value, I always have a feeling of satisfaction. While I like to buy frivolous things sometimes, I also enjoy finding deals on everyday items – toothpaste, toilet paper, diapers, and so forth. I’m also a believer in many of the tenets of capitalism and consumerism, although I certainly don’t canonize those beliefs. I save money but I also believe that money is more useful when it is spent. Spending money directly on services or goods benefits both buyer and seller. On a macro level, money has to be spent to grow an economy. The old mantra of business – you have to spend money to make money – is true (generally and within the realm of legitimate business operations; there are those who illegally {or even legally} prey on others and unethically profit with little or no effort on their part).

I enjoy finding deals on Black Friday. I also don’t mind doing my part to help businesses become profitable and to stimulate the economy in my own little way; after all, businesses employ people and provide goods and services. All savings without any spending does not help the broader economy. Saving money for retirement, unexpected expenses, expected expenses, and so forth is necessary but saving all your money and spending only the bare minimum might not be in the best interest of the broader economy. That is, unless you do not make enough money to afford any of your wants beyond your basic needs. The problem is that so many of us have our needs and wants mixed up.

Image by hradcanska: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hradcanska/2361030629/

Then there is the other part of me that dislikes the barely suppressed or outright greed that is rampant on Black Friday. Black Friday is the paragon of consumerism, it is when many people openly and gaudily worship at the altars of Mammon by selling their messes of pottage for trinkets and trivialities. Occasionally in the pursuit of such idle pleasures and worldly possessions, a streak of egocentrism with apathy and violence towards the Other is revealed. How abhorrent that some people are so callous that their desire to consume results in the extinguishment of a human life! Yet, all is not gloomy. I witnessed kindness while shopping – people sharing a deal or helping others. Even those who were not Other-focused were patient and civil. The extremes just capture our attention. While violence that is performed by the hands (or feet) of the worshipers of Mammon is relatively rare, it reveals a dark and vicious beast lurking in the shadows of consumerism.

Another disconcerting aspect of Black Friday and the holiday season in general is the commercialization of it. Everything is about spending money and buying the fanciest toys for children, friends, family, and loved ones. Many people go into significant debt during this time of the year. According to one article, “One survey suggests that while 30% of Americans pay off Christmas debt within three months of Christmas, another 25% carry it for over a year” (Source). 25% are paying off Christmas debt until the following Christmas! And some people wonder why the U.S. government has a spending problem. How can we expect fiscal responsibility from Congress when we are not a fiscally-sound people? This whole holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day has become one big spending spree. Much of the original meanings of those holidays has been lost to the constant stream of consumerism (the recent mortgage crisis is also evidence of this).

With all the focus on consuming, it’s no wonder our country also faces an obesity epidemic. The two – irresponsible spending and eating – go hand in hand. We are a country of extremes and impulsivity. The shadow beast of consumerism is greed. It has claws of irresponsibility and fangs of self-centeredness. It preys upon all who stand in its way; in the end, the beast eventually turns on its owner and consumes him. We need to have moderation and responsibility of our personal habits if we hope to tame or slay this beast. We also have to gain control over our personal lives and habits if we expect to have a more fiscally-responsible government. We cannot afford to live beyond our means.

While it is appropriate to go into debt to purchase a house or a modest (and needed) car or to finance an education, we should not go into debt for other reasons. Elder Wirthlin cautioned against going into debt in the April 2004 General Conference:

“I would like to talk about our heavenly debts and earthly debts. The Gospels record that nearly everywhere the Savior went, He was surrounded by multitudes of people. Some hoped that He would heal them; others came to hear Him speak. Others came for practical advice. Toward the end of His mortal ministry, some came to mock and ridicule Him and to clamor for His crucifixion.

“One day a man approached the Savior and asked Him to intervene in a family dispute. ‘Master, speak to my brother,’ he pleaded, ‘that he divide the inheritance with me.’

“The Savior refused to take sides on this issue, but He did teach an important lesson. ‘Beware of covetousness,’ He told him, ‘for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’1

“Brothers and sisters, beware of covetousness. It is one of the great afflictions of these latter days. It creates greed and resentment. Often it leads to bondage, heartbreak, and crushing, grinding debt.

“The number of marriages that have been shattered over money issues is staggering. The amount of heartbreak is great. The stress that comes from worry over money has burdened families, caused sickness, depression, and even premature death.”

Elder Wirthlin also quoted Pres. Heber J. Grant: “From my earliest recollections, from the days of Brigham Young until now, I have listened to men standing in the pulpit … urging the people not to run into debt; and I believe that the great majority of all our troubles today is caused through the failure to carry out that counsel.”

Finances strain most people. We shouldn’t allow poor decisions to result in severe strain. To avoid debt, Elder Wirthlin suggested these strategies:

  1. Pay your tithing [I will not discuss this here but this is an absolute must!]
  2. Spend less than you earn
  3. Learn to save
  4. Honor your financial obligations
  5. Teach you children to follow your example

I will not discuss these more right now, Elder Wirthlin covered them well in his talk. I just want to add that we should not only avoid debt but we should also avoid what usually causes debt – greed and pride. I know there are extenuating circumstances – loss of a job, emergencies, and tragedies – but those are more rare than not. When we love money, we worship it instead of God. We should not give home to the shadow beast of greed.

If you are struggling with debt, the Church has many resources available to help you work your way out.

The Pew Religious Knowledge Survey: How Did Mormons Do?

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A Religious Knowledge Survey was recently conducted by the Pew Research Center of 3,412 Americans. The full report can be read here (all of the survey questions are in the Appendix of that report). Out of 32 questions, the average number correct by all people was 16, so 50%. You might view that as positive or negative, depending on your expectations. What subgroups performed the best? Athiests/agnostics (mean = 20.9), Jews (mean = 20.5), and Mormons (mean = 20.3). Rounding out the bottom of the groups are Hispanic Catholics (mean = 11.6).

Here’s a general overview (not just Mormons):

Now on to how Mormons did. I thought this section of the report was interesting:

“27% of Jews, 22% of atheists and agnostics, and 20% of Mormons score in the top 10% of all respondents in overall number of correct answers to religious knowledge questions, getting at least 26 questions right. As will be discussed in detail later in this report, these groups display greater religious knowledge even when education and other factors are held constant. Mormons outperform Jews as well as atheists and agnostics on questions about the Bible but do not perform as well as the other two groups on questions having to do with world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.”

So, 20% of Mormons in the survey scored at or above the 90th %ile, which is an encouraging result.

Who knew their Bible the best out of all groups? It was…Mormons. I bet that might surprise a lot of other Christians.

Mormons also had the highest knowledge of general Christianity (Catholicism & Protestantism plus other religious figures), getting nearly 8/12 questions correct on average.

About Judaism, Jews had the highest average (5/7) with Mormons a close second (4.8/7). However, it should be noted that the distribution was skewed: “Mormons also do well on these questions (4.8 correct on average), though many more Jews than Mormons get all seven questions right (29% among Jews, 6% among Mormons).”

Mormons also knew their own religion the best with and average of 2.7/3 correct answers. Atheists and agnostics came in second with 2.1/3 on average correct.

Outside of Christianity, Mormons came in 3rd for knowledge of world religions with 5.6/11 correct on average. For knowledge of religion’s role in public life, Atheists/agnostics had an average of 2.8/4 correct and Mormons were tied for third (with Evangelicals) with 2.3/4.

It goes on; the report is quite fascinating (although light on the statistics, which some people find comforting, others of us, not so much).

Those who were more educated tended to do better on the quiz but even controlling for education and other demographic factors, atheists/agnostics, Jews, and Mormons still did the best on the survey.

One issue I saw with the interview questions was what was asked it the respondent said he or she was Mormon: “Which of the following Mormon churches, if any, do you identify with most closely? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ, or some other church?”

Ignoring the incorrect usage of referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Mormon Church, it is even more incorrect to refer to any of the splintered groups as Mormon. That’s sort of like lumping Methodists and Catholics together because after all, Methodists (and all other Protestant religions) are an offshoot of Catholicism. So no, those other “Mormon churches” are not “Mormon churches.” That’s not just being pedantic, it’s being accurate.

In any case, after looking over the 32 questions, there was one I might have missed (although it was multiple choice so even a completely random guess would result in a 20% chance of getting it right). The question was about what religion Maimonides was. I am familiar with the name but frankly have never studied about him. Two of the five choices are obvious rule-outs (for me), which leaves three choices. Who was he? Here’s the answer.

How did I do on the shortened 15 question quiz online? I bet you are dying to know.

You can take the quiz here.

Overall, those who identified themselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did very well on the survey. They did better than any other religious group. Being Jewish is not necessarily a religious thing; for many Jewish Americans (and elsewhere) it is a cultural thing. It’s almost like being Catholic in a Latin American country or in Italy, it’s cultural more than religious for most people. Mormons did well but there certainly is room for improvement.

Vacation

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I am visiting the land of the honey bee and will probably not write many posts for a couple weeks. In the mean time take some time to read some of my older posts you might have missed. Or, if you are the one person who might have avidly read all my posts, please read some again.