Monday, December 13, 2010

Gender Stereotypes

"It's funny how we laugh at "women should be in the kitchen" jokes and then become judgmental when women really do think they have to be in a metaphorical kitchen to be worth anything."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Science, Morality, and Theistic Values

Can science answer moral questions?

Yes and no. Moral questions are partially based on knowledge of facts, which can be discovered through scientific observation, reasoning, and experimentation. However, all moral questions depend on one decision: what is most important? At the most fundamental level, science can't tell us whether preventing suffering, spreading knowledge, or forming relationships are more important than each other or any other fundamental value.

Once you've chosen what is most important to you, then science is one important way to decide how to reach that goal. If close relationships are the most important to you, then you can become a social scientist and study which relationships are the closest, how to encourage them, etc. Science can focus your values: you may find that marriage influences happiness more than any other relationship, and since you value happiness, you go into marriage counseling.

It is my belief that God is the source of all good values. He gives us a conscience so that we will be able to choose values that are consistent with His. The more consistent our chosen values are with His, the better our existence will be after death, in every conceivable way.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ exemplified the two most important values: love for God (which includes love for goodness in every form, since God embodies all good values), and love for fellow humans (which includes honesty, compassion, etc.). In Jesus, these two values formed an unbreakable foundation for all other, lesser values.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Mormon Doctrine of Agency

Using different interpretations of certain biblical verses, most of Christianity has been fairly confused as to the role of choices in salvation. Choice is usually associated with works, and works are usually seen as the opposite of grace. Those who emphasize grace usually de-emphasize works and choices.

The revelations of God to the Latter-day Saints, mostly through Joseph Smith, make this doctrine much clearer. In essence, we are saved by choosing the love and grace of Jesus Christ, which leads to the desire to do good works. Because our good works will never be enough to qualify for salvation on our own, the grace of Jesus Christ will make up the difference. Choosing the grace of Jesus Christ takes work, but that work is only useful as long as it is leading to Him.

Most Mormons understand this. However, this ability to choose Jesus Christ or reject Him is sometimes overextended to an unequivocal belief in absolute free will. Here is what the Book of Mormon says about free will, or "agency:" "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Ne. 2:27).

This scripture specifies that all people are free to choose Jesus Christ or not. However, this freedom is "according to the flesh." What does that mean?

First of all, we can all think of times when we are hungry, stressed, sleep-deprived, or otherwise limited. We may become withdrawn, thoughtless, or irritable. In these times, our agency is limited in two ways. First, it is harder to be kind, thoughtful, controlled, or disciplined. Second of all, it may sometimes be impossible to do those same things.

This never relieves us of responsibility to those we may have harmed. Instead, it gives us a responsibility to increase our agency by living the gospel (Allen Bergin said this once). The Lord once told someone that He commanded them to sell their farm so that they would not be tempted above that which we can bear. Likewise, He has commanded all of us to "retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary" (D&C 88:124).

The same is true of mental illnesses. The Lord will judge us according to our weakness, but we have the responsibility to do all we can to manage it wisely.

And where does the power and motivation come to increase our agency through wisdom? It comes from our love for Jesus Christ. "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). We need Him. As Qui-Gon Jinn said, our focus determines our reality. As President David O. McKay said, what we think of Christ will determine who we are.

If we turn our eyes to the tree of life, which is the love of God as manifested in the condescension of Christ, then we will have the power to hold to the iron rod. We will have greater emotional and spiritual freedom to serve, to work, and to learn.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Islam: A Wise and Peaceful Religion

When Islam came into being around 600 AD, it revolutionized the Middle East for several centuries. We don't hear about it in school, because American "World History" is mostly European history. However, during the European dark ages, the Middle East was thriving in education and technology. They had a large amount of religious freedom, something that can't be said for Europe at that time. About the same time as the Renaissance and Reformation in Europe, the Middle East started to decline. Because of that decline, as well as the hostile and predatory colonization of the Middle East by European powers, the positive effects that Islam originally had were lost. They lost their unity, their education, their supremacy.

A few turn to bitterness--the terrorists and warlords. Many turn to their religion, trying to reclaim the goodness and wisdom that Islam meant all those centuries ago. However, most of them are just struggling to survive.

My point is that the source of Middle Eastern terrorism is NOT Islam. It is bitterness, poverty, and ignorance. And the good people in those countries know it. They do everything they can to get their children educated, to develop their countries, and to fight violence.

I once heard a Jordanian prince speak at my school. He spoke English with virtually no accent, and he was working to get an education--a graduate degree in Public Health, actually.

I've also come to admire the Queen of Jordan. She has thousands of fans on Facebook and over a million followers on Twitter, because she devotes countless hours to serving people, to reducing the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, to improving education, etc.

I've met several Middle Easterners who were sent by their parents to a private Christian university, largely because they wanted a school with good values and morals, a place where their kids wouldn't waste their entire lives on alcohol, drugs, sex, or other potential addictions.

Throughout the Middle East, education and human rights are slowly improving. If you'd like a good example of how Islam should be separated from traditions of human rights violations, read this 1996 New York Times article: "Blame Men, Not Allah, Islamic Feminists Say".

(You may need a free New York Times account to be able to read it. I'm not sure.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Savior and the Scriptures

"And in them [the scriptures] shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation" (1 Ne. 13:36).

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation..." (Helaman 5:12).

"Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life. Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me" (3 Ne. 15:10).

Every scripture testifies of Jesus Christ in truth and holiness. Since salvation comes in and through Him, we must take every opportunity we can to get to know Him. One of the best ways is to read what He said and caused to be written, every single day.

The Lord is our Savior. A testimony grows--it is different from factual or memorized knowledge. It must be nurtured and cared for, through prayer, study, and service.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Jesus Christ is the best friend anyone could ever have. You can't always count on him to do what you want, but you can always count on him to do what you need.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

It Shouldn't Make Sense!

Sometimes we run into commandments or historical events that don't make sense in light of our gospel knowledge. We think, why would God ever have allowed polygamy? Commanded the Israelites to massacre another group of people? Allowed animal sacrifice? Told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

Today I was doing math preparation for the GRE test, and I ran into a similar problem. Skip this paragraph if you're not into math. It simply bothered me that the Addition Rule in probability worked the same way for both independent events and mutually exclusive events. P(E and F) is 0 for mutually exclusive events, but not for independent events. So, if E and F both have a probability of .25, the probability of at least one happening is actually HIGHER if they are mutually exclusive. (It's .5 for mutually exclusive and .4375 for independent events.) This bothered me until I realized that mutually exclusive events have a cap on their sum possibility. If E and F are mutually exclusive, than P(E) + P(F) is less than or equal to 1. This is not true if E and F are independent events.

In other words, there were extenuating circumstances. There was another law, another rule, another principle, at play, that I couldn't understand at first. It took me several minutes of thought to realize why it could make sense.

The same thing happens sometimes with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God will do or say something that we think is morally wrong, self-contradictory, and confusing. But there is always, always an explanation. There is always a reason. There may be another law at work that we don't understand. There may be another principle that we haven't been told about.

The best scriptural example is when Nephi explains why God told the Israelites to utterly destroy a few other cultures in the Old Testament. Nephi told his brethren, "Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it" (1 Ne. 17:35). In other words, God only commanded the Israelites to destroy peoples who were totally evil. I think of Molech-worship in particular, in which parents sacrificed their infants to an idol in an open flame.

Another scriptural example is when the Spirit told Nephi to kill Laban--which, at first, seems to contradict the Ten Commandments. But under the law of Moses, God had a stipulation that seems to be written especially for Nephi (Ex 21:12-13). There was another law at work that specified Nephi's innocence--and God provided a place to which Nephi could flee, as promised.

Conclusion: Whatever God commands is right--if it's really from God. According to the writings of Joseph Smith, our best certainty is in the majority of the Twelve and the records of the Church. As we grow in obedience, sincerity, faith, and love, we will be better able to determine good from evil, or, in other words, we will be more able to distinguish between that which testifies of Christ and that which does not.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Political Debate Quote

I wanted to quote a brilliant rant on Facebook that I thought needed to be preserved a little bit better. Here it is:

"I disagree with Obama on some things and I disagreed with Bush on a lot of things. I don't think agreeing with one party or another is necessarily an intelligent thing to do. Seeing as most extremists are equally unreasonable, in this case, left or right wing.

"That's not why I wanted to comment though. My understanding of the constitution is that we have the freedom of speech. Most people believe that means they can say whatever they want whenever they want however they want. That wasn't its original purpose though. It's original purpose was to allow exactly what Monie just did: to question our leaders... Though I will admit that my opinion is not the same as Monie's. But that doesn't mean that she's being untruthful or ignorant. It means that when she looked at the facts, she came to a different conclusion than I did. And there really isn't anything wrong with that...

"I do want to say one thing in general though. This Republican vs. Democrat dichotomy is leading into a corrupt way of doing government. Each party in it's own way wants to take away rights, and completely disregard the constitution and we NEED to recognize that. Look at policies that already exist. We cannot just keep electing people because our party told us to... which by the way is exactly what happens because we the "people" have no say in who the nominees are. We need to stop backing this nonsense and start thinking about each individual topic instead of letting a corrupt group of people tell you what you think.

"I know that's harsh. But neither of your arguments actually said anything useful. It honestly sounded like two gangs fighting over nothing. Our government should mean more than that. We should be fighting the issues, not the parties. We should be discussing whether or not government health care is good or bad. We should be discussing something that never gets discussed anymore: does the government even have the right to do anything it's been doing anymore? Should the federal government have the right to define marriage at all? Should the federal government own more than 50% of any given state's land? Should the federal government have any say in issues like abortions and insurance? Discuss the issues. Because honestly, we are beginning to become a nation of people who whine about our government, but at the same time, expect them to take on our responsibilities. And ranting about a person doesn't change it. Like Xane said, Obama and Bush do have a lot in common. The scariest in my opinion is the obvious act of ignoring the debt and hoping it goes away.

"And if you guys are so scared the government is corrupt and you look to the president for accusation, then you're looking in the wrong place. You should be looking at the Supreme Court. The place we have the least power over, has more power than than the president or Congress. That's a little scary to me.

"I'm sorry that sounded so mean, but I firmly believe that once we reduce the power of the political parties and the government and, yes, embrace the power of God, only then can we honestly be free."
--Nikki D.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is a Testimony?

Sometimes as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we create a false dichotomy between having a testimony and not having one.

In reality, the model provided by Alma 32 and Ether 3 gives a more gradual process of growth in belief and testimony. Alma 32 illustrates the following steps:

1. Desire to believe/willingness to try living the Gospel
2. Knowledge that the Gospel is a good thing/knowledge that it feels right.
3. Enduring to the end on faith which leads to partaking of the love of God freely.

Ether 3 shows the transition from a simple testimony that the Gospel is good to an absolutely certain knowledge of Jesus Christ. While we just know that the Gospel is a good thing, we must live the Gospel on faith that Jesus is who He says He is. Eventually, however, like the brother of Jared, we can know certainly that it is all true.

When we say that we know that Gospel is true, we do, but we still live it on faith, because we do not know God personally, face to face. This is the kind of certain knowledge that is the "great and last promise" of the Doctrine and Covenants. Since knowledge of God is the greatest gift we can receive, we should diligently pray to receive a greater--eventually a certain--knowledge of Him through the Holy Ghost, and, someday, in person.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jesus Christ is the Son of God: Mormon Messages

I testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I know that the greatest happiness comes in and through Him. Knowledge of His character is the greatest blessing we can receive. The greatest joy is to share that knowledge with our families.

Seven Principles for Highly Effective Economies

Here are some ideas for strengthening the economy.

First principle: the real goal of the economy is always quality of living. Unemployment rates, productivity measures, wages, goods, and services are all aimed at improving quality of life. The value of money is always measured by how much quality of life it can buy you. So, whenever the government increases the money supply without increasing the goods and services that are available, the money-to-quality-of-life ratio increases, and the value of money decreases.

Second principle: work is the staple of the economy. Work produces everything that improves our quality of life. If work ceases, then the value of money drops. If productivity decreases, then the value of money will as well.

Third principle: the economy is and must be dynamic. It is ever changing. Government bail outs are probably a bad idea, because they slow down that change. As the population size changes, as immigrants move in, as new products, services, and technologies are developed, new businesses and operations will grow and old ones will die off.

Fourth principle: all economic transactions should, ideally, maximize the overall improvement of the quality of life. This happens naturally, because people will not usually agree to a transaction that does not benefit them. Dishonesty slows down and drains the economy because only one party benefits from the transaction, and sometimes their increase of quality of life is less than the harm they caused to somebody else, resulting in an overall drop. Unnecessary debt decreases quality of life, as do unnecessary government spending, wasteful personal spending, and so on.

Fifth principle: poorer people benefit more from the same amount of money rich people do. This does not mean that the government should always intervene. It does mean that richer people funding non-profit organizations, paying for the education of those who are less fortunate, and helping those who cannot help themselves is an economically intelligent decision for the group as a whole. According to the Bible and the revelations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this will also allow those who have more than they need to draw closer to God and avoid hell.

Sixth principle: reasonable volunteer work makes everyone happy. When people have more time than they need, using that extra time to work to benefit others may result in a higher overall quality of living, since the poor generally benefit more from the same goods and services than the rich do, since the rich are already comfortable and have their needs met.

Seventh principle: love is more valuable than anything that money can buy. Therefore, a mother staying home to nurture her children more, or a father turning down a lucrative job that would take him away from his family, are often wiser decisions that will result in a higher quality of life for the family. A lower standard of living, in some cases, can lead to a higher quality of life.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Responsibility and Liberty

Does a Statue of Responsibility impose values on others? Yes. But only values that are necessary for society to function.

Democracy is designed to encourage freedom of religion, speech, belief, and life goals. However, this freedom depends on honesty. It depends on trust. It depends on us respecting each others' rights. Compassion alone does not protect others' rights. We must fulfill our duties: to our families, to our communities, to our country.

Liberty does not, and cannot, mean freedom from the consequences of our actions! If you steal or kill, you are punished. If you are intimate with someone, the girl can get pregnant. If you have children, you have a deep responsibility to take care of them.

Every action has natural consequences. Every choice has responsibilities. It's even true in physics and biology! You reap what you sow. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

If America continues its current route of avoiding responsibility in favor of freedom from consequences, then it will fall apart as surely as the Soviet Union did. We will take out debts with no intention of repaying them. We will have children with no intention of raising them. We will get jobs with no intention of producing the promised goods or services with good quality.

Hence, responsibility is the necessary counterpart for liberty, or the people of the United States of America will never achieve the unity envisioned by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and, I believe, by God.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Selflessness out of Discipline or Selflessness out of Love

Most people who are selfless have a mix of two methods for their selflessness: discipline motivated by an abstract ethical code and love motivated by relationships, particularly a relationship with Christ.

Selflessness is never truly absolute. Why? Because we must obtain for ourselves power, spiritual gifts, and knowledge which we can use for others. It also also right to rejoice, rest, and play. Some of the greatest acts of love consist of simple play.

However, most of our lives and most of our times will be devoted to serving other people if we love God. Therefore, it is useful to inspect where our motivation for this altruism can come from.

The more we are motivated by discipline stemming from an abstract to-do list, set of expectations, or commandments, the quicker we will become weary. Psychologists are researching a new theory called "ego depletion," which states that discipline drains a person's energy and that people only have so much capacity for discipline. This theory at least partially accounts for burning out, cycles of addiction, and general low energy. Of course, service from discipline is better than nothing. However, it is often typified by high stress, either arrogance or discouragement, and perfectionism.

Service from love is typified by joy, satisfaction, and happiness. It also involves more meaningful prayer, greater sincerity, and less self-focus. If a person serves out of love, others will feel it. When others reject their love, they are hurt and disappointed, but they don't feel worthless or discouraged. They keep on trying. I believe that is how the Savior feels about us.

Discipline has its place. It must have taken all the love and all the discipline the Savior possessed to keep going through the pains of hell (D&C 19:15-19). Because He had no lack of love, discipline took its proper place as He kept His vision and His determination.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

The traditional King James Version of these two verses is extreme and has hurt and confused many peoples' understanding of the general role of women:

"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Joseph Smith changes the word "speak," in both cases, to "rule," in the Joseph Smith Translation/Inspired Version of the Bible. Also, the Greek word translated as "silence" can also be translated "tranquility" or "peacefulness," according to my Greek lexicon. According to the footnote, the Greek word translated "obedience" should be translated "submissiveness." Finally, my personal interpretation of the word "learn," based on context, is that is applies to Church government--meaning that if the Bishop's wife disagrees with Church or Ward policy, or, for that matter, if any spouse has ideas, counsel, encouragement, or concerns about the way their husband or wife is performing their calling, they should discuss it with their spouse in private.

So, here's my personal (not doctrinal) interpretation of that scripture, with the changes in italics:
"Let your women keep the peace in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to rule; but they are commanded to be submissive, as also saith the law. And if they will learn (or change, understand) any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to rule in the church" (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Note that this scripture repeatedly uses the phrase "in the church." Not once does it make a comment about the differing roles of father and mother in a family setting. It seems clear to me that, in the formal organization of the Church, men should and will be more prominent than women--not more important, but more prominent. (Since it is Church doctrine that the simplest Sunday School teacher or nursery leader is just as important as the President of the Church, just with a different role, "for without the feet how shall the head be able to stand?) However, in the patriarchal order of the family, husband and wife have equal authority and power. If one gets a revelation concerning the family, the other has the right and responsibility to know whether it is a true revelation.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I was just thinking about the scripture "And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more" (D&C 28:19).

First of all, that's both a difficult commandment to keep and a blessing that certainly attracts the eye of anyone who either (a) has trouble supporting themselves, (b) wants money for its own sake, or (c) wants to use money, directly or to free up personal time for service, for the benefit of others.

It just occurred to me that this promise could apply to blessings of talents, spiritual gifts, or Christlike virtues. If we, by the grace of Christ, develop a new ability, we can respond in several ways. If we respond with gratitude to these blessings, then we will continue to receive until we have received a hundred times what we started with and beyond. If we respond with pride, thinking that our virtues lend us some sort of superiority or independence from God, then we will fall.

Gratitude leads to humility. We are reminded that although we may have gained something through effort, it was through a combination of effort and grace. Merit and entitlement have no place in our growth from grace to grace (D&C 93).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Business is business

In my Doctrine and Covenants class, Brother Perkins always says that "when you talk about business, there's no spirit, so let's have a prayer," right before the opening prayer. Today it occurred to me that, as one progresses, it's easy to forget that you're helping people for them, and your focus can get too much on the process, the organization, the time management of it all. In other words, one principle of time management is to remember that you're managing your time for the people you're serving, and that they're more important than your system. In Third Nephi, Jesus stayed a little longer with the Nephites because his "bowels are filled with compassion" for them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sleep, Nature, and Random Thoughts

I wonder how much of an effect proper sleeping habits have. And why is it that it's hard to remember sometimes to go to bed on time? I'm not sure.

I love nature. There's something beautiful and even spiritual about just looking out over what God created.

I wonder what excitement does to a person... what role can it play in motivation?

Monday, March 1, 2010


It seems to me that desires and focus may be the same thing, or at least very closely tied. When we focus or dwell on something, our desire for it increases. I've found that one of the best ways to control my desires is to think about what I want to want.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


One of the many things to be organized into my life is cleanliness. I've done pretty well at this for the last couple of weeks.

If you want to have the full portion of the Holy Ghost, cleanliness of home and body, as well as of spirit, need to be incorporated into your life whenever possible. If it's truly impossible or unwise, given other needs and priorities, then God will understand; but under no condition will we receive the full portion of the Spirit if we do less than perfect obedience. (That, of course, is not true of perfect skill and knowledge.) Fortunately for us, God has a portion of the Spirit for those who try but fall short and cry unto Him in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and grace.

Both overcoming sins of comission and overcoming sins of omission require some skills. Avoiding sins of comission requires learning to avoid tempting situations. Avoiding sins of omission requires planning, prioritization, and righteous desires. "And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works" (Alma 7:24). "Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action" (Preach My Gospel, Ch. 8).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Organization and Journaling Research

Well, I'm in a group that's studying if electronic journaling affects our health. So, I'm going to be publishing to my blog every day for the next two weeks.

I've been thinking very much about organization. I want to be able to actually accomplish things--to do some good in this world. Here are a few ideas from Preach My Gospel:
1. Keep both quantitative (numerical, summarizing, averages) and qualitative (detailed, personal, verbose) records of your goals and your efforts to reach those goals.
2. "Goals reflect the desires of our hearts and our vision of what we can accomplish."
3. Planning and organization take time and energy.
4. "Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action."

And a quote:
“I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.” --– Elder M. Russell Ballard, Oct. 18, 1981

Friday, February 12, 2010

Touched By An Angel With Love

I love this poem. It makes me think of Nikki.

Touched By An Angel With Love
by Meena.S.K
There is nothing else I cherish more in my life
then have you helping me through my strife
in my moments of despair you hear my cry
kiss my tears away and to make me smile you try

You are always near when the tide turns rough
you make situations sound easy when they are tough
you understand my needs even before I speak
you point out my strength when I fall down weak

When I shut you out and sink into my darkness
tenderly you open the door and fill me with happiness
when I fly into a rage and refuse to be calm
you soothe me cradling me in your arms

At times I say leave me alone and go away
you hug me and whisper from you I will never stray
there are times with my words I have hurt you
you forgive and forget and say I love you

When I am sick and feeling very down
you take away my pain and my frown
everything you do and say makes me smile
listening to your voice I forget my tiring miles

You care for me so much you never fail to show
my heart to you it belongs I hope you know
you are the one God sent to me from above
I'm lucky to be touched by an angel with love