Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Words from the Father

One of the challenges of reading the gospels is constructing a single coherent picture of Jesus Christ's mortal ministry from four complementary (and occasionally competing) sources. Take, for instance, the baptism of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give different accounts with slightly different details. But even if you reconcile those three versions (and the JST alterations of them), you are still missing an important source on the baptism of Christ.

I've always known that 2 Nephi 31 provides commentary on the event, but just recently I realized that it also contains an account of the event itself--with material missing from the Bible. Here's one version of how those four sources might be harmonized if you were to construct a single view of Christ's baptism (JST in bold):

1 Then, when all the people were baptized, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee to Jordan, to be baptized of John.

2 But John refused him, saying, “I have need to be baptized of you; why do you come to me?”

3 Jesus, answering, said unto him, “Suffer me to be baptized of you, for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness.”

4 Then John suffered him and went down into the water and baptized him.

5 Jesus, when he was baptized, went up praying straightway out of the water, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are my beloved Son; I am well pleased with you.”

6 Then those that were present saw the Spirit of God descending in a bodily shape like a dove and resting upon Jesus, and the heavens were opened unto him.

7 And they heard a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. Hear him.”

8 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes: “He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like nto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.”

9 “After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.”

10 And again there came a voice from the Father, saying “Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Sneak Peek at the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon

Curious about what's in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon? Me too. But I'm fairly confident I now know a little bit more about one of the bits that was reserved until the last days.

In Ether, we read of Jared--the son of King Omer--and his unnamed daughter, who collectively plot to steal the kingdom. Jared's daughter, who "was exceedingly fair" and knew it, reminded her father of "an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory" and proposed that "my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king" (Ether 8:9-10). It's your standard tale of corruption, seduction, and patricide--way more exciting than anything you'll get in those cheap murder mystery novels. At any rate, Akish agrees to meet Jared's dowry price and calls on his family and friends for help, and "Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain, who was a murderer from the beginning" (8:15).

Moroni--who is abridging Ether's story--gives an overview of these wicked deeds but doesn't discuss the rationale behind them or the actual oaths made by the plotters. This is, in part, because earlier prophets who read the account commanded that this information be withheld. When Alma gave the plates of Ether to his son Helaman, he commanded him "that ye retain all their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed" (Alma 37:27). Helaman kept a lid on it, but the details of Jared's wickedness were imitated nonetheless by Gadianton and his band: "Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton from the records which were delivered unto Helaman; but behold, they were put into the heart of Gadianton by that same being who did entire our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit--yea, that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known unto the world" (Helaman 6:26-27). There are two important points in this passage from Mormon: 1) Knowledge of the secret combinations sealed up in the Book of Mormon is still available to those who wish to purse wickedness. 2) The secret combinations are closely linked to Cain, because of his iconic status as the first murderer.

Now--with that in mind, I want to introduce you to some of what I learned while reading the newly translated Gospel of Judas. For those of you who missed the media frenzy that marked its introduction a few years back, the gospel is part of the Nag Hammadi libary (3rd and 4th century texts presenting an alternative view of Christianity that were condemned as heresies at the Council of Nicea) and claims that Judas Iscariot was the only true disciple of Christ. The reasoning of the gospel goes something like this: 1) All matter is evil and prevents our spirits from acquiring true wisdom; wisdom, or sophia, is the god/dess that the Gnostic authors of the gospel worship. 2) Jesus Christ came to show us the way to true wisdom, to achieve union with sophia. 3) As part of that process, he had to be "freed" of his mortal body. 4) Because Judas was the only disciple who understood Christ's true message and purpose, he delivered Christ for crucifixion in order to help him return to sophia. I should note that not all of the Nag Hammadi library is not quite so radical and that there are valuable insights to be gained from several of the other books, especially the Gospel of Thomas (perhaps more on that later).

But to return to the business at hand. The Gospel of Judas is particularly interesting with respect to the secret combinations of the Book of Mormon because it was a text apparently preserved and revered by a group known as the Cainites. Bart Ehrman explains that

"The group was named after Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve. Cain is notorious in the annals of biblical history for being the first fratricide. He was jealous of his younger brother Abel, who was especially beloved of God, and so Cain murdered him. Why would the Cainites choose him, of all people, as a hero of their faith? It is because they believed that the God of the Old Testament was not the true God to be worshiped, but was the ignorant creator of this world who needed to be escaped [remember--this creation, with all of its materiality, is what the Gospel of Judas claims Jesus wanted to escape]. And so, all the figures in Jewish and Christian history who stood against God--Cain, the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, and eventually Judas Iscariot--were the ones who had seen the truth and understood the secrets necessary for salvation.
According to Irenaeus, the Cainites took their opposition to the Old Testament god to an ethical extreme. Anything that God commanded, they opposed, and anything that God opposed, they supported. If God says to keep the Sabbath, not to eat pork, and not to commit adultery--then the way to show your freedom from God was to ignore the Sabbath, eat pork, and commit adultery!" (GoJ 89-90).

I believe that the Cainites give us some insight into the corrupt theology behind the actions of Akish and the Gadiantons. Cain is condemned because "he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God" and "loved Satan more than God"; the Cainites reject the counsel of Yahweh and loved sophia more than God (Moses 5:25, 28). Sophia is just a substitute for Satan--a higher power who reveals that this world and its God are a corruption of a better way, and the Book of Mormon version of the Cainites surely worshipped Satan or sophia, or some other substitute, deceiving themselves into the belief that there was a higher power than God. The Gnostic version of Cain's great secret is particularly deceptive because 1) our flesh really is fallen and a primary reason "our natures have become evil continually," so if you don't understand the plan, it makes some sense to think that the creator of our flesh has the wrong plan/motivation and 2) it provides a positive motivation for doing bad things--ie, Judas could have told himself that he was turning Christ over to be crucified for his own good. There's a wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis that describes this sort of tortured logic and Satan's plan perfectly:

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience" (from "God in the Dock").

Anyhow--just some interesting material from outside the Book of Mormon that helped me understand a little bit better what was going through the minds of Jared, Akish, Gadianton, et al. And a shout out for the Nag Hammadi which, like the Apocrypha, contains "many things ... that are true" and "whoso readeth it, let him undestand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; and whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom" (D&C 91).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work Yesterday...

On Monday night, I fully intended to watch My Life in Ruins, (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding; just as funny) with my wife. For some reason, the service I wanted to download the movie from would not cooperate, and I was forced to find a different activity for the night. I ended up putting on paper (screen) some thoughts about/for Mormon women that had been swirling through my head for a long time.

The next morning I went to UNC-Chapel Hill, where I teach freshman English, and endured a thoroughly miserable presentation by a guest lecturer. At the end of class a girl who has spoken maybe twice the entire semester came up to me and said, "Mr. Hutchins, I help run a group on campus that is interested in women and religion, and I know you're Mormon, and I was wondering if you and your wife would be willing and able to come and speak to us next Monday night." Obviously she has never asked a returned missionary to do something like this, or she would have said, "Mr. Hutchins, I know that you're happy to talk about your church ad nauseum, but I need you to limit your remarks to an hour." At any rate, in the very moment that she asked me, I felt as though I understood why my movie download hadn't worked the night before.

You've heard me complain about the lack of a Mormon presence on college campuses; you know that I have strong positive feelings for Eve and all mothers; there was never any doubt as to whether I would accept my student's invitation. There is, however, a small problem. While I am Mormon, I am not a woman. My wife is both Mormon and a woman, to be sure, but she is only one woman--hardly a representative sample. So: if you are a Mormon woman, I NEED YOUR HELP. If you were asked to speak about your faith in relation to your gender, what would you say? Please respond (in the comments) by Saturday night if you can. Also--if you have a blog that attracts Mormon readers, would you kindly ask your female readership for their feedback and either send it to me by email or link to this post in your request?

My thanks--as always--for your time and your help.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Especially for Mormon Women

In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provide guidance on gender roles within marriage: "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nuture of their children." To oversimplify, fathers are responsible for bringing home the bacon, and mothers are responsible for making sure the children also eat their vegetables. But don't forget the all important qualifier to this counsel: "In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

In the 1970s, at about the same time the Equal Rights Amendment was gaining traction in Congress, women across the country--who were not familiar with the as-yet-unwritten Proclamation, but who nonetheless had lived by the gender roles it prescribes up until that time--decided that being equal partners meant that each marital partner needed to fulfill both roles. Fathers needed to become nurturers (without giving up their jobs), and mothers needed to become providers (without neglecting the children). As a result, women entered the workforce en masse. This migration of women to the workforce is the subject of a book that every Mormon woman should read: The Two-Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi. The mother daughter combo examine the impact of women entering the workforce and creating two-income households and provide what I see as compelling evidence that organizing your family in accordance with the gender roles described in the Proclamation is a good financial as well as spiritual idea.

Warren and Tyagi suggest that for many wives and mothers, the decision to enter the workforce was made with altruistic motives--the desire to provide a better lifestyle for their family and children. After all, such women might have reasoned, "two incomes can provide a better living than one." Notwithstanding this optimistic attitude, Warren and Tyagi conclude that the primary effect of women entering the workforce has been . . . an astronomical rise in bankruptcy rates. This seems counterintuitive, yes? Families with two incomes should be more financially secure than families with one, right? WRONG: "Two-income families are more likely to file for bankruptcy than their one-income counterparts" (83). Why? Two reasons. 1) Most people vastly underestimated the economic value of a stay-at-home mom. Mom not only takes care of the kids--she also represents a built-in uninsurance policy if Dad loses his job and can provide care for high-maintenance sick relatives. If Mom's at work, families have to hire a daycare facility, have no replacement worker if and when Dad loses his job, and may have to hire medical care for ailing relatives. 2) No one saved the money brought in by Mom, which meant that the two-income family was living at the edge of its means--but with a doubled risk of unemployment because both Mom and Dad could now be laid off, and no one could take either of their places. Remember the next line of the Proclamation? "Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation". . . unless you unnecessarily adapted beforehand by sending mom into the workforce when she didn't have to go and therefore didn't have that option when "Death, disability, or other circumstances" came along.

I'm only giving you the bare bones of their argument, but Warren and Tyagi are pretty convincing, in my mind, that the two-income family is in every way financially worse off than the one-income family of yore. Notwithstanding their own compelling evidence, they are hesitant to suggest that moms and wives should quit their jobs. Instead, they are advocates for new government programs that they believe would provide a comprehensive social safety net, allowing the two-income family to enjoy their new life-style without worrying for the risks it entails. Warren and Tyagi do a fantastic job laying out the problem (and really, I've just covered the essentials; it's worth reading for yourself), but I find their solution to be dubious at best. Their solution sounds to me like something the late President James E. Faust said in a fantastic talk on womanhood: "Women today are encouraged by some to have it all: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, and separate careers in the world." He followed that up by stating that "you cannot do all these things well at the same time. You cannot eat all of the pastries in the baking shop at once. You will get a tummyache. You cannot be a 100-percent wife, a 100-percent mother, a 100-percent Church worker, a 100-percent career person, and a 100-percent public-service person at the same time."

This is the same conclusion that recent research on happy women came to:

The author in the video suggests that women should identify the one thing that makes them happy and seize on that thing without worrying about "balancing" and doing it all. President Faust (and the Proclamation) provides guidance as to what that one thing is: "For women, the important ingredients for happiness are to forge an identity, serve the Lord, get an education, develop your talents, serve your family, and if possible to have a family of your own." Take the advice of Elder Faust as well as daytime TV, and embrace a life of imbalance. But make sure that imbalance is in the right (nurturing) direction, or you could find yourself unhappy--and financially vulnerable.