I have taken a new job in Richland, Washington, in the eastern part of the state next to the Columbia River. Because of the pressures of moving I will not be able to make regular entries on my blog. I hope you circle back occasionally to see when I get started making new posts.

First Things journal publishes my letter--November issue

I am a subscriber to First Things, a journal that focuses on the right of religious people to express their views in the public square in the discussion of public policy.

A major aspect of the expression of religious beliefs in relation to public policy is the ability of religious people to work together for common goals. This occasionally involves the question of how much the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be regarded as a "Christian" church, since some "Christians" (such as Southern Baptists) oppose giving any recognition or legitimacy to the Mormons, even when the Mormons wish to work together on common social goals. Some of that hostility was demonstrated explicitly during the presidential primary run of Mitt Romney.

On occasion, First Things founder Father Richard John Neuhaus has gone out of his way to question whether Mormons are Christian, such as in his review several years ago of the book Mormon America by his friend, journalist and former Time Magazine religion editor Richard Ostling.

Happily, in the October issue, First Things allowed Elder Bruce Porter of the First Quorum of Seventy (a general leader of the LDS Church who oversees various programs) to present an essay about his own and other Mormons' strong faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. It was accompanied by an essay by Richard McDermott, an Evangelical theologian who co-authored the book Claiming Christ with BYU professor Robert Millett. First Things' web page (FirstThings.com) also carries an hour of telephone interviews with the two authors by an editor who is a faculty member at Creighton University, a Catholic institution in Omaha, where I used to live. I recommended he present further questions about Mormonism to my friend Colin Mangrum who is a professor on the law school faculty there. My letter to First Things correcting some of the misstatements in McDermott's essay appears in an earlier entry here at my blog.

In the current (November 2008) issue of First Things they have printed my earlier letter commenting on articles relevant to the question "Is Mormonism Christian?" that had appeared in the June/July issue. The letter appears below:

The June/July 2008 issue of First Things had a kind of synchronicity for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

First, N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, responded (Correspondence, June/July 2008) to Richard John Neuhaus’ comments on his new book, Surprised by Hope, which had included a criticism that its “concrete eschatological expectation” of a physical resurrection on a perfected earth was “more suggestive of Joseph Smith than St. Paul”—noting that Mormons were simply taking seriously the relevant passages in the New Testament at the very time that “the Western Protestant church . . . was eliminating the ancient concrete eschatological expectation.”

Then Joseph Stanford, commenting on Robert Louis Wilken’s discussion of Christological interpretation of the Old Testament, noted that the Book of Mormon is replete with the affirmation that the Old Testament prophets actually foresaw Christ.

Finally, Fr. Neuhaus (While We’re At It, June/July 2008) takes note that the long-held Orthodox doctrine of theosis, or deification—paraphrasing Irenaeus, “God became man so that man . . . might become God”—is “getting serious attention from evangelical Protestant theologians” as evidenced by the new book Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. “And yes” he says, “Mormons also have what appears to be a version of the idea.”

All three of these ideas—the ultimate possession of the transformed earth by the physically resurrected saints, the explicit prophecies about Christ by pre-Christian prophets, and the deification of man as the ultimate goal of salvation through Christ—are ideas for which Mormons are still deemed un-Christian, because they are distinct from the teachings of most Protestant denominations. Yet, as is evident from the pages of First Things, these so-called Mormon ideas are ones with a long Christian pedigree, dating back to the original saints of the New Testament period, a fact noted by scholars like Wright, Wilken, and the contributors to the book edited by Christensen and Wittung.

Fr. Neuhaus and others writing in the pages of First Things have taken up the question “Are Mormons Christian?” a question that was renewed with the past candidacy of Mitt Romney for the presidency. Since these three ideas are now identified as within the spectrum of legitimate Christian belief, a Mormon can hope that, the next time the question is raised in these pages, these three beliefs held by the Latter-day Saints will be moved from the down side to the plus side of the answer.

Is Mormonism Christian?

In the October 2008 issue of First Things, a journal of the application of religious principles to public policy, two essays were presented under the title, Is Mormonism Christian? The first is by Bruce Porter, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the LDS Church, one if its top leadership. The second is by Professor Gerald McDermott of Roanoke College. They can be viewed at FirstThings.com. I wrote the following letter to the editor:

As a longtime subscriber to First Things I would like to thank you for your presentation of the discussion, “Is Mormonism Christian?” in the October issue. Presenting a first-hand account of Mormon beliefs about Christ by a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is something that is rarely done by any publication. Bruce D. Porter simply testifies that Latter-day Saints believe literally in the New Testament message that Jesus is the Son of God, the Creator, and the resurrected Savior of all mankind. Similar personal testimonies can be found at JesusChrist.lds.org.

I have enjoyed reading Professor Gerald McDermott’s book, coauthored with Professor Robert Millet of Brigham Young University, Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate, and I am grateful for his witness in that book, and in this article, that “Jesus Christ is central to the Book of Mormon” (p.38). This is a simple fact that many critics of LDS beliefs simply refuse to admit, but one that any honest reader, like McDermott, will acknowledge.

I therefore point out my disagreement with McDermott about his four reasons for distinguishing Christ in the Bible and Christ in the Book of Mormon in the spirit of further dialogue.

First, McDermott claims “there is only one voice testifying to the authenticity of the American Jesus . . . Joseph Smith.” This is like saying that there is only one voice testifying to the authenticity of the Jesus who appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.
But it also ignores the other personal witnesses besides Smith. McDermott leaves an inaccurate impression when he says that “none of the eleven witnesses [of the Book of Mormon] claimed to be able to translate the writings on the plates.” While it is true that the eight men who stood together and held and hefted the golden plates, and whose affidavit has been printed in every copy of the Book of Mormon, had a very prosaic experience with a material object, it is also true that the three other men, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, affirm in a separate affidavit that they had a much more significant experience. All three men affirmed literally to their dying days that, after kneeling in prayer near Whitmer’s home in Fayette, New York, they had seen an angel holding the plates, and “that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us.” (See their affidavit) So there are four men who testify of the reality of the message of the Book of Mormon, and its testimony of Christ, and join voices with the four evangelists in testifying that he is the Son of God.

Additionally, on April 3, 1836, Cowdery was with Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, in experiencing a vision of the resurrected Savior. And on February 16, 1832, at Hiram, Ohio, before a dozen witnesses, Sidney Rigdon shared a vision with Smith in which they jointly testified “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the only begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (Doctrine & Covenants Section 76, verses 22 to 24)

Second, McDermott feels the Book of Mormon witness of Christ has less value because it is modern, rather than ancient, despite the book’s own assertion that Christ came to a small group of believers in the Americas within a year of his resurrection. Secular critics of Mormonism assert that all documents claiming the reality of the resurrected Christ are preposterous, and that modern ones simply make it more obvious. But the Book of Mormon declares its purpose to stand as a second witness affirming the reality of the miracles of the Old and New Testaments in an age when many doubt them, “in an age of railways” as Charles Dickens put it.

Third, McDermott thinks the Christ described in the Book of Mormon is not quite the same as the one in the gospels, because he is “fixated on America.” That is like saying the Jesus who never departed the Holy Land in his mortal life is “fixated on Palestine”. The Book of Mormon declares that its purpose is “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Christ appearing and teaching in the ancient Americas as well as in Judea, and Galilee, and Asia Minor, is an affirmation that he is Lord over all the earth, and over all mankind.

Fourth, McDermott adopts an evolutionary theory of Smith’s beliefs about deity, much like the evolutionary theories that claim that the gospels are fiction that developed in the wake of Jesus’ death. He says that the Book of Mormon indicates Smith believed in a Trinitarian God in 1829, but adopted a social trinity view before his death in 1844. He ignores the fact that Smith’s first vision, in 1820, revealed the Father and the Son as two similar beings, and that the Son denounced the creeds of that day for teaching the doctrines of men. This was clearly a reference to the concepts of God as being a bodiless entity without emotion that were imported from the philosophy that was the intellectual consensus of the Roman Empire at the time of the Council of Nicea.

McDermott’s main brief against the Mormon concept of Christ is that he prefers his own extra-biblical documents, the creeds of the fourth century and forward, to the extra-biblical documents of the Mormons. The Mormons point out that neither Jesus, nor Peter nor Paul ever stated that it is necessary to believe in a God who lacks body or passions in order to be saved. Instead, they call on all mankind to believe in a Christ who has a resurrected body that was felt by the apostles, who experienced suffering, both physical and emotional, to pay the price of sin for all mankind, and to fulfill the love of the Father for all of us in the world. The Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected, suffering Christ, beloved by the Father, in whom the first, pre-Nicene saints believed.

McDermott graciously acknowledges that nothing he has said bars Mormons from salvation: “We are saved by a merciful Trinity, not by our theology.” Since Mormons read the Bible literally, are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, seek forgiveness and admission to God’s presence through the merits of the Atonement, pray to the Father in the name of Christ, and can reach salvation like any Baptist or Catholic, what is the purpose of ostracizing them as “non-Christian”?

At a time when the forces of secularism seek ascendancy in America, when many in power want to suppress the assertion that the word of God is relevant to public policy, shouldn’t Christians of all kinds look for reasons to unite with other believers in the living God? To focus on sectarian distinctions when Christianity is under siege is to emulate the internecine squabbles within Jerusalem that led to its destruction by the pagan Romans.

Democrats ineptly try to attack Sarah Palin on religious grounds

Apparently Congressman Cohen who represents the Memphis, Tennessee, area, said on the floor of the House that Barack Obama was "a community organizer like Jesus" and that he was being persecuted by "a governor, Pontius Pilate."  What makes such a pronouncement even more insane than it is on its face is the fact that Cohen touts himself as "the first Jewish person elected to Congress from Tennessee." 

(The Cohen name is derived from a name for "priest" in Hebrew, and many persons of that name claim to be descendants of priestly families that officiated in the temple in Jerusalem.  Indeed, a particular Y-chromosome identified with many Cohen descendants was also found recently in an East African tribe that claimed descent from priests who had fled Jerusalem around the time of the Babylonian Conquest in 586 BC. )

Cohen early on endorsed Barack Obama, but he is still a Jew, so apparently he has more devotion to Obama than he does to Jesus.  It does, however, reveal that some of Obama's followers see him as a messianic figure, their confidence in his promises of unspecified "change" based on faith in miracles more than rational thought.

Cohen's claim that Jesus of Nazareth was "a community organizer" demonstrates that Cohen doesn't know the New Testament.  Jesus repeatedly disappointed those among the Jews who wanted him to organize political action against the occupying Romans.  After he fed the 5,000, and they wanted him to lead them in a revolt (as so many other Jews did before and after), he instead taught the doctrine that his followers needed to take him into themselves, a foreshadowing of the communion or Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and as a result, most of them abandoned him.  The Gospels make clear that Jesus willingly submitted to arrest and torture and execution, which he overcame through his resurrection, calling on those who followed him to reform themselves, not the government of Judea.  Christians obtained political power only hundreds of years later, when the church had become dominant in many parts of the Roman Empire and Constantine decided to use it to unify his power. 

The other element in Cohen's statement that was supremely irrational was his attempt to smear anyone who is "a governor" with the guilt of Pontius Pilate.  It's not like those who are elected governors in the United States have any kind of ideological or moral connection to a Roman procurator who was appointed by an emperor and the Senate of Rome to rule over a conquered population, or that modern governors hold up Pilate as some kind of admired figure. 

Besides, what does Cohen's statement say about former governors Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, let alone current Democratic governors Bill Richardson and Janet Napolitano and Ed Rendell? Does he think Democrats should eschew running for the office of governor, because it is inherently tinged by Pilate's legacy, while it is OK to be a senator, among the body that is the historical heir of the body that appointed many procurators like Pilate?  Indeed, a more apt comparison might be made between the Sanhedrin, which tried and condemned Jesus as being worthy of death, and the modern Senate.

Basically, the entire Democratic political and news media establishment has come unhinged and lost their ability for rational discourse as far as Palin goes.  I can only guess that they are so afraid of her appeal to women voters that they feel they have to crush her unequivocally.  They have seen the polls, and it is clear that the Republican lead among male voters is also becoming a balance or maybe even a lead among female voters.    

So the Democrats resort to attacks based on her religion, only demonstrating that they don't know the language of religious faith, and are foreigners and outsiders trying to convince those on the inside that Palin is somehow apostate.  All they are accomplishing is to strengthen the understanding that the Democratic Party is alien to the religious worldview of most Americans.  Having Jews tell Christians what to think about other Christians based on the New Testament is just one example of the Democrats' cluelessness about religion.


Sarah Palin, Frontier Woman

Like many Americans, I had no idea who Sarah Palin was a week ago.  Now it is clear that she is a real person, a most unusual thing in politics.  She is someone who knows the realities of marriage and children and working for a living, someone who knows wilderness not as an abstraction but as someone who has lived in it all her life.  She is not overawed by the mainstream media and is unwilling to change herself in order to please them. She is not a member of the cultural elite of America.  She was born in Idaho and attended the University of Idaho--getting an education in journalism (meaning she is as well educated as many in the news media who attack her).

Her husband is a real blue collar worker.  Sarah does not need to make noises about how she supports blue collar workers in order to get the support of unions.  She is a blue collar wife.  She actually knows what it is like to be a member of the "other America" that John Edwards, the millionaire lawyer, liked to appeal to.

Barack Obama has made himself ridiculous by claiming to have more "executive experience" than Sarah Palin because his 18 month long campaign for the presidency employs more people and spent more money than the town which she served as mayor.  Apart from the deceptiveness of Obama refusing to compare his experience with Palin's job as governor, with a much bigger budget and work force than Obama's campaign, and the oddness of Obama feeling obviously inadequate in the presence of a woman with more command experience than himself, the biggest difference in their work experience has been that Obama's campaign had only one goal, to serve Obama and his personal ambition.  Sarah Palin's service as Mayor and as Governor has had a completely different purpose: to serve thousands of OTHER people.  Which resume is more noble?

The last time America elected a national leader who had grown up on the frontier, we got Abraham Lincoln. Maybe it's time to look to the frontier again.


California Supreme Court: Sexual Rights Trump Religious Rights


The California Supreme Court has ruled that it was illegal discrimination for a physician to refuse to assist a lesbian to have a baby by artificial insemination, despite the doctor’s religious objections. 


What this particular case illustrates is the difference between prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender and religion and prohibiting discrimination based on "sexual orientation" or engaging in certain sexual practices.  Prohibiting discrimination on racial grounds was a response to very real hardships placed on members of racial minorities, including blacks in the South and Asians and Hispanics in California, for example.  The ability to support yourself and your family are areas where you have a vital interest, while the interest of someone in a commercial relationship with you--an employer, a landlord, a seller of goods or services--to avoid doing business with you on racial grounds is much more attenuated, and in the judgment of our fellow citizens, not legitimate in any way. 


In the area of personal services--renting out an apartment in one's home, acting as a physician, acting as legal counsel--one's personal views and feelings about a person with whom you are entering into a closely personal transaction are more important to you.  Yet for the customer, the personal aspect of these services is far less important.  There is nothing in California anti-discrimination law that forces a gay person to patronize a particular attorney, or doctor, or rent a particular home.  Nor does the law force a heterosexual person to patronize a gay doctor, lawyer or landlord.  In these kinds of one-on-one transactions, where the reason for the discrimination has moral dimensions, and where the customer has many options, why should government step in on the side of one participant in the transaction to force a business deal, but not on the other? 


What is the fundamental harm to homosexuals of discrimination in personal transactions?  Gay customers with money will find providers willing to take it.  Gay people in America tend to have more disposable income than heterosexuals.  Gay people are not disproportionately homeless, unemployed, lacking in medical services or legal representation, or any other aspect of their material lives.  What is the need for government to intervene to punish people who decline to enter into personal services transactions of an extended nature with homosexuals? 


The only reason for government intervention of this kind is to punish people who hold the view that homosexual activities are morally objectionable.  Government's only interest in this class of transactions is to force people to do things against their will, and to communicate the judgment that traditional sexual moral views are not acceptable in society.  In this class of transactions, government is telling people that its judgment of morality is different than that of their own religion, and that they are prohibited from expressing their own view of morality in how they make their living.  The direct benefit obtained by a homosexual plaintiff is a pat on the back and reassurance that their behavior is endorsed by government.  The plaintiff also gets a feeling of power over other people, to force them to do things against their will. 


It is not at all clear to me that the competing personal interests involved in personal services transactions justify government coercion against one class--people with traditional sexual morality--while giving extra power to people in another class--homosexuals--when there are many other ways for the protected class to get equivalent personal services. 


What we have come to in this case and in others is a rather strange state of affairs.  Religious freedom, which is explicitly protected in the First Amendment and most state constitutions, has little recognized substance in any arena regulated by government.  On the other hand, sexual behavior (not gender), which has no explicit recognition in the text of the Constitution, has been given a zone of autonomy that bars all government legislation, concerning types of sexual behavior and the consequences of sexual behavior (including abortion), so that government regulation of any aspect of these activities is subordinated to the "self-rule" of the autonomous individual.  What one believes about the purpose of life and how one should live is legally restricted to the zone of one's own head, while sexual thoughts can largely be given free rein in one's actions, without legal consequences.   The net result is that many of our courts in general, and the California Supreme Court in particular, have told us that traditional sexual morality is, in the eyes of government, immoral, and it cannot even be expressed by legislation enacted by elected representatives nor by voters in direct referenda.  The behavior of people in accordance with their religious compass can be freely restricted, but any restriction on behavior directed by sexual hormones is literally sacred and will be protected with government coercion, financial penalties and even imprisonment. 


Wasting medicine on the dying?


We should thank Chuck Colson for his Breakpoint commentary (http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=8315) which again brings to our attention the campaign to break down the moral foundation that centuries of Christianity has created for Western culture. 


What struck me up front about the statement that 30% of Medicare spending goes into the last year of life was the realization that the people who argue against spending money for "people who are going to die" are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Anyone with a serious medical condition who is not treated will likely die. On the other hand, if we can treat someone and help them live, they may well live beyond that year, which would take the money expended this year outside the statistic of money spent in the last 12 months before death! 


We should not be surprised that a large part of medical costs are spent within a year of a patient's death.  Death and illness are not unrelated events.  People don't check into the hospital with an expiration date stamped on their foreheads, so that doctors can say "Oh, he's about to go anyway, no point in treating him." No matter how old or young we are, if we are not treated for serious illness, we will surely die.  Death will come about, not as a neutral event that we are simply accommodating by withholding treatment, but rather as a direct consequence of our decision not to give medical treatment. 


Death most often comes because we are seriously ill, either through trauma or disease.  We only need medical treatment when we are seriously ill.  So we will always be investing medical treatment into people who run a risk of death even with treatment.  Of course, we can increase that risk to nearly 100% if we refuse to give treatment. 


The fact is that one of the most imperfect things about medicine is its ability to diagnose and prognose.  The only way to know absolutely for sure that treatment will not prolong life is to give the treatment, and see what happens.  And the only way to be very confident of such a guess is if we have gone a good way into giving medical treatment and find it is unavailing. But we have absolutely no rational basis to say in most cases that there is no point in STARTING treatment because we predict it will do no good.  That is so irrational that it is really just a prejudice against people who are old, or poor, or have disabilities, or are not smart enough to realize they are being mistreated. 


We are still as a nation wealthy enough that we can afford to invest some real medical care before we give up on a patient.  We are not in a triage situation where we have to decide who is not going to be treated at all because we guess they will die anyway. 


But of course, "universal" health care creates precisely the kinds of artificial shortages that force doctors into triage.  Death is always the cheapest way to treat an illness, and when it is a faceless bureaucrat who is making the decision, who doesn't know the patient let alone care whether she lives or dies, saving the money is always going to advance his career, while spending it will not.  We will then enter into a perverse corollary of the Peter Principle: Health Care bureaucrats will be promoted to the extent they lack compassion for their neighbor, and the top bureaucrats will be sociopaths. 


Mourning with those who mourn

A recent poignant post on timesandseasons.org (http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=4686)  considers the place of mourning in the lives of Latter-day Saint, who have been given renewed assurance by modern witnesses of the reality of the Savior and his resurrection.  These are my comments:

At 58, my wife and I have lived long enough to bury two infant daughters, an infant grandson, a niece at age 2, a nephew at age 16, her younger sister at 27, her brother, my brother's wife, her mother at age 56 (before most of our kids were born), her father about 10 years ago, her aunt, and of course all of our grandparents.  When we go to the cemeteries on Memorial Day, she jokes that more of her family are dead than are alive.  These losses still affect us whenever we visit the graves or see a photo or tell a story about the one who is gone, especially for the young lives lost and not lived. 


I frankly think that anyone who walks up to you when you are mourning the recent death of a loved one and criticizes you for feeling sad, is a borderline sociopath.  They are lacking in the most basic kind of human empathy. 


Such people are like Lucifer in their lack of compassion, and are the precise opposite of the Savior, who in my understanding (see Alma 7:11-13) performed in his Atonement the supreme act of infinite empathy and compassion, knowing, as only God can know, not only with his mind but also with his passionate, non-Nicene heart, the details of our lives and our feelings and our failings, taking on him our infirmities, so that he can succor us, comfort us. 


I think that part of our appreciation for the Atonement only comes when we feel empathy for the suffering Savior, which caused him to weep, not just from his eyes, but from every pore.  We cannot comprehend the fullness of his love for us until we mourn over his suffering on our behalf.  I think perhaps that the beatitude, that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted, had its great fulfillment when the resurrected Savior stood before the people and invited them to touch and see the evidence of his great suffering, while comprehending the glory of his resurrection.  They mourned for the suffering Savior, while they rejoiced and were comforted by his living embrace.  That is the experience we emulate every time we take the Sacrament.   


This is why the Creeds that assert God does not really feel emotion are an abomination to him.  His compassion has been labeled a simulacrum by generations of theologians, who cast aside the pearl of great price that is the clear demonstration in the life of Christ that God does suffer, does love, and that he suffers precisely because he loves us. 


One of the most poetic passages in scripture is when Enoch witnesses God weeping and mourning for his children, fallen into wickedness and hate toward God and their brothers and sisters.  It was their utter lack of empathy and love that forced him to end their mortal lives.  And when God explains this, Enoch's own heart stretches wide as eternity, as he feels an inkling of the empathy of the Savior, and he weeps too. 


In so many ways, Christ's atonement was performed by him mourning with us and for us.  We only can be exalted if we follow him, including following him into mourning with and for ourselves and our fellow saints.  As we perfect and purify our love, our charity, the natural outcome will be that we will also perfect our mourning. 


Do evil characters make our character evil?

At the LDS Bloggernacle site Six LDS Writers and a Frog (http://sixldswriters.blogspot.com/2008/07/lds-morality-for-non-lds-characters.html) there is a post on the question, How should LDS writers portray the behavior of characters in their stories? Should they ensure that all the Mormon women are strong, the Mormon priesthood holders good looking, and all the Mormon children above average? Should they make their non-Mormon protagonists act in accordance with a Mormon morality? 

I think the way to answer this question is to look at what the first Mormon wrote--I really mean Mormon!  He was of course telling us about real people, but they did some really nasty things, some of which Mormon witnessed first hand as his people grew ripe for destruction. Since the book he compiled and wrote is the "most perfect" book on earth, in the sense of bringing us closer to God than any other book (see the Introduction), surely portraying the evil that men do is not going to per se have a bad effect on us as writers or on our readers.  The important thing is the context. 

We know, for instance, that only the wickedest people get destroyed by God, while many of the most righteous people (e.g. the converts at Ammonihah who were burned to death, and Abinadi, who was surely the model victim for the people who did this crime) are destroyed by evil men.  (Of course, having exiled or killed all the good people, the Ammonihahites get a very Gomorrah-ish finish, wiped out to a man by the Lamanites in a foretaste of what the perverted Nephites suffer in 385 AD.)  A lot of medium level bad people live long lives that look pretty attractive in material terms, with pretty wives, big houses, and flashy cars.  This is reality, it is truth, and therefore, by definition, (a sad) part of the Gospel. 

Thus, contrary to the fantasy that the people who murdered Joseph Smith suffered terrible fates, most of them were praised by their neighbors and even were elected to Congress!  Sometimes the bad people don't get their just reward until they are resurrected and brought to stand before "the pleading bar of the great Jehovah" to be judged for their sins. 

So if you portray in your fiction a character who does bad things, but does not suffer any visible consequences for it, you are portraying reality.  The whole Plan of Salvation is based on us being allowed to play out our goodness or our wickedness here in mortality, which is only one short part of the whole picture of life.  To immediately punish every bad deed by a character would not be playing God, it would be playing Lucifer! 

Orson Scott Card has an interesting blog review right now comparing the movies Mamma Mia! with The Dark Knight. Clearly, the Batman film depicts much more intense evil, but he argues that the viewer comes away with an intense experience in learning morality and the importance of such choices.  On the other hand, Mamma Mia, according to Card, tells us that the most important choices in our life, especially about marriage and raising children, can be ignored or treated casually.  Which kind of story would we as Latter-day Saints want to be telling each other, and the world?  Which story would actually help people to be better people? 

Is it the story where good people are weak and often lack courage and retain prejudices, and where bad people are powerful? Where the best person of all suffers the absolute most, not because of being guilty but because he is the most innocent of all? 

Welcome to the Gospels. 


Congress wants to drag down America


In the West, a 55 mile and hour speed limit really is insane.  At 75 mph, the 600 miles distance from Salt Lake City to Denver on I-80 and I-25 can be covered in about 8.5 hours driving time, a reasonable day's work--and driving IS work.  But at 55 mph, the time from Salt Lake to Denver increases by a full 2.5 hours to 11 hours.  Not only is that an unnecessary stealing of over two hours of the time of each person in the car, it adds time to the end of the trip when the driver is most fatigued and night is falling, resulting in much more time spent by very tired drivers in the dark.  How is that conducive to safety?  In winter, as night falls, roads become more icy and slippery as well. 


The fact is that, with more efficient modern vehicles, with lighter materials (including the removal of chrome steel bumpers), computer controlled fuel and ignition systems, aerodynamic design, and using cruise control to maintain steady speeds, we are already saving the amount of gasoline that was "saved" by the 55 mph speed limit at its inception in the early 1970s.  New vehicles are designed to be even more economical at real freeway speeds, using not only hybrid engines but also engines that cut down the number of cylinders firing during highway cruising. 


Here is the ironic part: If we indeed save gasoline by cutting highway speeds, the incentive for consumers to move to more efficient vehicles is reduced.  More efficient vehicles will be more efficient as well at the speeds below 55 that apply to local streets.  The net effect of a 55 mph speed limit on consumers may well be, in the long run, slowing the turnover to more fuel efficient vehicles and thus using MORE gasoline over the next decade. 


Gasoline at $4 to $5 a gallon is already penalty enough for anyone who drives faster than he needs to.  Often there are specific needs to get places faster, both in terms of family emergencies, work needs, and the need to not be dragging over the highway for extra hours late into the night.  If he is ready to pay the extra fuel cost of 75 mph driving, he should not have the Highway Patrol risking life and limb to pull him over on a freeway in order to force him to increase his fuel economy by 5%. 


Voters are less inclined in 2008 to accept baloney like a 55 mph speed limit now. They have already suffered through it and know what a relief it was to finally be free of it. They are much more skeptical of government officials than Americans were when the pre-Watergate Nixon imposed the low speed limit, and a 55 mph speed limit will mean the end of the road for any Congressman in the West who votes for it and insists he or she knows better than the voters what speed they should drive.