25 April 2008

So far in the Book of Mormon

As I mentioned back in February, I've been reading the Book of Mormon. I'm at Alma 22 now, for those of you who can appreciate that, and still plodding along. So far, a couple of things have jumped out at me.

The parable of the trees in Jacob 5 seems to be loaded with more meaning than I can make out at this time. I'm hoping to get some more explanation when I get to Doctrine & Covenants. But it seems to presage the entire history of the people who emigrated from the land around Jerusalem to the Americas. Certainly the imagery is evocative, and an echo of it appears in Orson Scott Card's "Ender" Quartet of science-fiction novels.

One very striking thing in the Book of Mormon (may I abbreviate it as BOM?) is that people can initiate covenants with God. In the Bible, God initiates the covenants. The other is the clarity with which predictions about Jesus Christ are stated. He is called by name, and the Christian "salvation history" is clearly laid out, up to 600 years before the coming of Christ! In the Hebrew Bible ( or Old Testament - henceforth abbreviated OT) allusions to Christ are so vague that one must be a Christian to interpret them as such.

Then there is the ebb and flow of the Church among the immigrants to the Americas. First the Church (and it is a distinctly Christian Church, even though it is centuries yet before the birth of Christ) grows among the Nephites, and then as it starts to decline among them, it blossoms among the Lamanites. The Nephites and Lamanites are related peoples, having separated after their landing in the Americas. Among the tribes of Israel in the OT, the belief in the God of Abraham pulsates, growing and shrinking, but is does not seem to slosh between tribes. And it is straight Judaism, that looks forward to some kind of Redeemer who will restore Israel and even resurrect its inhabitants (at least in the Book of Job), but it is specifically Jewish rather than the Christianized Judaism of the Nephites and eventually the Lamanites before the coming of Christ.

I also note that the quotations from Isaiah in 2 Nephi are altered slightly so as to make their meaning more obvious. (Not only did I read them Blain, I compared them with the King James Version).

I note the ubiquity of conversion or "Born Again" experiences as compared to the OT. In the BOM these are typically occur after prayer and fasting, or being taught by one of the prophets.

And then there is the voice of our friendly editor, Mormon. In the OT the final collectors, editors, and redactors take care not to intrude in the text. In the BOM, it seems to me that Mormon (who appears to have collected writings on metal plates from several sources and in several languages, and then translated them into his own language) occasionally comments, especially in the Book of Alma.

I wasn't really looking for these differences, but for the differences in theological perspective between the LDS and the rest of us Christians. I'm still looking, and still reading.

22 April 2008

Silly Barack, Rednecks are for Real

So, Barack Obama couldn't quite close the gap to Hillary Clinton in today's Pennsylvania Democratic Primary. As others have noted, there were two reasons: Reverend Wright and the "bitter" comment.

Now, in the game of Presidential Monopoly I find enough "typical white person's" guilt in the Community Chest to give Senator Obama a Get-Out-of-the-Wright-Association free card. But there is no card that lets you get elected President by insulting one of the most numerous and important groups of people in America.

Rednecks. If you want to learn what the word "passion" means, date a Redneck. As a corollary, you can't have a truer and more loyal friend than a Redneck, or a worse enemy. Rednecks pride themselves on living with an emotional intensity that makes your typical Ivy League educated politician seem tepid indeed.

Sure, they can be bitter. But not about lack of government intervention in their lives. If they "cling to their guns and religion" it's to keep the government from interfering too much in their lives. They got their guns from their fathers, and their fathers' fathers, back to the generation that used guns to feed and defend themselves because back then there was no government. And they have sustained their religion because their religion has sustained them through tougher times than most Americans can remember or imagine. But mostly, Rednecks are determined. Determined to be themselves no matter who likes it or not.

Barack, by talking as if you know them, you have shown that you don't. Well, you should get to know them. You're going to need their votes.

15 April 2008

Brother Jed has a Point

I think it was the spring of 1978 at The University of Texas at Austin when I first encountered the Preacher Man. Only later did I realize that he was probably the famous George Smock, aka "Brother Jed." He was saying something like

All the women on this campus are whores, and all the men are just boys!

One of my students, Tawny, took him on. She argued boldly that a mature, responsible, and moral sexuality was possible without adhering blindly to the blanket prohibition of sex between people not married to each other. I admired her courage. And I thought she was right.

Thirty years later the Centers for Disease Control states that nineteen (19) million new STD (sexually transmitted disease) infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24. Whether you agree with Brother Jed or not, he has science on his side. If absolutely everyone abstained from any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage, STDs would die out. And if people resumed their present habits after the STD die-out, new ones would arise to take advantage of the ecological niche offered by networks of sexual contacts.

Simply put, abstinence and chastity are good public health. If you are screwing around, don't expect the rest of us to take you seriously when you admonish us about the environment, vegetarianism, or any issue demanding behavioral changes to improve public health, safety, or sustainability. First get your own act together.

Now I don't expect everyone to be abstinent outside of marriage. But I do expect you to keep the number of your sexual contacts low as part of your obligation to respect and preserve our human environment.

03 April 2008

Lord of the Flies

Third graders in Waycross, GA, plotted to kill their teacher. At Yahoo News, the Associated Press story begins

Allegations that third-graders hatched an elaborate plot to knock out, handcuff and stab their teacher were met with shock by neighbors and with doubt by psychiatry experts who said it is unlikely that children that young seriously intended to hurt anyone.

Police say the plot at Center Elementary School began because the children, ages 8 to 10, were apparently angry after the teacher disciplined one of the students for standing on a chair.

Students brought a crystal paperweight, a steak knife with a broken handle, steel handcuffs and other items as part of last week's plot, police said Tuesday. They said nine students were involved, but prosecutors are seeking juvenile charges against only three of them.

Experts said children that age are certainly imaginative and capable of creating elaborate games. But Dr. Louis Kraus, a child psychiatry expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said he doubts they would have actually attacked.

It continues in that vein to leave the impression that the writers think this is an unusual and isolated incident. It is not. Just a few days before another group of kids about the same age were in the process of hatching a plot to kill their teacher in a public city school in Manhattan. This one didn't make the news, but I can report it here, because I know the teacher.

And now, just last evening my neighbor's teenaged son was mugged. The neighbor's email reads, in part

He was walking home from his girlfriend's house at 11:30 pm . A car (new Lexus) with 5 boys drove up, they jumped out of the car and surrounded him. They had baseball bats and golf clubs. All he had was his cell phone which they took. They did not believe that he didn't have anything else, so they patted him down. They also wanted his shoes, but didn't take them when they found out they weren't expensive ones.

He called 911 as soon as he got home. The police were there very quickly. They caught the guys at the Shell station by Lucky.

When they were caught they had a trunk full of shoes and other stolen goods. They confessed to the mugging and were linked to other crimes. They had been cruising PLS neighborhoods looking for open garages and people to steal from.

Two of them were over 18 so were taken to jail the other 3 were juveniles.

"Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?" laments Henry Higgins in the musical comedy, My Fair Lady. To which I reply, why can't the Americans teach their children how to behave?

What are we teaching our children? Where are they getting these ideas? Are we exposing morally immature minds to crime shows like The Sopranos, and Law & Order? Or are we simply not paying attention while they form their own little violent tribes or gangs, partly in cyberspace, partly all too really in this world?

William Golding knew what kids will do when left without close and powerful adult supervision. They act uncivilized because they are uncivilized. It takes constant effort on the part of their parents and their society to civilize children, and that effort must last for the first 18 to 25 years of the children's lives. If you don't know what I mean, go to your local library and check out a copy of Golding's short novel, Lord of the Flies.

I've read many pieces on the decline of the West, most of which are bulls--t, and none of which put their finger on one inescapable truth. If you want to have a civilization, you must civilize your kids. And don't assume you can delegate the task to your schools (which are overwhelmed with uncivilized kids) or even your churches.

So to the educators, psychiatrists, and parents out there: Get out of your denial, get control of your kids, and socialize them to norms of decent behavior. Otherwise, it will be every one for himself, and us aging boomers will have no choice but to get concealed-carry permits.