Abraham Lincoln's religious views, Mormon involvement in politics, and more

10/24/99 - 7/7/00 Messages


The most recent messages can be found here.


received 7/7/00
Since I noticed
your website promoting the now infamous letter to Dr. Laura, I hope you will have the courage and fairness to also post this reasoned response to all the points. Thank you.

Recently, several people have forwarded an email to me that was allegedly written to talk-show host, Dr. Laura. The letter is an obvious attempt to discredit the Bible and her attempt to use it and promote it as a source for moral law. As is usually the case, the letter contains common misunderstandings and misquotes.

The first premise, I'll admit, may sound like a cop-out, but there is some logic to it. It basically states that if there really is a God who created everything, then what He says goes, whether we like it or not. Our disagreement or misunderstanding of God's laws doesn't change whether or not we are indebted to Him for our existence, or the validity of a Heaven or Hell, miracles, Jesus, etc. These are all either true or false regardless of how we "feel" about any of them. My position, then, on this point is simple - our universe and living systems, which both show tremendous scientific and logical signs of intelligent design, are best explained by an intelligent creator. The atheistic position relies on the creation of "something" (the universe) from "nothing", which is not only illogical given the present physical laws of the universe, but for which there is no other known example of this occuring ever in history.

Ahhh... the argument from (and perhaps for?) ignorance. It goes like this: I don't know how xxx works or how xxxx happened, and I don't think anyone else does either. Therefore, god(s), demons, fairies, ghosts, or (insert your favorite myth from the Dark Ages) must have caused it.

Did you know that energy and mass come and go on a daily basis when simulations of early properties of the universe are performed? What I find illogical is how you claim that no "something" can come from "nothing" but then don't bother to explain where the God of the Bible came from.

Thus, an atheistic position falls flat on its primary premise. This does not necessarily mean that "my" god is the right one. But it does put me in a position to realize that if there is a creator/God, he/she/it must be far greater than me, and should it be possible to understand this god's plan for me, I should be interested in learning it. Does that make sense? The second point to understand is that I am a Christian, not an ancient Jew. Thus, I am not bound by these laws. Jesus came specifically to abolish the "old" laws. So, by defending these laws, I do not wish to imply that I believe we should revert back to them. Rather, I only wish to show that God's Word (the Bible) is not deserving of the mockery it receives. This tactic has been used throughout the ages, yet the Bible still stands. As Romans 1:22 states, "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools..."

First of all, the OT laws did not institute slavery, rather, they regulated an already existing institution. Second, slaves in ancient Israel had many more rights and protections under the law than what we now consider to be "slavery". We simply cannot compare the horrific treatment of African slaves in this country to the treatment of ancient Jewish slaves - they are not the same. For instance, we have all heard stories about how slaves in America were beaten, yet if a master injured a Jewish slave in OT times, that slave was granted immediate freedom. It was also the law that slaves were to be freed after serving a period of seven years. Slaves were seen as human beings with dignity. They were allowed to participate in religious festivals and rested on the Sabbath. Slavery was not only considered an honorable profession, but it could even be a life saving institution. A person who found himself in debt could sell himself off (yes, even a family member) to a rich master, earn the money to pay his debt, work for the master for seven years and regain his freedom. He might also gain new skills to help him prosper later and upon his release, his master would actually give him the capital to make a fresh start! Undoubtably, some slaves were mistreated, but OT slavery was not the horrific slavery of colonial America.

First of all, the "odor" (aroma) being spoken of implies not that God is "smelling" the sacrifice, but rather that God accepts the sacrifice because the heart of the person was right. A right heart offering a sacrifice is pleasing to God. Of course, this begs the question, "why animal sacrifice?". To begin with, animal sacrifice was practiced in many cultures throughout the Mid-East at that time. In fact, many religions around the world included this as part of their rituals - some even offering human sacrifices. Animals were used as substitutes for humans. They would die in place of one who deserved to die for their own sins. At this point, you may argue, "But why would God allow an innocent animal to suffer in someone else's place?" If you are going to accept the premise that God does exist and He was responsible for this practice (otherwise, why ask the question?) then you must also realize that later, God Himself came to earth as a man, suffered and died in OUR place, for our sins. He (Jesus) became the "sacrificial lamb". We could answer the question by simply stating that what God created, He could destroy without needing to explain anything to us, but He certainly makes up for it by dying in our place on the cross. If you truly have such sympathy for the poor innocent animals, how much more deserving of our attention is the innocent Jesus' death? Only a hypocrite would complain about the one issue and ignore the other.

Since this question ("how can I tell") is obviously facetious, I'll ignore it. However, I will explain here that God's laws in this area are simply to promote both physical and spiritual health. Few would argue that sex with a menstruating woman is as clean and healthy as sex with a non-menstruating woman. As Christians, we are called to have a higher regard for sex than our contemporary society has. God wants us to enjoy sex, but within His moral limits. The word "limits" causes many to rebel against this, however, imagine a world based on God's laws regarding sexual morality: no AIDS or sexual diseases, no adulterous cheating, long lasting marriages, no sexual comparisons of multiple partners, no rape, no human sexual degredation, etc. Can we argue that this wouldn't be better? Is the price we pay for our sexual freedom really worth all this pain and suffering? In today's world, sex is not the private, personal and spiritual thing that God created it to be, and the loss is clearly ours.

Again, I will only point out that the OT did not initiate or even condone slavery, it only attempted to regulate it. And slavery was not the slavery we imagine (see above question regarding slavery).

Numbers 15:32 describes a scene where the death sentence was actually carried out. And Exodus 31:14 states it this way: "Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people." Some have suggested that this phrase ("cut off from among his people") means ex-communication, and not always death. To begin with, I will resort to my first premise, which is that if God created us and the universe, He gets to make up any law He wants, regardless of whether or not it makes sense to us. And, since the law was firmly in place and made public, anyone caught breaking the law would at least be guilty of intentional defiance. However, ancient cultures were different from our culture today. Their society literally revolved around their religious beliefs and practices. To them, nothing in the world was more important than their dealings with God. This is quite the opposite of today, where many people hardly give God a second thought at all. So, in ancient Jewish culture, to blatantly disregard a direct command from God was to defy God Himself - a highly punishable crime in their eyes. (As for your "neighbor" who works on the Sabbath, Christianity, in comparison to Judaism, holds no specific day as the "Sabbath" day.)

Leviticus 10 says nothing about shellfish or homosexuality. (Leviticus 10:10 "You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.") The author of the question has misquoted the Bible.

Leviticus 20:20 states, "'If a man sleeps with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless. " The author of the question has misquoted the Bible.

Actually, he or she made a bit of a pun (get it 20:20/eyesight) while pointing those like you who followed up to a ridiculous scripture.

Finally, to the reader, I hope that this has shown you that a criticism that is allowed to stand on its own without allowing for a defense from the criticized party, only serves to make fools of the critic and his followers. Yes, the Bible does hold many difficulties, but most, if not all, have been addressed and answered at some point in its 2,000 year history. The answers are out there. The easiest thing for a critic to do is mis-quote or take out of context an otherwise easily-explainable statement and let the criticism act as its own proof. Be wary of falling victim to such unscholarly tactics. Do not, as it were, believe everything you read. The Bible instructs us to "test everything" (1Thessalonians 5:21) and hold on to that which is good. You should feel free to put the Bible to the test (it has withstood such testing for thousands of years!), but you should also put its critics to the test. To not do so equally would be hypocritical. God's Word is awesome, and the testimony of literally millions and millions of changed (for the better) lives should be reason enough for you to consider checking it out with a fair and seeking heart. May God bless you in your search for truth.

I believe the letter was meant as sarcasm and a joke, but thanks anyway for your efforts to defend "God's Word." Your response, if nothing else, caused me to rejoice that I'm no longer interested in theology.


received 7/6/00
Sherry S. Tepper's books, specifically
The Gate to Women's Country and A Plague of Angels are thought-provoking commentaries on social issues that range from gender relations to our human-centric handling of our environment. Although, as a Science Fiction and Fantasy fan, I sometimes think her science-fiction/fantasy plots are a little unbelievable (if that makes sense), I always leave her novels thinking about different issues. She is sometimes (okay, often) classified as a feminist, but she is not a man-hater. In her book, Six Moon Dance, she goes so far as to switch the gender roles and show that it is not better with women in charge -- they are capable of the same prejudices. By showing that men and women are capable of the same mistakes, I think she illustrates the point that they deserve to be treated equally more effectively than showing a scenario where all evils would be wiped out if only women ran the show. She often tackles such issues as society's views on birth control, relativism as an excuse for evil, etc. She has used religion in her books in two ways: 1. If it is shown positively, the religion is not human-centric and is closer to "being one with nature;" her God (if shown at all) is just as interested, if not more so, in the fate of animals and other lifeforms and she stresses that humans should not be so quick to destroy without understanding. God's relationship to humans is mostly disinterested or disappointed, and we are not necessarily in It's image. It's sort of a cross between Native American spiritualism and Deism. 2. When it is shown negatively, she often illustrates how good intentions are twisted into meaningless ritual and means of social control. (All right, so she mainly shows this in the form of paternalistic religions forcing woment to have unwanted babies, etc--I did say she was a feminist.) Unless you have a good library, it is sometimes hard to find her earlier books, but they too are well worth the search.
received 6/23/00
By a flick of fate, I happened upon your site. It's always nice to find a new resource to aid me in my quest to understand this bazaar existence I've fallen into. I gave up on the answers a long time ago, and so, must settle for better questions. Your website will certainly aid me that pursuit.

A very nice piece of work you have here! Thanks.


received 5/26/00
I don't know what it was that possessed me this evening to stop in and check on your web site, but I did. I suspect what possessed me was little more than the intellectual curiousity that has taken us all in different directions.

I would express my condolences to you if I thought that what is about to happen to you is a tragedy. I highly suspect you do not consider this to be the case. And since I have a request to have my name removed from LDS Church records drafted and ready to turn in to my LDS Bishop, I do not consider it a tragedy either.

Just a few weeks ago, my family and I flew to Washington DC (in that oh, so modern twist, it was for me a pleasure trip and for the wife, business). I made a point of wanting to visit both the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. Though my favorite will always be Lincoln, Jefferson stands right up there next to that old Log Splitter from Kentucky. What I am most struck by when visiting the Jefferson Memorial are the words that encircle and enclose the larger than life statue of Thomas Jefferson on the inside of the Memorial. They read, "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man" (Vice President Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800). This quote seems to encapsulate your efforts to harness the web to its best purpose: the free flow of information. For some this is a frightening prospect.

Like you, I am an apostate by LDS Church standards. The LDS Church rightly views your continued efforts on the web as detrimental to their goals. Certainly they would feel the same if they knew of my efforts. I suspect the only reason they are disciplining you is that you are now making a big enough "splash" to be noticed by a great many others. FWIW, I really wished you had requested that your name be removed so that the LDS Church would be denied this opportunity to delegitimize your efforts.

On the contrary. I think it makes my efforts all the more legitimate. One of the ironic things about them excommunicating a person who doesn't pretend to represent them, nor has set foot in their buildings for years, (in addition to the many other ironic things that I tried to point out on the site in the "my excommunication story" pages) is the purpose of excommunication. According the Church Handbook of Instructions (which in light of the political campaign efforts probably isn't being looked at much anymore) the protection of the good name of the church is a factor to be looked at when deciding to excommunicate someone. So is officially branding someone an excommunicated heretic who encourages open and honest inquiry really the best way to give a church a "good name" when that same church speaks out of the other side of its mouth by having a university whose motto is "the glory of God is intelligence"? It seems to me that people who espouse honesty and whole-truth telling shouldn't be kicked out for espousing such if the church wants a good name.

I know, I know...people should judge arguments on the basis of reason and not emotion. However, given that all of humankind is a combination of emotion and intellect (reason), is this really a REASONable expectation? I don't think so...

Yes, Mormon Founder Joseph Smith did state that "Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their Church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled." And while this may be true in theory, the history and the practice within the Mormon Church belie such libertarian sentiments. What I suspect is either of these two differing interpretations. First, that when Joseph Smith stated this, the Mormon Church was yet in its infancy, and had not yet come up against the hard and gritty reality of establishing an institution that would endure the test of time. Second, and I will admit that this interpretation is a bit more cynical, is that when Smith minted the above quote he was thinking of *himself*.

Well, I hope you enjoy your family time at the ballpark, and I hope the San Jose California Stake Presidency and High Council dispose of your matter quickly so that they too can return to doing what they want with their time as well.

Best Wishes,

Orin Ryssman


received 3/24/00
Just enjoyed your "
To Think Or To Follow". Attached is my response to friends and family concerning the faith concept (with acknowledgment to Dan Barker).

"You must have faith!"

I'm often advised by those who trouble over my soul that I need to "just have faith". All my questions would be answered, and my doubts allayed if I would only surrender to the power of faith. My instinctive response to this counsel is always - which "faith" am I to have faith in?

All religious systems require at their core an element of faith, and all purport the same positive results from it. Each one is also certain, through "revelation", that their faith is the only true faith, and all other's are false. It's only logical then to assume that at least some of these faith systems are indeed false. So the question becomes - which one is true? The paradox here is that "faith" by definition does not allow for the question. You cannot ask - is it true? So how would you know which system to have faith in? What mental process could one use to enable belief without proof? It's called faith! Just have faith in your faith. Of course, it would then help to have faith in that faith in your faith. Which requires faith in your faith in that faith in your faith. Then faith in that faith in.... Is this it?...An "infinite dog"? This is what's exalted as the greatest, most spiritual condition I could hope to attain?! I hate to remain in such an unexalted state, but I'm afraid I'm stuck with my questions and doubts.

Kerry Tomasi


received 11/18/99
The
first 2 parts of a 3 part series about string theory appeared in the November 16th & 17th issues of the L.A. Times. Previously, to myself, general relativity and quantum mechanics seem to be almost unimaginable facets of existence, making it hard to envision a seemingly real scientific principal, which could be more strange and bizarre, so non intuitive. I think string theory might do it. This is the best layman presentation of the topic I have seen yet. As you know, it is still theoretical, but several prominent scientists insist that certain aspects of it are almost certainly real. Even small parts of it seem to tear down almost every "foundation" of physical reality, err uhhh, make that all reality, including space-time, quantum mechanics, etc. Although current string theory does not really unify the apparent contradictions between general relativity and quantum mechanics, on the other hand it is sort of an even grander unification. It was hard sleeping last night considering the reality which this theory made me consider. It also seems pretty weird that an animal (Homo sapiens) can explore and discover things of this nature. If other beings exist that have an even deeper understanding, thats weird too.

Don't know if you've noticed, but the primary person leading the charge in the discovery of all the extra solar planets is a fellow by the name of Geoff Marcy, a professor affliated with both San Francisco State and UC Berkeley. I've enjoyed a few short e-mail exchanges with him over the last year. The last month so he's appeared in National Geographic, 2 recent PBS specials on life in the universe and cosmology, and CNN.


received 10/24/99
I've finally managed to dig up an hour or so (5am-6am sunday morning) to browse through your site again.

A year ago, when I emailed you, I was a wanna-be physicist. Now I am emailing you as a grad student in astrophysics at the University of Chicago.

(all that to set up a hook to the next subject...)

Being here is really awe-inspiring, since my hero Carl Sagan got his PhD here back in the 60s. His biography just came out, and I'll get to it during the winter break (too busy with homework right now).

But have you read it? I'd like to hear what you think of it!

I understand two biographies are out on him now. One was the cause of a major debate here. (Most of the debate has nothing to do with the book though.) From the reviews at amazon, it sounds like Carl Sagan, A Life seeks to paint as controversial and sensational a picture as possible. Perhaps Carl Sagan : A Life in the Cosmos by William Poundstone is a better read. After I read it, you'll be sure to see my review on the site.


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