Friday, March 23, 2018

The Need to Act on the Truths

I just watched/read/listened to Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella's talk, Essential Truths—Our Need to Act, and the title alone reminded me of one important, if not essential, truth: merely knowing the truth is not sufficient; we must also act on it. For example, we might know that there are sharks in a particular bay, but if we don't act on that knowledge by resisting the urge to swim there, that knowledge isn't going to protect us from the sharks. Similarly, we might know how to bake a cake, but unless we use that knowledge to bake the cake properly, we're going to end up with a less-than-ideal cake or something that's not a cake at all. Acting on knowledge is just as essential as possessing it.

We know the truths of the Gospel. Many of us have know them all our lives. But merely knowing those truths isn't enough. We also have to put that knowledge into practice by doing those things that we know that we should do and by not doing those things that we know that we should not do. Learning the Lord's will is only the first step; the second step is doing it.

Unfortunately, the second step is the hard one. It's relatively easy to learn the Lord's will, given the many methods we've been given to learn it. We can study the scriptures, the words of the prophets, both ancient and modern. We can consult with our church teachers and leaders, and of course, there's always personal revelation. Learning what God wants is often relatively easy. Actually doing it can be difficult.

While knowing the will of the Lord is a question of study, doing the will of the Lord is a test of character. It requires wisdom and will-power. It requires the ability to understand how a particular commandment or principle applies to a given situation and acting accordingly, despite Satan tempting us not to. Acting on the truths of the gospel is far harder than learning them is.

Yet, if we don't act on those truths, there's really no point in learning them. The gospel isn't about just knowing the commandments, but keeping them. If we're not going to keep the commandments anyway, it would just as well if we didn't know them. Actually, if we're not going to act on the truths of the gospel, it would actually be better if we didn't know them, because then we wouldn't be held accountable for knowing the will of the Lord and not doing it. Ignorance of the law can be a fair defense, but for those of us who already know the truths of the gospel, we must act on them. I know that we'll be blessed if we do so, and that we'll be in serious trouble if we don't.

Why Evil Exists

The next paper I have to write for my Modern Philosophy class is about the Problem of Evil, which is a logical problem that's created when ones considers the power and goodness of God alongside the darkness and evil that exist in the world. Theoretically, if God was all-powerful, He could rid the world of evil, and if He was all-good, He would do it. I don't like absolutes, but I still believe that God is at least powerful enough to eliminate most, if not all, evil from the world and good enough to want to, so why doesn't He?

There are many reasons.

Moral Evil, which is the evil things people do and the consequences that result from them, is by definition the results of human action. God's not responsible for those acts; we are. Arguably, God shares some of the responsibility, just as any parent who gives a child a potentially dangerous tool can be considered somewhat responsible if the child uses that tool to hurt themselves or someone else. Still, this suffering can be beneficial, if we learn from it. We can learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, and suffering for any reason can stretch one's soul.

Natural Evil, which is suffering and imperfections that naturally occur in the world, is more directly linked to God, but are no less instructive. While it takes a bit more abstract thinking to learn moral lessons from the behavior of nature, the suffering that results from that behavior can stretch one's soul just as well as suffering caused by moral evil.

While we may think that the world might be better without any moral or natural evil in it, it's important to remember that those evils and the suffering they cause play an important role in God's plan. From evil and the suffering that results from it, we can learn essential lessons that we could hardly have learned otherwise. It could be true that evil itself is actually essential to God's plan, which might explain God's creation of Satan, though I'm less sure about that. What I am sure about is that there are good reasons why evil exists in this world and why God is wise enough not to eliminate it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ethical Respones to Unethical Behavior?

Both on my blog and in my Philosophy classes (particularly the Ethics class), I have thought about Ethics and Politics, and I've wondered what God's stance is on all of this. I understand that people should behave ethically, and were God a U.S. citizen, He'd probably promote laws that promote ethical behavior, but how would those laws promote ethical behavior, or rather, what should we do about those who behave unethically? My philosophy, in most cases, is "live and let live," but when one person hurts another person, there has to be some kind of punishment, right?

I'm not completely sure. What is the purpose of punishment? Deterrence? By the time there's someone to punish, it's too late to deter them. I suppose you could punish one person as an example (and a deterrence) to others, but is that really fair? Those who promote punishment sometimes do so in the name of justice, but is it really our place to judge? Who are we to decide what sort of punishment is fair?

I am comforted by the fact that everything that is unfair about life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Still, we should strive for fairness, especially in our justice system. Letting people off the hook isn't a wise move for society, and over-punishing someone isn't any better. I believe that we should try to make the punishment match the crime, but how can we determine what sort of punishment matches each crime?

Essentially, I'd like to know what God thinks of earthly laws punishing unethical behavior. Does He condone mortal punishment or does He think that we should stop judging people's behavior an penalizing them for it? Which unethical decisions are bad enough to warrant punishment (e.g. murder), and which ones are light enough to let slide (e.g. swearing)? How should we decide which punishments to impose on which actions?

As God-fearing voters, we should attempt to determine how God would like us to vote. Essentially, this means that we should attempt to discover the will of God for those who behave unethically and those who interact with them. Does God want us to punish evil-doers? Probably. But how He wants us to punish evil-doers is less clear. This will probably require a lot of soul-searching and an attempt to bring my will into harmony with God's. Perhaps, when my will more closely aligns with His, I will have a better idea what He would want us to do regarding those who behave unethically.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Forming Bonds in Rat Park

Thinking about how to solve the plight of the homeless, my brother and I just watched a Ted talk about addiction. In that talk, the speaker, Johann Hari, described a study that found that, while rats in individual cages can become consumed by drug addiction, rats in a shared cage with lots of fun things to do (a "rat park" as it were) managed to shrug off the effects of the drugs to which they had access. Hari suggested that the reason the "rat park" rats weren't badly affected by the drugs was that they didn't need them. They had other stimulants, including friends and toys, that they could turn to instead of drugs. Rats, like humans, are intelligent and social creatures, accustomed to forming bonds with others of their own species, or in the absence of fellow species members, with anything they can bond with.

The theory goes that humans, like rats, are naturally inclined to bond with other people. When we can't satisfactorily bond with other humans (for any number of reasons), we tend to turn to other things, like animals, entertainment, and/or drugs. We turn to other things, and can become addicted by them, to fill the void left by the lack of meaningful human interaction. Thus, to solve the problem of addiction, we have to reach out and connect with people.

Of course, this is just one theory, and it would be helpful to do more studies like the one with the Rat Park, to see if they produce similar results. Furthermore, what works for rats may not work for humans, so we can't pretend that we've found the magical cure for human addiction, but it still might help. If you or anyone you know are struggling with addiction, I would encourage you to reach out and to try to form the kind of human connection that the addict may need. We know that we all need friends in life and that we tend to form special, sacred bonds with out families. Now, thanks to some rat research, we may have found out why. Humans and Rats both want to form bonds, and if we don't want them to bond with drugs or other addictive habits or practices, we may have to find other things, or other people, for them to bond with.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Bright Side of Nihilism

I haven't studied Nihilism anywhere near enough to effectively blog about it, but I'm going to go for it anyway. As I understand it, Nihilism is a belief that there is no inherent meaning to a person's life. People aren't born with any grand purpose, and there is no God telling us what we ought to do or be, according to my understanding of Nihilism. Many people see this as soul-crushing. Some believe that Nihilism, if it's true, makes life completely meaningless. But that's not the way I see it. I and many others see Nihilism as an opportunity to create our own meaning of life. If our lives don't have any inherent purpose, we can still give them purpose. Under Nihilism, we can decide what we want our lives to be about. That's not soul-crushing; it's liberating.

Of course, it's also academic. There is a God who created us for specific reasons, and He does have great plans in store for each of us who are willing to follow Him. In gaming terms, there is a Main Quest that we are supposed to try to achieve, yet I choose to believe that God grants us the freedom to choose which Side Quests we also follow and to even make up our own, if we want to. God may have a particular career or calling in mind for you, but you get to choose your hobbies. (You can also choose your own career and you can reject callings, regardless of what God says, if you really want to, though you'll probably miss out on blessings if you do.)

I like the middle ground way of thinking because it gives me the best of both worlds. Knowing that God has a plan for me lets me know that I'm part of something bigger than myself, and knowing that, even within His plan, God gives us a lot of freedom lets me know that the purpose of my mortal life is still largely up to me. God has a plan that gives all our lives meaning, but what meaning our lives have beyond that is up to us to decide.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Blessings Worth Their Cost

Elder Stanley G. Ellis's talk, Do We Trust Him? Hard Is Good, was not about tithing, but in it, he posed a question that one would do well to consider if they feel that they may be too poor to pay tithing:
Do we have the faith to trust His promises regarding tithing that with 90 percent of our increase plus the Lord’s help, we are better off than with 100 percent on our own?
Of course, it is difficult to have that much faith, and if one's finances are especially tight, it may feel like they need every penny they can hold on to. But God does not ask us to make sacrifices without offering us something in return. In return for a tenth part of our increase, the Lord has promised to open the windows of Heaven and pour out such great blessings, we won't even have enough room to receive them all (Malachi 3:10). I can't say exactly what form(s) those blessings will take, but I can say that they are certainly going to be worth their cost. Ten percent is a sizable chunk of one's income, but the Lord's blessings are worth far more than that.

I used to think that you can't buy miracles. Either God is going to bless you, or He won't; you can't bribe Him. However, that may not be strictly true. Paying tithing with the knowledge that God will bless us for doing so is kind of like buying those blessings. Sure, the exact blessings we get are unpredictable, so it'll kind of like buying a mystery pack of blessings, but they're always worth the cost. Plus, buying blessings seems like such a novel concept, and it's kind of exciting to pay tithing and see what kinds of blessings you get from it.

For those not brought up with the habit of paying tithing, I can understand why it would be difficult. Ten percent of one's income can be a lot of money. But what we get in return for that investment is priceless. The blessings of heaven are worth far more than what we're asked to pay for them. It's a good deal. Plus, like Elder Ellis suggested, we are fare better of with 90% of our increase and God's help than we are with 100% of our increase on our own. I, for one, know that I need God's help in my life. I'd gladly just buy those blessings, if I could. So, given that paying tithing is kind of like buying blessings, I'm happy to do so. God's blessings are worth far more than ten percent of my income to me.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Works in Progress

In his talk, Apart, but Still One, Elder Joni L. Koch encouraged us not to be judgmental, saying, "Brothers and sisters, we have no right to portray anybody, including from our Church circle, as a badly finished product!" There is at least one reason why this is true. None of us can be "a badly finished project" because none of us are a finished project at all. We are all works in progress. We are all growing and learning and gaining experience. We are all, in various ways and at various rates, becoming better people. None of us are perfect yet, but we are all improving. At the very least, we all still have opportunities to improve. No one is locked into being the way they all now, no matter how stubborn they are. No one is a "lost cause." Everyone can get better, and can even eventually become perfect, so we shouldn't we get too hung up on the way anyone is now. All any of us are now are just works in progress. If you want to judge someone, wait until you see them as their finished product.