Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Buyer's Remorse?

Is it not ironic that President Obama’s approval rating has been going down in recent weeks? I saw where it has now hit the 48% approval level. Buyer’s remorse is an interesting thing. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised that he would not be as bad as I thought he would be, but that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, he is just about as bad as I suspected he would be. What has surprised me though is the fact that, though try as he may, his federal health care plan looks to be stalling and the cap and trade plan is in similar straights. I guess we can thank some blue dog democrats for that. Appently, the democrats strategy of enlisting more conservative democrat candidates to run in traditional republican districts and states has not worked out as well as they hoped. It has given them the strong majorities they wanted, but the blue dogs aren’t playing along with the more drastic spending and taxing schemes cooked up by the Obama, Reid and Pelosi cabal. So that is a good thing.

But still, the rascals are in office and there can still be a lot of damage done in the next year and a half before we can take out the trash. The republicans are polling better at this point pretty much across the board, with Mitt Romney currently polling even or ahead of Obama and the democrats in Congress are polling worse than ever. I suspect that the democrat brand will continue it’s slide, if they continue on the spending and taxing track they are on. So what’s going on?

My guess is that the American voters, who were hoodwinked by the mainstream media’s used-car-salesman’s slight of hand and seduced by the prospect of proving to the world that they were not racists, and were caught up in the “Historical” moment of the “First Black President”, have recognized, as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright would say, “America’s chickens have come home to roost!” The bloom is off the rose, as they say. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention that Obama has shown himself to be every bit as liberal as his critics said he was. Those who were not really paying attention, or didn’t really think there was that much difference between the candidates and the parties—I was often of the same mind myself—are staring to realize that they really made a mistake, that jumping towards socialism is not a viable answer to our problems. At least I hope so.

It is, of course, a crying shame that we had to do this and waste four years of a presidency and possibly six years for Congress before we can get this country on the right track again. But, hopefully, we will get our stupid fantasy out of the way and come back to reality. If the Republican Party can realize that conservatism is the winning strategy and the answer to America’s economic woes, this last election will not have been a total waste. We had a similar situation during the Carter administration. We just need another Reagan and a new conservative contract with America.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Religion and Man's Search for Meaning

I have recently seen and heard reports about the state of religious belief in America that may seem troubling for Christianity. It seems that surveys reflect a down turn during the past two decades in some aspects of some Americans’ religious belief and adherence. One survey showed a drop of about 11% of people who claim a “Christian” affiliation. But, the percentage of people claiming to believe in God or a “higher power” remains roughly the same, around 90%. Some surveys show significant drops (between 5 to 8%) in membership in some of the largest mainstream Christian denominations, including Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal Churches, etc. Of course surveys also show some growth in extreme “spiritual” practices, such as paganism and wikka, but I doubt that that is where all of the Christian believers are going. Some of the American Christian denominations, which are considered by some to be less mainstream in their doctrine and practices, like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals, have continued to hold their own or grow during the same timeframe. Happily, for me, the Mormon Church—I must remind you readers, or inform you if you are unaware, that the actual name of the “Mormon Church” is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”—has grown about 11% in America and Canada during the past 10 years. Reasons for this, I conclude, are that we live in a time when people are questioning their traditional faith and practices and are seeking spiritual awareness and meaning for existence that the faith of their ancestors fails to provide them. If they are like me, they want to know the “Hows”, “Wheres” and “Whys” in respect to religion, and those answers need to stand up to logic as well as provide a powerful spiritual strength and reinforcement.

Last week, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I made a short trip with my wife to visit a couple of our church’s older temples in the state of Utah. She had never attended the St. George and Manti temples before. It was a very nice time together to reflect on my spirituality and our thirty years of marriage. A few months ago, I participated in the last dedicatory service for the Draper Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I am anticipating the dedication of the new Oquirrh Mountain Temple in a couple months. While listening to the messages delivered by some of the principle leaders of the Church at the Draper Temple dedication, I was again impressed by the simple and logical concepts of God and Man that I have embraced since becoming a member of the “Mormon” faith. Mormon doctrine answered my questions about who God is and my relationship to Him. It was their doctrine and practice that appealed to me and provided a religious and spiritual home, or would likely have found myself joining the growing percentage of Americans who believe in God, but do not affiliate with an actual church.

I was a religious child growing up. When I was eight years of age, I was moved by a sermon at a Wednesday evening service and came to the front of the church when the call went out to be “saved.” It was a powerful experience for me. I received an assurety at that moment that Christ loved me and had atoned for my sins, that he was my personal Savior. As a youngster of about 10 and 11 years of age I would occasionally strike up conversations with my family’s Baptist minister and I often asked questions about God and religion—he once told my mother that he thought I had a “keen little mind”. My oldest sister and her husband were renting a basement apartment from the pastor in those days and on one occasion, when I had come by to visit; I found that I had just missed her. So, I took the opportunity to have one of my religious discussions with the Reverend. I asked him a question had been on my mind as of late: What happens to people who are born in places or times in history where they have no opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ? He responded that anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (become “Saved”) will go to Hell. I was thunder struck. I thought, “This does not compute!” How could a loving and just God penalize one of his supposed children or creations to an eternity of torment for something completely out of their control? Of course, this idea seemed ludicrous to me, and as I thought about it since, I am sure it seems crazy to most right-thinking people. No wonder people turn away from such doctrine when family pressure and traditions become less influential in society. Having said that, I must add that it is not my intention to insult anyone of such religious persuasion, and who holds to such doctrine. I know many people, even beloved extended family who adheres to such, whom I know to be good, loving people, who try every day to live according to the Gospel of Christ, as they understand it.

Probably within a few months of my conversation with the pastor, as I recall, my uncle, Leonard Nicolay, joined the “Mormon Church.” He underwent a wonderful change. He had been a generally worldly man, as I recall, but had become dynamo of missionary zeal and approached all of his family and friends about his new faith. His approach was rejected by the majority of his many siblings, but his mother and father followed him into the Church and my own mother (his sister) agreed to listen to the Mormon missionary discussions. This caused great distress for many in the family, both among my mother’s five sisters and among my two older sisters. I had no initial interest in joining a new church at that point—I actually had begun to feel, like my father and older brother, that going to church was not really necessary—but as I listened to the discussions the missionaries presented, I found that they were actually answering many of the questions that had begun to trouble me about God and Man.

The Elders, as they were called, opened the Bible and showed me where I came from, why I was here, and where I was going after this life. I learned that I was literally a spirit son of God and that, as his son, I stood to inherit all that he had if I lived according to his commandments. I learned that because I lived with him in a pre-mortal existence and was a witness and party to the planning and creations of the Heavens and Earth, I had free agency given me to participate in humanity’s mortal quest on the Earth: to gain a mortal body; to learn to live by faith; and gain the knowledge necessary to become like my Father in Heaven. This idea of free agency or free will is paramount when one tries to understand the judgments of God. Without free will we could neither sin nor do good. If we were to be judged for things we have no control over, we have no free will and the judge, God, offers no justice. God must be just to be God and make righteous judgments.

I came to realize that these concepts were familiar to me, like things that I had known all along, but did not have the references for to make them my life’s faith. I also learned that Jesus Christ was literally God the Father’s Son, as the Bible clearly teaches, not some weird personification of the Father, as is taught by much of mainstream Christianity. In essence, Jesus was not doing a ventriloquist act when it was announced from Heaven to John the Baptist at Jesus’ baptism at the Jordon River, “This is My Beloved Son.” Jesus was a literal son of the spirit—making Him our Brother—as “the only begotten Son of God” in the flesh. He was a perfect man and lived a perfect life and with the physical attributes of his mortal mother, Mary, He had the capacity to experience pain and death, and with the attributes of His immortal Father, he had power over death.
I also learned that if we live on this world at times and places where the Gospel for Christ cannot reach our ears, we are allowed the opportunity to be taught it in the spirit world where we all wait for the resurrection. That we will be resurrected with perfect immortal bodies like the Father and the Son both have at this point. These and many other doctrines and teachings, such as baptism for the dead, degrees of glory in the resurrection and eternal marriage are to be found in the scriptures for us to read and understand, however tradition and prejudice prevent most of us from understanding them.

It is therefore understandable to me why there seems to be growing disinterest in most traditional mainstream Christian sects, or what is considered by many to be organized religion. And, it is easy for me to appreciate why some other lesser known faiths, such my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are growing in membership and influence. My study of traditional Christianity today affirms my findings from my research into the ancient Church that Christ established. There is little resemblance except within the Mormon Church today. Mankind, to some extent, is thinking more and not leaning as much on traditional ideas. They want something that is intrinsically logical and makes them want to be better people. Also, a religion must, as the Prophet Joseph Smith affirmed, require sacrifice of its adherents to create the faith necessary for them to progress and obtain salvation. I believe people need and want meaning in life. They want to know why they are here. They want to know that they have choices and freedom. It is a powerful heady feeling that you can be whatever you want to be, and people, if they have not had that innate Heavenly spark removed from them by traditions and degrading life choices, are willing to sacrifice whatever it might take to obtain it.