Welcome Ebenezer Orthodoxy

February 17, 2005

Jonathan Max Wilson, aka Ebenezer Orthodoxy, has accepted an invitation to be the first ever guest blogger at a bird’s eye view. He was gracious enough to come help with a template issue and we wanted him to stay on for a while to lift us up with his unique perspective and insights.

Jon has been a friend of mine and Allison’s for close to ten years now. I first met him as an undergraduate at BYU while living in the BYU Foreign Language Student Residence. My wife Allison met him there a year before I did. He and I both met our wives there. I was in the German House, Allison in the French House; Jon was, I believe, in the Portuguese House and Chastity was in the Spanish House. It was a wonderful experience to live there.

Jon is fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese and has a background in literature, computer programming, and drama. I think he’s good at math too. . . .

Welcome Ebenexer Orthodoxy! We look forward to your input.


Do Nazis Have Free Speech Too?

February 16, 2005

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a social democrat, has recently in the wake of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and also of the Allied firebombing of Dresden on February 13-14, 1945 reiterated promises to make neo-Nazi demonstrations more difficult. He has also suggested more severe punishments for certain aspects of neo-Nazi ideology, e.g. which downplays the Holocaust and portrays German civilian dead in Dresden and other German cities destroyed in the war as victims of the “bombing Holocaust.”

It is true that the German civilians who endured Allied firebombing of German cities in an effort to bring Hitler’s war machine to its knees suffered tremendously and tragically. But Chancellor Schröder put it well when he said, with reference to neo-Nazi appellation of the tragedy as the “bombing Holocaust,” that “We will use all means to counter these attempts to re-interpret history. We will not allow cause to be confused with effect. . . . This is our obligation to all the victims of the war and Nazi terror, especially and also the victims of Dresden.

I generally like Chancellor Schröder’s point of view of things.

In spite of this very important observation that cause should not be confused with effect in remembering the civilian dead of German cities firebombed by the Allies, my heart breaks for the ordinary Germans, especially the innocent children, who died horribly in the fiery furnace of a fire-bombed city or who were orphaned very young by this tragedy. Dresden is a stark example of this, but Berlin and Hamburg, among others, were also reduced to rubble.

Dresden, untouched by bombing just months before the end of World War II, was 85 percent destroyed by two waves of British bombers on the night of Feb. 13, 1945. U.S. planes blasted the city the next day.

The official death toll is put at around 35,000, but many survivors believe the actual number was higher as bodies were reduced to ashes in the ensuing firestorm.

The “burning” question, however, is to what extent should the rights of present-day neo-Nazis or other such extremists be curtailed in an interest (1) not to profane the memory of the millions killed by the Nazi Holocaust as well as German civilians who were the collateral damage necessary to break Hitler, and (2) to prevent a neo-Nazi rise to power that could threaten the peace and/or the safety of minorities? All things explicitly Nazi are already outlawed in Germany, such as the swastika, the Heil Hitler, the first verse of von Fallersleben’s Hymn to Germany, and other Nazi marching songs and regalia. But neo-Nazis use the Imperial Flag rather than the swastika flag to mean the same thing, and likewise avoid the other illegal Nazi things in public. The German Parliament is debating to what extent neo-Nazi-related demonstrations and ideology, even if devoid of direct and illegal Nazi references and symbols, should be illegalized. They wish to do so without unconstitutionally abrogating free speech and freedom of expression rights. It is a tricky question.

Today, there was some movement on this question as a proposal is being debated that would add a paragraph to the criminal and sentencing codes that would make glorifying or down-playing Nazi violence and dictatorship a punishable offense if such behavior is meant to disrupt the public peace:

Streitpunkt in der Koalition ist die in dem von Schily und Zypries am Freitag vorgestellten Entwurf vorgesehene Änderung des Paragraphen 130 des Strafgesetzbuches. Ein neuer Absatz 4 sollte das Verherrlichen und Verharmlosen der nationalsozialistischen Gewalt- und Willkürherrschaft unter Strafe stellen, wenn dieses dazu geeignet sei, den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören. Darauf wird in dem Entwurf von SPD und Grünen zunächst verzichtet. Beck begründete dies mit verfassungsrechtlichen Bedenken. Die Formulierung sei zu unklar und habe daher „verfassungsrechtlich nicht ganz unheikel erschienen“.

Der Gesetzentwurf der Koalitionsfraktionen soll am Freitag in erster Lesung vom Bundestag beraten und in den darauf folgenden Beratungen durch Änderungsanträge der Koalition ergänzt werden. Schmidt sagte, nach Möglichkeit solle das Gesetz bereits in der kommenden Woche vom Bundestag beschlossen werden.

But so far, this proposal has not been able to pass precisely because of the constitutional concerns it raises for free speech.

I myself am conflicted; on the one hand, it is repugnant to me that these people, however despicable their views, be disallowed from expressing their views while others with nearly as despicable views (such as communists or others with questionable social agendas) are allowed or even encouraged to express their views. On the other hand, I personally don’t want neo-Nazis to have a bully pulpit every time there is a celebration or commemoration of the victory over Nazi aggression and atrocity. Germany doesn’t have the same exact constitutional framework in place as we do in the United States, so a US First Amendment analysis would be inapposite. It is also likely what causes me to question the appropriateness of abridging these neo-Nazis’ free speech rights (even though I don’t agree with their viewpoint). Luckily for Germany, their constitutional framework mandates the state to respect the dignity of human life (which has also played a role in Germany’s approach to abortion) while at the same time outlawing direct Nazi references based on the public interest and the unique history of Germany. My feeling is that this new law criminalizing expression sympathetic to the Nazi period will pass. Although it would and should never pass in the American democratic process, the Germans have their own democratic process and public needs that are determined at least partially by this unique history. In that sense, I hope that the Germans will do the right thing for their own situation.

The Times

February 14, 2005

Well, today was the official first day of the Bloggernacle’s very own new online journal The Bloggernacle Times. The site really looks great. They also have a great line-up of contributors. I am really looking forward to this new endeavor. Congratulations to you newsies!

Two things though:

(1) There isn’t a list of Bloggernacle links, which it seems like the Times would naturally have.

(2) There isn’t a recent comments list so we can’t see the action right away when stopping by.

A Moral Blight

February 14, 2005

Justin B. has excerpted some interesting information from a 1971 article on slavery in the Utah territory during the 1850s (i.e. before the Civil War and the 1862 federal abolition of slavery). The article is Dennis L. Lythgoe, “Negro Slavery in Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly vol. 39.1 (Winter 1971), p. 43.

I tried to leave a comment over there but there is a problem with Justin’s comment feature. I am always very interested in Justin’s posts and his excerpts of research re Mormon history. At the same time, I am always slightly nervous since I don’t know what Justin’s agenda is. On the one hand, he seems merely interested as a historian in the Church; on the other hand, the subject matter of his posts is quite often very controversial and topics that cannot avoid portraying the Church in a bad light.

As to slavery in the Utah territory I would just say that the very thought of slavery makes me sick. I’m glad that this people largely rejected slavery and that only a very few (mostly converts from the deep South) brought it here. The fact, however, that no law was passed expressely prohibiting it should not be an indictment of the Church or this entire people or our religion. The Church of those days existed in the cultural setting of those days. In many aspects the doctrines led the Church’s adherents to be more enlightened than other nineteenth-century Americans. In other respects, the members were just as blind; apparently, slavery was one of those areas to some members of the day.

Powerful Doctrine

February 13, 2005

At stake conference today I saw Orsee Bonsu across the crowd and reflected on his powerful testimony that he bore to us in the Colonial Hills II ward last week on Fast Sunday.

He is from Ghana and stood to testify of his conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true Church on the earth. He related what brought him to this knowledge, and it was the power of the doctrines of the Restored Gospel (and doctrines that are really only clear in this dispensation of God’s dealings with his children). The particular powerful doctrine of the Restored Gospel that he focused on as having the power to lead him to the Church was the doctrine of baptism for the dead.

Dr. Bonsu was concerned about the welfare of his father. His father had been a very good man, according to Bonsu, but had died with no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus Christ. Bonsu figured that if God were truly just, he would never condemn someone for having died without baptism if that person had never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and accept or reject Jesus Christ. With all of the doctrinal rangling between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints, with the former accusing the latter of not being Christians, this aspect of Evangelical belief remains infirm and disconcerting to the truly thoughtful followers of Christ. It greatly bothered Dr. Bonsu as well.

He investigated many churches and met with the missionaries as well. He was mildly interested during the initial discussions with the missionaries and many of his appointments with them fell through. But then Dr. Bonsu asked them about the welfare of his deceased father. The power of the doctrine of baptism for the dead struck him to the very core and he knew that this was God’s true church. He got baptized soon thereafter and was called immediately to serve in his stake’s family history center. Now, he has been called to head up family history for the whole continent of Africa. He is driven by the principles behind the doctrine of baptism for the dead. His testimony reminded me of the basic principles of the Restored Gospel that function as proof of its truthfulness and also that enrich our membership in this Church. I realized I had been taking this earth-shatteringly important principle of the Restored Gospel absolutely for granted.

Priesthood Blessings: A Matter of Form or Substance?

February 10, 2005

Recently we had some illness in our family. There is not much in this world that I have faced which is worse than having sick children. Particularly when the afflicted one is a baby who can’t talk yet, such times are difficult to endure. There is a constant nagging worry about what to do- go to the doctor? Put the child to bed? WHAT?!? Anyway, when our baby was sick last week, as well as my wife and my other children, it seemed as though a dark feeling had settled upon the Fowles house. We felt unsettled and anxious.

We were so thankful to be able to call our neighbor from around the corner to come and help administer in healing blessings. The feelings of darkness and anxiety were replaced with light and calm reassurance as we blessed my children to heal them in the name of Jesus Christ. Truly, Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the Prince of Peace, as was confirmed to our hearts once again as we performed that temporally saving priesthood ordinance. And priesthood as restored to Joseph Smith is His power.

Yet after the adminstrations, I had to pause and wonder: what if the Brother from around the corner had not been able to come help me annoint? I’m sure it would have been fine- necessity would have dictated that I do both the annointing and the sealing myself. But that got me wondering about why we even need to bother with 2 brethren then. Furthermore, when the good Brother came to my aid, he took the time to put on a white shirt and a tie before coming, even though it was evening. I did the same, out of habit. What if neither of us had bothered to put on nicer clothes? Would the blessings have been any less efficacious?

This all got me wondering about why we even need to annoint in the first place? I know there is scriptural basis for it, and that this is simply how priesthood blessings are given- but why? Would the Lord withhold special blessings from an infant because the formality of annointing was not completed? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a merciful God would do. It seems like the Spirit could dictate just as surely the healing words with or without oil beforehand, though. And it seems to me as though the substance of the priesthood ought to overcome the form of the ritual performed. So are we concerned with form or substance in priesthood blessings?

Brother Knight also poses a similar question– he discusses how many people in his ward tack on a perfunctory “if it be the will of the Lord” to their blessings and attach great importance to those words. But do those words really do any work?

Throughout the Old Testament, form seems all pervasive and seems like it might trump substance. Complex rituals are laid out for nearly every ordinance and sacrifice. In the New Testament, however, the new gospel wine seems to be rich with substance and generally unweighted by form. But in today’s church, a great deal of emphasis is placed on form. Our most sacred rituals are laden with form.

So here’s a chance for you gospel scholars to weigh in. Are priesthood rituals a matter of form or substance? Which is more important? If they are both of equal importance, then what should we do if we aren’t able to follow the form? Can we give priesthood blessings for healing unpreceded by the annointing ritual?

I am very interested in your thoughts, and especially interested in your thoughts backed up by scripture/modern statements of General Authorities on this matter (although I would also be happy to just hear your own thoughts, without any scripture). If this has already been done at T&S, I apologize- send me the link and this will be a short discussion!

(Now back to my study of form versus substance in the land of contracts, where substance definitely rules the day these days- except of course for that pesky statute of frauds…)

On Millstones and the Condescension of God

February 10, 2005

Lest anyone think that I am insensitive to the plight of abused children because of my response to Martha Nibley Beck’s accusations against her father Hugh Nibley that he sexually abused her as a child while wearing Egyptian ceremonial dress, I wish to express that nothing is further from the truth. I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for innocent children who have been mistreated or abused, whether physically, sexually, or emotionally. Stories of child abuse in the media make me physically ill and my heart breaks for the children. If anything causes enmity towards God to enter my heart, it is reports of the suffering of the little ones.

Last week, we had stories in the media of the Dollars, a couple who tortured their children, locking them in a closet, pulling out their toenails and banging their feet with hammers, and starving them over extended periods of time such that by the time of their rescue, they looked like Auschwitz survivors.

This week, we have a Tuscon couple who locked their daughter in her room for over a year and sexually abused her:

Investigators determined that the girl — described as 5 feet 6, weighing only 97 pounds and “significantly malnourished” — was kept in a bedroom with its single window covered by a blanket, its door fastened by an outside lock.

This 14 year old girl also had likely not been to school since the fourth grade.

Punishment should be swift and severe for the perpetrators of such acts. If anything in this entire world makes me question God and his love for us earthlings, it is such occurences of child abuse. As bad as this latest story is, it pales in comparison to the pure evil that is being perpetrated against children in places like Thailand’s sex industry and as a result of pornography and the sexual licentiousness that abounds in our society.

Although I was always bothered very deeply by stories of cruelty to children (I used to have nightmares about kidnapping and such as a little kid), the first time that an awareness of this cruelty shook my entire being was when I first heard of the plight of Kaspar Hauser, a child severely abused and neglected for sixteen years and found in Nuremberg in 1828. The Count Anselm von Feuerbach, a judge on the Bavarian Court of Appeals, took interest in the case and resolved to come to the bottom of it. It remains, however, to this day, a mystery just who Kaspar Hauser was. The preface to the 1833 English translation of Feuerbach’s account of Hauser’s story briefly summarizes Hauser’s experience:

Hauser was at that time [that he was found in Nuremberg] about sixteen or seventeen years old, had never learned to speak, and soon showed that he had been shut out during his whole life from all communication with the world. A narrow, dark dungeon, in which he was always obliged to remain in a sitting posture, so that even his bones had assumed a peculiar shape, had been all the space allowed to the unhappy being in this wide world; water and coarse bread, all the food he had ever tasted; a shirt, all his clothing; and now and then stripes, inflicted by the unseen hand of his fiendish keeper, when he happened to make a noise — all he knew of any being besides himself. He was but just allowed to vegetate — and what a wretched vegetation in his forlorn condition.

Only a few years later Hauser was stabbed to death in a pub. A life of misery, horrible in its details, and, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. These accounts turn up regularly; other stories are even worse which combine such isolation and neglect with routine rape and sexual exploitation in the child-sex industry. I have no insight or answers as to how this can be allowed to happen. It bothers me greatly and tempts me to question God’s love for us. In the end, though, I must confess, like Nephi upon being questioned concerning the “condescension of God,” that I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.