The Literal Resurrection

March 26, 2005

I don’t begrudge people around the Bloggernacle lamenting that Latter-day Saints don’t follow the liturgical calendar. I myself would love to follow it–because I think it would be fun and it would help some of us to be more reverent or invite some solemnity into our completely deconstructed lives. But the fact that the Church lacks the liturgical calendar is a testimony to the Church’s effort to focus on doctrine rather than tradition for tradition’s sake. Instead, Latter-day Saints focus on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s Resurrection as an unconditional aspect of that Atonement for its own sake and not by virtue of the liturgical calendar. This brings some of Hugh Nibley’s words to mind:

We have suggested that Latter-day Saints might be said to accept certain traditions common to the whole Christian world more wholeheartedly and with less reservation than most Christians do inasmuch as they take as literal what the rest of the world accepts in a rather vague, symbolic, or sentimental sense. Easter furnishes as good an illustration as any of what we mean by this. (Hugh Nibley, “Easter and the Prophets,” in The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987) (1954), p. 154.)

Indeed, the Resurrection qua Resurrection, on the one hand an indescribable miracle in its physics (at least to our finite minds), is on the other hand an integral part in the Plan of Salvation–a generous gift of the Lord to his children, but a gift with strings attached. True, the Resurrection is in itself salvation to the posterity of Adam and Eve. Latter-day Saints believe the true doctrine of the Resurrection: that all people, whether good or evil, will be resurrected. Alma the Younger explains why:

But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.

This bolded portion illustrates the dual nature of the Resurrection: salvation of a kind to all but also a very functional gift–we are resurrected so that we can be brought to justice in the flesh for our works, whether they be good or evil, during mortality. Jesus himself taught this truth when he visited his followers in the Americas after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem to show them his resurrected body and teach them this aspect of the Gospel. All people are resurrected to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to their works:

If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of damnation; being on a parallel, the one on the one hand and the other on the other hand, according to the mercy, and the justice, and the holiness which is in Christ, who was before the world began.

So Christ literally resurrected in the flesh. It wasn’t symbolic or merely a “spiritual resurrection.” We know this not only from the scriptures, but also, and more importantly, because Joseph Smith saw the resurrected Savior and Heavenly Father, two separate beings with physical bodies. In that one moment, Joseph Smith gained more knowledge about the nature of God and Jesus Christ, and the Resurrection, than eighteen hundred years of philosophy and theology had been able to figure out.

It was not only Joseph Smith’s testimony that he saw and spoke with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ that provoked and still provokes such animosity from the rest of Christianity; rather, what Joseph Smith learned about the Resurrection itself also greatly dismays Christianity, because it runs contrary to the neo-platonic philosophy on which Christian “theology” is founded. Hugh Nibley again comes to mind here:

The only real justification for the Christian Easter is teh proposition that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually took place–not as a symbol, a myth, a hope, a tradition, or a dream, but as a real event. The Lord himself after the resurrection took the greatest care to impress the literalness of the event on the minds of all his followers. Having risen from the dead, Christ came to his disciples and found them confused, perplexed, incredulous. He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14), and showed them in detail how the ancient prophets had actually predicted what had happened. He ordered them to feel him and see for themselves that he was not a spirit, but that the flesh had been resurrected; he ordered food to be brought and ate it in their presence, inviting them to dine with him. He told them that whenever they met after his departure they should continue to eat real bread and drink real wine to remind them that he had been with them in the flesh.
There was need to make this lesson perfectly clear, for men have always been relunctant to believe it. . . . The Apostles had to rebuke members of the church who simply would not believe in the resurrection, and John noted with alarm that “many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (2 John 7). “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead,” writes Paul to the Corinthians, “how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
(“Easter and the Prophets,” 156-57.)

Hugh Nibley proceeds to analyze the shift after the death of the Apostles in the Christian church and the “sway of philosophy” over the doctrines of the Church. Thus, “the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the oldest texts to survive after the time of the Apostles, show the spreadening and deepening of the anti-resurrection trend in the church” (Ibid, 157). Ignatius, for example, one of the early Apostolic Fathers, writes passsionately in defense of a physical resurrection (Ibid.). But this phase of apologetics in defense of a literal, physical resurrection would soon cease as well:

The sorrows and alarsm of the Apostolic Fathers were followed by the perplexities of the doctors. Most of the early doctors of the church were ardent Hellenists or Neoplatonists, and there was no place in such schools of thought for a God who contaminates himself by contact with the physical or limts himself by taking the form of a man.

This neo-platonic view might seem eminently reasonable even to a Christian philosopher or theologian reading this right now; in fact, such a person would likely use the categorical rejection of such philosophy by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is Jesus Christ’s restored Church on earth today, as evidence that the Church cannot be Christ’s true church. But that is exactly the point: these philosophers took a truth of God and because it didn’t make sense to them rationally, they rejected it sua sponte (i.e. absent guiding revelation) on the basis of the influence of the philosophies of men and, mingling such philosophy with New Testament scripture, fundamentally altered the doctrine to which the liturgical calendar now looks emptily. Hugh Nibley focuses on Origen and St. Augustine for this scepticism towards the physical resurrection.

Nibly describes the musings of Origen, “perhaps the most influential of all Christian philosophers next to Augustine himself” (Ibid., 158):

“We are stunned with the greatest amazement that this the most eminent of all natures, putting off its state of majesty, should become a man. . . . It is utterly beyond human comprehension that the Word of the Father . . should be thought of as confined within that man who appeared in Judea. But that the Wisdom of God should have netered the womb of a woman, and been born a baby, and cried and wailed just like other crying babies, and then suffered death and said that his soul was sorrowful unto death, and been led off to the most undignified of all deaths . . seeing such things the human intellect is stopped in its tracks, so stunned with amazement that it knows not where to turn. . . . It is far beyond our powers to explain. I suppose it even goes beyond the capacity of the Holy Apostles; nay, it is quite possible that the explanation of this sacrament is beyond the powers of all the celestial beings.” Not only does Origen not know what to think about the Lord’s physical presence on earth; he does not even know what to believe about it, and in his explanations is careful to specify that he is presenting only his “suspicions rather than any manifest affirmations.” (Ibid., 158 (quoting Origen, Peri Archon II, 6, 2, in J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus . . . Series Graeca (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1857-1866), 11:210)).

Nibley provides the following commentary on Origen’s musings: “Note the vanity of the schoolmen in Origen’s remarks: What he cannot conceive of because of his limited experience must necessarily be beyond the grasp of Apostles, angels, and all celestial beings! It is this sublime confidence in the adequacy of one’s own knowledge and the finality of one’s own experience that makes the resurrection of the flesh the principal thorn in the incorporeal minds of the schoolmen (Ibid., 159). This is a cogent and useful observation, and it reminds us of the limits of our knowledge when we base it on our experience, or when we claim that we can only know things from our experience.
Moving on to St. Augustine, Nibley emphasizes that belief in the resurrection is the core of being Christian, and, through Augustine’s own observations, throws the deep irony of a Christian rejection of the physical resurrection into stark relief.

According to St. Augustine, the resurrection of the flesh is the one thing that the pagans cannot take, it is the one thing with which the philosophers have no patience, and is above all the one thing that distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian. Since it is the one doctrine that makes Christians Christians, it is alarming to learn from St. Augustine that in his day “in nothing is there so much conflict and controversy among Christians themselves as on the subject of the resurrection of the flesh.” “On no other matter,” he writes, “do they disagree so vehemently, so obstinately, so resolutely, or so contentiously as on the subject of the resurrection of the flesh. For as fas as the immortality of the soul is concerned many a pagan philosopher too has argued about that and bequeathed us vast heaps of writings to the effect that the soul is immortal. But when it comes to the resurrection of the flesh they won’t argue, but dismiss it out of hand as impossible, and that on the grounds that it is impossible for this earthly flesh to aspite to heaven.” (Ibid.)

At this point, Hugh Nibley makes one of his most useful observations about the posture of Latter-day Saints towards the literal resurrection of the flesh as compared with the posture of much of the rest of Christianity, as inherited by such philosophers, on this doctrine: “I cannot resist noting here,” states Nibley “that the objection of the pagans to the resurrection is not a physical or a biological but a philosophical one, and it is the very same objection which the Christian world today makes against the Latter-day Saint conception of God: that there can be nothing of a bodily nature in the celestial. Yet the resurrected Christ was God. Is it any wonder that the Christians could never agree among themselves on this, the central doctrine of their religion? (Ibid.) But the Apostles themselves did not dispute the literal resurrection, or the resurrection of the flesh. The doubting Thomas’s own scepticism was put to rest when he saw the Lord and felt his resurrected flesh with his own mortal flesh. Thus, concludes Nibley very powerfully:

No matter how wildly improbable or paradoxical or utterly impossible a thing may seem to the cleverest people on earth, only by witness and not by reason, theory, or speculation may its truth be ultimately established, whether the truth be scientific or religious. “This is the testimony . . . which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him . . . and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father” (D&C 76:22-23). Compare this testimony of modern prophets with that of the ancients: “That which was from the beginning, which he have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; . . . That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” (1 John 1:1, 3.) After all, it is the testimony of the prophets that gives us the real Easter. (Ibid., 162).

I am grateful for the testimony of the true prophets of the literal resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I add my testimony to Hugh Nibley’s that the words of these prophets give us the real Easter, and not, I would add, any liturgical calendar or mere tradition that serves as cultural myth, symbol, or sentimental fallback.

Some People

March 23, 2005

I do not work in criminal law but stumbled across the following case researching an entirely different topic (always entertaining to see what LexisNexis turns up). I include a taste for your reading enjoyment:

[*P3] Pinder owned a lion, which he kept in a pen on his Duchesne County ranch. Pinder kept a baseball bat, which he used to intimidate the beast, near the lion’s pen. On a Sunday evening in late October 1998, Pinder used that bat to strike June Flood in the face, the first in a series of brutal and gruesome acts spanning several days, including a double murder and the implementation of a horrific scheme to destroy all evidence of the crime.

[*P4] Pinder did not commit those acts alone. At trial, Filomeno Ruiz, an ostensible ranch hand, testified that he was present both when Pinder beat Flood and Rex Tanner with the baseball bat and when Pinder subsequently shot and killed the two victims.

[*P5] Ruiz styled himself a member of the “Mexican Mafia” and was heavily involved in the drug trade. Pinder’s primary purpose for keeping Ruiz at the ranch was to ensure a ready supply of drugs for his own use. At trial, Pinder conceded that Ruiz was a “drug smuggling, gun running, mafioso, wife beating, dog killer.” Pinder additionally acknowledged that, while Ruiz did some work on the ranch–including feeding the ostriches and the ranch’s resident lion–Ruiz was not supervised by Pinder’s ranch hand supervisor. In fact, Pinder admitted that Ruiz did very little work at the ranch and agreed that Ruiz was no ordinary ranch hand, but was more akin to a personal employee. Pinder loaned his “personal employee” an AK-47 n1 for “work on the ranch” and also provided him training in explosives. It was this personal employee who accompanied Pinder on the night he killed Flood and Tanner.

n1 An AK-47 is “a Soviet-designed 7.62 mm (.30 cal.) gas-operated magazine-fed rifle for automatic or semi-automatic fire.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 28 (11th ed. 2003).

For the rest of this riveting and gruesome story dealing with such dignified representatives of the human race, see State v. Pinder, 2005 UT 15.

Is my blog permanently broken?

March 16, 2005

My sidebar has been progressively degenerating over the last couple of months. Now the sidebar doesn’t appear on the main page at all. I have no idea how to fix this problem.

Plain and Precious Parts in the Codex Sinaiticus?

March 15, 2005

A four year project is under way in London to digitize the oldest extant copy of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, written between the first and fourth centuries. In reporting this exciting piece of news, the Dallas Morning News opens with this provocative question:

Is the Bible the infallible word of God or a text doctored by calligraphers, priests and politicians to satisfy their own earthly motivations?

Evidence suggesting the latter is contained on the pages of the world’s oldest Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus. The ancient Greek Bible, written between the first and fourth centuries, has been divided since the mid-1800s after European and Russian visitors removed sections of it from a desert monastery in Egypt.

One particularly exciting part of the codex project is that copies of two texts dating to within fifty years of the death and resurrection of Jesus are included:

Researchers and plunderers have particularly coveted the codex because the texts were written so soon after the life of Jesus, and they are the largest and longest-surviving Biblical manuscript in existence, including both the Old and New Testament. In addition, the codex contains two Christian texts written around A.D. 65, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.

As a Latter-day Saint, the notion that “plain and precious parts” are missing from the Bible, either unintentionally or intentionally altered or redacted by men seeking power over interpretation and authority over people, is far from novel. It is true, therefore, as noted by one of the experts quoted by the Dallas Morning News, that “the way the editing works … is exceedingly interesting. What is the process leading to this or that correction? Whether it was merely editorial, or if they were following a theological lead in altering the message.” But if I am not mistaken (and the Dallas Morning News article doesn’t mention this), the Codex Sinaiticus likely more realistically dates from the fourth century, circa 350 A.D. The implications of this for Latter-day Saints looking for the plain and precious parts that they believe are missing (based on Latter-day revelatory insight) are clear: if the codex dates to circa 350 A.D., then some changes will have likely already been made because this is long after the death of the Apostles, the subsequent confusion over succession and doctrine, and the resulting resort to philosophy to fill the gaps absent revelation and divine guidance. In other words, if we were discussing a text dating closer to the original Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, then this might be more interesting for Latter-day Saints. As it stands, however, this could provide an interesting view of how a text could change from a corrupted state to a more corrupted state as the ebb and flow of power and institutional relationships and doctrine changed over time in the progress of the Great Apostasy.

Hübener at Dixie State College

March 14, 2005

Although I was in St. George last weekend, on March 11 and 12, I was not able to take the time to go see the Dixie State Theater production of Thomas Rogers’s play Huebener. I have long wanted to see this play performed and wonder how the Dixie presentation went. Did anyone in the Bloggernacle see it? Helmuth Hübener would have been 80 years old on January 8, 2005 if he hadn’t been executed as a traitor by the Gestapo in Berlin 63 years ago.

Helmuth Hübener was beheaded on October 27, 1942 at the age of 17 for the resistance he had attempted against the Nazis as a 16 year old apprentice in Hamburg, Germany. Earlier, he had faced beatings and torture while in Gestapo custody in Hamburg as he endured rigorous interrogation (“hartnäckiger Überzeugungsarbeit” as it is described in the official Gestapo report) about his accomplices. He faced further such interrogations in Hamburg custody and after he was transferred to a cell in Berlin.

The Hübener story has always been particularly moving to me. Of course, it is well known that Hübener’s Branch President was a member of the Nazi party and had Hübener excommunicated after his arrest. This is fertile subject matter for plenty of criticism in the Bloggernacle. But in truth, the Branch President was placed in a very difficult situation of either supporting Hübener and thereby putting his congregation in danger, or acting in the interest of the congregation and trying to gain favor in the eyes of the government. Whether his decision was just or not, only God can judge. But Hübener’s fate with the Gestapo was sealed regardless of any ecclesiastical action taken by the Branch President against him.

Hübener’s story is moving precisely because I identify with Hübener–he was LDS through and through and the Gospel and LDS culture permeated everything he did, including his resistance and his composure during his horrifying experience in Gestapo custody. This lasted until the very end, when, on the day of his execution in Berlin, he wrote a letter to a Hamburg branch member:

Ich bin meinem himmlischen Vater sehr dankbar, daß heute Abend dieses qualvolle Leben zu Ende geht, ich könnte es auch nicht länger ertragen. Mein Vater im Himmel weiß, daß ich nichts Unrechtes getan habe, es tut mir nur leid, daß ich in meiner letzten Stunde noch das Gebot der Weisheit brechen mußte. Ich weiß, dass Gott lebt, und Er wird der gerechte Richter über diese Sache sein. Auf ein frohes Wiedersehen in einer besseren Welt!

Ihr Freund und Bruder im Evangelium

This is particularly moving in the original German. Here is my rough translation:

I am very grateful to my Heavenly Father that my miserable life will come to an end tonight–I could not bear it any longer anyway. My Father in Heaven knows that I have done nothing wrong. I am just sorry that I had to break the Word of Wisdom at my last hour. I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter. I look forward to seeing you in a better world!

Your friend and brother in the Gospel,

This is the only extant letter that Hübener wrote while in custody (I think any others are presumed to have been destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Hamburg). This letter is astounding in many ways. First, it is a simple and direct testimony. It reveals how truly LDS Hübener was in all aspects of his life. He regretted being forced by his Nazi executioners to drink wine before his beheading. Second, he provides some insight into the value of the “I know that God lives”-type testimony that seems to bother some in the Bloggernacle. When Hübener says “I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter,” after having been tortured by the Gestapo and while facing imminent execution, I believe him and it strengthens my own testimony.

Hübener’s courage, however, inspires not only Latter-day Saints such as myself. It is true that Hübener’s 1941/1942 resistance with two friends in Hamburg is not very widely known in Germany. But none other than Günter Grass, one of Germany’s most well-known intellectuals, has included Hübener’s resistance activities in his writings. Two years ago, professor Hans-Wilhelm Kelling asked my assistance in translating an interview he had done with Günter Grass about Hübner in preparation for BYU’s documentary on Hübener called Truth and Conviction: The Helmuth Huebener Story. I was already familiar with the subject matter and Grass’s own interest in it since I had heard Karl Heinz Schnibbe (one of Hübener’s accomplices who also suffered tremendously for his resistance activities) speak of his relationship with Hübener and their resistance activities, and I had also read much of Alan Keele’s book When Truth Was Treason, which documents this resistance movement. So I was grateful for the opportunity to translate the interview for Kelling for use in the documentary. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen Rogers’s play Huebener. I was very happy to see that Dixie was doing a production of it; I hope that other Theaters might also follow suit.

Setting the Record Straight: Beck Loves Mormons

March 8, 2005

Martha Nibley Beck was on Good Morning America yesterday and, when asked about her resentment against Latter-day Saints, Beck replied, astonishingly, that “I love Mormons.” What about the gross inaccuracies in the book that are calculated to make the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints an object of nationwide ridicule? It’s good to know that Beck loves Mormons.

Also, she is setting the record straight about her recovered memories on her website. We’ll see if the Sunstone reviewer of Beck’s book has to read the book a third time now to convince herself that Beck’s claims don’t add up. Nevermind the statements of Beck’s seven siblings and her mother that such activity did not occur in their tiny Provo home. Nevermind also that Beck conveniently left out the episode of her childhood where her father rescued her from being molested by a teenage neighbor boy. There is plenty to impeach this witness, but the American reading public, I am sorry to observe, doesn’t much care about such trivialities if there is a juicy anti-Mormon story to be had in the package of a juicy ritual sexual abuse narrative.

Adelbert Denaux and Belgium’s Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations, or What’s in a Name, Anyway?

March 5, 2005

[NOTE to reader: This is a long, detailed analysis of Adelbert Denaux’s law review article in defense of Belgium’s Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations. For the application of this to Alessia’s case, scroll down near the end. Also, the term The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the official name of the “Mormon Church,” and this analysis uses the official name to refer to that religious organization.]

The case of Alessia that Professor Wilfried Decoo describes is important enough to warrant continued discussion. This case highlights Belgium’s treatment of religious groups that are not approved by the state. Particularly, the (non)involvement of Professor Adelbert Denaux in this case is revealing and instructive.

Adelbert Denaux is a professor on the Faculty of Theology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. Denaux is also the president of the International Ecumenical Fellowship (“IEF”). More importantly, for this case, however, and contrary to the very conciliatory sounding nature of the IEF, Denaux is also the President of Belgium’s Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations (Centre d’Information et d’Avis sur les Organisations Sectaires Nuisibles (“CIAOSN”)). In 2002, Adelbert Denaux attended the Ninth Annual International Law and Religion Symposium hosted by BYU Law School’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He may have been invited there to try to justify, if he could, the existence of such a state-sponsored Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations–and its list of 189 harmful “cults”–in a country that gave constitutional lip service to the free exercise of religion. (The French word “secte” carries the negative connotation and meaning of the English word “cult”, rather than merely “denomination,” which is the neutral connotation of the English word “sect”.) At any rate, his visit culminated in an article in the BYU Law Review concerning Belgium’s list of cults: The Attitude of Belgian Authorities Toward New Religious Movements, 2002 BYU L. Rev. 237. Page numbers from this article are cited parenthetically in this post.

In this article, Denaux uses in the title and in many instances throughout the more politically correct term “new religious movement” (“NRM”)to describe any religion that is not the Catholic or Dutch Reformed Protestant Church, rather than the negatively connotated French “secte,” although this word still surfaces in the article. Denaux’s article is focused on Belgium’s Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations (“IACCHSO”) and Belgium’s list of 189 harmful cults. Curiously, in defense of Belgium’s dedication to religious freedom, Denaux claims that Belgium’s creation of the IACCHSO actually constitutes a “noble effort” in regards to NRMs (238). I was incredulous at how inclusion on a list to be distributed by an institution with the title of Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations could possibly be construed as a noble effort on behalf of those included on the list. Others at the Symposium, including practioners, professors, and other mere law students like myself at the time, were similarly skeptical. Denaux, for his part, opens the door by asking, at the conclusion of his article defending the existence of a government institution with such a biased name, “Who could, on reasonable grounds, be against such a project?” (253).

Denaux contextualizes the creation of the IACCHSO by putting it in the context of cults that have sponsored mass suicide:

Following the mass suicide of seventy-four members of the “Temple Solaire,” a sect that included Doctor Luc Jouret, a Belgian citizen and one of two Temple Solaire leaders, Belgian authorities decided that it was their duty to protect Belgian citizens from the dangers associated with sectarian organizations. (238)

Even this contextualization, however, which is meant to reveal that Belgium was acting to prevent a future such atrocity, reveals the biased nature of the Belgian state against any and all NRMs. Denaux speaks of Belgium’s duty to protect its citizens “from the dangers associated with sectarian organizations.” Thus, there are dangers associated with all “sectarian organizations,” by which is presumably meant all denominations of Christianity besides Catholicism, Dutch Reformed (“gereformeerd” or “hervormd,” i.e. “reformiert“), and perhaps Lutheranism (“Evangelisch“). This, however, is a mere quibble.

To fulfil this duty, the Belgian Parliament initiated an investigation into the Temple Solaire disaster and issued a report of its findings on April 28, 1997. As an appendix to the report, the authors of the report added a list of 189 “harmful sectarian organizations.” Denaux quotes the incredible assertion of the Beglian Parliament that

the fact that a group appears in the list [of harmful sectarian organizations], even on the initiative of any state authority, does not mean that the Commission supposes it to be a sect or, a fortiori, to be harmful.

What? So just because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appears on a list of “harmful sectarian organizations,” to be distributed by a government entity titled the Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations, which is administered by a state administrative agency called the Administrative Agency for the Coordination of the Fight against Harmful Sectarian Organizations, (see pages 240-241 and footnotes 11-13), does not necessarily mean that the Belgian government considers the Church harmful or sectarian? Interesting. Then why the name?

Denaux offers no explanation on this point, merely pointing to the existential status of the Center:

The Center is linked to the Ministry of Justice–it relies on the ministry to meet its needs with respect to personnel, location, infrastructure, and daily work. Because the state, through the Ministry of Justice, supports the Center, a need for a level of independence exists. The Law requires this independence as well as objectivity and impartiality. In fact, the Center is functionally independent and is not integrated in the hierarchical structure of the ministry. Specifically, its members are chosen by a two-thirds majority of the House of Parliament, not the Ministry. Additionally, the Center has the prerogative to formulate, on its own initiative, advice and recommendations for the authorities. The Center is also independent in relation to the sects themselves as well as the anti-cult organizations. It is neither the mouthpiece of the government nor of the pressure groups of any kind. (241-242)

So the Center is not an organ of the ministry of justice but is an independent body whose members are selected by Parliament. That should make Latter-day Saints and all others belonging to religions listed as harmful sectarian organizations feel much better. But wait, if the Center is not an organ of the Ministry of Justice but is an independent governmental body, what accountability does the Center have for its anti-sectarian actions? Denaux does not address this concern.

To his credit, Denaux notes that he, the nominee for president of the IACCHSO at the time, voiced a concern that such a list might not be a great idea (though he gives no hint that he considered the creation of a Center with such a name or an Administrative Agency with such a name a bad idea).

The author of this paper was invited by the Commission as an academic expert who warned, in tempore non suspecto, against the publication of such a list:

Professor Denaux is not personally favourably disposed to the establishment of a list of sects, such as exists in France. He fears that this would rapidly degenerate into a witch hunt, because once placed on the list, the religious grouping will often be considered a priori as a sect and could not but with difficulty, prove the opposite.

(239, footnote 9 (quoting the findings of the Report of April 28, 1997))

Thus, Denaux could graciously concede at the Symposium and in the article that “it must be admitted publishing such a list was imprudent and could give rise to interpretations that the listed organizations were dangerous,” but was quick to add that this was “an interpretation not intended by the Report’s drafters” (239). Nevertheless, Denaux serves currently as President of this very Center, distributing information to Belgian state authorities concerning any “harmful sectarian organization” that appears on the list but whose presence on the list supposedly implies neither that the organization is “harmful” nor “sectarian” (i.e. a “cult”).

Denaux devotes a portion of his article to this nomenclature. “Many might ask what the Belgian law means by “harmful sectarian organization” (“HSO”)” (243). That is an understatement. Denaux explains, unabashedly, that “harmful sectarian organization,” as defined in the Law of June 2, 1998, refers to “all groups having a philosophical or religious vocation, or making such a claim, which, in their structure or practices, engage in harmful, illegal activities, harm individuals or the society, or violate human dignity” (243). Denaux never explains, however, the palpable contradiction this raises with his statements that inclusion on the list in no way implies that a group is harmful or sectarian. After all, how can he maintain this if the law itself defines “harmful sectarian organizations” in this way and the Center contains this nomenclature in its title? Perhaps if the Center really were only dealing with groups that conform to the legal description above, then Denaux could make this claim. But the Center, as Denaux points out, also considers itself an authority and advises the Belgian government with regards to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see 251-253), a group that manifestly (even, dare I say it, objectively) does not match the legal description of a harmful sectarian organization as defined in the Law of June 2, 1998.

With regards to the Center’s treatment of and definition of “harmful sectarian organizations,” Denaux adds some details of the Law itself:

The meaning of the term “HSO” [“harmful sectarian organization”] should also be ascertained in the light of the discussion held in the parliamentary commission. The commission formulated its conclusion by making a distinction between three types of organizations: “(i) sects in the strict sense[,] (ii) harmful sectarian organizations[, and] (iii) associations of evildoers.” The first category of sects is generally classified under the sociology of religion and commonly calls the sects New Religious Movements. The commission prudently avoided taking a position in the endless discussion about the definition of what constitutes a sect or a cult. It gives a rather general description of how it understands the word “sect,” namely a “group having a philosophical or religious vocation.” It even mentions the possibility that certain groups may “pose as such,” meaning that there are organizations whose philosophical or religious outlook is but a cover for other purposes. (243-244)

So the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need have no concern about its presence on the list of harmful cults because, after all, if it is nice to the Center, it might fall under the Center’s first category, “sects in the strict sense” (the French “secte” carries the negative connotation of “cult”), rather than in the second or third categories. But concerning these latter categories, “[t]he third category, ‘associations of evildoers,’ falls under criminal law. The second category, called ‘harmful sectarian organizations,’ located somewhere between the two extremes, is also defined according to criminological criteria” (244). So, how does the Church go about avoiding landing in one of these two categories? That is up to the Center and the Center alone:

The commission also proposed a set of criteria allowing the Center to qualify a sectarian organization as “harmful” or to present evidence of their harmful behavior. The commission accepted this criminological definition without recommending that the legislature adopt any legal definition of a sect.

Denaux, apparently, cannot understand why the 189 “cults” on his Center’s list should have anything against putting their trust in his organization, the Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations, to advise the Belgian government regarding their status as either (1) a regular old “secte“, (2) a specifically defined “harmful sectarian organization” (despite the fact that all NRMs are already included in the list of 189 cults of the Center on Harmful Sectarian Organizations), or (3) full-on “associations of evildoers.” After all, asks Denaux, “Who could, on reasonable grounds, be against such a project?” (253).

In spite of any concerns he may have voiced during the hearings leading up to the publication of the list of 189 cults and the establishment of his Center on Harmful Sectarian Organizations, Denaux defends the Center and thus implicitly its use of the list of 189 harmful cults throughout the article. “Belgium has an original solution to thwarting Harmful Sectarian Organizations,” writes Denaux. “This article outlines Belgium’s critical and responsible model, a model without prejudices or unwarranted influences and that can withstand the test of external opinions” (253). In fact, laments Denaux, the Report of April 28, 1997 “has been often quoted but, I fear, seldom read” (ibid.), implying that if only people would read the actual Report, which outlines the justifications for Belgium to set up the Center and the Administrative Agency for the Coordination of the Fight against Harmful Sectarian Organizations, then they wouldn’t be distracted by the fact that Belgium labels all these groups “harmful sectarian organizations” because they would then realize that such nomenclature in the list is “not the object of any approval or disapproval of the [Belgian] House [of Representatives]” (240). Such is Denaux’s conviction, and he is free to believe what he wants, but this leaves the question of whether the Belgian state is free to treat religions, both well-established ones like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as “new religious movements,” as “harmful sectarian organizations” through inclusion on the list of 189 cults and the resultant skepticism towards them.

Denaux ascribes illegitimacy to the attempts of the media and human rights organizations to question the work of the Center and its implications for the existence and life of new religious movements (or even those that aren’t so “new,” like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, est. 1830).

[S]ome human rights organizations [have] alleged that Belgian authorities were in fact using the synoptic table as a “list of sects” to target NRMs. However, when queried for evidence, these organizations could not verify their assertions. Some NRMs and minority religions also complained that their inclusion in the list has damaged their reputation or made them suspect in the eyes of others. In certain cases, a group’s inclusion in the list has allegedly been a basis for discriminatory treatment against them. In any case, the unfortunate result of the list’s bad publicity was that the rest of the investigative Report did not get the attention it really deserved. (240)

This is where Alessia’s case becomes expressly pertinent to Denaux’s adament defense of the work of the Center on Harmful Sectarian Organizations. In the bolded portion, Denaux notes this complaint of some new religious movements, i.e. that “the list has allegedly been a basis for discriminatory treatment against them,” but dismisses it together with his assertion that “when queried for evidence,” human rights organizations asserting that the list is being used by Belgium to target new religious movements as harmful sectarian organizations “could not verify their assertions.” Alessia’s case, however, suggests otherwise; rather, Alessia’s case is a concrete example of this very complaint in practice.

In relating Alessia’s case, Wilfried notes that the Belgian administrative agency responsible for helping the orphaned Latter-day Saint girl Alessia find a foster home told leaders of the Church’s youth organization that the Church was a harmful cult unless those youth leaders could prove otherwise. Thus, the Church’s presence on the list of 189 cults and its treatment by Denaux’s Center on Harmful Sectarian Organizations arguably created a presumption in the Belgian state that the Church was a harmful sectarian organization (after all, it’s on the list, right?). The agency placed this Latter-day Saint girl in the home of an ardent Catholic foster father who refused to allow Alessia to attend the services of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or to live according to the doctrines of that Church.

The youth leaders involved contacted the only Belgian they knew who they thought could help them in this situation: BYU French Professor Wilfried Decoo. Professor Decoo, in turn, appealed directly to Professor Adelbert Denaux, who Decoo thought would be willing to intervene based on what Denaux had written specifically about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his 2002 BYU Law Review article (see pages 251-253, where Denaux notes that even though the Church is on the list of 189 cults, it is, at the present time, not considered a threat to the Belgian state). It is questionable what Denaux did, if anything, to intervene and give his conciliatory words practical effect. It appears that if Denaux did anything at all, he merely sent the foster father the Center’s opinion of the Church (which can be found on pages 251-253 of Denaux’s BYU Law Review article). Anyone reading those findings will note, as did Professor Decoo, that “[i]f Denaux only sent this official IACHSO information to the people dealing with Alessia, it did more harm than good.” This conclusion can hardly be refuted.

Upon closer reflection, Professor Decoo realized his blunder:

I should have remembered [Denaux] is a Catholic priest. I should have remembered he is from West-Flanders. I should have remembered that years earlier he wrote a book reviling cults, including the Mormons. I should have known that the official IACHSO information about the Mormons was scanty (one page), ambiguous, cleverly mentioning past controversial issues such as racism, theocracy and polygamy. Next, according to the information, we are creationists rejecting evolution, we are fundamentalist readers of the Scriptures without any critical approach, and our “attitude towards women does not fit the European and international evolution in matters of equality between men and women”. Not one more word, leaving it to the reader to imagine narrow-minded fundamentalists and veiled women forbidden to study or drive a car . . . But, thanks heaven, we are not presenting “any particular risks” to the Belgian State, at least for now, for “this actual opinion does in no mean preset judgement on any ulterior evolution of the movement or of the individuals who form the group.”

Professor Decoo’s reflections on his attempted involvement of Denaux to intervene on behalf of Alessia’s freedom of religion went even further:

How is it possible that a Catholic priest, with a known anti-cult background and the use of grossly manipulated information, chairs the legal Belgian center providing information on religious minorities? Indeed, in 2003 the IACHSO was denounced by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights for it’s “questionable objectivity and impartiality”, as it’s body “is currently composed of representatives of political parties, the Catholic Church and various ‘anti-sect’ movements”, who do not take “any effective measures to address and put an end to the discrimination experienced by members of groups depicted as ‘harmful sects’.”

This is a good question, and one that demands an answer. In the meantime, Alessia’s case surely presents the evidence that Denaux claimed was lacking in the assertions of “new religious movements” that “the list has allegedly been a basis for discriminatory treatment against” new religious movements who find themselves on the list of 189 cults and thus treated by Denaux’s own Information and Advice Center Concerning Harmful Sectarian Organizations under the aegis of Belgium’s Administrative Agency for the Coordination of the Fight against Harmful Sectarian Organizations.

Adelbert Denaux and Alessia

March 4, 2005

Discussion continues over at the Times and Seasons post about Alessia and Adelbert Denaux in Wilfried’s explanation of Alessia’s case, the failings of the Church to defend its own rights and Alessia’s rights against the Belgian State and Belgium’s infamous “list of cults” on which the Church finds itself. Please read about this problem and offer your assistance, if possible.

I will be speaking with Professor Durham’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies about Kaimi’s idea of creating a pamphlet like those of the ACLU that explain very straightforwardly the rights someone has when the state takes action of this kind. I am hoping that some organization such as the Center would want to sponsor this (I and other LDS lawyers could do the actual work) and provide resources for the printing of this in multiple languages. Then we could use Church channels to distribute it to wards and branches in places like Belgium where Church members need to be defended against biased actions by the state.

Hugh Nibley’s Funeral

March 2, 2005

Hugh Nibley’s funeral today was absolutely wonderful. Professor Nibley boasted two Apostles and four BYU Presidents in attendance. The Spirit was very strong and all the words spoken were very uplifting.

The program was as follows:

Opening Hymn, Congregation: All Creatures of Our God and King

Opening Prayer: Boyd Jay Petersen

Utah Baroque Ensemble, accompanied by Jerri Bearce: Come Sweet Death, Johann Sebastian Bach


Zina Nibley Petersen:

  • She knew HN would want her to put the “fun” back in funeral, so she pulled out his crumpled hat and put it on.
  • As she and her family left the Nibley home last Thursday, the day HN died, they came across a disturbance on 1350 E. in Provo. A group of mule deer were running across the front lawns of houses facing the street. Zina counted nine deer and reflected on HN’s own nine “dears” (eight living children and one dead son).

Rebecca Nibley:

  • When she graduated with an advanced degree from BYU, HN attended the commencement with her, even though he didn’t really go for that kind of thing. Afterwards, he offered to take her picture for her on her big day. Later on, she discovered that he had forgotten to take the lense cap off.
  • HN gave her two things: (1) her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Book of Mormon, and her resulting certainty of the Atonement; (2) her love of nature and her place in nature.

Charles Alexander Nibley:

  • He recited the last few lines of HN’s poem, written at age 16, entitled “Of Birthdays“:

The air is purple now the wind is waiting
A long sigh from the west.
* * * * *
Forgive me, Sun,
I did forget the glory of thy setting!

  • Although HN wrote this for his grandmother, this applied wonderfully to the glory of HN’s final years, months, and days. In his final years, HN once suffered the complete inability to speak for a period of time. He was lucid and knew what he wanted to say, but only gibberish would come out. When Charles visited him in the hospital, HN had great difficulty because of this. He finally was able to make out three words: “you are beautiful.”
  • HN lost faculties one at a time such that by his last few months, he was totally dependent for the basic functions of life. It was amazing to see his patience with this process.

Michael Draper Nibley:

  • He was living on the east coast and communicated with his father through Birthday and Christmas cards, almost exclusively through quotes from ancient writers, in the original languages. At one point, as HN was aging, he was frustrated with his waning years. MDN responded with a quote from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, from the Wife of Bath’s Tale (lines 475-479):

But Lord Christ! When I do remember me
Upon my youth and on my jollity,
It tickles me about my heart’s deep root.
To this day does my heart sing in salute
That I have had my world in my own time.

  • MDN firmly believed that HN was one of the few people of whom it can truly be said that he has had his world in his own time. He led a productive and happy life, doing what he loved to do, and helping people all the while.

Thomas Hugh Nibley:

  • THN reflected on the Book of Abraham and the council of prophets in the pre-mortal existence and conveyed his firm belief that HN was given the assignment to function prophetically through scholarship and that he did so consecrating his life to that calling and has now returned to his Father to receive further callings for our benefit.

Christina Nibley Mincek:

  • She recalled one special occasion when she got to go camping in southern Utah along with HN. She awoke with a start in the morning to find his sleeping bag empty. But HN came running to her and scooped her up in his arms to take her to enjoy the view with him. Later on, she saw a picture he had taken of the arch with her, only a little dot, in her sleeping bag under the arch. It taught her about his love for nature and for her, as part of nature.

Paul Sloan Nibley:

  • He offered his final gift to his father–the coffin in which HN was put to rest. He related HN’s deep love for the woods, going back to his youth in the woods of northern California. He told of the different woods used in the coffin: of the integration of an exotic hardwood that grew on the edge of the Sahara; of a wood called “purple heart” in honor of his service in WWII; and many other aspects of this, PSN’s final gift to HN.

Piano Solo by Reid Nibley (HN’s brother): Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Johann Sebastian Bach


John W. Welch:

Violin Solo by Kelly Clark Parkinson, accompanied by Reid Nibley: Vocalise, Sergei Rachmaninoff

Presentation of a Letter from the First Presidency to Sister Nibley and the Family: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

  • HN was the first “eccentric” that DHO ever knew–he took HN’s 1954 Winter semester class “The Rise of the Western Church to 600 A.D.”
  • DHO knew HN for more than 50 years and was in the same stake with him in Chicago when HN was studying at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in the 1960s and was in the same ward during the nine years that DHO was the President of BYU from 1971 to 1980.
  • DHO said that HN was gifted and unique, but not “complete.” That is, even though he forged the path, he was laying foundation upon which numerous later talented LDS scholars would build through FARMS, which they have done so well. By laying this foundation, HN did a great service for the Church. Many have benefited from HN’s work who will never know.

Closing Hymn, Utah Baroque Ensemble (Congregation joined in chorus): The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning, W.W. Phelps

Closing Prayer: Otto Draper (HN’s brother-in-law)

The program was truly wonderful. The closing hymn was powerful as I thought about the life and work of HN. Particularly the last verse struck me:

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
Shall lie down together without any ire;
And Ephraim be crown’d with his blessing in Zion,
As Jesus descends with his chariots of fire!

As the congregation sang the chorus after this verse, the Spirit was powerfully present:

We’ll sing & we’ll shout with the armies of heaven:
Hosanna, hosanna, to God and the Lamb!
Let glory to them in the highest be given,
Henceforth and forever: amen and amen.

I looked around the crowd in the Provo Tabernacle as we all added our voices to this chorus. Everyone was singing with conviction. For some reason I focused on a random young man dressed in a suit singing the chorus with gusto. A wave of gratitude for Hugh Nibley’s life came over me. More importantly, a wave of gratitude for the Gospel that he spent his life defending came over me. I felt extremely thankful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Building Caricature

March 1, 2005

I would like to thank John for inviting me to be a guest blogger and apologize for not having posted sooner. Actually I tried to post almost a week ago, but at that very moment the Blogger system decided that it was time to mind-meld with a lump of asphalt and my post was lost in the process.

As John mentioned, we are old acquaintances from the BYU Foreign Language Housing where I lived for a time in the Spanish House and then in the Portuguese House. I actually met John’s wife Allison before I did John. I wonder if she ever told him about the lollipop-kiss she gave me in the FLHC Laundry Room…? Anyway…

The bloggernacle is so full of smart folks, I always feel a little intimidated when I post or comment. Writing is surprisingly hard for me and I am very self critical. I admire those of you who can so consistently come up with interesting, well articulated posts and comments.

It is interesting how our views of people are warped by cyberspace. John comes across very differently in person than he does in the blogosphere. And I know that blogging seems to artificially magnify certain aspects of my personality, while others are practically invisible. Does the Internet turn us all into caricatures of ourselves, like cartoon drawings that overemphasize certain aspects of our appearance for humorous effect?

Do you like your bloggernacle caricature? If you could start over again in the bloggernacle, would you try to change the perceptions people have of you and build a different caricature than you have now?

–Ebenezer Orthodoxy