Friday, January 20, 2017

Experiencing Battle in the Book of Mormon


I'm proud to announce my article, "Experiencing Battle in the Book of Mormon" has just been published by the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.  The abstract reads: Historical chronicles of military conflict normally focus on the decisions and perspectives of leaders. But new methodologies, pioneered by John Keegan’s Face of Battle, have focused attention on the battle experience of the common soldier. Applying this methodology to a careful reading of details within the Book of Mormon shows an experience in battle that is just as horrific as it is authentic.

The process took a little longer than I had anticipated. I actually thought this might come out last summer in time for the gospel doctrine lessons on the war chapters.  But it is here and ready for your reading enjoyment.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Thomas Sowell Agrees With Me


A short time ago I posted a link to my article about the misuse of words. This has obvious application in my research on the use of the word robber to delegitimize the Gadiantion Robbers. Thomas Sowell is an intellectual that has been highly influential for decades. I first discovered his writings in 2007, when I read the book Black Rednecks and White Liberals. He explained how the supposedly authentic black culture seen in so many inner cities was actually inspired by the lower class white culture of the south. He has an excellent ability to explain powerful concepts in clear and concise language. I employ his discussion of the Hawley Smoot tariff to teach my students about the Great Depression. I especially enjoy his books on economics where he discusses why price controls lower quality and affordable laws make things unaffordable. He recently retired and the National Review has been republishing many of his weekly columns.

In a recent column discussing the language around taxes he said this about the misuse of words:

"It is one of the many signs of the mindlessness of our times that all sorts of people declare that “the rich” are not paying their “fair share” in taxes, without telling us concretely what they mean by either “the rich” or “fair share.” Whether in politics or in the media, words are increasingly used, not to convey facts or even allegations of facts, but simply to arouse emotions. Undefined words are a big handicap in logic, but they are a big plus in politics, where the goal is not clarity but victory — and the votes of gullible people count just as much as the votes of people who have common sense."

Several weeks ago I wrote this about the misuse of worse as well. I was perhaps a bit nicer than I should have been in denying any malice behind the practice, (maybe I just need the cynicism that comes with years of responding to these clowns), but I also identified the misuse of words to arouse emotions:

"In the battle of competing ideas, sometimes words can be the first casualty. The abuse of the word “establishment” was so rampant during the election that I joked I should have started a restaurant with that name so I could get free advertising. All joking aside, misapplying words can muddle the debate, obscure real threats, or become a tool of hysteria.

Many of these words aren’t necessarily used with ill intent but rather as a way to illicit an emotional response and compensate for poor arguments. For example, anti-war advocates like to use the word “warmonger” to insult people or positions they don’t like without having to engage the relative merits of the proposed action."

It is very gratifying to see the same ideas that I have in the writings of others, especially such luminaries as Thomas Sowell. It helps to ease the frustration I feel when my great ideas and articles have a difficult time finding an outlet, or being noticed above the click bait trash and fake news. If you like my ideas, make sure to link to this page or check out my current writing gig at Opslens magazine. Thanks for reading!

[I work as a free lance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the pay pal buttons at the bottom of the page.] 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

[This is a copy of my application to the 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar. This is always a good chance to explore different ideas.  I never did come up with a good title so I hope you don't mind jumping right in.] 

The powerful speech of Abinadi explained pivotal Messianic concepts and elucidated the God head in ways that recalled some of the early Christian ecumenical councils. The largest theme is the duality of Heaven and Earth represented in Mosiah 15:4: And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. The study of Abinadi’s words justifiably focuses on his amazing testimony of Christ and his bold stand for truth. But preaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  His talk about the nature of God and His judgements reveal repeating and important scenes in the Book of Mormon regarding the nature of prophets, and their possible conflict with both political power and the institutional church.

The king and prophet are respective representations of Heaven and Earth.  The prophets are key explainers of spiritual text which govern the kings, and kings are the divine conduit that governs temporal affairs. The prophet Micaiah in 1st Kings 22 does a good job of illustrating the possible scene and interplay between king and prophet represented in Abinadi’s preaching. In the story the kings of Israel and Judah sat on their thrones and consulted 400 priests regarding future military action. The 400 priests give their approval for the joint attack. Yet one of the kings wasn’t satisfied with the answer.   He was reluctant to consult the prophet Micaiah because he always prophesied evil concerning the king but did so anyway. When pressed Micaiah gave them grim news concerning the judgements of God and used Christ like language when he compared their defeat to being a flock without a shepherd. 

Micaiah then testified of a vision that truly revealed the dual nature of the episode. As Cristiano Grottanelli explains the text, “On earth we see the thrones of the kings with the ranks of prophets and with the recalcitrant truth telling prophet. In heaven we see the throne of Yahweh with the ranks of spirits, and the lying spirit volunteer.”[1]The encounter ended when Micaiah is then slapped by one of the priest and cast into prison.  The story of Micaiah and Abinadi are fascinating accounts of a prophet being forced to oppose the king, testify of destruction, contradict the priests in the court, and then have a theophonic experience that mirrors the earthly scene. Abinadi is brought before a king, contradicts the priests, teaches of the duality between Heaven and Earth, testifies of Christ being born, His being brought before a king and killed, and then Abinadi’s experience ends with his death.  

The treatment of Abinadi is not only a possible type scene with the Bible and representation of duality; it also illustrates key themes in the Book of Mormon. Abinadi being brought before an angry king for his preaching recalls prophets such Alma in the city of Ammonihah (Alma 14:2), and Nephi upon his tower (Helaman 8:5-6) who faced the people’s wrath over the enunciation of political consequences of spiritual condemnation.  The other theme, also represented in the Bible, is the conflict between the priests who are part of the institutional church and the court of the King, and the prophets who are often charismatic and outside of the organized church.  This is most clearly seen in Samuel the Lamanite, who preached on the walls, was never heard again, and the people whom he converted had to seek out Nephi, the institutional leader of the church for baptism (Helaman 16:3-4). The prophet Micaiah also contradicted the larger number of priests who were special guests and interpreters for the King.  Abinadi explicitly threatened both the kings (secular) life and safety of kingdom while also undermining the position and prophecies of the priests. Much like the people in Jeremiah’s day, the priests opposing Abinadi contended that their kingdom is strong (12:14-15).

The spiritual teachings of Abinadi receive a good deal of attention. But his words about God being the Father of Heaven and Earth suggest a connection between the political history of the Nephites and the spiritual preaching of the prophets that is understudied.  Abinadi represents a possible type scene comparable to Micaiah’s experience in 1 Kings 22, and it also highlights the experience of many Nephite prophets in having their spiritual messages ruffle temporal feathers, and suggests a difference between free-lance prophets and institutional priests. 



[1] Cristiano Grottanelli, Kings and Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership & Sacred Tect in Biblical Narrative (New York, Oxford University Press, 1999), 175. 

Statement of Interest:

I’m particularly attracted to the seminar’s intense reading and focus on new lines of inquiry into the text and believe I could add a great deal to the seminar.  I have extensive academic experience with over a dozen academic publications and presentations. My most recent work includes a research grant that allowed me to study the early insurgency of Mao Zedong, and a contract with Westholme Press to produce a book on decisive battles in Chinese history.

Regarding the Book of Mormon, my methodological focus has reexamined assumptions about the narrative in the text. This has produced a manuscript length volume which discusses a revisionist history within the Book of Mormon currently under review for publication. Some of that research was previewed in a well-received presentation at the 2016 FAIR conference which examined the social and political factors that might have fueled the Gadianton insurgency.   Another focus has been to examine the relevance of the text in formulating foreign policy. Some of this research has been published in past monographs and contributions to collected volumes and conferences. My most recent piece represents ground breaking research into previously neglected verses that discuss preemptive war.  I look forward to bringing these skills to the 2017 seminar. Thank you.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The War of Words

I wrote the following as part of my free lance position at Opslens. Frequent readers of this blog will notice how many of my points builds upon what I've wrote. For those that deal with radical libertarians and others the first part about the word "war monger" is especially needed. Because its not as though I've ever been called a warmonger, the term has been used with reckless abandon, and those kind of people like to compare their opponents to Nazis, or Gadianton Robbers as a way to avoid substantive cross examination of their positions.]
   
In the battle of competing ideas sometimes words can be the first casualty. The abuse of the word establishment was so rampant during the election that I joked I should have started a restaurant with that name so I could get free advertising.  All joking aside, misapplying words as pejoratives can muddle the debate, obscure real threats, or become a tool of hysteria. 

Many of these words aren’t necessarily used with ill intent, but as a way to illicit an emotional response and compensate for poor arguments. For example, anti-war advocates like to use the word war monger to insult people or positions they don’t like without having to engage the relative merits of the proposed action. In trying to ask them for a definition I have never received a clear definition except one who supports war. But plenty of Americans generally oppose war while recognizing that terrorists, dictators, mad men, and those that want to use weapons of mass destruction should be stopped. That desire doesn’t warrant the insulting term war monger. Their misuse of warmonger means that anti-war advocates don’t have to answer for the inaction they propose which allows genocides to occur.

Moreover, there are policies and positions that sometimes run the risk of war that actually support peace.  America for example, continues to support Freedom of Navigation patrols in the South China Sea which are attacked as war mongering and “picking a fight” with China. But supporting freedom of the seas prevents a violent free for all in the region where disputes over territory would be settled by those most willing and able to use force.  This applies to Syria as well. Hillary Clinton proposed a no fly zone which was roundelay attacked by Trump and isolationists.  It’s true that a no fly zone carries the risk of war, but it has many benefits with great humanitarian value. A no fly zone or safe area will help the millions of displaced persons and increasing numbers of persecuted minority groups, some of which have been turned into sex slaves. It would prevent the use of chemical weapons and other war crimes by the Assad regime, and it has a great chance to weaken ISIS and other radical groups. But instead of engaging the merits of a no fly zone, Freedom of Seas Operations, possible NATO operations, and so many other items, critics would rather launch rhetorical bombs that shut down discussion. 

Terrorist or Freedom Fighter

One of the biggest misuses of words in the modern world, and one of the biggest threats America faces is that of terrorism.  It’s very popular to repeat the cliché that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This argument was used often during the war in Iraq to denigrate American military intervention abroad and simultaneously bolster the insurgents fighting America.  In the sense that words themselves are weapons, this is entirely true.  Various revolutionary groups, terrorists, and the governments that oppose them can use the terms to either bolster their position or undermine their opponents. Yet, despite the manipulation of words, and despite some of the disputes over the definition of terrorism, it’s still entirely possible to tell the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist.  Behaviors like donning a uniform, discrimination between military and nonmilitary targets, discernment against or deliberate targeting of civilians, and declarations of war from recognized heads of state, makes it very easy to distinguish between George Washington and Abu Al Baghdadi. There is some overlap between insurgents and terrorism, but it’s not nearly as indistinguishable as the purveyors of the cliché would lead you to believe. 

This means we should be very careful in the words we use in discussing policy. Policy makers debated over whether to call anti-American forces in Iraq “insurgents” or “terrorists.”   (In truth it was a complex mixture of both.) Many Americans felt a great deal of frustration when the sectarian conflict in Iraq was labeled the demoralizing term “civil war.” It explains why the surge led by General Petraeus was labeled an escalation by some critics who were trying to invoke the ghoul of Vietnam. A blockade during the Cuban Missile crisis would have been an act of war, but a quarantine of the island prescribed the same action without the accompanying baggage.  In the prelude to the Bosnia deployment, each side for and against it, avoided the term “genocide” to evade the treaty obligations associated with it. In all of these debates the very words used and choosing one that stigmatized tried to shape the contours of the debate in a duplicitous way.

Jihad

This is most important when it comes to matters of jihad. The strict definition of the word is rather innocuous. It means to assume a burden or struggle against unrighteousness. This is little different than the Christian phrase to take up your cross.  But many terrorists are called some variation of radical jihadists. This leads to a superficial debate where one side argues that war mongers are unfairly targeting peaceful religionists. On the other side foreign policy hawks accuse their opponents of trying to deny the existence of a radical threat. The reality is a bit more complicated. There a hundreds of millions of Muslims around the word that peacefully struggle against unrighteousness.  But if even only 1% of Muslims are radical that means thousands of potential attackers. The difficulty comes when the radicals deliberately claim the peaceful definition for themselves knowing that many in the media would like to call those warning against militant groups racists or islamophobic.  The discussion then gets shut down between the various sides using contested and sometimes manipulated definitions.  


These few examples could be expanded to included words like establishment, liberal, neocon, and even moderate. While they might sound nice and authoritative many of these words are used as personal insults or to obscures sound assessments.  Terrorists and jihadists call themselves freedom fighters or peaceful to avoid arousing a vigorous response from their targets.  The media call foreign policy hawks racists or warmongers to stigmatize their position. Yet the threats remain. Hopefully those that want to formulate substantive policy can use words for their clinical precision and not their value as a pejorative. 

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