Dan Conway is a bishop in Newcastle, in northeast England, and has also served as an elders quorum president. He served a mission to Scotland, and works as a digital marketing executive. In this podcast episode from Leading LDS, Dan Conway, a bishop in England, explains how he experienced a faith crisis and overcame it, in part, through the efforts of FairMormon.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that the atonement plays a central role across all eternity. And though I don’t understand all the ways in which that is true, I was recently fascinated by commentary on Genesis 1 from “The Jewish Study Bible”. Commentary that suggests something atonement-like was going on at the very beginning of creation.
Genesis 1 is Best Translated as God Ordering the Universe from Pre-existing Chaos
The Jewish Study Bible translates Genesis 1:1-2 like this:
When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void.
Pay careful attention to the subtle grammar of this sentence. The commentary suggests that the proper translation of these verses is not of a God creating a universe out of nothing, but of a God that “began” creation when the universe was still “unformed” and chaotic.
Furthermore, the footnotes add that Modern readers like to think the opposite of something is nothing, but to the ancients the opposite of something is chaos. A chaos they thought has malevolent power. Thus, the proper translation of these versus portrays a God who creates through taming a malevolent chaos.
The Wikipedia also makes similar observations.
Is This God More Powerful Than the Traditional God Who Creates Something Out of Nothing?
The Jewish Study Bible then informs us that this idea has generated debates between Rabbis. The Rabbis who prefer the traditional “ex-nihilo” translation of Genesis suggest this “better” translation implies God built his kingdom on a dung hill. Also, they worry that if the universe has an existence independent of God, this undermines basic theology. For one, if God is really battling in chaos, are we certain He is in control? If chaos ruled once, can it rule again?
The response other Rabbis have given is that such a God is the more powerful One. Which is more impressive: A God Who can create what He wants in the context of no opposition? Or One that has accomplished similar creative goals in the face of opposition?
To use a horrible analogy, who is the more impressive gamer: one playing Sim City who creates the world he wants because all the cheat codes were up his sleeves, or one who had to fight through the game’s intrinsic opposition?
Furthermore, this latter God may be free from the problem of evil described below.
Why This Translation is Interesting in Light of the Atonement
One way to look at the atonement is that God is trying to turn you into a perfect person. An exalted creation. To use a CS Lewis analogy: you may be perfectly fine with being a little cottage. But God’s plan involves turning you into a palace, as difficult as those renovations may be.
In going about this “exalted creation”, a common question raised is: if God can create whatever He wants, why doesn’t He just create you perfect from the beginning? This is fundamentally the “problem of evil“.
This translation would supply a response to that by changing our perspective on how God must create. If from “the beginning” God’s creative plans have required the overthrow of pre-existent chaos, perhaps for us to become perfect “like Him” similarly requires a battle of that same chaos. It’s as if the “opposition of all things” we must overcome is a continuation of the process that started in Genesis 1. As if learning to be creative like God is not learning to simply will things into existence, but is learning how to roll up our sleeves and with Him defeat the chaos that confronts us.
This makes Genesis 1:1 even more profound than merely being a verse about creation. It may be a verse that underscores what is at the heart of the entire plan of salvation.
Why Scientists, Strangely Enough, Should Find This Translation Interesting
It has been the hobby horse of recent scientists to suggest that, in the light of quantum mechanics, the opposite of something is not nothing but instead some quantum chaos. See recent books by Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss for example. Now admittedly these books have been blasted for being filled with bad philosophy in their attempt to reduce the entire universe to a few 20th century physics principles the authors coincidentally specialized in. (Not too different from biologists I have met who likewise attempt attribute everything about the known universe to the evolutionary principles they were blessed to study in graduate school) But these philosophically bad reductionist errors are beside the point here.
My larger point is that there is a growing belief among scientists that quantum mechanics suggests that the opposite of something is not nothing, but a “quantum”-like chaos. Remove “everything” in a quantum mechanical system in an attempt to obtain “nothing”, and you are still left with a randomly “fluctuating” zero point energy. An energy with a chaotic structure that I will not speculate too much about as we don’t completely understand it, but one that at least hints that physical systems devoid of organized structure are not “filled” with nothing, but instead something akin to chaos.
Thus, it’s interesting that the “more accurate” translation of a thousands of years old Genesis verse may have been consistent this entire time with physics that we did not know until very recently. That before the “something” that we call our universe was not nothing, but a chaos that had to somehow be “tamed”. And though how that was done remains a mystery to both scientists and theologians, it appears Genesis is correct with the idea that it needed to be done.
Hat Tip to Joseph Smith
As you all know, Joseph said basically the same thing in the King Follett Discourse:
Doesn’t the Bible say he created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory.
Thus, despite his flaws, Joseph continues to be a man whose teachings are quite impressive. Even though Joseph’s understanding of Hebrew pales in comparison to the great Rabbis of history referred to in this commentary, he demonstrates time and again fascinating level of inspiration.
Joseph Smidt is a physicist in the X-Theoretical Division (XTD) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) where he currently sits as the cosmology team lead for LANL’s Center for Theoretical Astrophysics (CTA) as well as a point of contact for the US nuclear stockpile. His research is split between cosmology, astrophysics, inertial confinement fusion and nuclear weapon design. He has published over 50 papers in the open literature on a wide range of early universe topics from supersymmetry and cosmic inflation to how the first stars and galaxies formed. Joseph obtained his PhD in physics at the University of California, Irvine, and double majored in physics and mathematics at BYU. He was married to his wife in the Salt Lake Temple, has five wonderful children, and currently serves as stake clerk in the Santa Fe New Mexico Stake.
This is a guest post from Debra Oaks Coe, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Utah Commission for LGBT Suicide Awareness and Prevention and Lead of the Anti-Discrimination Committee for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.
“What is changing – and what needs to change – is to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully where they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere”.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks
The unprecedented rise in Utah’s youth suicide rate over the past decade has developed into an uncertain political issue as its underlying causes have been debated. Some have questioned what possible influence the Church has had, particularly in regards to suicides among individuals who are LGBT. While a no conclusive or singular cause has yet been identified, the Church has long and repeatedly urged Latter-day Saints to be more mindful, considerate, and inclusive as part of needed change.
Citing misunderstanding—including among Church members—of the Church’s positions on various issues related to same-sex attraction, Elder Oaks authored an Ensign article on the topic in 1995. In it, he quoted a letter he had received expressing serious concern that too often we talk about gay and lesbian members with “a real lack of the pure love of Christ” which “creates more depression and a tremendous amount of guilt, shame, and lack of self-worth.” The author asks for more sensitivity saying this “would surely help avoid suicides and schisms that are caused within families.” 
Elder Oaks then admonished Latter-day Saints regarding these concerns:
“These communications surely show the need for improvement in our communication… Each member of Christ’s church has a clear-cut doctrinal responsibility to show forth love and to extend help and understanding… All should understand that persons (and their family members) struggling with the burden of same-sex attraction are in special need of the love and encouragement that is a clear responsibility of Church members, who have signified by covenant their willingness “to bear one another’s burdens” (Mosiah 18:8) ‘and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2).” 
Over the next several years, the Church and its leaders made many statements affirming that their stand on traditional marriage should never, ever be used to justify unkindness or persecution toward the LGBT community or individuals. After confirmed reports from different parts of the US of violent acts along with suicides related to individuals being gay, the church issued a very clear statement in October 2010.
“We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason. Such actions simply have no place in our society.
…Our parents, young adults, teens and children should… of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment, to “Love One Another.” 
The Church began an extended effort to better understand the challenges members who are gay face, as well as the challenges their families face. It explored how to help members respond better.
In April 2012 General Conference, Elder Oaks delivered a talk titled “Protect the Children” In it, he encouraged members to be more mindful of how their words might adversely impact young people. He specifically mentioned those with same-sex attraction as being particularly vulnerable and their need of loving understanding.
Making a child or youth feel worthless, unloved, or unwanted can inflict serious and long-lasting injury on his or her emotional well-being and development. Young people struggling with any exceptional condition, including same-gender attraction, are particularly vulnerable and need loving understanding—not bullying or ostracism. With the help of the Lord, we can repent and change and be more loving and helpful to children – our own and those around us.
In December of 2012, the Church published mormonsandgays.org. The new official Church website included interviews with three apostles, including Elder Oaks, Elder Christofferson, and Elder Cook. It encouraged understanding and prominently called for us to “love one another.” This website gave the quote from Elder Oaks, expressing the need for Church members to respond more sensitively and thoughtfully. It encouraged humility and stated that “Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of the matter. We simply don’t have all the answers.” 
On this website, Elder Cook reminded us that as a Church nobody should be more loving and compassionate.
. . .as a Church nobody should be more loving and compassionate. No family who has anybody who has a same-gender issue should exclude them from the family circle. They need to be part of the family circle. . . . We have a plan of salvation. And having children come into our lives is part of Heavenly Father’s plan. But let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. . . . I feel very strongly about this… It’s a very important principle. 
The need for us to love and lift all of God’s children was emphasized by Elder Neil L. Anderson in April 2014 General Conference.
Of special concern to us should be those who struggle with same-sex attraction. It is a whirlwind of enormous velocity. . . . everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration. The Savior taught us to love not only our friends but also those who disagree with us—and even those who repudiate us. He said: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? …And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?” The Prophet Joseph Smith warned us to “beware of self-righteousness” and to enlarge our hearts toward all men and women until we feel “to take them upon our shoulders.” In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry.
While speaking at a BYU devotional in September 2015, Elder Rasband encouraged the student body to reach out to all people just as the Savior did. He specifically talked about the need to reach out to those that are LGBT. Several days later he posted the following on his Facebook page:
Some of you wrote of the conflict that you’ve felt in showing #Fairness4All, especially with individuals who see life differently from you. You expressed worry that such friendships might betray your beliefs. I want to reiterate that the Savior is the perfect example of reaching out in love and support. His interest in others was always motivated by a pure love for them. Sometimes we approach relationships with the intent to change the other person. We follow our Savior best when we base our relationships on principles of love. Emphasis added
In the BYU devotional Elder Rasband testified that as we reach out to others we would feel an increase in the Savior’s love for all people and that this powerful love would open doors and create meaningful friendships to be cherished throughout our lives.  It is important as disciples of Christ, to have a wide variety of friends.
In October 2016, the Church released an updated website now called mormonandgay.lds.org. The updated website continued to emphasize the need for change and members responding more sensitively and thoughtfully. It included a new video helping us understand the need to reach out to those that are marginalized. It reminded us that “the gospel of Jesus Christ does not marginalize people. People marginalize people and we have to fix that. We need to be sensitive.”  We need to love others as the Savior loves all of us and follow the example He set during His life on earth. We need to stand up when others speak or act in negative ways.
This new Church website, mormonandgay.lds.org, has a video of Elder Dallin H. Oaks titled “Love and the Law.” In it Elder Oaks states, “As Latter-day Saints, many of us, not all of us, but many of us, are inclined to insist on the law and do so in an unloving way…” In addressing conflict, Elder Oaks said, “The first thing I always suggest is keep loving them; in the end that is something you can always do.” He said that we should not start off our interactions by arguing and he went on to say:
The Savior commanded His followers to “Love one another as I have loved you.” So we look at how He loved us. He sacrificed Himself for us. He was concerned always with the individual. He had a wonderful outreach for people. I think those are all indicators of how we can love one another like He loved us. If we make Him our role model we should always be trying to reach out to include everyone. 
The principal causes of Utah’s deeply troubling youth suicide problem are still largely undetermined. This is mostly due to a lack of detailed data, which the Utah Department of Health is working to overcome.
The Church has published articles related to suicide prevention and published a new website on the topic. It continues to urge its members to be compassionate and inclusive of others and to be especially mindful of our youth, including LGBT people.
In April 2016, President Uchtdorf reminded us that condemning, ridiculing and shaming are wrong.
During the Savior’s ministry, the religious leaders of His day disapproved of Jesus spending time with people they had labeled “sinners.” Perhaps to them it looked like He was tolerating or even condoning sinful behavior. Perhaps they believed that the best way to help sinners repent was by condemning, ridiculing, and shaming them. . . What matters is that you are His child. And He loves you. He loves His children.
Note that President Uchtdorf put the word “sinners” is in quote marks reminding us that we shouldn’t be labeling others, especially when it affects the way we treat them.
In December 2016, President Uchtdorf said:
To put it simply, having charity and caring for one another is not simply a good idea. It is not simply one more item in a seemingly infinite list of things we ought to consider doing. It is at the core of the gospel—an indispensable, essential, foundational element. Without this transformational work of caring for our fellowmen, the Church is but a facade of the organization God intends for His people. Without charity and compassion we are a mere shadow of who we are meant to be—both as individuals and as a Church…. No matter the outward appearance of our righteousness, if we look the other way when others are suffering, we cannot be justified. 
 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Church News, “Church Updates Resources Addressing Same-Sex Attraction” Contributed by Camille West, October 25, 2016. See also www/mormonandgay.lds.org/articles/love-one-another-a-discussion-on-same-sex-attraction
 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction” Ensign, October, 1995, p. 10
 Michael Otterson, “Church Reponds to HRC Petition: Statement on Same-Sex Attraction”, October 12, 2010 http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-mormon-responds-to-human-rights-campaign-petition-same-sex-attraction
 Dallin H. Oaks April 2012 General Conference, “Protect the Children” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/protect-the-children?lang=eng#note10
 On original mormonsandgays.org main page. https://web.archive.org/web/20161025015242/http://mormonsandgays.org/
 Elder Quentin L. Cook, Church News, “Church Updates Resources Addressing Same-Sex Attraction” Contributed by Camille West, October 25, 2016. See also at https://mormonandgay.lds.org/videos?id=15209571875228076146#d.
 Elder Neil L. Andersen, “Spiritual Whirlwinds,” General Conference, April 2014
 Elder Ronald A. Rasband Facebook post Sept. 29, 2015
 Elder Ronald A. Rasband BYU devotional Sept. 15, 2015
 Sister Carol F. McConkie, First Counselor, Young Women General Presidency, “Lifting Others” video https://mormonandgay.lds.org/videos?id=9655787446538818627
 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, video “Love and the Law” https://mormonandgay.lds.org/videos?id=7254846371177561723
 President Uchtdorf General Conference April, 2016. “He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home”
 President Uchtdorf Address to the Salt Lake City Inner City Mission, given December 4, 2015
[Another FairMormon member, Rene Krywult, has contributed a second review of this book.]
“The goal with the Introduction to the Book of Abraham is to make reliable information about the Book of Abraham accessible to the general reader.” With these words, John Gee begins his new book.
And it is a high goal the well-known Egyptologist, professor of Egyptology at Brigham Young University and the William (Bill) Gay Research Chair, author of over a hundred academic papers on Egyptology and ancient scripture, and researcher of the Book of Abraham for more than 25 years, sets for himself. How to do justice to a topic that is specialized enough that only a few experts in the world can speak about it with authority, and how to do it in a language that the interested lay man can understand? How to do it, with a topic that has been controversially debated for the last 105 years, often with far more zeal than knowledge? How to do it, when there is so very much to discuss and to know on one hand, and yet the “common knowledge” is almost nonexistent?
So, the good thing here: This is an introduction. Gee is not only an expert on the Egyptian but also masters the English language. The book is very easy to read. Nevertheless, there is much information to impart, and Gee does so by introducing us to the topics, all with the well researched and documented footnotes one expect from a scholar of such caliber, only to follow up with an extensive “Further Reading” section at the end of each chapter, a bibliography with explanations. This way, he who wants to know more knows what books to buy and what articles to read.
To do this work justice, I decided to go through the chapters one by one. [Read more…] about Book Review: An Introduction to the Book of Abraham
I was sixteen years old when I read the Book of Mormon for the first time. That book ran right over me. The Book of Mormon hit my mind and my heart in a way that no other book ever had before or ever has since. Now, over fifty years later, I have read the Book of Mormon hundreds of times. I am always reading it and always finding additional knowledge and insights.
After I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I read the other revelations given to Joseph Smith, including those recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants and also in the Pearl of Great Price. These books spoke and continue to speak to my mind and my heart with great power. In the revelations given to Joseph Smith, and in the Bible, I hear the voice of God, my Heavenly Father, and of my Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
And in these books I have found very soul-satisfying answers to some of the “big questions” of eternity.
Which “big questions”? Well, two to start with. First, what is the universe for? Second, what is humankind’s place in the universe?
I cherish my testimony of my Savior and of God.
As a brief background, I was born into a well-educated, large, lower middle class Mormon family and was faithfully raised in the church. As I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, many of my good friends were not LDS and I had ample opportunity to interact with individuals from other faith traditions and backgrounds. As a kid, I definitely remember many occasions of feeling God’s love for me, but I mostly just believed because of my parents and because I felt that was what was expected of me. It wasn’t until I was later into my teenage years and preparing to serve a two-year LDS mission that I starting examining myself and my faith. It was at this time that I was exposed to challenging issues in the church. For a time, I questioned not only the truthfulness of the church, but whether or not there really was a God. This was a very difficult time for me, as I felt that everything I had learned my entire life, even my very identity, might be false. However, during all of this, I continued attending church, reading the scriptures, and saying my personal prayers (more fervently than ever before in my life). I just wanted God, in some way, to make himself known to me and to reassure me that I was loved by him.
At first, things started slowly. I often felt I was praying to no one at all, but with continued study, prayer, and self-reflection, I came to accept that despite the concerns I had with the church and some aspects of its history, culture, and the imperfections of its leadership, I knew that overall the church was a good institution doing good things for millions of people around the world. As I continued to pray earnestly, over time I developed my testimony and belief that my Heavenly Parents are real and that they do love me. At this point, I decided to serve a mission (though I had not yet determined for myself whether or not I believed the church to be “True,” I knew either way I would be serving God through serving others).
Ask any Mormon why he or she doesn’t have a tattoo and more than likely you will get the quick reaction from 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are a temple. But in my experience in counseling with and teaching young people, this phrase may need further explanation to help them grasp the spirit, and not only the letter, of this law. In the Mormonism of their world, with the infusion of converts and people who have left and rejoined the church, seeing tattoos in church is no longer a shocking thing like it once was. More and more of our young people seem to be toying with the idea and wondering what is so wrong about getting a tattoo? After all, I’ve seen many a lower back tattoo that looks pretty similar to the sun on the outside of the Nauvoo temple. On our LDS temples we have words, symbols, celestial bodies, nature elements, and artistry all pointing to significant messages and themes for that temple. I have often received the question from a well-intentioned youth about why it is so different to adorn the body with the same kind of artistry? Why can we adorn our temples, inside and out, with art and décor, but not our bodies? Perhaps like all answers in the church, the truth comes in layers and “our bodies are temples” is only layer #1. The following are the reasons I have personally given to help the youth of today understand why the rule exists.
Getting a tattoo has been discouraged even from before President Hinckley’s talk in 2000, but once the damage is done, does not limit one’s access to the temple, the ability to go on most missions, or even limit one’s career serving in the church, as made visually evident by Al Fox the famous “Tattooed Mormon”. Tattoos are mainstream now, like a woman’s pair of earrings. This leads some, particularly the youth, to wonder if earrings are allowed because it is “normal”, perhaps the same will come of tattoos. One can hardly get through a question and answer session with a youth group without someone asking why tattoos are even wrong at all. Their generation isn’t one of hippies getting tattoos with a side of LSD and anti-establishment. Their generation is one where tattoos can be artistic, meaningful, and even spiritual, and the older generation’s warnings seem to no longer be relatable. This requires us as leaders to better explain the guidelines regarding the body in the For the Strength of the Youth Pamphlet in a way that makes sense for their generation.
Recently, Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune brought up the tattoo question with the unusual situation that Polynesian Culture Center workers find themselves in. They go to work with their tribal tattoos on display and draw temporary tattoos on Mormon tourists only to have to completely cover them up the next day in class at BYU-Hawaii. Yet both institutions are owned by the church. There are a handful of other examples of where the line gets muddled. My devout LDS grandmother tattooed her makeup on so she can be (horrifyingly) ready to go with purple eye shadow any time day or night. Utah Mormons, statistically, are also not strangers to nose jobs or breast enhancements. There are children and adults who get tattoos of relevant medical information to save their lives. These ethical scenarios help us further understand what it means to abstain from tattoos with more depth and thought. So what could some of the reasons be that we are counseled to not tattoo our bodies?
Reason #1 – We Change
One reason not to get tattoos is because of the simple fact of who we are today is not going to be who we are tomorrow. So although NSYNC was the most important thing to me in the 8th grade, it would be unwise to get a tattoo of Justin Timberlake’s face on my bicep. On temples the message is always at the highest level. Messages about God, progression, eternal realities, and glory lift the soul and enlighten the mind. Most tattoos cannot claim such. Tattoos when we look back, for the most part, reminds us of a certain time in our life. Like we are a passport with a bunch of stamps on it. President Hinckley talked about this when he promised that one day we would regret getting a tattoo at some point later on, when we had changed or grown. The most unique doctrine in the church is that the church as a whole changes, its alive, and that we individually change too. Tattoos then would limit our ability to feel like we can move in a whole new direction. As Jack London says, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” And though there’s nothing wrong with an interesting past, the point of the gospel is that the person we were yesterday doesn’t have to be the person we are tomorrow. In the church we should also never judge someone who comes into our congregation with some questionable stamps on their passport. We all have the markings of our past upon us, some are just more visible than others, and we all come to church for the opportunity to look forward and not backwards.
Reason #2 – Societal Precedent
Often in the gospel we find rules applying to some culture at some time that is not applied to all cultures. There’s nothing wrong with that, we have scriptures from thousands of years before the birth of Christ and if the church is truly a living church then hopefully a lot has changed since then in order for God to be real to us today. Even within one time frame and culture sometimes the rules change. To the Anti-Nephi-Lehis the right thing to do was to bury their weapons, and for the next generation the right thing to do was to take them up again. Mormonism has always had the stance that rules, practices, and procedures change and by studying the scriptures as a whole one can come to an understanding of the “whys” and not just the “hows”. So in some cultures, tattoos are a part of community rituals and family culture where the paternal and maternal lines are printed on the children as a means of heritage and like a living family tree. Do you think God condemns such as sinners before the law? I highly doubt it.
But what about American culture? In American culture what are tattoos about? Attention. Vanity. And in that vein, tattoos in America aren’t given the cultural value that is given to our tattooed brothers and sisters in the Polynesian Islands. The cultural value and artistry is beautiful in context of their history and something that is praised at the PCC. But even with such a beautiful history recorded on skin, modern day members of the Polynesian Islands are still softly encouraged to let the practice go, though some Mormons leaders choose to continue the practice and are not relieved from leadership positions for doing so. In an address to the youth Morgan Sa Mataalii said: “When I was a young man, my dad talked to me about the tribal band tattoos that are common… . Dad said, ‘Don’t participate in any of that. You’re a child of God before you’re Samoan, before you’re a big, tough, guy from the islands.’ That is something I have always remembered.” Tattoos can be valued as a part of a cultural tradition while still moving forward and recognizing that not all traditions are relevant today. There are more ways to tell stories, link families, and record genealogies today than there were in the past. So under this reason, the explanation for why tattoos are bad is not because it is always bad in every situation, but because in our culture it is about drawing vain attention, like adding blaring music to outside of the temple to get people to look. This kind of attention distracts from the essence of who we are instead of enhancing it, and the cultural necessities for tattoos are no longer as relevant as they once were.
Reason #3 – It’s What’s on the Inside
Another solid reason for why tattoos will probably always be discouraged is because it’s the heart that really counts. That’s why we are here. So as much as it is nice to have a tattoo that says “family”, that family would probably want that time and money more than the tattoo. Having a cross tattoo doesn’t necessarily mean anything to Jesus at the judgment bar. As uplifting as the message could be, it will never be more important than the inner commitment to it. We want so bad as human beings to find meaning in our lives, and when we find it, we want other people to know about it. But the message in the New Testament over and over is that God honors those who quietly give, privately pray, and serve without any need of honor or reward. What we do in secret will be rewarded in public as it says in Matthew 6. So even if tattoos become even more mainstream than they are today, ultimately, they will never matter more than the journey going on inside. And because the church is in the business of souls, the message will always be let’s focus on the inner spiritual path. God doesn’t write his law upon our bodies, but he says in Jeremiah 33, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God.”
Reason #4 – Body and Spirit
Mormonism is somewhat unique in religious philosophy in that they believe that both body and spirit are made of matter, and that both continue after death. This belief is at the base of many Mormon practices, and why we have so many rules dealing with our bodies. In some philosophies it is the spirit that is lasting, and the body is something to be subdued. In other philosophies, it is the brain that consists our sense of self and nothing more. But in Mormonism our relationship with our bodies continue, and what is the point of getting a nice shiny new body in the afterlife if we haven’t figured out how to deal with it? And in that afterlife, will the tattoos we get in this life continue? Probably not. So in this life we practice this relationship we have with our bodies as we constantly nourish body and spirit. We exercise, eat healthy, pray, meditate, and our bodies become part of our very essence. If that is the case, in the eternal perspective, tattoos become quite meaningless in this eternal relationship we have with our bodies.
Often in Mormonism we get caught up with the list of what is right and what is wrong. But that line of questioning only gets us so far. The more important question is why is it right and why is it wrong. Only in that way can one both understand and transcend the law, and its certainly the only way to read the scriptures with any level of consistency. The rule isn’t to never get a tattoo or suffer eternal hellfire. The real question to ask ourselves is why? Why do I want this tattoo? How would this tattoo enhance my beliefs? How would this tattoo affect my relationship with my body? How would this tattoo be a blessing to me in my old age? How would this tattoo affect how my soul? Through these deeper questions one can navigate more effectively when a tattoo is or is not appropriate rather than view this issue as entirely black and white. There are no grounds for discrimination against those who have tattoos; we don’t know the reasons why they did so or their story. But we should be introspective and serious about such a permanent decision for ourselves, and whether our reasoning truly holds up or if we just really, really like Justin Timberlake.
 Gordon B. Hinckley. “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother”. Ensign, October 2000.
 Morgan Sa Mataalii. “Small and Simple Things”. Liahona, June 2011.
There is a battle raging for the hearts and minds of those who have sincere questions about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, when many search for answers on-line they are more likely to find the mocking of the tall and spacious building than the scholarly answers we provide at FairMormon. We need your help to change this.
How can you help us? Join FairMormon as a Sustaining Member!
It only costs $25 a year and as a member your input and insights will be valuable resources in helping to improve FairMormon as a safe place to find answers. We are asking you to help us on the front lines as we provide ammunition needed to defend our faith. This ammunition comes in the form of constructive scholarly responses.
Simply click on this link https://www.fairmormon.org/store/product/sustaining-membership, “Add to the cart” and follow the steps to make the purchase. As additional encouragement, Sustaining Members get a 20% discount at the FairMormon Bookstore, and FairMormon Conference Tickets.
As a bonus, if you join today we will send you a free, PDF copy of Michael Ash’s e-book, Bamboozled by the CES Letter. This insightful and sometimes humorous book explains why many of the complex issues presented by the CES letter are fundamentally flawed and do not accurately represent either Mormonism or the only logical interpretations of the data.
Please think about starting the year off as a 2017 Sustaining Member of FairMormon and becoming a defender of the faith.
Director of Development at FairMormon
Thomas Eastwood Hatton can trace his Mormon roots back five generations to the hills of eastern Kentucky. He has a degree in Family Financial Planning and Counseling from Brigham Young University and owns an investment company. Tom and his wife Julianne are the parents of four adult children and nine grandchildren. They are rabid Wildcat fans and contributors to FairMormon.
This week, critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have again been opining online on the extravagant furnishings inside LDS temples. The implication being that this is a dreadful waste of money on expensive edifices when the funds could be spent on assisting the poor. A first glance, this complaint appears reasonable. Why indeed should so much funds be devoted to building temples rather than to poverty relief?
We all know that poverty relief consists of two types, handling out bread and fishes, that can sustain a man and his family for a few days, or handing out a fishing pole and seeds, together with instructions on how to catch fish and grow grain, that will sustain the man and his family for months and years to come.
The Church does both of the above kinds of relief, in the form of emergency assistance, or in such wonderful programs as the Perpetual Education Fund. But there is another form of assistance that vastly exceeds either of these types. In countries like Peru (or Ghana, or many other places), the Church has built temples, to which any member holding a recommend may attend, no matter what his or her social status may be.
Inside the temple, no one can tell who is the Peruvian peasant or who is the banker from Lima. All are alike (even in dress), and all are treated the same.
Can you imagine what this does to the self-esteem of that Peruvian peasant (or, indeed, to the viewpoint of the banker)? The temple is the Great Leveler, and unlike the Marxist ideal where everyone is supposed to be leveled down to the proletariat, it levels everyone up, to become kings and queens.
No amount of poverty relief, no matter how lavishly dispensed, could possibly achieve such a remarkable outcome. When viewed from this angle, the amount the Church spends on temple construction could be considered more effective than any other outlay.
All this, even before considering the religious aspects of this work (ie, that God commanded it, or that temples are an essential element in LDS theology in the work of salvation for all mankind).
But this is not just an LDS theme. In my opinion, religious edifices have always elicited such responses. The great cathedrals of Europe were built at great expense, by the elite of society, but also with the enthusiastic participation of the lower classes, who saw these structures as their own. (This adoration does not extend to secular buildings, btw. When I toured Versailles back in 1991, my first thought was “Now I know why they had the French Revolution.”) The theme also holds true in non-Christian societies. The Great Buddha of Nara, constructed in the 8th century when Nara was the capital of Japan, was a project that encompassed all layers of society (it included raising a wooden structure to house the statue that is the largest purely wooden building in the world), and it is an awe-inspiring sight even now, more than 1200 years later.
And, of course, in the LDS context (as in the above non-LDS examples), the temples must be built of the highest quality materials possible. This serves to cement the leveling-up effect. Even the Church’s outlays for the downtown shopping mall in Salt Lake City, which has elicited such scorn from critics, is a part of this same effort, by upgrading the environment around the Salt Lake Temple (and Conference Center), so that members visiting from faraway places can feel safe and secure.
by Gregorio Billikopf
In the pseudepigraphical book, The Ascension of Isaiah, we come to understand what is meant by both he hath no form nor comeliness as well as no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). In the Ascension of Isaiah, the Prophet is guided by an angel successively up to the seventh heaven, with each of the higher heavens being more glorious and full of light than the former one. The majesty, light, and glory of one of the personages Isaiah meets in one of the lower heavens is so overwhelming that Isaiah begins to prostrate himself. His angelic guide, however, restrains the Prophet from making the mistake of adoring a fellow-servant. Isaiah’s own countenance is changed in ever increasing glory as he ascends the heavens one by one. In the process of time, the Prophet arrives in the seventh heaven where he beholds the glory surrounding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and Isaiah is able to worship God.
The main purpose of the trip embarked upon by the Prophet is to witness the condescension of the Son of Man. Isaiah arrives as the Messiah is making final preparations to depart from the presence of the Father, leaving behind “the glory which [He] had with [the Father] before the world was” (John 17:5b). So it is that Isaiah is able to behold the Savior as He leaves the seventh heaven and descends one heaven at a time. An exquisitely painful and humbling panorama is placed before us. As Christ descends further, beginning with the fifth heaven He is not recognized by the people as the Son of Man, for He transforms Himself to match the glory of lowest of those who are present. There is nothing external in Him that sets Him apart. The Savior of mankind is ignored completely and expected to give the required passwords “before the angels who stand as sentinels” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:31) before entering each of the heavens.
His beauty and glory are not perceived. “And the angel who conducted me said unto me: ‘Understand, Isaiah, and see how the transformation and descent of the Lord will appear [or, ‘in order that thou mayest see the transformation of the Lord’] . . . And I saw when He descended into the fifth heaven He made Himself like unto the form of the angels there, and they did not praise Him (nor worship Him); for His form was like unto theirs.”
The Holy One of Israel continues this process of transformation until Isaiah is permitted to see “a woman of the family of David the prophet, named Mary, a Virgin, and she was espoused to a man named Joseph, a carpenter . . .” (Ascension of Isaiah, 11:2b). There were many things that Isaiah saw in this vision, but none more important than the condescension of Christ.
Note how Nephi was likewise privileged to watch the condescension of the Son of Man. The young Book of Mormon prophet was explicitly told that he was there to be a witness of Christ: “and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:7, also see 1 Nephi 11:8 ff.). In Isaiah 53:2, Isaiah is making it clear that the Son of Man did not come in His glory and that He could only be seen with the discernment of the Spirit. The purpose of Nephi’s vision, then, was not only to understand the individual elements of his father’s vision, but to be present—again, at the exact moment—when the Son of Man left behind His glory by the side of the Father to come down to earth to die for us that we might turn to Christ and live. John the Baptist bears witness of Him when he says: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). The Baptist is telling us to open our eyes, to behold, to look upon the Holy One of Israel with the witness of the Holy Spirit and know that He is the Son of God.
Recall that after the resurrection the Savior appeared to His disciples on the road to Emmaus: “But their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (Luke 24:16). Although they could not recognize Him with their eyes, there was something that witnessed peace to them: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:30-32). We can likewise have our eyes opened by hearing the word at General Conference and other Church meetings, and by immersing ourselves in Holy Scripture, especially the Book of Mormon—and hearkening to the Spirit. Can we also be witnesses and behold His condescension before the children of men?
 “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Journal of Discourses, 2:31).
 Charles, R.H. (Editor). Ascension of Isaiah, 10:18, 20. Translated from the Ethiopic Version, which, together with the new Greek fragment, the Latin versions and the Latin translation of the Slavonic, is here published in full. London: Adam and Black, 1900, 72. While we do not consider the Ascension of Isaiah Scripture, Latter-day Saints have multiple reasons to be interested in this manuscript. There are important similarities to the Vision of Joseph F. Smith (see D&C 138), where the great disciples of Christ of ancient days were present, such as Adam and Enoch in the spirit world; as well as to things we learn in sacred places. The Ascension of Isaiah, shows that at least some early Christians believed that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were three distinct beings, but one in purpose. It is not known if this book was written by Isaiah, or at a later date. It is suggested that the original book may well have existed before the time of Christ but may have been amended by early Christians. At any rate, what we have has not been preserved in its purity.
Gregorio Billikopf was born in Chile in 1954. After reading the Book of Mormon over a four-day period, he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1974. His parental grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew and grandmother a German Jew. His mother’s side of the family is Chilean. Billikopf felt stirred to study Isaiah after reading the words of the Savior in 3 Nephi 23:1. Gregorio is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ. He worked for the University of California for 34 years and published books on labor productivity and on mediation and conflict management. Gregorio and his wife Linda live in Chile.