Thursday, July 19, 2018

Is one person better than another?

Recently, I saw this comment on Facebook:

"You cannot be one of the few, truly humble followers of Christ if you think you are, especially in the meaning of 'few,' because a truly humble follower of Christ will not think he is any better than anyone else."

This is a very common line of thinking. It seems that modern sensibilities are offended by the idea that one person could be better than another. It seems to trip some wire, causing the person to flee in haste from any line of thinking that involves this thought.

Should it?

What do we mean by better? Do we mean value as a person? Every soul is precious in the sight of God, because every soul has within it infinite potential. Since God sees our potential as clearly as he sees our actual progress, he values each person equally, no matter how well or poorly they are measuring up to their potential.

Is there, then, a difference in his perspective towards and interactions with some individuals compared to others? Absolutely. God himself said:

...These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. (Abraham 3:19)

So how does God distinguish between the intelligence of one vs. another? It comes down to how much light they seek, receive, and live.

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it. (1 Nephi 17:35)

Just before this verse, Nephi was explaining that the Cananites would have been just as blessed as the Israelites had they kept the commandments of God like the Israelites, showing that God does treat those who keep his commandments differently to those who do not, and the former are preferred to the latter.

Mormon wrote the following, making a distinction between "chosen vessels" who are of a "strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness" and "the residue" of men:
30 [Angels show] themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men. (Moroni 7)
Nephi is a wonderful example of what it means to be better than your fellows. When he and his brothers were given an opportunity to accept new truth and rise up from average mediocrity, he was the only one that accepted the opportunity. He was faithful to every commandment he received. Because of this, he was appointed a ruler over his brethren by God.

The process of Nephi's ascension is a pattern that can be employed by anyone, and is employed by all who become better than their fellows. The pattern is laid out in Alma 13:

1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—(Alma 13)

God provides an equal opportunity to all people, but many do not accept his invitation at all, and very few accept it completely.

True superiority is not something to be envied in the lens of the world. As a godly king, Nephi's job was to a) acquire more light and truth than his fellows by applying more heed and diligence than they did, and b) sacrifice himself to a greater extent for their benefit than they themselves did. Though Nephi was indeed more advanced than his brothers, he suffered far more than they did. It was not a glamorous job. It wasn't something to be envied. This is the unavoidable experience of all who, like Nephi, listen to God's voice and do what he says. They will unavoidably receive more light and truth than their fellows, immediately be charged to impart what they can of what they have received to others, and consistently be rejected and persecuted because of their attempts to help others. "For of him unto whom much is given much is required..." (D&C 82:3)

Jesus is the chief example of what it means to be better than your fellows.
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:2-12)
Being better is not a joyful thing. It is a burden. It doesn't get you a sports car and a trophy wife. It gets you more opportunities to suffer without recognition for the benefit of others who do not appreciate you.

All who will be better will be undesirable to their fellowmen. They will be despised and rejected. They will be full of sorrow. They will suffer for the sins of others. They will be wounded by others. They will be oppressed and afflicted. In spite of all this, no one will listen to them, and they will be comforted only by the knowledge that they had done all they could.

To be "great" is to be "...stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, and wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented...[To wander] in deserts and in mountains, and hid in dens, and caves of the earth;" (Joseph Smith, TPJS p. 32) The intensity of these experiences increases with how much better you are than the average, with Jesus at the obvious maximum.

To be better is to serve more:
42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
There is nothing about being better that is desirable to a carnal mind. From a carnal mindset, it is more enjoyable in every way to be mediocre. The only reason that motivates being better it is love of God and love of your fellowman.

Why this matters


So why does it matter whether or not we are comfortable with the idea of a person being better than another? This concept is unavoidably intertwined with our ability to perceive and heed truth, which in turn determines our relationship with God and, ultimately, salvation itself.

If we do not accept that one person can in fact be better than another, we must also believe that the most depraved individual is no different than Jesus Christ himself, who also lived once as a man. In such a blind state, we must suppose that anything goes, and there is no need for repentance or improvement. Even if we believe repentance is necessary, how could we identify the way forward if we believe all people are the same? The very process of repentance consists in a) recognizing some behavior that is more righteous than your own / some bit of light and truth more advanced than what you currently have, and b) implementing it in your life. If one person can't be better than another, you can't recognize superior light and truth to your own, and you can't advance towards God.

Because truth is many-dimensional, it is difficult if not impossible to produce an absolute ranking of people in terms of light and truth (though God can and does do this, see Abraham 3:19). For a simple example, consider that I might be less patient than you, but perhaps I am more willing to give of my substance to the poor. It turns out that where someone is in terms of truth is a complicated question, because that progress would need to be measured across every dimension (see the first picture in this post), and somehow compared. Luckily, we need not worry about that because our concern is in identifying specific truths along a specific dimension to recognize either an opportunity to impart or acquire something more advanced to others or ourselves, respectively.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The contradiction of charity: living the second great commandment

The kingdom of God is within you. It is there, waiting to be activated through your adoption of the behavior that does so. If one desires to have heaven within themselves, they must act at all times as if they were in heaven. This does not mean obedience to a static laundry list of commandments, though perfect, honest, earnest obedience to God as far as you understand him is required. This--incidentally--is the fulfillment of the first great commandment, to love God with all you heart, might, mind, and strength.

The second great commandment is to love your fellow man as yourself. There are at least two ways to gain insight into the meaning of this second commandment. The first is to treat everyone as you would like to be treated. This means, for example, that if you see a hungry man, you will imagine how you would feel if you were hungry, and then spend your resources as you would in that case. A perhaps more insightful interpretation is to recognize and embrace the contradiction of the fact that, if you live according to the kingdom of heaven, most people are in fact not like you. This means that as you spend your resources--your time, talent, and compassion--on others, you will find they almost never take advantage of them. You will find that your effort in recruiting and expending these resources far exceeds the benefit these people derive from it. Almost without exception, they will not use what you have given to improve their lot, nor will the appreciate what you have done to provide it, nor will they even recognize that you are doing anything at all.

To keep the second great commandment, and to fully embody the kingdom of God within you, you must act as if these people were also citizens of heaven. You must act as if the subjects of your kindness would react the same way you would to the resources offered, in spite of your knowledge that they will not.

To love your fellowman as yourself, you have to see their infinite potential, and treat them as if they had already become that person. You have to hope against all experience. Every time.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Polygamy: Almost always a bad idea, but not always

Polygamy is a divisive issue. Some people believe it is required to go to heaven, others believe it will take you straight to hell. I once wrote this post on the topic, which covers many relevant scriptures. At this point in my life, I feel it is necessary to write out my current understanding of this topic.

My own journey with the idea of polygamy began as a young Latter-day Saint, when I came across the stories of Joseph Smith practicing polygamy. The question of whether he did or didn't is its own divisive issue, and not important for our purposes here. Nevertheless, being a believing Latter-day Saint, I was faced with the narrative that he did, and it bothered me. At that time, like most people, I felt the idea of polygamy was reprehensible. Because I believed in the scriptures, I believed that the best way to resolve my angst on the issue was to ask God about it. Instead of resting in my own ideas on the topic, I suspended my preconceived notions and sought God out to instruct me. He did.

Over the subsequent years (that may have been as many as 10 years ago), I have been taught quite a bit on the topic. What I present here is not meant to be a guide on the topic. I don't pretend to have the answers you or others seek. Instead, what follows are merely the notes of things as I presently understand them.

I don't expect to convince anyone to move from their present position with this post. This is one topic where the strength of one's feelings on the topic is not always proportional to the amount of knowledge on has on it. This is unfortunate because one's ability to receive revelation is usually inversely proportional to the strength of one's feelings on the issue about which they are asking. The Holy Ghost is informational, however feelings cloud information. They block information. The preclude the fair consideration of undesirable possibilities.

Thus, if one does not believe what I am about to say already, I highly doubt that they would be convinced should a heavenly messenger appear and tell them the same. As Jesus taught with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, if someone is unable to recognize the truth of an issue when it is told them plainly in the scriptures in multiple instances, they would not believe it even if an angel appeared to tell them.

As with anything of import, what others present to you is merely something that might be helpful in your own journey. Though, if true, you will be held accountable for what it teaches you, it doesn't absolve you of the full responsibility you bear for your own actions. You and you alone must figure out for yourself what is true, and live it knowing you will bear the full consequences of your own actions.

When is polygamy a good idea

Almost never. Polygamy is only a good idea when it is in the best interest of the women involved. This is rarely the case because almost all men are not where they need to be to make that the case, and most women are in a place where monogamy is the best relationship for them.

1. If the woman has high spiritual intelligence.

To understand this, it is necessary to understand the Pareto distribution. A distribution is a function that measures how a certain property is shared across a population. Most people are familiar with the Normal distribution, or Bell curve. IQ follows the Normal distribution, meaning most people are close to the average IQ, and those who have a lower or higher than normal IQ are both equally likely and less abundant.

The Pareto is a way of visualizing human outputs. It is extremely different than the Normal curve. As you can see from the image below, the vast majority of the Pareto distribution is below the mean of the Normal curve. Also, the "tail," or thin part of the Pareto distribution's upper end, goes on much further than the Normal curve.
Related image
While IQ is Normally distributed, spiritual intelligence is Pareto distributed. What is spiritual intelligence? It is what explains and drives personal output. It is how closely one's character is like God's. If you want a really good husband or wife, you want someone who falls on the right side of the Pareto distribution.

Now, it is important to understand how improbable it is to find someone in that tail. In the Normal distribution, if you split the whole x axis into 10 equally spaced bins, you will find that half the people are in the bottom half of bins, half the top, most in the middle, and very few in the tails. In the Pareto, if you do the same thing, more than 50% of people are in the lowest bin. Bins 1 and 2 together contain 80% of people. Think about that. There is only a 20% chance of a randomly selected person being in bins 3-10, ~10% for bins 4-10, ~5% for bins 5-10, ~2% for bins 6-10 (remember, in a Normal curve, 50% would be in bins 6-10, but in Pareto it is only 2% in bins 6-10).

What does this mean for male/female matching? The better the catch you are, the smaller the pool (by far) of potential mates who are similar to you in spiritual intelligence.

Why does this matter? It comes down to ideal matches. The fact is that the more right you go on this curve, the rarer that person is, and the fewer people there are who are suitable matches for that person. Wherever someone is on the spiritual intelligence curve, you could draw a window around that point to show the types of people they can help. I explained this idea of truth windows (with pictures!) here. They won't contribute much if anything to those above them, and they could help anyone below them. However, their unique contribution would be to those who are only slightly less spiritually intelligent than themselves. Those below the window will not be able to recognize that they are much different than their peers.

Our discussion thus far has addressed men and women equally. Now we will introduce on difference between them. Women marry up, men marry down. Women are very focused on interpersonal production. There are good, biological and logical reasons for that. Men tend to be intimidated by women who are spiritually more intelligent than them, and they are more focused on physical qualities, which are Normal distributed.

Putting all of this into the mix, you develop a model for marriage matching. Men who are at the bottom of the spiritual curve are not going to get married, or at least they shouldn't. They will lack the character and other attributes necessary to provide an environment for women that is better than being single. They cost more than they are worth to a woman. Meanwhile, because many men end up with women of lower level of spiritual intelligence, the women at the top end of the curve are more likely to end up without a match--under monogamy.

In this scenario, the only way for these high quality women to find a man who is worthy marrying is through polygamy. In this case, though, polygamy makes no sense unless you are a much-better-than-average male, and there are very few of those. How few? At best, 1 or 2 in 100. And remember that, even if you are a male on the right side of the Pareto, this scenario still only makes sense with women who are also on the right side, and these are also quite rare. Under this scenario, the oft-repeated "polygamy can't be good because if we practiced it there wouldn't be enough women" is repudiated.

2. In the case of widowhood or divorce.

Some single moms succeed in finding a husband. Others struggle. It seems hard (but not impossible) for a single mother to find a man who is at least as spiritually intelligent as she is, harder than for a childless woman who has never married. The difficulty increases with the woman's spiritual intelligence. In this case, polygamy may be appropriate. Because the woman will have a harder time finding a husband at least as spiritually intelligent as her, it may be appropriate even if the woman is of lower spiritual intelligence.

In this case, it still requires that a man be on the right side of the Pareto to fulfill the needs of more than one wife, and in many ways this situation can require even more from a man than the first discussed. 

Why does any of this matter

Some people think that polygamy is necessary to go to heaven. With some simple math, you can quickly figure out that were this the case, many people on this earth could not get to heaven. God does not give commandments that are not livable. It would be unjust for God to require someone to be a polygamist to go to heaven, because the obedience of others to this commandment would rob them of the opportunity to do the same.

More importantly, as I've shown above, the overwhelming majority of men and women are unsuited for living under this arrangement.

So why does this matter? Well for two reasons.

1. If you think polygamy is a good idea, you should probably think again. Suppose you are a man considering entering into a polygamous relationship. Think of the Pareto curve. What is the probability that you have the resources (godly character, temporal, emotional, spiritual) necessary to provide two women with a situation better than what they could have without you? The answer is near zero. The odds are that you are not only not that kind of man, but that you have never even met that kind of man. If what you are considering is not motivated by what would be ideal for your potential wife/wives, you ought to realize that your motivation is from the flesh, and not the spirit. Not only is this a sin, but were you to be successful in your wish, I can guarantee you would consign yourself to living hell. Those who are not prepared to endure the fire will be consumed by it. Marriage to even one woman is a task that most men can't handle well. Adding another woman to that mix is not going to fulfill your unanswered desires. Instead, it will more than double the "cost" you currently feel in a monogamous marriage. Polygamy is not for the man. It is a net cost for him. It is for the women.

2. If you think polygamy is a bad idea, you should investigate your heart. If you feel that this is something you would never do, ask yourself why. Keep asking yourself why until you get to the root of the issue. If you are honest, you will find that this line of thinking will uncover some deep seated sin that you manage to keep well hidden under the "normal" demands of life. This could include covetousness ("I can't stand the idea of sharing my husband"), weakness ("I don't think I could be strong enough to have two wives"), selfishness ("Why would I ever want more than one wife, one is hard enough"), unbelief ("God would never tell me to do this"), and, the biggest one, distrust in God ("Why would God ever want me to do something so 'bad'"). The point of this exercise is not to convince you to come to the point where you practice polygamy. As I've shown, this is a very bad idea for almost everyone. The point is to use this as a vehicle to help you uncover sins that will keep you from heaven, independent of whether or not you practice polygamy. To be plain in what I am saying, neither a man who would not sacrifice himself for a second wife nor a woman who can't imagine God asking her to be a polygamous wife is worthy of heaven. Whether they end up monogamous or polygamous does not matter, but the topic can uncover a multitude of sins.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lamentations

This morning I could not begin my morning routine because I have been overcome with sorrow as I reflect upon the evil nature of mankind.

There is so much light and truth accessible to us. Due to technology, I believe that we have greater access to light and truth than any other generation. What are you doing with it?

One way we have greater access is through greater access to people. Light and truth work a lot like nutrients in the soil. There is a good deal available on the surface, but there is even more available deep in the ground. While most of us, as tender plants, have to make due with what we can access in the shallow dirt, God has blessed us with tall trees whose deep roots pull up the otherwise unreachable nutrients and make them accessible on the surface through dropping leaves. These people, who possess more light and truth than most, are rare but can provide access to light and truth that would take most people many lifetimes to acquire. How do you access these people and what they know? Technology has made their words almost and in many cases altogether free to access. How much time and effort do you spend reading books and watching videos from the great (whether popular or not) minds, testing their principles against what the Spirit tells you?

One way we have greater access is through time. Subsistence farming requires consummate effort. Even the abject poor among us have immeasurably more discretionary time than all but the independently wealthy in history. What are you doing with it?

Men and women today do not seek out light and truth, and when it is presented to them, they hate the person who has brought it.

The default state of man is condemnation:

"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18)

The condemnation occurs because the default state of man is to flee from the light:

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3)
If you had a terminal disease, would you rather know about it or persist in ignorance? What if it were curable? We are all spiritually terminally ill, and there is a cure.

What person do you know that runs to the light, that prefers to understand that they have flaws that they must fix and misunderstandings that they must correct in order to experience happiness? Instead, mankind prefers to persist in the way things are because they erroneously believe that it is more comfortable than seeking, discovering, and applying all truth, wherever it is found, and no matter the implications. While intentional ignorance will allow vacuous comfort to persist for a time, it will always be ripped away from you, causing far more pain, suffering, and insecurity than you would have had by embracing the truth. A person who chooses to ignore the alarms signaling a sinking ship may avoid the discomfort of finding a life boat, but they will suffer more than those who listened when they find themselves forced to confront the rising water, and may be condemned to drowning if the water has made it impossible to escape their cabin.

My heart is broken by the suffering that I see. It is not possible to avoid all suffering in life, but it is possible to limit suffering to that which causes growth. Those who live their lives in this way are so few that they are rarer than diamonds.

Instead, I find myself lamenting to God: "Those who are honest and open-minded that would listen to light and truth do not need anyone to give it to them, because they already have it from you. Those who are not honest and open-minded desperately need the help of others to bring them light and truth, but they won't hear it."

Lose yourself, and you will truly find yourself. You will find that everything about you is but dross in the light of Christ, and he will give you his own heart and character to replace what is broken and missing inside of you--which is everything inside of you.

Then you will have another problem. When you give yourself completely to God, your heart turns completely to your fellowmen, and it will break into a thousand pieces as you truly comprehend their depraved state and realize that you are absolutely powerless to help them.

You will give everything you have to help them. You will intercede with God on their behalf, with intense and repeated prayers. You will study and pray to know how to help persuade them. You will set aside all the comforts of life that you have earned to instead focus on their needs. And, in spite of all of this, you will fail to make a difference, almost (and perhaps altogether) every single time.

Those that most need the light God has given you are those who are least likely to receive it. The negative consequences of their refusal to turn to the light wash upon them like the lapping waves of the sea, and you are powerless to stop them.

Then, you will realize what Jeremiah felt like when he weighed the outcome of all his suffering in behalf of others. You will realize why Isaiah had second thoughts about his mission. You will realize what Solomon felt like after spending a lifetime acquiring wisdom, only to realize that he could not impart it to others. You will understand why Abraham was a spiritual stranger in a strange land, and was indescribably lonely his whole life. You will understand how nothing in this world made Jesus' life worth living--that only his love of the Father could have motivated him to come and complete his mission on this earth. And it will be the same with you.

How I wish those around me would repent. How much I wish they would adopt radical truthfulness and self-honesty. How much I wish they would cultivate a willingness to believe in what they hadn't before considered. How much I wish they could see the value of light, and run into it, rather than running from it.