Tuesday, March 29, 2011

LDS Church Helping Members And Non-Members in Japan

The LDS Church have an amazing ability to to take care their own members during a crisis
"The only thing that rivals the Mormon church’s ability to spread the word is its ability to cope with emergencies.
Within 36 hours of the earthquake striking off the coast of Sendai on March 11, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that all 638 of its missionaries in the country -- 342 Americans, 216 Japanese and 80 from other nations – were safe.
Within a few days, the church also had accounted for all but about 1,000 of its 125,000 members in Japan.
 “Whether it is Haiti or Japan,” said David Evans, a senior leader in the church who serves in the missionary department. “This is how it works everywhere.”
Chalk it up to a culture of discipline and emergency preparedness. The church has a detailed hierarchy and network that works in ordinary times to maintain cohesion among followers, and in disaster to locate them."
What's even more impressive is that the LDS Church also has an amazing ability to help non-members in times of crisis at the same time as well:
"Humanitarian aid from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is arriving in Japan in the ongoing wake of this month's triple-catastrophe in and around Sendai.
Much of the LDS-provided relief supplies are coming from Japan and other Asian nations.
To date, the LDS Church has arranged for more than 135,000 pounds of food and water, 8,000 liters of fuel and 15,000 blankets. Besides the in-kind supplies, the church has made a substantial financial donation to the Japan Red Cross.
Food and fuel is being purchased in Japan and shipped to the affected areas, while blankets were purchased in China and shipped to Japan.
Japanese Latter-day Saints are helping their own as thousands of members from hundreds of congregations across the nation are assembling hygiene and cleaning kits."
While the LDS Church is helping people in Japan, its still needs your help in giving humanitarian assistance to those people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Anyone can make a donation to the LDS Church Humanitarian Aid Fund.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Does Religion Make You Fat?

A recent study claims that kids who are more religious are more likely to get fat than non-religious kids:
“Our main finding was that people with a high frequency of religious participation in young adulthood were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious participation in young adulthood,” says Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“And that is true even after we adjusted for variables like age, race, gender, education, income, and baseline body mass index,” he added…
“We didn’t look specifically at the potluck factor, but anecdotally, we know that oftentimes at these religious gatherings people will eat traditional comfort foods which are often high in fat and calories and salt,” says Feinstein. “But, again, that’s not something we looked at in this particular study.”…
Feinstein says while obesity appears to be an issue for religious people, previous studies have shown that the faithful tend to live longer, be less likely to smoke, and to have better mental health status."
That study flies in the face of various other independent studies that show that religious people tend to be more healthier than non religious people. I'll reference two for your reading pleasure. 
The first study was conducted by Princeton University in 2009 which found that religious people around the world tend to be more healthier than non-religious people. 
The second study was conducted by Gallup poll in which they did extensive research on the wellbeing of religious people in America. The study found that there are different factors that could account for the results of their findings: 
There are a number of factors that could contribute to very religious Americans' healthier lifestyle choices. Some of these factors are likely overt products of religious doctrine itself, including rules related to smoking and substance abuse. Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, strictly adhere to vegetarian lifestyles free of alcohol and smoking, while orthodox Mormons and Muslims do not drink alcohol. In some Christian denominations, gluttony and sloth are considered two of the seven deadly sins, and many evangelical faiths frown on drinking and smoking. The Bible indicates that one's body is the "temple of God," which could in turn help explain the relationship between religious orthodoxy and exercise and certain types of food consumption.
It is possible, of course, that the noted relationship between health and religiosity could go in the other direction -- that people who are healthier are the most likely to make the decision to be religious. This could be particularly relevant in terms of church attendance, one of the constituent components of Gallup's definition of religiousness. Healthier people may be more likely and able to attend religious services than those who are less healthy.
It may also be possible that certain types of individuals are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices and more likely to choose to be highly religious. The most parsimonious explanation, however, may be the most intuitive: Those who capitalize on the social and moral outcomes of religious norms and acts are more likely to lead lives filled with healthier choices.
As a result, I'm highly skeptical of the study that finds that religious kids are more fat than non-religious kids.

Do you agree or disagree with the study?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Book Of Mormon Musical: How Do Silly Stories Produce Good People?

The media is still buzzing about Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon" and the sneak preview reviews have been mostly positive so far. The Broadway musical is set to open at the Eugene O’Neill Theater on March 24. However, sneak previews are one thing. What the general audience thinks is another.  
From what I can glean from reading various media accounts is that the play is pretty enjoyable. For example, Jon Stewart absolutely loves the play. You can see him gushing about it in his interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker on the Daily Show:
I am intrigued by how Mormons will feel about this Broadway musical. The play paints a mixed picture of what the Mormon church is about. Not all of it is flattering. Some of it may be offensive:
"It's sprinkled with jokes about Mormons discriminating against black people and repressed gay longings, but the creators of a new musical about Mormons say it won't attract the sort of religious controversy they are famous for. 
One of the most anticipated musicals this Broadway season, "The Book of Mormon," satirizes the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, sexualizes the ritual of baptism and has plenty of politically incorrect jokes."
At the same time, Matt Stone and Trey Parker believe that the play also demonstrates the goodness and sincerity of the LDS people even if people find our faith to be a bit odd: 
Parker and Stone cite a song called "I Believe" in the second act as an example of how the show mixes humor about the beliefs of Mormons with warmth for the two main characters, including rising actor Josh Gad as a bumbling missionary. 
"It's this whole song that gets huge laughs, but it doesn't have a single joke in it," Stone said. "It's just interesting, idiosyncratic things that Mormons believe, but at the same time it is a really heartfelt song from a devout Mormon, so it isn't really just laughing at this person. It works on both levels."
By all accounts, this play isn't hostile to a specific religion like A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant which was a satirical musical about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. However, that remains to be seen when The Book of Mormon Musical opens to the public. How the audience and members of the LDS church react remains to be seen.

Regardless of how the play is received, the creators of the Book of Mormon music pose an interesting and legitimate question about the LDS faith:
But having found that his Mormon neighbors were always good members of the community, Mr. Stone said, he had to wonder: “Do goofy stories make people nice? What if, in their goofiness, these stories somehow inspire that in the right way. Is that a social good?” 
I think these questions could be asked of any religion but I think given the fact that our religion is fairly new and recent in comparison to other religions, Mormonism is a good religion to use in exploring the general question about the value of religion have in people's live and society even if they are arguably based on silly stories. 
I pose a question to those that follow my blog: let us assume that the stories in the book of Mormon are just plain silly and are not true. What is it about our religion that produces good people? Is Mormonism a social good?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Evangelical Christian Realizes Mormons Are Christians After Attending Insitutite

One of the most fascinating stories I have come across on the internet is an interview with an Evangelical named "David" who attended the LDS Institute for four years while working on obtaining a PhD in Molecular Biology. 
I'd like to share a portion of that interview with you (and I encourage you to read the entire interview at the link above) in which he discusses how Institute helped him see that Mormons really are Christians:
"How has your interaction changed your views of Mormons and Mormonism?
At the same time I started attending Institute classes, I made a point to read several books on Mormonism written from conservative evangelical perspectives or by individuals who had left the LDS Church.  Those texts reinforced many of my early LDS preconceptions and argued adamantly that Mormons were not Christians.  I believed as I read those books that I was preparing to enter a mission field, and during the first couple years of attending LDS classes and conversing with Mormons, proselytizing was always at the back of mind.  I couldn't envision Mormons receiving an evangelical version of salvation without first accepting conventional Christian doctrine.   My current perception of Mormonism is quite different.  As I befriended more Mormons, I discovered that some of the most contentious issues that were the focus of anti-Mormon literature were simply irrelevant or ancillary to modern LDS beliefs and practices.   The practical application of their faith and understanding in LDS doctrine was actually similar to that of other Christians with respect to purely biblical doctrine.  Consequently, I no longer believe I am in a position to say the biblical salvation of Mormons is more in question than members of other Christian denominations.   My current practice, which has contributed to the most productive and meaningful of my inter-faith relationships, is to treat Mormons as Christian brothers and sisters as opposed to members of a non-Christian cult.  
I was recently given a book by Stephen E. Robinson that makes several compelling arguments in favor of Mormons being Christians.  I'm in agreement with him on many of his arguments, so I will limit the explanation of my change in heart and mind to one simple conclusion.  To deny someone who accepts the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ the title of Christian is to deny the sufficiency of that sacrifice, as you surely can't be saved by grace through Christ and not be a Christian.  I no longer argue, as I once did, that a precondition for that salvation is a proper understanding of its heavenly manifestation and the sufficiency of the grace that makes it possible.  I still disagree with LDS doctrine as it pertains to grace, works and exaltation, but denying salvation to Mormons on those grounds requires passing judgment on the motive of their works.   As a Christian and a witness to many apparently humble acts of Mormon service, I'm personally reluctant to pass judgment.
Evangelical Christians sometimes acknowledge the promptings or the perceived presence of the Holy Spirit in their life, and I specifically remember attending a large LDS social event during the first year of my studies where I really felt the absence of the Holy Spirit.  I never mentioned this feeling to any of my Mormon friends, but I share it now as an example of a subjective experience that I used to substantiate my academic rationale at the time for why Mormons should not be considered Christian.  It's also relevant in that my current acceptance of Mormons as fellow Christians is the result of both intellectual argument and the accumulative effect of more recent subjective experiences.  Shortly before my graduation from the LDS Institute, I was invited to attend a Mormon baptism, at which a moving testimony was given by the LDS friend of the woman being baptized.  I could not have denied the profound influence of the Holy Spirit in that woman's life or in the lives of others who shared their testimony at an LDS church service I attended on a different occasion.  The Spirit could also be felt in many of the prayers offered at Institute gatherings.  Such spiritual fellowship is common amongst Christian brothers and sisters and I can't deny the significance of experiencing it amongst Mormons."
While David acknowledges that he still has doctrinal disagreements with the doctrines of the LDS Church, he at least sees that we are Christians.
David's statement that Mormons are Christians because "to deny someone who accepts the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ the title of Christian is to deny the sufficiency of that sacrifice, as you surely can't be saved by grace through Christ and not be a Christian" applies equally to all other denominations who accept the atoning sacrifice of Christ. 
Christians will always have doctrinal disagreements with one another, but its time to put an end to the debate over who is a Christian and who isn't. No one except Christ is in a position to determine who is a Christian and who isn't.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How You Can Help The LDS Church In Providing Relief To Japan

If you want provide donations to the LDS Church so that they can help the people in Japan, please go to LDS Philanthropies and make a donation to the Emergency Response Fund.
The LDS Church has also released a statement about the earthquake in Japan and that most LDS missionaries serving in that area are safe and accounted for: 
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan following the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami.
There has been a high volume of inquiries concerning the safety of missionaries serving in the area. The most immediate information is that five of the six missions in Japan have reported all missionaries are accounted for and safe. However, all communications systems in the Sendai area are down. We have not been able to contact each missionary in that mission yet. We continue to work diligently to account for the missionaries in this area and will update information as we are able to do so.
Initial reports from missions in areas affected by tsunami activity show all missionaries are safe.
We are also assessing how the Church might help meet the needs of people affected by the earthquake and tsunami."
Keep checking back here at LDS Phrontistery for more updates on the LDS Church and their involvement in helping the people of Japan.
Update #1 (3.13.11):  It has been confirmed that all missionaries in Japan are safe and accounted for.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

LDS And Evangelicals Leaders Meet In SLC

Politico is reporting that an Evangelical group is holding their meeting in SLC and will be meeting with LDS Church leaders:
The National Association of Evangelicals is holding its semiannual board meeting in Salt Lake City on Thursday — the first time the group has met in Utah. The association chose to gather in Utah precisely to open the door to improved relations between the religious groups.
The board plans to meet with a Mormon leader, in what the evangelicals are framing as an opportunity for “dialogue” that will “deepen our understanding of the Mormon faith and contribute to the ongoing work of evangelicals in Utah.”
While Politico sees the meeting as something that might benefit Mitt Romney if he decides to run in 2012, the meeting between Evangelicals and Mormons have bigger implications than just the upcoming presidential elections:
“Evangelicals and Mormons have fundamental doctrinal differences in terms of their faith, but historically have been very compatible and even cooperative on various moral, social and political issues,” he said. “Politically, evangelicals have more in common with most Mormons than we do with liberal Southern Baptists” like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton."
The meeting isn't about politics. It is part of it but it is not the whole picture here. Both Mormons and Evangelicals are concerned about the rapid growth of secularism in society and how political, social, and legal changes have been having huge impact on the way religious organizations operate in America.
As a result, we are seeing religious groups starting to form alliances with one another even if they have strong doctrinal disagreements with one another. One of the best examples of religious groups coming together is with California’s Prop 8 in 2008 and how powerful multi-religious coalitions were in helping the law get passed in that state.  
If the meeting goes well in Salt Lake City, we could be seeing a new era in collaboration among various religious groups who are politically and socially conservative that will have a significant impact at the ballot box and in the hallways of state and federal legislatures.