Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Holy Ghost and Ohm's Law

In 1899 James E. Talmage, a renowned chemist in England and America and apostle in the LDS church, wrote a book titled 'The Articles of Faith' analyzing the doctrines laid out by Joseph Smith in a letter he wrote titled by the same name. Despite its age, it remains today one of the seminal works discussing Mormon Theology. From the section titled "The Holy Ghost", Talmage writes:

James E. Talmage (1862-1933)
Subtler, mightier, and more mysterious than any or all of the physical forces of nature are the powers that operate upon conscious organisms, the means by which the mind, the heart, the soul of man may be energized by spiritual forces. In our ignorance of the true nature of electricity we may speak of it as a fluid; and so by analogy the forces through which the mind is governed have been called spiritual fluids. The true nature of these manifestations of energy is unknown to us, for the elements of comparison and analogy, so necessary to our human reasoning, are wanting; nevertheless the effects are experienced by all. As the conducting medium in an electric circuit is capable of conveying but a limited current, the maximum capacity depending upon the resistance offered by the conductor, and, as separate circuits of different degrees of conductivity may carry currents of widely varying intensity, so human souls are of varied capacity with respect to the higher powers. But as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity. By analogous processes of purification our spirits may be made more susceptible to the forces of life, which are emanations from the Holy Spirit. Therefore are we taught to pray by word and action for a constantly increasing portion of the Spirit, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is a measure of this gift of God unto us.

Talmage is drawing an analogy from Ohm's law which was widely accepted by the scientific community some 50 years before Talmage had this insight. Having studied the physics covering electromagnetism myself, this idea brought back many memories of working through simple circuit diagrams with voltage, intensity, and resistance. The relationship between these three values is expressed in Ohm's law:

Here, the intensity of current in a circuit (measured in amps) is equal to the voltage (electrical potential) of a power source divided by the resistance of the medium through which that current flows. The greater the voltage the greater the current. However, the greater the resistance the less current. By analyzing this equation and see what insights it gives drawing from Elder Talmage's analogy above, much can be learned.

In the Book of Mormon Alma chapter 30 gives an account of a trail between the high priest, Alma, and Korihor who had been accused of blaspheme. After Korihor insists that a sign must be given before anyone should exercise faith, Alma responds:

Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed.

Alma 30:46

Sometime later, Alma - in preaching to the poor and rejected class of the Zoramites - makes a wonderful analogy between the word of God and a seed. Here, he also uses the word 'resist' when speaking of wickedness and hardheartedness (possibly referring to his previous encounter with Korihor):

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma 30:28

In modern times, Christ - speaking to Lyman Sherman through Joseph Smith - in December 26, 1835 -  spoke similarly:

... resist no more my voice.

D&C 108:2

In basic circuits, to which this analogy relates to, the voltage is constant. That constant voltage relates to God and his power which is described as "... the same yesterday today and forever..." (1 Ne. 10:18). God's power is always there, available to anyone, and it's potential is unchanging.

Given the voltage is constant, the resistance becomes the determining factor for the intensity in the circuit. Likewise, as God's power is constant, unchanging, and is always extended towards each one of His children, our will compared to His becomes the determining factor of the efficacy of that power flowing through our lives. Again from the above Talmage quote:

.... as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity.

So, what is the resistance that is required to allow God's power to more fully flow through us? It, surprisingly, is not zero given the equations above. If a resistance of zero, or analogously an empty will, is introduced to the equation impossible or undefined results are found. Such is life without free will or with an empty will (see 2 Ne. 2:11-13). Could this begin to describe the situation where Satan sought to deny the power of God and place Himself above it by destroying the agency of man (see Moses 4:3)?

So, if having zero resistance introduces problems in the equation and the analogy then what should "R" ideally be? To answer the question it helps to rearrainge Ohms law.

What would "R" have to equal in order for "V" and "I" to equal each other?" The resistance would have to be 1. While trying to avoid taking the analogy too far, the notion of "one" has great implications in the gospel and appears throughout it. The term "one" appears frequently in scriptures to indicate harmony, alignment, equality, and unity. The Lord has said:

... I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.

D&C 38:27

It is especially prominent in the Lord's Intercessory Prayer:

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Knowing and understand this, it becomes quite clear that the only way the power of God will flow through us is if we choose to become one--harmonizing and aligning our desires and actions with the will of God. Only when this oneness is achieved will the power of God flow through us unobstructed. Nephi (the second) achieved, to some degree, this oneness. Nephi, pondering upon the wickedness of the people at the time, heard the voice of the Lord saying:

4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for ... thou hast ... sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

Helaman 10:4-5

Through God's blessing, Nephi's righteousness and unity lead to receiving great power from heaven. And we too can be given power as we align our will with the will of God. The means through which this power is given is through the Holy Ghost, but it is activated through the gift of the atonement. It is of no coincidence that the word "atonement", influenced by the Latin word adunamentum meaning 'unity', came from an older verb "onement" meaning "to unite" or "make one".

This is how we harness and utilize the gift of the Holy Ghost. As a gift and blessing, it is predicated upon obedience (D&C 130:20-21; D&C 132:5). And it is only when our will becomes one with the will of God, through the atonement of Christ, that we may be blessed with His eternal power.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Degrees of Glory

In section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord uses a metaphor to compare the differences in glory between his kingdom.

D&C 76: Vision of degrees of glory
70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

 71 And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.

 81 And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.

D&C 76:70-71, 81

The Celestial kingdom's “glory is that of the sun” (v70), the Terrestrial kingdom's “glory differs... even as that of the moon differs from the sun” (v71), and the Telestial kingdom's glory is “even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon” (v81).

What is generally interpreted by this mapping of the Lord's kingdoms to objects we observe in the sky is that 1) The power and glory of the Celestial kingdom is infinite and 2) God's other kingdoms will have a wide range of types of people in them and that the idea of one universal heaven and one universal hell is a false dichotomy. There is a third very powerful lesson that can be learned with a little help from astronomy.

Normon Pogson
In the 19th century, during the 1830s, it was discovered that the eye detects light intensity logarithmically rather than linearly. This combined with the need to have a universal way to measure and compare the intensity of light from objects observed in the sky lead the astronomer Norman Pogson to propose, as a starting point for a light intensity scale, that a star that has a magnitude equal to 1 is 100 times brighter than a star of magnitude 6. This lead to the standard that a difference in 1 magnitude translates to 2.512 times in brightness or intensity.

Since then, astronomers have charted the brightness of objects they observe in the sky. An interesting fact emerges when one looks at these charts and calculates the difference in brightness between the sun, moon, and stars.

On this scale, the sun has a magnitude value of -26.74. The moon has a magnitude value of -12.74. Therefore the difference in brightness between the sun and the moon is 2.51214, which is a factor of 398,359. Put another way, the sun is 398,359 times brighter than the moon.

Following this method of calculation, the following results can be determined for different kinds of objects in the sky:

Object Magnitude Scale
Full moon -12.74 Sun is 394,359 times brighter
Sirius (brightest star) -1.46 Sun is ~12.95 billion times brighter
Faintest observable by human 8 Sun is ~78.82 trillion times brighter
Faintest observable (natural light) 36 Sun is ~12.51 septillion times brighter (1.25 x 1025)

Abraham was promised, “I will multiply thee, and thy seed... and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds” (Abr. 3:14). In Doctrine and Covenants 76 verse 109 it says, “we saw the glory of the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore.”

Globular cluster Messier 56
It is interesting to note that rough calculations of things such as the number of grains of sand on earth or the number of stars in the universe are estimated in the 1018 to 1022 range, close to this same septillion scale. The same scale involved in those metaphors is the same scale involved in the metaphor of the sun, moon, and stars. These numbers are so large that they begin to blur the line between the quantifiable and the infinite.

But what does all this mean? While numbers and estimates are interesting and informative, we should avoid getting too caught up in the exactness of them since our mortal view of the universe will always be imperfect. The Lord prefaces this by rhetorically asking, "Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?", so this metaphor is only to relate something beyond our understanding into something that we have some understanding about. The overarching lesson to be learned from this is that our Heavenly Father's plan is literally large enough for each and every one of His unique children. His plan is infinitely diverse to fit his infinitely diverse creations. What we can learn is that when someone says, “Your Heavenly Father has a plan for you.” they're not just saying something trite or platitudinous. The scale, scope, diversity, and glory of Heavenly Father's kingdoms are literally large enough for all.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Charity and the Destiny of Man

I've been thinking a lot about charity recently, why the scriptures place so much emphasis on it, and how we can better live it in our lives. The following are some of my thoughts as I've tried to dig at this principle.

In the Book of Mormon, Ether chapter 12 talks about charity:

28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.

33 And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men.

34 And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.

It makes me think of some of the insights from the Parable of The Good Samaritan:

Here, a Samaritan helps a Jew left for dead on a road between Jericho and Jerusalem. This parable is a wonderful story illustrating the power of our shared humanity. But there's a deeper lesson when we look at the historical context around the Jewish and Samaritan nations at the time of Jesus.

The history between the Samaritans and Jews is fascinatingly tragic, and we can learn a lot about the intent of Christ's parable by understanding that. Some highlights:

  • The separation of Samaritans and Jews went back more than 700 years by the time of Christ. These tensions and differences were very much woven into the fabric of each other's race, culture, religion, and even their genes. The conflict can even be attributed back further to the sons of Israel.
  • The Jews and Samaritans make conflicting claims of ancestry, priesthood authority, scripture, land rights, and temple worship. There's lots more to read about that here.
  • Less than 200 years before Christ, probably still very fresh in the minds of the Jews and Samaritans, Antiochus IV Epiphanes decided to establish a universal religion with the penalty for resistance being death. Facing certain genocide, the Samaritans aligned themselves with Antiochus requiring cutting any relationship with the Jews in the south. Naturally feeling betrayed, the Jews viewed the Samaritans as traitors, heathens, and heretics. 
  • About 100 years before Christ, the Jewish ruler John Hyrcanus waged war on the Samaritan kingdom eventually conquering them, destroying their temple, and treating them as slaves since they weren't considered true worshipers of Jehovah.

Needless to say, these weren't just neighbors who didn't get along, this was a deep, deep, rooted hatred and distain for each other that had attached itself to the very identity many had of what it was to be a Jew or Samaritan at that time. It must have pained Jesus, who was the covenant God of the Old Testament, to see this rift of hate between the children of Israel. So it's important to acknowledge that Christ choosing to make a Samaritan the protagonist of this parable wasn't a random thought, but instead a divine call for those hearing it to see past what society sees as insurmountable or unfathomable differences and conflicts and instead choose to see each other as our fellow man and children of God.

Martin Luther King gave this insight on this parable (ironically and tragically) just 1 day before his assassination in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech:

I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem... above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're... below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" 

I absolutely love this insight here because it gets at the essence of charity. That charity fundamentally changes our nature and perspective.

The Charter For Compassion is an organization dedicated to the idea of restoring compassion as the root of worship and ethics. Their charter uses the imagery that compassion leads us to dethrone ourselves and place another there:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

President Monson elaborated on the essence of charity and its need in this world in a General Relief Society broadcast in 2010:

There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted. True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere.

Needed is the charity which refuses to find satisfaction in hearing or in repeating the reports of misfortunes that come to others, unless by so doing, the unfortunate one may be benefited. The American educator and politician Horace Mann once said, “To pity distress is but human; to relieve it is godlike.”

Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.

So when God says "except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father" (Ether chapter 12) He's not saying that to be cute or poetic. And when Christ chose to strike the nerve of hatred between two nations and cultures He wasn't merely trying to be inflammatory. Both Christ and God are warning us that unless we get a handle on this principle of charity we all face together a very negative future.

Makes me think of another quote from Martin Luther King:
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Martin Luther King also gave, what I consider, one of the best sermons on the topic of love in his inspired speech "Loving Your Enemies". Seriously, if you have an hour or two to spare, this sermon will change your entire perspective on the role of love and charity in the destiny of man. Speaking about Christ's command to "love your enemies" he says:

Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn’t playing; because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command.

So coming back to Ether chapter 12, we can see that the warning that we must have charity is not merely a platitude, but a divine truth on what is ultimately what will determine our eternal destiny individually and the destiny of man here on Earth.