My month with the Book of Mormon – May 2017

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The Bible is really, incredibly old! The Old and New Testaments were copied by hand for centuries, if not millennia! And to interpret the Bible correctly, an expert ought to be well aware of the original languages! At least, that’s how it is with my Bible.

All the more striking, then, that the Book of Mormon (BofM) was the first scripture I have read that was originally composed in – or, according to Joseph Smith, miraculously and infallibly translated into – my own language. That is, it is the English text of the BofM that is considered divinely authoritative, beyond which version there is no further appeal.[1]

The BofM is one of the principal books of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) popularly known as the Mormons, and other related groups.[2] It is not the only one considered as new revelation; the LDS later added “Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price” to their canon.

We live in an age of people giving reviews of books they have never read. The Bible is probably the most-reviewed and least-read book of our age (more…)

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Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

What I read in 2016, the short list

I have always been a big reader, but never anything close to my list for 2016. That’s when I began to use the wonderful online group, Goodreads.com, to log the books that I have read, am reading, and want to read. I am up over 1900 books that I have logged as “read” in my lifetime, so far, but I know there are hundreds I cannot remember; I imagine the number should be more like 2500.

“Do you want that reading list Super-Sized?”

Over Christmas break 2015 I decided to join their Reading Challenge for 2016, and set a (as it turns out, too ambitious!) personal goal of 150 books/plays this year, including the complete works of Shakespeare, the Koran, and others, let alone material for class prep. Typically I am reading eight books at a clip; some short documents, some long tomes, some Audible recorded books from Amazon.

Overall, I read a lot more non-fiction this year than I usually do, although I also read some marvelous fiction.

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Russian themed. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862) was excellent. I am about a third of the way through the fictionalized biography of Trotsky by Leonardo Padura, The Man who Loved Dogs. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868-69) is a Christ-allegory. All are available on Kindle.

George Orwell beyond 1984 and Animal Farm. I have read 1984 a dozen times since Junior High, and decided I should branch out. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a novel (more…)

Is the Earth a flat disc after all?

Is it just me, or is anyone else running into Flat Earth proponents lately? (Check this ARTICLE) People who think NASA is doing mind control over us, that no one has ever been to space, that the Bible teaches the earth is a disc? Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s conspiracy thinking at heart. Basically an extension of the chemtrail/anti-flouridation/man-never-landed-on-the-moon approach to truth and reality. Airlines supposedly fake their travel times, no-one has ever been to the South Pole, all of those outer space pictures were Photoshopped, all Aussies lie about how long their country is (see the map below to deduce why – in a FE model, it would have to be the size of Russia), time zones are a fake, and the stars are just points of light in an umbrella, fixed maybe a few hundred miles up.

01 Flat Earth Society Map (Charles K. Johnson).jpg

Like so

Just for one example, here is a meme I ran into this week, one which “proves absolutely” that the world is flat and the center of the cosmos, and that the stars whirl about us in unchanging position.

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One can disprove it, I think, with a 10th-grader’s knowledge of math and the stars.

To begin with, the first two figures are a smokescreen, since our daily rotation and our annual revolution around the sun would not be expected to alter the shape of constellations in any way. So these two are moot and can be put aside.

As for the third datum, the rate of speed is relevant, although it’s off by a factor of 10! It should be 45,000 mph, not 450,000 mph; this goof doesn’t fill me with confidence in the meme. In cosmic terms, by the way, 45,000 mph is a creeping pace, a little bit more than twice the speed of the space shuttle. The same shuttle that, at top speed, would need 165,000 years to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

Anyway, the sun is moving at 45,000 mph in relation to an imaginary fixed point in space, but the meme fails to take into account that the other stars in our sector of the galaxy are all in motion through space as well, and more or less in the same direction. So it’s a bit like asking, “If that horse on the merry-go-round is really moving at 10 feet per second, then how come he doesn’t move further and further away from the other horses??? Therefore, the horse is not moving at all, and if NASA tells you otherwise, they’re lying!!

"I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! What gives??"

“I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! Neigh! What gi-i-i-i=ves??”

Another point, is that in fact constellations do shape-shift over time, but it takes so long that they wouldn’t have seemed to move much in the few thousand years that people have been imagining patterns in them. HERE’s a good short article on the phenomenon, showing that stars have slightly changed their positions over the past couple of thousand years. That is why, thousands of years from now, the Big Dipper will look slightly less like a dipper.

Not that this evidence will change anyone’s mind. As with all such theories, you can cut off one head (or disprove one meme!) and a hundred others will grow up to replace it. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt to prove that the earth is really a sphere: I’m following my Golden Rule, “Cans of Worms shall not be Opened on This Blog.”

imagesToxicity warning: Flat Eartherism as such is a relatively harmless notion, but it does seem to come tangled up with anti-Semitism (the Zionists control NASA!), Nephilim mythology, Who Really Killed Diana theories, “Fold up a dollar bill and tell me you don’t see the Illuminati!” handcrafts, and other conspiracy thinking. As careful study has shown, “people who believe in one conspiracy are prone to believe others.” If we need proof, Alex Jones is Exhibit A. Conspiracy thinking is, as the earlier article notes, almost resembles a religion, with a fervor that rivals jihadism for its fury, single-mindedness, and closed thinking. In this case, NASA is the Flat Earther’s Antichrist, Galileo really was a heretic, and “Like the tobacco companies, NASA is now trying to target children with their lies!”

Strange days indeed.

Recommended Link

IBRI has excellent studies on science and faith

Our friend Dr. Bob Newman has a fine article; the title gives it away, but he takes a gentle, pastoral approach to alternative science: Evangelicals and Crackpot Science

Related Posts

Christians and Myths

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

“Is the Earth a flat disc after all?” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

[One of my few blog entries on politics, and how it relates to psychology, sociology, and modern apocalyptic eschatology. Here is a full pdf version: Paranoid Style Turns 50_Shogren]

Because of his ability to describe and predict American political behavior, Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” should be required reading for the citizen. And except for Sacred Scriptures and the US Constitution, I never say any text should be mandatory. “Paranoid Style” was a short, dynamite article in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, and is still available on their website archive. [1] We will look at some of its insights for today, and in particular, its implications for the evangelical church.

His immediate interest was the conservative movement that backed Barry Goldwater for president in the 1964 election. As a confirmed liberal of the old style, that is, to the left of typical Democrats of today, Hofstadter argued that he was not simply being anti-conservative – and that he was! – but rather: “I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing.”

I offer my own summary of the script of the “paranoid style”:

Nothing is what it seems to be: there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public;

I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality;

the proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences;

we who are “in the know” are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility.

“Nothing is what it seems to be – there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public”

conspiracy-theory-top-secretExamples from recent decades would have to include Senator Joe McCarthy, who argued that the loss of Eastern Europe and China to the Reds could not reasonably have happened by accident, or by normal political (more…)

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (17)  
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1 Corinthians and Thessalonians: My New Commentaries now available!

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The English version of my Thessalonian commentary is available from Amazon! http://www.amazon.com/Thessalonians-Zondervan-Exegetical-Commentary-Testament/dp/0310243963/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343856671&sr=8-1&keywords=shogren

It is also available as a book on Logos.

And the English version of my 1 Corinthians is available on Logos software – http://www.logos.com/product/24079/first-corinthians-an-exegetical-pastoral-commentary

Spanish versions to come in the future!

Blessings! Gary

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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FREE Commentary on 1 Corinthians! by Gary Shogren

The epistle was sent to a church stationed deep within pagan territory. In Corinth as in no other place to that date, the God of Jesus Christ was pitted against the god of this world. The church sprang up in a soil that was saturated with idolatry, philosophical posturing and social stratification, all driven by a service economy that provided opportunities for the clever and made many rich off the sweat of slaves and the poor. Here Christianity could show in stark relief how it might transform the arrogant, the oppressed, the hopeless, the corrupted and the dissipated.

In exchange for this free commentary, I would ask that you sign up for an Email Subscription, on the right side of this page (your email is safe with me). If after a day or two you don’t enjoy the blog, feel free to unsubscribe.

For a free pdf file click here – Shogren_1_Corinthians

It is also available on Logos Bible Software; it is fully integrated with other books and Bibles – http://www.logos.com/product/24079/first-corinthians-an-exegetical-pastoral-commentary

I also have a commentary that came out from Zondervan in 2012; you can order it here – http://www.amazon.com/Thessalonians-Zondervan-Exegetical-Commentary-Testament/dp/0310243963/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343856671&sr=8-1&keywords=shogren

Christians and myths

Gullibility is not a fruit of the Spirit. Yes, Paul did say that a Christian “believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), but what he meant was, “to whatever extent possible, believe the best about other people”.

It’s important to establish this up front, since Christians are regularly bombarded by rumors, many of which are false. Wait ‘til you hear this! someone breathlessly informs us:

They are banning all Christian radio! A guest preacher spoke in our church. “The famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is leading a movement to take away our freedom!” he exclaimed. “If we don’t act now, then Christian radio programs will be banned!” He gave some details of the crisis, and I signed the petition to the FCC to reject the atheistic petition RM-2493 and keep the gospel message on the airwaves.

The only trouble is, I was sixteen when I put my signature on the petition. Yet decades later, that same warning keeps circulating, given new life by email and then Facebook. (more…)

Did they discover a giant skeleton in Greece (or Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Wisconsin?). Well, no…

Don’t believe everything you read. When it comes to spams, the rule of thumb is, reject it unless you have credible proof (a second spam is not credible proof). To put in another way, an e-mail that has obviously been circulating for a while with the header THIS IS REALLY COOL is probably not the best source for reliable information.

I keep receiving spams in Spanish and in English, claiming that they have discovered skeletons of giants. This is said to prove the truth of Genesis 6:4, that there were giants in the land. The spam offers pictures, which, of course, have supposedly been suppressed.

In fact, the “giant” picture was an entrant in a photo-editing contest by the group “Word 1000” by a guy using software. Someone found it, assumed it was genuine, and passed it around. It’s a complete hoax. There are plenty of second, third and fourth-hand rumors: watch for telltale signs such as “the evidence has mysteriously disappeared” or “so-and-so said he saw them but the photos didn’t come out right” or the old standby, “the mainstream media do not want you to see this!” or “The Smithsonian is involved in a massive cover-up!”

See http://www.snopes.com/photos/odd/giantman.asp

Now somebody has found a way to connect these “skeletons” with Bible prophecy. Google “Nephilim” and “prophecy” and you will encounter a wave of interest in the idea that the Nephilim will appear on earth before the Second Coming.

The logical error is that if the End Times will be like the days of Noah in one way (sudden, unexpected destruction of the wicked), then they must be like Noah’s days in every way.

They are thought to be genetically-enhanced humans, extraterrestrials, UFO creatures, angels and all sorts of other options. As in many pop-prophecy theories, they are tied in with the New World Order, the book of First Enoch (a Jewish apocalypse that has mythical ideas but no connection with Enoch – we read it in one of my courses), the Mayans, the Masons, President Obama, and who knows what else. None of these notions has any basis in the Bible.

Here is other supposed proof of giants: Only giants could have used this staircase! But in fact, this is Ollantaytambo, an Incan ruin in Peru, an example of using terracing for stepped agriculture. It’s a prime example of seeking the simplest solution to a problem, not the most outrageous. In medicine it’s called, “When you hear hoofbeats, look for horses, not zebras.”

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And of course, there are plenty of people who link “alternative history” with UFOs “research” and who knows what.

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Enjoy your Bible…use common sense…reject hoaxes.

“Did they discover a giant skeleton?” by Gary Shogren, PhD, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica