All Photos posted on this blog unless otherwise noted were taken by me with my Canon Rebel XTI using a 300 mm zoom lens

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Mormon and a Naturalist

Bountiful Utah LDS Temple
In the background upper left hand side of the picture is Farmington Bay
In the past several months the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints has received a lot of media attention, some positive some not so positive. The Church is on a campaign for members to stand up and say I am a Mormon to show that we are normal every day people. One thing that I don't think Latter-day Saints are known for is for a love and concern of God's natural creations. I would like to take an opportunity to say I am a Mormon and I am a Naturalist. Any member of our church who doesn't hold all of God's creations in high esteem probably doesn't really understand the position the Leaders of the Church have  taken on the subject. I would like to include a few remarks by several of our Church Leaders including men we believe to be Prophets.

A view of the Bountiful Temple from Farmington Bay, I love this shot of the pelicans with the temple in the background
The Prophet Joseph Smith on animals:
"In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, 'Let them alone—don't hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.' The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger." (Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 2, pp. 71-72)
"[If we] would banish from our hearts this spirit to destroy and murder, the day would soon come when the lion and the lamb would lie down together." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 71)

President Brigham Young on animals:
"Field and mountains, trees and flowers, and all that fly, swim, or move upon the ground are lessons for study in the great school of our Heavenly Father, in what is before us in good books and in the greater laboratory of nature." (Journal of Discourses 9:320)
"The animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms abide the law of their Creator; the whole earth and all things pertaining to it, except man, abide the law of their creation." (Journal of Discourses 9:246)

"Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace ... The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation will vanish away." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 203)

President David O. McKay on kindness to animals:
"A true Latter-day Saint is kind to animals, is kind to every created thing, for God created all." (October 1951; quoted in Gerald E. Jones, "The Gospel and Animals," p. 65)

President Joseph Fielding Smith on animals having souls and being saved at the time of the resurrection:
"So we see that the Lord intends to save, not only the earth and the heavens, not only man who dwells upon the earth, but all things which he has created. The animals, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, as well as man, are to be recreated, or renewed, through the resurrection, for they too are living souls." (Conference Report, October 1928, p. 100)
"Animals do have spirits and ... through the redemption made by our Savior they will come forth in the resurrection to enjoy the blessing of immortal life." (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 2, p. 48)

President Spencer W. Kimball on sport hunting:
"In Primary and Sunday School we sang the song: 'Don't kill the little birds / That sing on bush and tree, / All thro' the summer days, / Their sweetest melody.' (Deseret Song, 1909, no. 163). ... Now, I would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life ... And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals ... because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men." ("Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live," The Ensign, November 1978, p. 45)

The Church currently owns and runs several large ranches one in Florida that I have not had the opportunity to visit, I have added the web address, take time to go to this website and watch the short video and read about how the Church preserves natural habitat for wildlife on these ranches.

Deseret Ranch in Utah is the largest cattle ranch in the state and is one of the premiere birding destinations in Utah. I have been on 2 tours of Deseret Ranch and each time logged over 100 species in a day of birding.

I am a Mormon, I am a Christian I know that salvation is in and through Jesus Christ the Savior and Creator of this beautiful world. I am a naturalist, I have had a life long love of nature and of birds in particular.

My favorite hymn is How Great Thou Art, I love all of the verses and I love that this hymn includes a verse, verse 2 on the beauty and greatness of nature.

How Great Thou Art

Lyrics ~ Carl Boberg, 1859 - 1940
English Translation ~ Stuart K. Hine, 1899 - 

Stanza 1:
O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all
The works Thy Hand hath made,
I see the stars,
I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow'r throughout
The universe displayed;

Stanza 2:
When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze;

Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!

Stanza 3:
When Christ shall come,
With shouts of acclamation,
And take me home,
What joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim,
"My God, how great Thou art!"

Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!


Ryan O'Donnell said...

This was very interesting for me and I'd like to learn more. You quote Brigham Young as saying that "... all that fly, swim, or move upon the ground are lessons for study in the great school of our Heavenly Father, in what is before us in good books and in the greater laboratory of nature." I'm curious how you reconcile the two when the lessons taught by nature - for example, genetic, linguistic, morphological, and paleontological evidence that shows that Native Americans descended from northeastern Asians, not from Israelites in the 6th century BC - directly contradict the teachings of your faith?

john said...

Amen Brother,
In answer to Ryan's comment. I am also a Mormon. I accept the Book of Mormon as an inspired book. That does'nt mean I think it is all literally factual. The Book of Mormon describes many groups of people coming to the Americas. A tiny group of israelites came over, and there were already other people here when they arrived. Why do the church's detractors tend to overlook those facts?

Ryan O'Donnell said...

It is good to hear that not all Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is literally true. I guess it is easy to be confused as an outsider when the church itself regularly changes its position on how it interprets the book. Certainly some Mormons believe it is literally true, and the church itself seems to officially agree, despite piles of archeological and biological evidence that it is not literally true. Joseph Smith himself said that it was "the most correct of any book on earth," but I suppose one could take that any way one wants. I guess each person has to decide for him or her self how much to believe in spite of evidence to the contrary and how much to take as figurative.

Steve's Bird Blog said...

Ryan and John, thank you for your comments. First of all John I appreciate your response to Ryan's comments and I appreciate your consistent following of my blog and for your kind comments. I love looking at your blog as well, your art work is some of the best I have ever seen and I kind of envy the many world travels you have made and hope some day to see even a fraction of the places you have been.

Ryan I also appreciate that you follow my blog and for comments that you have posted. I also follow your blog and look at it frequently. Ryan your response to this blog post is a tired old critique of Mormonism, yet critics continue throw the "no archeological or DNA evidence" criticism out like it's some thing new to us "naive" mormons. I was going to do a lot of research and respond to your comments but looking at the FAIR website they make a comment that saved me a lot of time. In fact there is archeological evidence that supports the Book of Mormon, the problem is it is presented by LDS apologetics so it is dismissed by church critics as unauthentic. Even if there was physical evidence it would be dismissed by non-believers. So instead I will pose this to you if the so called lack of DNA and archeological evidence disproves the Book of Mormon then what about the Bible? The Bible says God Created the Earth in 6 days and rested the seventh but scientific evidence says the earth is millions of years old. Should all Christians pack it in because science disagrees with traditional Christianity? The Bible says man was created in His image but science says man evolved from apes, does that make the Bible false and millions of Judeo Christians wrong? Where is the Ark and should we take the story of Noah and the great flood to be literal? What about the tablets the Lord wrote the 10 commandments on with His finger, and the Ark of the Covenant why don't we have that one important artifact? The answer is FAITH, I believe that God has not preserved every evidence of his work because in His plan He wants us to learn to live by Faith. To learn to be humble, to come to Him in prayer and for us to be receptive to his spirit to receive answers to those prayers. I do not believe that science is at odds with the church. In fact if I am not mistaken the teaching of the prophets is that Gods uses natural laws to do His work. I suggest you read some of the writings of James Talmage a great scientist and Apostle of the Church. Also the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, for an uneducated farm boy he had quite a grasp of science. I hope my response does not offend you or others that may read it but that is my faith. I don't criticize those who do not accept it and I don't think less of them. I believe in the words of Joseph Smith that "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may".

Ryan O'Donnell said...

The genetic and other evidence contradicting the stories in the Book of Mormon is massive and convincing, not "tired" or "old". I'm not calling anyone naive, I'm just fascinated by the faith of the Mormon people. "Faith" is considered a good thing by religious people, but that is not how I see "faith," defined as the belief in something in spite of--or in contrast to--evidence to the contrary. (I browsed through the topic of genetic evidence for the origins of Native Americans on the FAIR site, but it really doesn't cite or even address the genetic data that has been published, like this or this, as just two of many examples. Some of the pages linked from that site, such as Stewart's "DNA and the Book of Mormon" are full of oversimplifications, straw man arguments, and inaccuracies. And DNA evidence is only one of many independent lines of evidence.)

You asked me, "If the so called lack of DNA and archeological evidence disproves the Book of Mormon then what about the Bible?" (Lack of evidence can't disprove anything - it is the PRESENCE of evidence that disproves, in this case and in all cases.) I respond, "Exactly." If taken as literal histories, both are verifiably false. You asked, ". . . should all Christians pack it in?. . . " If you mean in reference to the literal belief in their religious documents as historical documents written or supervised by an omniscient being, then I would argue yes. But that is a very narrow way to learn from those documents.
I guess my biggest source of confusion is summarized well by the (apparent?) contradiction between two of your statements. You say that "I believe that God has not preserved every evidence of his work because in His plan He wants us to learn to live by Faith." Then you say that "Gods uses natural laws to do His work." If God wanted us to believe, to have faith that these documents were literal truth, why would he plant (or allow the devil to plant) mountains of evidence that contradict his writings? In cases where these writings contradict the natural world, who are we to believe, the written word or the world that God himself created?

I was raised to believe that any faith that is true will stand the test of scrutiny. It is my understanding that Mormons are generally taught that scrutiny of their beliefs is a contradiction of their faith. I do appreciate your writing and, although it may be hard to believe, I do not intend to cause insult with my questions. As one who does not hold Mormon beliefs, I am fascinated by how those beliefs are held. I have assumed that since you posted these beliefs in a public forum you would be welcome to questions from the public, but if that is not the case I'm happy to stop. I promise that no offense is intended.