29 August 2006

"I'm Quitting the Bloggernacle!"

That's what I said to myself last night as I read this post and the comments on this post. Frankly, I wanted to cry.

Anyone reading, and especially anyone posting, blogs quickly gets an opportunity to be offended. The opportunites to give offense come just as often. Worse still, the opportunity to unintentionally offend comes all the time. So you have to develop some kind of strategy on how you will deal with it.

My strategy has two parts. First, I try to imagine that all of the comments I read are computer-generated. That's right: I think all of you are robots. It reminds me to look past the poster and the whatever rudeness I think there may be and try to understand what is being said. The "robot" who wrote it may be mean, nasty, and arrogant, but there might still be some truth to what's there; what do I gain by ignoring it? And what do I gain by firing back my worst insult? How would I insult a computer, anyway? (insert PC/Mac joke here)

Second, I try to imagine that all of my comments are written to my family. That's right: you are my brothers, my sisters, my mom, my dad. It reminds me to reread, rewrite, double-check, hit delete, hit delete some more, then anxiously hit "Publish Comment."

There are some problems with my strategy, the main one being that I am the one implementing it. There are some "robots" that I just can't read without focusing on the anger inside me; I have to just avoid their comments altogether. It makes me sad that I have to do that--that I can't be more like Jim F--but such is my state. I also fear that I often publish comments that are still rude, arrogant, obnoxious, or simply unwanted.

I haven't been visiting the Bloggernacle for too long, though my blogging days started a little before I discovered the Bloggernacle. Nevertheless, I am no newbie to online "dialogue": I've been doing that since "The Globe" in the early 90's, when it seemed that the only people online were Wiccas, Mormons, and teenagers.

So why should I suddenly feel so let down by my blogging experience? Maybe there's a flaw in my strategy, or a flaw in me. And why should something that doesn't directly affect me, affect me so deeply?

Despite those very depressing reads, I'm obviously still here. A major reason is this post. Another is this one. (In fact, take that whole blog.) And this blog. And this conversation. And the always edifying discussions with Robert C, Jim F, and many others. I'm amazed by this blog. There's also lots of "little" blogs I stumble upon from time to time that make my day.

As a final note, I wasn't even going to post this rant, but tonight's song choice before putting the kids to bed put this right in the front of my mind.

I'm trying to be like Jesus; I'm following in his ways.
I'm trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say.
At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,
But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers,
"Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught."


28 August 2006

Too Much Memory

Who among us hasn’t wished for a better memory? We are envious of our peers that can seemingly remember every detail of every book, paper, or article they read. “If only I could do that,” we think, “then I would be….”

A recent conversation got me thinking about the drawbacks to having a perfect memory. A woman was telling me about an article she read (appropriately, she could not remember the source) about a woman with, by all measurements, a perfect memory. Such a feat is not unheard of for those with Asperger’s Sundrome, but this woman did not have any of the other problems associated with that disorder, such as social anxiety and communication deficiencies.

Perfect memory with no underlying neurological disorder? Sounds great, but by her account she was plagued by her memory. Her problem, which she shares with those with Asperger’s Syndrome, is that her memory is “capacious but unselective.” In her case, because every memory was equally vivid, all were omnipresent, which meant that in a particular setting, she could not distinguish between memories that were related versus those that really mattered. In short, her memories were too distracting, and she longed for the ability to forget.

I’m a fan—albeit a neophyte—of history. In simplistic terms, I like knowing why things are the way they are. I think school curricula would be better if there were more focus on history. I also enjoy reading Church history. But in light of the above, I wonder if there is such a thing as too much history. Can our knowledge of the past be as much of a distraction to us today as this woman’s memories were to her? Can our focus on past events, doctrines, and directives prevent us from understanding the meanings of those we receive today?

Related Scriptures:
Isaiah 43:18
Isaiah 46:9

Also Related:
Isaiah 49:15
Alma 46:8
D&C 9:9
Alma 36:13,17,19
Isaiah 43:25
Helaman 5:5-6,9-10,12,14


25 August 2006

The Limit of God's Power

The closing chapters of Job contain God’s response to Job and his friends. In previous chapters, Job wishes he could sue God for justice, but doubts his ability to get the Almighty to appear in court. Chapter 38 opens with God granting Job’s wish:

“Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest?” (38:1-5)
It’s a terrifying challenge, made all the more unnerving due to the obvious taunt inherent in the doubt expressed: “if thou hast understanding; if thou knowest.”

The following chapters focus on God’s omnipotence and Job’s lack. (For an excellent breakdown, see Mogget’s post at FPR.) To summarize: God proclaims his power over the earth, sea, light, darkness, death, stars, and animals—even the supernatural beasts Behemoth and Leviathan:
“Canst thou draw out leviathan with a fishhook? Canst thou put a rope into his nose? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Or will he speak soft words unto thee? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird?” (40:1-5)
What is God’s motive? Before answering that question, I think there is an important detail that is often overlooked: Out of all the things that God mentions that he creates, controls, and destroys at his whim, there is one omission: God never mentions Job.

In this light, I think Job’s response is more meaningful:

“Then Job answered Jehovah, and said,

“I know that thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of thine can be restrained. Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not, Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor 'myself', And repent in dust and ashes.” (42:1-6)
Job gives up control to God, and in so doing, gives what God could not take for himself: Job’s faith, loyalty, and free will. When reprimanding Eliphaz, we see that God is pleased by Job’s sacrifice:

“[My] servant Job shall pray for you; for him will I accept, that I deal not with you after your folly; for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” (42:8)
God’s purpose in Ch. 38-41, therefore, is to evoke submission from Job. The question that remains is what was God’s tactic? To scare Job? To impress him? To humiliate him? Or was it a more loving approach: to reassure him? (Cf. Psalm 23)


24 August 2006

NIH Funding

I was recently asked about the NIH and how it uses tax dollars. My response is posted, by generous* invitation, on Blogger of Jared. Please check out my post and the rest of that fine site.

*Note that my post is one of the longest in that blog's history.


20 August 2006

Hate the Phrase; Love the Phraser

“Hate the sin; love the sinner.” We’ve all heard the phrase, maybe have even used it. Well, I hate it. My hope for this post is that either:
• Someone will convince me that I am wrong about this phrase
• I will convince at least one person to stop using it

What is wrong with “Love the sinner”?
The second half of the phrase is acceptable. There are many scriptures that tell us or show us how to love everyone, which would include the sinner. Two of my favorites are 1 John 4 and John 8:3-11. (Readers are encouraged to list their favorite related scriptures.)

What is wrong with “Hate the sin”?
The first half of the phrase is also acceptable. Once again, we can find many scriptures that instruct us to hate, loathe, abhor, and avoid sin. Here is a list that I think is nearly comprehensive; please add to it if you can:

Psalms 45:7; 97:10
Proverbs 8:13; 13:5
Ecclesiastes 3:8
Amos 5:15
Revelations 2:6
Romans 12:9
2 Nephi 4:31
Alma 13:12; 37:29, 32

I’ll quote that last one here:

32 And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; trust not those secret plans unto this people, but teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity (emphasis added)

Though there are not as many verses that support the first half of the phrase as there are that support the second half, I consider both halves to be well-supported.

When two rights make a wrong
The problem with the phrase is not in its individual parts, but instead in their combination. I appealed to scripture to support the two halves individually, but I cannot find any scripture that supports the phrase as a whole. This may seem like I am making two fallacious arguments: 1) That the absence of support is tantamount to denunciation, and 2) If the scriptures don’t tell us to do something, then it is wrong to do it.

What do the scriptures mean by “Love” and “Hate”?
More important than finding no support for the phrase as a whole, is that the scriptures supporting its individual parts are actually opposed to the phrase. Some have argued that hating the sin is actually the way that we show our love. I say that expressing hatred is not an expression of love. The scriptures that teach us how to show our love (2 Cor 6:6 and D&C 121:41) do not include a “hate clause.”

The scriptures that tell us to hate sin are also opposed to the phrase. The focus of their admonition is on how a man views the sins that tempt him. We are not told to hate the sins of others, but to hate the sins that we would otherwise commit.

The two halves of the phrase are good but unrelated. By bringing the two together, we pervert their meanings and end up doing the opposite of what they would teach. The Lord has a better way:
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.


10 August 2006

Retranslating 2 Nephi 3

I recently read 2 Nephi 3 and got a bit lost. It was mostly due to the three different Josephs and references to future peoples, so I decided to retranslate the chapter, inserting proper names wherever I could. The result was enlightening—and proved to be a very interesting way to study the scriptures.

To make things even clearer, I color-coded the text to indicate who is speaking:
Joseph ben-Israel
The Lord, quoted by Joseph ben-Israel


1 And now Lehi speaks unto Joseph ben-Lehi, Lehi’s last-born. Joseph ben-Lehi wast born in the wilderness of Lehi’s afflictions; yea, in the days of Lehi’s greatest sorrow did Sarai bear Joseph ben-Lehi.
2 And may the Lord consecrate also unto Joseph ben-Lehi this land, which is a most precious land, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s inheritance and the inheritance of Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed with Joseph ben-Lehi’s brethren, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s(i) security forever, if it so be that Joseph ben-Lehi shall keep the commandments of the Holy One of Israel.
3 And now, Joseph ben-Lehi, Lehi’s last-born, whom Lehi has brought out of the wilderness of Lehi’s afflictions, may the Lord bless Joseph ben-Lehi forever, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall not utterly be destroyed(ii).
4 For behold, Joseph ben-Lehi is the fruit of Lehi’s loins; and Lehi is a descendant of Joseph ben-Israel who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which the Lord made unto Joseph ben-Israel.
5 Wherefore, Joseph ben-Israel truly saw Lehi’s and Joseph ben-Lehi’s day. And Joseph ben-Israel obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of Lehi as a descendent of Joseph ben-Israel(iii) the Lord God would raise up the righteous Lehites(iv) unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto the Lehites in the latter days(v), in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of the Lehites out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.
6 For Joseph ben-Israel truly testified, saying:
Joseph Smith shall the Lord Joseph ben-Israel’s God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the lost tribe of Ephraim(vi).
7 Yea, Joseph ben-Israel truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto Joseph ben-Israel: Joseph Smith will the Lord raise up out of the lost tribe of Ephraim; and Joseph Smith shall be esteemed highly among the lost tribe of Ephraim. And unto Joseph Smith will the Lord give commandment that Joseph Smith shall do a work for the lost tribe of Ephraim, Joseph Smith’s brethren, which shall be of great worth unto the lost tribe of Ephraim, even to the bringing of the lost tribe of Ephraim to the knowledge of the covenants which the Lord has made with Abraham and Isaac.
8 And the Lord will give unto Joseph Smith a commandment that Joseph Smith shall do none other work, save the work which the Lord shall command Joseph Smith. And the Lord will make Joseph Smith great in the Lord’s eyes; for Joseph Smith shall do the Lord’s work.
9 And Joseph Smith shall be great like unto Moses, whom the Lord have said the Lord would raise up unto Joseph ben-Israel, to deliver the Lord’s people, O house of Israel.
10 And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt.
11 But Joseph Smith will the Lord raise up out of the lost tribe of Ephraim; and unto Joseph Smith will the Lord give power to bring forth the Lord’s word unto the Lehites(vii)—and not to the bringing forth the Lord’s word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing the Lehites of the Lord’s word, which shall have already gone forth among the Lehites.
12 Wherefore, the Nephites(viii) shall write; and the Jews shall write; and the Book of Mormon(ix) which shall be written by the Nephites, and also the Bible which shall be written by the Jews, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the Lehites(x), and bringing the Lehites to the knowledge of Lehi’s sons in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of the Lord’s covenants, saith the Lord.
13 And out of weakness Joseph Smith shall be made strong, in that day when the Lord’s work shall commence among all the Lord’s people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
14 And thus prophesied Joseph ben-Israel, saying: Behold, Joseph Smith will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy Joseph Smith shall be confounded; for this promise, which Joseph ben-Israel has obtained of the Lord, of Joseph Smith, shall be fulfilled. Behold, Joseph ben-Israel is sure of the fulfilling of this promise;
15 And Joseph Smith’s name shall be called after Joseph ben-Israel; and it shall be after the name of Joseph Smith’s father. And Joseph Smith shall be like unto Joseph ben-Israel; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by Joseph Smith’s hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring the House of Israel(xi) unto salvation.
16 Yea, thus prophesied Joseph ben-Israel: Joseph ben-Israel is sure of this thing, even as Joseph ben-Israel is sure of the promise of Moses; for the Lord hath said unto Joseph ben-Israel, The Lord will preserve Joseph ben-Israel’s seed forever.
17 And the Lord hath said: The Lord will raise up a Moses; and the Lord will give power unto Moses in a rod; and the Lord will give judgment unto Moses in writing. Yet the Lord will not loose Moses’ tongue, that Moses shall speak much, for the Lord will not make Moses mighty in speaking. But the Lord will write unto Moses the Lord’s law, by the finger of the Lord’s own hand; and the Lord will make a spokesman [Aaron] for Moses.
18 And the Lord said unto Joseph ben-Israel also: The Lord will raise up unto Joseph Smith; and the Lord will make for Joseph Smith a spokesman [Sidney Rigdon(xii). And the Lord, behold, the Lord will give unto Sidney Rigdon that Sidney Rigdon shall write the writing of the Nephites, unto(xiii) Joseph Smith; and Sidney Rigdon shall declare it.
19 And the words which Sidney Rigdon shall write shall be the words which are expedient in the Lord’s wisdom should go forth unto the Lehites. And it shall be as if the Nephites had cried unto the Lehites from the dust; for the Lord knows the Nephite’s(xiv) faith.
20 And the Nephites shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto the remaining Lehites, even after many generations have gone by the Nephites. And it shall come to pass that the Nephite’s cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of the Nephite’s words.
21 Because of the Nephite’s faith the Nephite’s words shall proceed forth out of the Lord’s mouth unto the Nephite’s brethren who are the remaining Lehites; and the weakness of the Nephite’s words will the Lord make strong in the Nephite’s faith, unto the remembering of the Lord’s covenant which the Lord made Abraham and Isaac.

22 And now, behold, Lehi’s son Joseph ben-Lehi, after this manner did Lehi’s father of old [Joseph ben-Israel] prophesy.
23 Wherefore, because of this covenant Joseph ben-Lehi is blessed; for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall not be destroyed, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall hearken unto the words of the book [of Mormon].
24 And there shall rise up Joseph Smith mighty among(xv) Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed, Joseph Smith shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the remaining Lehites.
25 And now, blessed is Joseph ben-Lehi. Behold, Joseph ben-Lehi is little; wherefore hearken unto the words of Joseph ben-Lehi’s brother, Nephi, and it shall be done unto Joseph ben-Lehi even according to the words which Lehi has spoken. Remember the words of Joseph ben-Lehi’s dying father [Lehi]. Amen.


(i) Regarding the pronouns “thy,” “thine” and “ye”: “Thy” is strictly singular and is the equivalent of “your.” “Thine” is similar to “thy;” i.e. it also means “your” (the difference is in genitive versus possessive case, which is not important here). “Ye” can be plural or singular and is the equivalent of “you” in standard English. In this verse, all of the instances of “thy” and “thine” can only refer to Joseph ben-Israel whereas “ye” can refer to either Joseph ben-Lehi or a group including Joseph ben-Lehi. The use of the word “thy” in the phrase “for thy security forever” is therefore strange, because it restricts this portion of Lehi’s promise to Joseph ben-Lehi only; had Lehi said, “for your security forever,” we could read it to be a promise open to all of his descendents. In this regard, I have chosen to interpret “ye” as singular, given that Lehi has just used the singular pronoun “thy”. This interpretation is not without its problems: by using a singular pronoun, Lehi promises that if Joseph ben-Lehi keeps the commandments then all of Lehi’s sons’ descendents will be blessed.
[ii] See 2 Nephi 9:53 for what Jacob ben-Lehi preaches and 2 Nephi 25:21 for what Nephi preaches concerning this promise. After reading Momon 8:2-3, it might seem as though this promise was not fulfilled, Moroni stating that he remains “alone” after the conquest of the Lamanites. 1 Nephi 3:30 records a vision of Nephi that shows how the promise was fulfilled: “…the mixture of [Nephi’s] seed, which are among [the Lamanites].”
[iii] “The fruit of thy/my/his loins” is difficult to interpret, because it sometimes refers to an individual and other times to a group of descendents. The phrase is used 21 times in this chapter. I have favored reading it as a group except where it clearly (in my opinion) refers to an individual. The use of the phrase “seed of thy loins” makes translation more difficult; is this a different phrase? a poetic way to say the same thing? I have translated both to mean the same thing.
[iv] “Lehites” is not a name used in the Book of Mormon, but I prefer it to writing out all who it includes: the Nephites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, Jacobites, and Josephites by birth, and the Ishmaelites and Zoramites by association. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Samites in the scriptures, even though Sam had children (2 Nephi 5:6).
[v] Is this the appearance of Christ to the Nephites recorded in 3 Nephi or some future manifestation of the Messiah? D&C 3:16-20 suggests the latter. I use the term “Lehites” instead of “Lamanites” because the latter is too exclusive; it would not take into account all of the other peoples that survived (see note in verse 3).
[vi] Is this the Lehites, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or all three? I favor translating this as “the lost tribe of Ephraim” because of how it is used in verse 7.
[vii] The seer is raised out of “the fruit of Joseph ben-Israel’s loins,” but the word is brought to “the seed of Joseph ben-Israel’s loins.” As noted in verse, I know of no exact difference between these two phrases, but the way they are used in this verse implies that the Lord was using them to refer to two different peoples.
[viii] Alternatively, this could be Joseph Smith.
[ix] If, according to the preceeding note, this is the writing of Joseph Smith, then this could include the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine & Covenants in addition to the Book of Mormon.
[x] Will peace be established among the Lehites, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or all three? I favored the former, in contrast to what I chose in verse 6. My justification is that here the Lord uses “fruit of thy loins” to refer to the Nephites.
[xi] Joseph ben-Israel says “my people,” not “the fruit of my loins.” The former refers to his contemporaries—the Israelites—whereas the latter refers to only to his descendents.
[xii] See D&C 100:9.
[xiii] The phrase “the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins” makes translation difficult. I am not sure what “unto” means here—and in 1828, neither was Webster: “[Unto is] of no use in the language, as it expresses no more than to. I do not find it in our mother tongue, nor is it ever used in popular discourse. It is found in writers of former times, but is entirely obsolete.”
[xiv] “Their” could be translated “Nephites” as the writers of the Book of Mormon, or “Lehites” as the recipients of the message. I have chosen the former in the context of verse 21.
[xv] The phrase here is “…mighty among them” not “…mighty from among them.” The latter would mean that Joseph Smith was a descendent of Joseph ben-Lehi, which, of course, he was not.


09 August 2006

Rebecca is Enchantingly Beautiful

  • The name "Rebecca" in Hebrew means "enchantingly beautiful."

    You can judge for yourself.


    Born 07 August 2006
    7 lbs 4 oz
    21 inches
    less than 30 min labor & delivery!

    Posted by Picasa


06 August 2006

A Moment of Blindness

In 2 Kings 5, we read a story about Naaman (that I can't seem to get off my mind—see here and here). One question that is often raised about this story is if Naaman was exhibiting "blind obedience."

I think this story could be broken down into four parts. In only one of these is Naaman actually—albeit figuratively—"blind":

1. When Naaman first hears about Elisha and then goes to Israel to see him (verses 1-4, 9). Here he is hopeful.

2. When Naaman is angered by the simplicity of Elisha's command (verses 11-12). Here he is enraged—and "blind" as a result.

3. When Naaman's servant helps him to "see" the error of his anger (verses 13-14). Here he is reasonable.

4. When Naaman, by virtue of the miracle, proclaims his testimony of the living God (verse 15). Here he is enlightened.

When breaking the story into these four parts, it is interesting that the word taher—clean—is used exactly four times: in verses 10, 12, 13, and 14. Also interesting, is that three of the verses use the word in the context of "made whole," whereas in only one verse (12) is its meaning the more ordinary "free from dirt" (read correction below).

Correction, 11 Aug 2006: I want to correct the last sentence of the last paragraph, which I have now placed in italics.

The word "taher" is indeed used four times in this chapter, and corresponds to the four parts as mentioned. This verb is translated into English as "clean, "purify," etc. Since first posting, I have researched this word and found my statement about how Naaman uses it to be unsupportable.

"Taher" is a command form, so it is appropriate that Elisha use it to tell Naaman what to do. It also always implies purification, not just removing dirt. Thus, when Naaman used the word, he could not have misunderstood its meaning, contrary to what I stated in my original post.

I have left the statement in the original post so that anyone who read it will not be confused.


Naaman's Test and Testimony

In his lesson notes posted at Times & Seasons, Jim F asks a question that strikes at the heart of the Naaman Story: "Why is it important that Naaman 'know that there is a prophet in Israel'?"

This story teaches one thing so clearly—namely, that we should obey prophets—that we often forget the larger point that Elisha tried (successfully) to make. In verse 8, Elisha predicts,

8 Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.
The placement of this prophecy at the introduction sets it up as the theme of the entire story.

In this light, Elisha's decision to send a messenger in verse 10 makes much more sense. It might be argued that Elisha did this because he wanted to test Naaman’s faith, but I don’t think that is Elisha’s stated motive. Nevertheless, let’s briefly explore that issue.

Testing Naaman’s Faith
The test of faith is in what Naaman is instructed to do, not how the instruction came to him. Naaman cannot see how such a simple act—washing in a small river—could possibly cure him. Certainly he has tried many other things, including all of the magic of the religions of Syria, so it is no surprise that he seems to think he has wasted his time coming to Israel. Naaman expects something bigger than any remedy he has tried, not to mention bigger than this plan of Elisha's:
11 Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
From this complaint, we might suppose that Naaman has heard about Elijah’s magnificent triumph over the prophets of Baal, and he expects Elisha to put on a similar display.

Analogous Messengers
What cures Naaman in the end is his obedience. The question is: his obedience to ___________? Many would fill in the blank with, “the prophet,” but again, I do not think the story teaches this. Naaman doesn’t actually talk to Elisha, he just hears his message. So when Naaman assents to washing in Jordan, he is obeying the message, not the prophet directly.

This point is vital to the lesson that Naaman takes home with him. Just as most people do not hear from God directly, Naaman does not hear from Elisha directly; Elisha sends his orders via a messenger, just as Elisha himself is merely acting as the Lord’s messenger.

Naaman’s Testimony
Elisha makes the prediction that after this miracle, Naaman will know that there is a prophet in Israel. Let’s look at Naaman’s words, to see if that is actually what he takes away from his experience. Naaman said,
15 Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.
The take-home (literally) message for Naaman—and indeed, what I think Elisha was really trying to teach all along—is that obedience to God means obedience to his words, be they receieved directly from God himself, from the mouth of a prophet, or even delivered by a messenger. Furthermore, Elisha teaches Naaman something far more important than knowing there is a prophet: he teaches whom a prophet represents.


03 August 2006

The Monogamy Gene

Studies over about a decade have shown that oxytocin and vasopressin, peptides secreted in the brain, are involved in the formation and regulation of various social behaviors. For example, oxytocin is released in females during nipple stimulation when a child is suckling, which in many species is important in strengthening the mother-infant bond. Interestingly, vasopressin and oxytocin are also released into the blood during orgasm in humans.

The graphic below illustrates the current understanding of neural circuitry regulating pair bond formation (1). (This represents a vole brain, hence the unfamiliar shape.)

In the authors’ words:

…at least three separate, yet interconnected neural circuits converge to yield the development of the pair bond. Circuits involved in the processing of social cues and formation of social memory [blue regions] are tightly coupled with the brain’s reward and reinforcement circuitry [green regions]. These two circuits are modulated by…circuits conveying somatosensory information from the genitalia during sexual interactions [brown regions]. The interaction of these pathways during sex culminate in the development of a powerful association between [sex] and the [the partner] to form the conditioned “partner” preference, or pair bond.
It is unknown whether similar circuitry exists in humans, and there are expected differences. In voles, for example, olfactory clues are important, whereas in humans the role of smell is probably replaced by higher cerebral (thought) activity.

What does that mean in English?
In overly simplified terms: Two voles, named Mike and Megan, mate; the next time Mike smells Megan, Mike’s brain remembers the reward of being with Megan, and vice versa; Jenny does not evoke the same good memories in Mike, so Jenny is ignored. Ahhh, the smell of monogamy!

What does this have to do with genes?
Dr Larry J Young, an associate professor at Emory University, recently reviewed his work in this area at The Endocrine Society Meeting in Boston, Massachussetts. Dr Young uses prairie voles as a model of pair bonding. Prairie voles are particularly useful because they form lifelong mating pairs and the male and female contribute equally to caring for the young—unlike other voles in the same genus (like the montane vole) or other rodents.
Dr Young has found that one difference between monogamous prairie voles and promiscuous montane voles is in the distribution of vasopressin and oxytocin receptors in the brain. His hypothesis is that if the receptors are not expressed in certain areas, then smell and sex will no longer coordinate to form social memory. Hence, when a montane vole mates, it does not form a lasting bond with its partner and is therefore unrestrained when encountering a different potential mate. (This hypothesis is strongly supported by a wealth of pharmacological and genetic data, which I won’t go into—unless asked.)

What makes the difference?
The reason for the differences in receptor expression appear to be due to a repetitive sequence in the vasopressin receptor gene. Males with longer repeats (called microsatellites) show “more paternal care and are more likely to form a pair bond than males with shorter microsatellites” (2). Humans also show a high degree of diversity in microsatellite length in the vasopressin receptor gene. The implication for human behavior is obvious: this could explain some of the diversity in human behavior, particularly the quality of paternal care and fidelity of husbands.

1. Young LJ, et al., J Comparative Neur 493:51-57
2. Young LJ. Oxytocin, Vasopressin & Social Bonding. 88th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society, Boston, MA, June 2006.


02 August 2006

Mitt Romney's Best Chance

There have been a lot of blogs, polls, and news reports about Mitt Romney's chances for being elected president of the United States. Most arguments go something like, "Romney has NO CHANCE because NO ONE will vote for a Mormon."

Well, I have a little advice for Mitt: pick Benji Schwimmer as your running mate. America LOVES him! (Of course, most of his fans are too young to vote...)

Also: It's a little of topic, but does Benji remind anyone else of Sean Hayes?