Many of the tensions among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and between members and those that do not (or no longer) affiliate with the Church seem to boil down to different understandings of revelation. For example, questions about anachronisms in the Book of Mormon or the early Church’s practice of polygamy are fundamentally questions about the nature of revelation, the authenticity of purported revelations, and one’s obligations to those who claim the titles “prophet, seer, and revelator.” These questions have been simmering since the First Vision, flaring up from time to time in response to any number of issues, including, for example, the recent policy change regarding children of same-sex couples (i.e., How can you argue that both the original policy and its retraction are revelations or the result of revelation?).Continue reading →
People are leaving my church. Good people. People I know. People I like. In response to this modern exodus, I have heard three explanations from within my church community. The first two are rationalization narratives. They attempt to put the community at ease. First, there is the narrative that we are destined to be a small group of believers. The Bible never suggests “the believers” are going to be popular. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi has a vision of the modern-day church and he notes that “its numbers [are] few.” And so declining membership actually seems in line with revelation. Believers are supposed to be a small, peculiar group of persecuted faithful. This is problematic. Continue reading →
Those who argue against the existence of a benevolent Christian deity will often site as a centerpiece of their belief the inexplicability of suffering in the world. This happened again recently in the New York Times. While there is some suffering caused by other people which can be explained by an appeal to human agency, there is also suffering (perhaps a far greater amount of suffering) caused by mindless, lifeless, natural forces. Hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, famine, pestilence. Millions of people, in pain, just for living on the earth. These forces, they will say, since they cannot be assigned another agency, must be assigned to God, if there really is one.
To secure their position, they might add, while the devil could be a convenient scapegoat, what are we to do when a hurricane has brought rain to a farmer but killed another woman’s child? The farmer kneels in the darkened soil thanking God in the same moment the anguished woman stands at the end of the pier cursing the devil. We cannot say in one instance it is an act of the devil and in another it is the act of God. It must be one or the other. Continue reading →
In the Gospel of Matthew the often repeated words, “he is risen” are preceded by the statement, “he is not here.” Then as evidence of the risen Lord, the angel invites Mary to see the absence of the Lord’s body from the tomb. But the missing body only highlights the questions already burning in her heart. The very questions which caused her arrival in the garden tomb in the first place: where did he go and where is he now?
As is often the case with Christ’s miracles, the supernatural aspect underscore the common reality: people die. And while the body is usually left behind, we are left to wonder how it could be so entirely abandoned. How an object which had once been a man has ceased to present a human being. How the formaldehyde fails to preserve key aspects, even physical aspects, of the person we knew. And it is by this common, natural reality—the incongruity of death—that Christ’s missing body moves us, and not the other way around. The loss of a friend, a father, a lover, a son. Touching a corpse, holding an embalmed hand, kissing a dead man’s lips, nothing more profound than these are required for us to have asked the question: Where did she go? Where is he now? Continue reading →
On September 14, 2015 a team of professors published a paper. The paper came out after a series of exposés revealed a general unreliability in the “science of psychology.” There were a number of high-profile replication failures, a few fraud cases, and questionable research practices. People were beginning to ask whether or not psychological research and conclusions could be trusted. The team observed that the field of psychology was almost entirely liberal and that the lack of political diversity was actually leading to a lack in scientific accuracy.
The scientists who published the paper were well known and respected, many of them holding liberal sentiments themselves. Yet they believed they could show how the lack of ideological diversity was interfering with the research. And what’s more, this interference was creeping into other fields as well. The result of this creep, they worried, would not only be less reliable research but, perhaps worst of all, a lack of respect, trust, and funding for future research. Their fears are being realized as funding for the social sciences is increasingly under threat from conservatives in congress as well as the National Science Foundation—which proposed cutting its own social science budget by 11% this year. Political discussions are less and less grounded in agreed upon facts because studies can be quickly dismissed as politically motivated, which is sadly often the case.
What these scientists hoped to show is that the field of psychology has some culpability in the current state of affairs. To restore the faith of the masses, they believed psychology would need to work much harder to avoid political entanglements, to stifle ideological homogeneity, and Continue reading →
James Damore was fired from Google for saying that women are biologically less disposed towards engineering jobs than men. He then sued Google for discrimination against employees who were white, male, or conservative. Let’s take a moment to savor the craziness.
In a saner world, the layers of irony in the whole situation would prompt a serious discussion about gender norms across society. The question would be one of factual inquiry: are women in fact less predisposed to engineering jobs? If so, is the cause biological or something else?
Some (including the paid scientific experts) took the occasion to respectfully disagree with each other. But those phlegmatic conversations have been like the one remaining mobile home in the wake of a tornado. In general, the reactions were “hysterical” (CNN’s Kirsten Powers’ word). Various thoughtful persons across the spectrum deplored the ideological histrionics displayed by most the rest of us (see the excellent Wikipedia article).
A slight majority (55%) disagreed with Google’s decision to fire Damore, according to a Harvard-Harris poll. But that means that 45% did not disagree with it. Many in the 55% majority disagreed with Damore’s opinions about gender dynamics, but still felt he should not have been fired for expressing them at work. But to a full 45% of the polled population, the expression of such views is apparently so heinous that termination is the appropriate response.
Obviously, gender norms are rather unpopular nowadays. And not without reason. I admit that gender norms, mis-conceived or miscarried or related to in mal-adaptive ways, can and do injure people, whether because those people do not conform to the norm or because they do.
But I also submit that a society without gender norms is possible only in theory and that this theoretical society is not the one we should aspire to. Continue reading →
“Shame on everyone who allowed Trump to come to power! Because you didn’t vote for Hillary, you are guilty of, at best, accessory to crime or criminal negligence.”
Outbursts like this appear somewhat frequently on my social media feeds. Frustrated or frightened by the Trump administration, members of my network chastise the voters (i.e. small-minded fools or bigots) who brought Trump to office. Because a Republican president was elected, much of this kind of shaming currently comes from left-leaning folks, but I’m sure many conservatives do the same when the tables are turned, blaming an undesirable political outcome on the ignorance, stupidity, or moral depravity of the other side. I refer to this tendency as “voter shaming,” whether or not the shaming is made explicit, because its aim is to change political opinions/behavior by making certain voters feel ashamed of the way they voted. The perspective underlying voter shaming implies that the root cause of Trump’s election is the cumulative bad decisions of individual voters. Coming from a group of people who consistently assert that the root cause of outcomes other than the election (like poverty, for example) is ultimately not individual decisions but an inequitable system, this seems somewhat inconsistent.
In this post, I explore what it might mean to apply the same kind of system-level thinking to the election that Democrats generally apply to other social phenomena. What would happen if we viewed Trump’s election as the emergent result of a complex system, and not the additive sum of individual votes? Continue reading →
There are few topics that mainstream liberal and conservative minds will come to such clearly divergent opinions as masturbation. Most other disagreements between the liberal and the conservative tend to be like ships passing—both right about what they affirm, both passionate, both speaking right past the other. But with masturbation the argument seem to be more straightforward. As such, it is seldom actually argued. For once people have begun to argue they will almost immediately reach an impasse. From one perspective it is permissible, enjoyable, even healthy and from the other it is sinful, self-serving, and destructive.
The facts are straightforward and mostly agreed upon. Sexual impulses are natural for most people and mostly unavoidable. Sexual impulses, if followed, can lead to very positive results, minor results, and dramatically negative results. And so some of our sexual impulses must be restrained when they will damage ourselves or others. But the line between what is good and wholesome and what is destructive is drawn on opposite sides of masturbation by the traditionally liberal and the conservative opinions.
Whether or not masturbation has negative effects or positive effects is debated but the more fundamental question is whether or not it is avoidable. There may be negative effects of drinking unfiltered water from a river, but that becomes irrelevant when you are lost in the mountains and about to perish from thirst. You’re going to drink. And you should. If masturbation is avoidable, then we must debate whether it is constructive or destructive. But if it is unavoidable, the merits become mostly irrelevant. It will happen. Continue reading →
By now we ought to know that below cliché is often the deepest sincerity. This was made evident to me once again after the Parkland, Florida shooting. History has repeated itself on my social media feeds. I see the same people writing the same messages I saw after the Las Vegas shooting last October. After that tragic event, my social media channels filled with people “sending thoughts and prayers.” The next day I encountered several reactions to these “cliché” responses which criticized people for their seemingly trivial and laissez-faire approach to a tragedy which took over 50 lives in Vegas. It is happening again, this time 17 lives in Florida were lost. People are sending thoughts and prayers. And other people are denouncing them for doing it. The sincerity of these complaints I believe deserves an honest evaluation of “sending thoughts and prayers” after a tragedy.
The most creative complaint against “thoughts and prayers” I have seen so far took the form of a game. By clicking on a link you became a player and were instructed to click two buttons over and over again. The buttons were labeled “Thoughts,” and “Prayers.” When the game starts, a number in the middle of the screen begins to increase exponentially indicating the number of deaths in the USA by gun violence. Ostensibly, by clicking the buttons the player is working to stop that number from rising. But, predictably, no matter how many times a player clicks one button or the other, the deaths continue to rise.
The obvious criticism is that sending thoughts and prayers is ineffective and the deeper and more subversive critique is that sending thoughts and prayers is cliché and easy—like clicking a button. Though witty, the critique falls flat in both instances. Continue reading →