Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Then I actually got to know a few of them.
I sat down for discussions over meals, (first myth out the window - protein deprivation), and found out for myself how their minds work. I found them to not only be very devoted to their organization and willing to make great personal sacrifices in building it up, but also to be thoughtful, intelligent, and fully in control of their own free will.
I came to see brainwashing for the fairytale that it is, right then and there.
To me, it is utterly absurd to think that a human being can be reduced to an unthinking automaton by psychological manipulation, but as I observed in a previous entry, what people want to believe commonly dictates what they do believe. Many display a strong desire to believe lurid tales, (usually about places they have never been, and people they have never met), so they unquestioningly hang on every word told by someone who "escaped the cult".
Ironically, this same thought process in people involved in purported "cults" is viewed as evidence that their ability to think for themselves has been compromised.
Someone who has never been involved will read a book containing the horror stories of a disgruntled ex-member, along with their explanations of what the organization teaches (selected facts, carefully chosen so as to create a negative impression). They will then go to their friend or family member with the damning evidence. When that person rationalizes it all away, they become convinced that their loved one is under some evil cult leader's spell.
In reality, just as people are inclined to accept with little questioning that which fits their pre-conceived notions, it is also a normal human response that any person, when presented with information which stands in apparent contradiction to what they hold to be true, will look for reasons to dismiss it. "You have been programmed if you can't you see the obvious truth", is essentially the same as saying, "If you look at same facts as I do, yet don't draw the same conclusion, you must be cognitively impaired”, an incredibly arrogant position to take.
Indeed, all this cult hysteria does not foster reasonable thinking, and that is exactly what the people who throw that term around want. They have no desire for you to come away with a clear and accurate understanding of what the group in question is all about, they just want to foment fear.
Sadly, the public typically does fall for it. They will (foolishly) look at a group differently after hearing someone brand it as a cult.
It's a safe bet that many who read this are saying to themselves, "but there are cults". Yes, I'm sure that there are religions you do not like, but take a minute to ask yourself what they all have in common?
I personally think the world would be better off had L. Ron Hubbard, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and Bob Larson never come to any position of public prominence. But I'm not about to lump very different individuals together, or try to frighten you into staying away with loaded words chosen to manipulate you into an emotional response.
To an Evangelical, a cult is "a group that claims to be Christian, but does not adhere to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith". (Because they did not claim to be Christian, Heaven's Gate and The Order of the Solar Temple, who committed mass suicide in 1997 and 1994 respectively, would not qualify). A secular person will gave you a completely different definition. The fact is that there is no firmly established meaning, it's a meaningless pejorative term that scares people. Any person who knows this, yet continues to proclaim that there are such a thing as cults (and cult brainwashing), is either unreasonable or dishonest.
I just discovered this. Can anyone honestly say that this guy shows any indication of not being able to think for himself?
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Some claim that the LDS Church is hemorrhaging members. In large part, I think that the notion of devoted adult members leaving in droves is the wishful thinking of those with ill feelings toward the church. For most of us, periods of inactivity come and go, disturbing facts are discovered and trouble us until we can find a reason to dismiss them, but once committed intellectually to the Mormon world view, people generally stay. Nevertheless, this commitment (also known as conversion) is not automatic. We do have a problem, at least in one sense.
I was surprised by the recent study which put the LDS retention rate at 70%. My own observation is that half of the people I have known who were raised in Mormon households no longer consider themselves Mormons as adults.
The church really does need to make time for them.
When it comes to their Missionary Program, I honestly don't think that the Mormon hierarchy knows what they have.
The vast majority of people who come in contact with LDS Missionaries have no idea who Joseph Smith was before, and have no idea who Joseph Smith was afterward. Contacting strangers door-to-door, and in public places, are simply not an effective way of spreading a message. On the contrary, what these practices are effective in doing is creating a public impression that your church is pushy and confrontational, closing a lot of minds that could have been reached through television and other less intrusive and intimidating means.
This said, I'm not arguing that Mormon Missionaries should stop proselytizing and go build houses for the poor. The Missionary Program takes young people and focuses them exclusively on religion, every waking minute, for a year-and-a-half to two years. I'm not knocking the good work done my Habitat for Humanity, the Missionary Program just has a different purpose. It exists to foster conversion, and while the ratio of man hours spent vs. baptisms achieved is not what would be considered productive by anyone in the business world, it is very effective at converting one group of people: the missionaries themselves.
I have no doubt that many I have known, who are wholeheartedly dedicated to the church, would either be lukewarm members, or would have dropped out of the church, were it not for their missionary experience. My life would have turned out much different had I spent that portion of it in the Army, or some other place, and not for the better.
No doubt the General Authorities realize that there is a lot of immature behavior going on in the mission field. Had one of them paid an unexpected visit to the Missionary Training Center dorms during the evening, especially the night we had a big war, throwing M&M's at each other like they were buckshot, we would have all been in a lot of trouble. By "raising the bar", they must have felt that they were doing something to curb the horseplay and rule violations, and to eliminate the slackers who would drag their companions down. But can you really expect anything different from young adults not long out of high school, especially at the beginning of their term of service?
I'm a big fan of Richard Dutcher's movies (if you've never seen "States of Grace", you've GOTTA go buy it, I don't recommend "Falling", though). His first, "God's Army", is the story of a young man called to serve in Los Angeles, who arrives uncertain as to why he decided to go and whether he would stay. The movie details his initial struggles, which lead him to gain strength through adversity, and catch the vision, laying the foundation for a successful mission and a successful life. It is a masterful depiction of what a mission can do for a youth from a troubled family, going through difficulties as he enters adulthood.
I was a mess when I was handed my high school diploma, completely unprepared by the California public education system to productively function as an adult in society. I registered for classes at the local community college, but accomplished very little. At 19, I joined the LDS Church. Two psychologists were assigned as my home teachers, (they were no doubt given all the "problem members" of the ward). As the first anniversary of my baptism approached, they suggested I consider submitting papers to serve. It is said within the church that a mission will be the best two years of your life. While this was hardly the easiest and most enjoyable time of my life, it was certainly the most productive in terms of personal growth. Of all those I served with, I was probably the one that needed this life changing experience the most. But that was before they "raised the bar".
Sunday, November 15, 2009
While he was in prison, his wives were circulating the following document. Because a google search cannot find anywhere else that this is posted, I am sharing it here.
No one has asked me to do this. I am putting this up on my own because it is a story that needs to be told.
Message to Mr. Tom Green by "A-Taxpayer-in-Alpine" Friday, July 13 [year unspecified]
Be a big boy. Take responsibility for yourself and your family, and quit crying foul. You got yourself into this mess. Maybe you are right and the persecutor has ulterior motives. What difference does it make to me?
As a taxpayer, I personally do not want my tax dollars to go to having to take care of all these children you continue to have. HOW MANY OF YOUR CHILDREN DO I HAVE TO SUPPORT WITH MY TAX DOLLARS?
You are entitled to your faith, and your beliefs on having children and however many wives - but should MY TAX DOLLARS be having to support your religious beliefs or the consequences of them? I THINK NOT.
Yes, taking you to trial cost a bundle. But hopefully, when faced with these bills, you will realize that YOU NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELVES AND YOUR CHILDREN,,,AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR BELIEFS --- JUST LIKE THE REST OF US.
A Taxpayer in Alpine, Utah
Mr. Taxpayer in Alpine, Utah,
I agree with you that a man should support his own family. I was doing exactly that. We were living comfortingly and enjoying life and our family, We lived in a mobile home park in Sandy. But the neighbors and the managers thought they ought to "rescue" my wife, LeeAnn. When I advised them to stay out of our family, they filed a notice of eviction. We fought it in courts for several years. I had to do my own legal work, which cut into our family business. the courts ignored the prejudicial nature of our eviction and forced us to move our homes.
Since our homes were older than 8 years (they were actually 20 years old, but nice) there was no place on the Wasatch front (where we worked) to put them. So we were forced to go 200 miles out into the West Desert.
While putting our main house out there the Juab County Fire Marshall, driving drunk, passed out, swerved into the home and demolished it. His insurance company didn't want to fix he home so that we could put the halves together.
Six months later, while wrangling with the insurance company, a violent windstorm came and demolished both halves of the home (you cannot insure a home 'til it's set up).
I had to take more time away from our business to get my family a place to live. I began to renovate the 50 year old homestead cabin that was on our property, includig rebuilding the roof.
By that time, our family was scattered around with relatives, and some of the wives applied for welface (we were not about to let our children starve while I worked to get them a place to live). Ultimately we moved into the the old cabin while we developed our raw land by installing water and sewer ($20,000 total). Because of old wiring, the old cabin burned to the ground one night. We lost all our possessions and a three year old son.
State welfare representatives came to us the next day and and offered aid to those of us who were not receiving any. They said since I had no marriage license with my wives (they only let you hav one) I would be considered an "absentee parent" and would have to pay it all back once we were on our feet again. They assured me I would be able to make payments. I agreed to that.
Two years later we terminated assistance, as we were adequately housed and had our business operating again. I went to the state, via my attorney, to settle. Rather than negotiating a reduced amount to pay, I volunteered to repay every penny we had received (now retired Assistant Attorney General, Ray Gammon of Provo/Orem, will verify this. Call him1 He said in his entire career collecting money for the state he never had such a cooperative client as myself!) I told Mr. Gammon that we were very grateful for the assistance of the people of this state, and we were (are) happy to pay it back. I didn't try to negotiate an amount to be repaid, I told Mr. Gammon to determine it. He did and I signed a stipulation judgment to pay it all back.
I asked Mr. Gammon how much the payments would be. He said I would be contacted by the Richfield Office of Recovery services to determine my ability to repay and and they would set me up on the payments. Four months later, rather than being set up on payments, I was prosecuted.
I went down to Richfeld accompanied by a friend (who can attest to this) and asked why they had never set me up on payments, as promised. They said, "Oh, David Leavitt got special permission from the Attorney General's office to take over your case."
And, of course, David Leavitt had more to gain by painting me as a welfare mooch than to allow me to make payments. I was never set up on payments like the state promised me. I got prosecuted instead. I'm still waiting to make my payments to the state.
Mr. Taxpayer in Alpine, I never had any intention to live off your tax dollars.
I'm very sorry we ever did.
I'm very sorry that we were ever in needy circumstances.
I'm very sorry that we were forced out f our comfortable homes in Sandy into the desert.
I'm very sorry that we were forced to live in a dangerous home that took the life of my very beautiful baby boy.
I'm very sorry that the state did not let us keep our promise to make payments.
I'm very sorry that a politician, who told us that we could get a lot of publicity if he prosecuted us, thought that this would help anyone, including society.
I'm very sorry that he was successful i getting the public (like yourself) to believe that we were trying to take advantage of you.
Society set up the safety net to help people who have setbacks like ours to get back on their feet. We took advantage of the aid that was offered (and needed) and were, and are, fully willing to pay it back.
Mr. Taxpayer in Alpine (and any of the rest of you), if you will calculate ow much the $54,435 we owe the state us your share ($0.06), I'll bring it right to your home and pay you back directly.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know the amount and your address and I WILL pay you back.
And I DO thank you for your kind assistance (no sarcasm here - I'm serious).
Sincerely, Tom Green
Friday, November 13, 2009
"All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear and he disregards the rest" - The Boxer, Simon And Garfunkel
On the Salt Lake Tribune website, polygamy stories draw a group of commenters who generally don't participate on any other topic.
The majority believe that the issues of taking multiple wives, and taking underage wives, are inseparably intertwined.
A few people posting in these comment threads question just how widespread the "child bride" problem is, or whether it is legal and appropriate for the government to act against an entire community as a "criminal class". One lady I have a great deal of admiration for is Deb Lee. She's asks the hard questions, and she's become a popular target for insults and vitriol. The class she shows in the face of it all should be an example to us all.
The Tribune's reporter specifically assigned to polygamy stories is not a rabid polygamy hater, and for it, she is regularly accused of practically aiding and abetting.
What I see in play is some kind of morbid curiosity. For some reason, that eludes me, some people in this country are eager, desperate even, to believe lurid tales of organized abuse rings, masquerading under the guise of religion, holding children hostage as sex slaves today, right here within the boarders of the good 'ol USA.
This is by no means an intellectual exercise for this group of "true believers", they believe it with their hearts, and any skeptic will quickly be accused of being either a child abuser or a child abuse enabler.
This "true believer" phenomenon certainly did not begin with this particular group. In the 1980's, a book called "Michelle Remembers" was released. In it's aftermath, a large number of apparently unconnected individuals, across both North America and Europe, began coming forward with accounts "recovered memories" of satanic ritual abuse. Evangelical Christian traveling speakers Bob Larson and Jerry Johnston were drawing huge audiences, then Geraldo Rivera fanned the flames even more with a primetime special, treating it all as real. But was there any evidence?
Girls, whose bodies showed no sign of childbirth, claimed that they had been held as "breeders", producing baby after baby to be sacrificed on some hidden alter by people living perfectly normal and respectable lives by day. In the height of the craze, the owners of the McMartin Preschool were jailed, and the building was razed to look for underground tunnels where the children claimed they were taken for abuse. In the end, all the frantic digging could not make up for the fact that the tunnels simply did not exist.
We can go back even further, to a town called Salem, where some accusations from a few little girls caused more than a little commotion in the community.
Back to the present. As someone who has gotten to know these people over a prolonged period of time, ultimately coming to agree with with Gordon B. Hinckley when he stated on Larry King Live that plural marriage is not doctrinal, nevertheless coming away with a great respect and admiration for them, I know that enough marriages to underage girls have taken place that law enforcement interest comes at no surprise. Courts of Law have held those individuals responsible for it accountable.
It should also be noted that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who is in no way a synthesizer, and in fact admits that his office considered raiding a Kingston church meeting to forcibly collect DNA samples, stated in an interview on 1 Aug 2010 (Take 2, KUTV) that he was satisfied from the reports of his network of inside informants that no underage marriages had been performed by the FLDS since 2004.
Then there are the more problematic issues, like the "human incinerator" supposedly located next to the Texas FLDS Temple, or the young man who recently published a book claiming to have recovered repressed memories from the age of five, where Warren Jeffs took a him out of class, sodomized him in the bathroom, then returned him to the classroom with no physical injuries.
But the "true believers" scream that a widespread problem exists, and that the authorities are doing practically nothing.
I recently (outdated link removed) challenged a "true believer", who complained that nothing was being done to "eliminate this scourge", on just what she thinks should be done to eradicate polygamy?
Indiscriminately round up children? Raids to capture the lists of every person in membership or in sympathy? GPS tracking for life? Forced sterilizations? Sending out spies to discover if any new groups are forming? Labeling American citizens, convicted of no crime, as part of a "criminal class", and suspending their civil rights solely on the basis of whom they associate with?
Two other "true believers" took their shots at me, neither of them offering anything substantive to counter my reasoning. Afterward the original "true believer" I challenged thanked them "for answering my specious argument", refusing to address me directly.
My question remains unanswered, just what would it take to satisfy these people? Perhaps, operating on such an emotional level, there is no answer. Perhaps they simply perceive evil, want the evil excised from society, and they have not thought it out any further beyond that.
When I actually start publicizing this blog, so that people will actually start reading it, hopefully I can get some insightful comments as to why they so passionately want to believe. Could it just be that some have a pathological need for a scapegoat to hate, or that they find some personal validation in believing the worst of those who seem strange or different from themselves, or could it go even deeper than that? For now, I remain perplexed.
As for myself, I don't want to believe that horrible things are happening in my community, in my country, and in my world, though I will accept that which can be reasonably proven.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
My observations have led me to conclude that a fundamentalist is best described as a person who believes that he is clinging to ancient truth, divinely revealed, that he feels mankind has largely fallen away from. The fundamentalist mentality is very much left-brained, literal, legalistic, and rigid.
Does that make it a strictly religious term, or a strictly derogatory term? I don't think so. In some situations, a no-compromise, let's get back to basics, attitude is appropriate. The American form of government is a prime example of something which should be approached from a fundamentalist perspective. We began with a set of declared principles that were brilliant, inspired even, and through legislation and judicial rulings, we have been screwing them up, getting further and further away from original intent, ever since.
When it comes to religion, fundamentalism was a place where I once found comfort, but ultimately had to concede that a "package deal", all or nothing, mindset; a belief that we originally started out with something that was perfect, completely error free, does not stand up to scrutiny. No reasonable person could believe that the prophet-warrior Joshua literally made the earth stop turning for a day. Having watched the way religious fundamentalists will rationalize away anything they find in scripture or secular history, which stands in contradiction to their pre-conceived notions, as well as they way they have treated me differently after learning that my faction of Christianity is a different one than theirs; while I won't join the voices that blanketly condemn and spout inflammatory rhetoric likening the "Religious Right" to the Taliban, I do conclude that it does foster some attitudes that are not only flawed in their reasoning, but are unhealthy to the person believing them as well.
As someone with a Mormon background, this topic inevitably leads me to the question, is Mormonism a fundamentalist religion?
Mormons believes that their faith represents a restoration of lost truth. There absolutely are fundamentalist aspects to it...but they also believe that communication with God is ongoing, and that this is a special time in history, with truths being revealed in modern times that have heretofore not been given to mankind. To a fundamentalist, his ultimate source of truth is a book of ancient scripture. To a Mormon, his ultimate source of truth is a prophet who lives today, who has the full authority to clarify and expand upon the teachings of any prophet which came before him.
From my studies, I am aware of five unique new teachings introduced by Brigham Young: Adam-God, blood atonement, Jesus being begotten by sexual intercourse between God and Mary, non-polygamists being relegated to a subservient position in heaven, and that the Blacks would not receive the priesthood until after all the other decedents of Adam had the opportunity. None of these are accepted as the authoritative position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.
If Mormons were truly fundamentalists, they would not feel at liberty to dismiss troubling parts of the discourses of the early brethren as unauthoritative speculation. That is why those who have a fundamentalist mindset when they convert will eventually will eventually make a choice, they will either accept some compromises on the rigidity of their belief system, or they will leave the church to associate with polygamists.
Monday, June 8, 2009
In my last post, I stated that one of my key objections to politician Mitt Romney was his emphasis on cracking down on crime.
Often when I criticize the laws currently governing this country (and I often do), I get the knee jerk response, “Oh, then you want to have no laws at all”.
I try, usually in vain, to explain that what I want are reasonable laws.
I’ve been watching since about 1980, as new restrictions have been continuously added, penalties increased, misdemeanors have been raised to felony status, surveillance has become ubiquitous, and as enforcement tactics have become more and more forceful and violent. No reasonable person can deny that the laws of this country are much tougher today than they were when Reagan took office. I’ve seen an endless line of scary bogeymen being paraded before the public, drugs, criminals, terrorists, impaired drivers, identity thieves, the war on this, the war on that, in order to frighten the people into accepting control measures that they would normally recognize as going too far.
And I’ve seen the results. I couldn’t begin to count all the decent people I have known, who thought that all of this would never affect them, because they live good lives and would never do anything to cheat or harm their neighbors…until one night they found themselves being taken from their cars or from their homes, handcuffed, and put in the back of a squad car.
Anyone who demands proof that the US has become an authoritarian state need only look at our prisons, which currently hold a greater percentage of our population than Iran, China, or any other despotic regime, either now or in history.
That’s the problem, but what is the solution? As I stated in the beginning, I am not some anarchist advocating the abolition of the rule of law. Indeed what I am advocating is a return to the rule of law, and to the principles enumerated in the Constitution of the United States of America.
Disorderly conduct, obstructing justice, failure to obey a lawful order, criminal mischief, these are just a few examples of vaguely defined charges which enable police to stop any activity they choose, even though no law has been passed specifically prohibiting that activity, and to arrest anyone whose behavior they don’t like. Giving those in authority the power to make up the law as they go along is not the rule of law, it is rule by fiat, or put even more simply, tyranny.
Getting rid of these broad sweeping laws would be a good first step.
Some say that our society swings like a pendulum, back and forth between a civil rights model and a crime control model. My own personal observation is that once a restriction is passed, it’s usually in place forever, once the government expands itself to deal with some supposed problem, it will never admit it’s error and back out, once a right is limited or lost, seldom will we ever get it back. But if the pendulum theory is right, then it is my hope that the public will turn off the scary images that CNN is bringing into their living rooms in vivid high def, will examine the world from the prospective of what they actually see with their own eyes as they go about their daily lives, will realize that the world they actually live in is really not all that dangerous, will stop demanding for the congressman they have on speed dial to fight for tougher laws, and will start calling that congressman with suggestions to start scaling things back to the way they were in a more free and reasonable time, repairing the damage caused to our once free society by 30 years of misguided zealotry.
Mr. Romney is no more of a friend to the Libertarians and Constitutionalists in the Republican Party, than he is to social conservatives.
As part of his presidential run, Romney joined the NRA, but unlike abortion and gay marriage, where he actually did retract his former liberal positions, the caveat, "I don't agree with them on everything", indicates that spending a few hundred dollars on a life membership was simply a move for show. The fact is that he has never given any indication that he has reconsidered his actions when he enthusiastically supported and signed into law a state statute paralleling the absolute worst piece of legislation to come out of the Clinton administration, the so-called "assault weapons ban". Deceptively titled, in order to create the illusion that all that would be affected were a few exotic models that the average citizen would have no use for, this was actually a sweeping law affecting many commonly owned firearms and firearm accessories. We can thank God that, in order to get the federal ban passed, they had to include an expiration date, and that when that date came, there was not enough votes in Congress put it on Pres. Bush's desk (another betrayor of true conservative principles, who had indicated he would sign it).
One of the major points Mitt Romney made in his 2008 campaign was getting tough on crime. (See my blog entry following this one (link) for a follow up on what could possibly be wrong with that).
As governor of Massachusetts, he had a firm policy that his office would not issue any pardon or commutation under any circumstance (link). Anthony Circosta was a decorated combat veteran, who most certainly deserved clemency for an indiscretion at age 13, so that he could fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer. The Board of Pardons supported his petition, however the governor used the same rubber stamp, "NO!", on his application, that he used on every other that came across his desk.
Another example of Romney taking a inflexible and unreasonable stance is contained in a youtube video (link), where Romney rebuffs a man in a wheelchair, then turns away from him and ignores the man's attempts to continue the conversation, after the man tries to explain his medical situation. He tries in vain to tell Romney that he is opposed to the legalization of marijuana for everyone, that his doctors can attest to the legitimate need and benefits in his case, and that synthetic substitutes have not worked. All Romney could do was regurgitate the old line, of dubious reasoning, that pot is a gateway to hard drugs (but the two recreational drugs that are legal, alcohol and nicotine, are not?), and move away.
Under a Romney administration, we could expect no relief from interdiction roadblocks, police turning traffic stops into vehicle searches based solely on a hunch, homes being searched simply because some druggie relative gives your address as the place he is staying when he is booked into jail, SWAT teams attaching cables and ripping the doors and windows off people's homes (as the A&E channel films), real estate being seized even if the district attorney determines that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges, and any large sum of cash found on your person being taken and held, until you can hire a lawyer and prove in court that it was not from any ill-gotten source.
About Mitt Romney he really has going for him is a proven track record with managing money. However, Republicans who are primarily concerned with economics are vastly outnumbered by people focused on conservative social issues, and those who advocate states rights and limiting the federal government.
It’s amazing he got as far as he did, and for the sake of this country, I hope he’s long gone from the American political scene by 2012. I’m all for putting a Mormon in the White House…just not this Mormon.
Friday, May 1, 2009
It is the natural order for organization to move to disorganization, the ONLY time disorganization moves to organization is when an intelligent being acts as organizer. For this universe and this world to have come into existence, a creator HAS to have been involved, otherwise disorganized matter would have remained disorganized matter in perpetuity.
The very first thing I was taught in Physics 101 was, In all scientific experiments, the result will either be random or predictable. It is simply not scientifically possible for anything unique and functional to spontaneously create itself.
Some may mistake this for an argument against macroevolution. Evolution is a matter of biology, and unlike physics, which I find fascinating, biology is a science I have no interest in. Theistic evolution seems perfectly reasonable to me, and I don't care to delve further into how the creator engineered this work. My concern is establishing that world was engineered, a fact which is just as obvious to me as the fact that my watch must have been designed by a person. That I didn't watch him draw out the plans, and can give you little or no information about who he was, hardly constitutes grounds to dispute the watchmaker's existence.
Furthermore, personal experience confirms to me that not only does God exist, he actively, though discretely, intervenes in my life.
I have seen events fall into place so precisely that I cannot believe that they were just a series of coincidences. Most significantly were the rather extraordinary circumstances which led me to discover Mormonism.
As a reckless, self-destructive teenager, it is a miracle that I never killed or crippled either myself or any other person. Literally a miracle.
Within Mormonism, there is a phenomenon sometimes referred to as a "burning in the bosom" (Luke 24:32). We believe that this is the influence of the Holy Ghost. I call it as a phenomenon because I am convinced that it is legitimately supernatural. I have felt it so powerfully that I cannot consider it possible that it was just my imagination. Furthermore, I felt overwhelmed by it before anyone told me about it, and as a missionary I had people just as strongly affected ask me what it was, who I had not yet taught about it, or told to expect it.
After the scientific need for an intelligent designer, and all that God has done in my life, the final pillar of my faith is the Book of Mormon.
I do not hold conventional Mormon beliefs about this book of scripture, nevertheless, I certainly do believe in it. Whether it contains accounts of actual people who lived, and events which actually took place, I don't know. I'll leave it up to FARMS, and those who challenge their premises, to continue to battle it out over questions of archaeology, and whether the metals, plants, and animals of the BOM could have been found anciently in the Western Hemisphere. To me, these are peripheral issues. The true measure of it's worth is in it's teachings. The fact that young man, on the American frontier in the 1820's, whose education came primarily in his home, produced a work that educated people to this day find so deeply meaningful, is a miracle. I firmly believe that Brother Joseph could not have produced it without supernatural assistance, and that since it testifies of Christ, that supernatural force has to have been a positive one, ie. God.
I've read the collection of B. H. Roberts writings, published by Signature Books under the title, "Studies of the Book of Mormon". This contains what critics of the church consider to be the strongest arguments for Joseph Smith being capable of producing the BOM with the sheer power of his fertile imagination, and the sources available in his community. My reasons are a series of blog entries of their own, but for now I will simply say that I remain unconvinced.
I have also read Ethan Smith's, "View of the Hebrews", and the Spaulding Manuscript, both alleged to be source material for the Book of Mormon. I found in both of them only general similarities and some very significant differences. A verbatim quote would be the smoking gun that shoots down the Book of Mormon, but guess what?, not a single instance can be found.
Within the Book of Mormon, the Book of Jacob ends with the phrase, "Brethren, adieu". Letters written by his mother demonstrate that she would close with this French word. Also there's that passage about treasures becoming slippery, a reflection of superstitions the prophet was known to have held in his youth. These examples serve as subtle hints that Joseph produced this work himself, that it was not ghost written or plagiarized.
This undoubtedly sounds very different from the way you usually hear a Mormon "bear his testimony".
Most who come to my blog are probably familiar with the way Mormons express usually their faith. The fact that I have not made the statement, "I know the church is true", most likely stands out to you. The one thing that just about everyone considering what to make of Mormonism all have in common is the approach, "It this true or is it not"?
This position may be popular, but is it reasonable?
People love to question whether a source of information and ideas is credible. If they can label it is not credible, they feel relieved of any further need to consider anything that source has to offer. I assert that this is intellectual laziness. If someone asks me to take their word for something that cannot be independently verified, that's one thing, but when I listen to people presenting lines of reasoning, I take their arguments one by one. That which I find to be reasonable I adopt into my own beliefs, and that which I do not find reasonable I do not.
Joseph Smith presented the world with some profound lines of reasoning, but since he claimed to see God, and claimed that God had rejected Christendom and had began Christianity anew through him, people are eager to dismiss him, and everything he ever taught, in their entirety. Not only that, there exists a prejudice that anyone who takes Smith's teachings and claims seriously cannot possibly have anything meaningful to say.
What I find incredible is that on the one hand, the critics assert that Joseph had such an amazing intellect that he made up this rich and complex system of belief from the sheer power of an incredible imagination, and on the other hand, they say that nothing this highly intelligent man ever had to say deserves any serious consideration.
When I study this man's teachings, I find a combination of the profound and the absurd. He gave us answers to all the most vexing questions Christian thinkers have been struggling with for centuries. One of his most valuable contributions addressed the matter of those who die without ever hearing the gospel. He told us that the assumption that death is the deadline for accepting Christ is wrong, that there is still time to be taught and to accept in the next life, while we await the resurrection. He also mistook Masonic folklore for literal history, was deceived my a con man named John C. Bennett, and said that some common Egyptian funerary scrolls, which had nothing to do with the Israelites or their faith, had been written by the biblical patriarch Abraham, in his own hand. At times he demonstrated a level of reasoning consistent with the limited educational opportunities of the frontier, at others his teachings far surpassed anything we could expect from someone of his background. All of which leads me to one clear conclusion, here we have one fallible mortal man, who did from time to time converse with God and angels.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Anyone surfing the 'net today sees it constantly. Blogs, message boards, youtube comments, and any other place where it is easy to leave a quick, snide, anonymous, remark are filled with outright denials that any God exists, and attempts to demonstrate that religion has never done anything but harm mankind.
I take issue with the claim that religion is harmful because I know that I am a much better person today than I would be if I had no faith.
Christianity encourages charitable giving and service, it fosters wholesomeness in personal appearance, as well as in the general way a Christian lives his or her life, and it dissuades personal gain at other's expense by teaching that we will all be ultimately held accountable by an authority that we cannot hide anything from.
Christians proclaim the unique sanctity of human life, that we not just another species of animal, but were created in the image of God. Our scriptures teach over and over again that the worth of our souls is great (while not a single verse would indicate that animal life has any intrinsic value, sorry vegans). In a world where life is cheap, where so many young men engage in gang violence, and so many young women consider killing a pre-born child to be "freedom of choice", this message is sorely needed.
For a Christian, the focus is on the eternal, rather than immediate gratification. A world without any religion would most certainly have a lot fewer relief organizations than our world does.
Even if no God exists, religion is an influence for good. While it is certainly true that an occasional person uses religion towards his own malicious or selfish ends, this hardly changes the fact that overall, religion has been a positive for humanity.
Monday, April 20, 2009
By nature I am a religious seeker. My parents held strong Christian values, though they did not feel it necessary to be involved in organized religion. I consider this to have been unfortunate, as a I really could have used the kind of support system offered by a church during some very difficult school years. One of the (few) advantages of life in the Bay Area was a wide range of religions to explore. I made the rounds, but it was the claims of the Prophet Joseph Smith which impressed me more that anything else I found. All the other Christian denominations seemed to be a rehash and reinterpretation of the same old information. The Prophet Joseph stood out as someone with something more.
After a few semesters at the local community college, not really accomplishing very much, I decided to submit papers to serve a mission. I'd been in the church a little over a year at that point. I received a call to the England London South Mission. For me, day to day life as Mormon Missionary was drudgery, but the high points made it all worthwhile. High school had not prepared me to effectively function in society as an adult, but after my mission I was able to return and this time complete an associates degree, marry in the temple, and begin a career in electronic communications.
As religious seekers do, after a few years in one church I was beginning to get restless, hoping there was something more out there to find. At that time I embraced a strongly fundamentalist approach to religion. On my first visit, I had fallen in love with Utah, and determined that this would be the place where I would pertinently settle down. Now, Utah had something even more to offer: Mormon splinter groups.
I relocated and traveled all over the state, meeting some rather interesting people. Over the next few years I met with Ogden Kraut, Ross LeBaron Sr., Fred Collier, Alex Joseph, Art Bulla, some representatives from the Peterson group whose names I do not remember, and some followers of John Perry Chaney. I was a guest in Jim Harmston's home and attended his 2-day "models" presentation. I attended a Sunday service with the AUB, and once drove around and had a look at Colorado City, though no one seemed to watch me, or even notice me.
For a while I attended a weekly study group held at a Sandy library. Both Sterling Allen (greaterthings.com) and Rich Kuchinsky (prominent Republican, recently deceased) have claimed to have started this for political topics, though when I got involved a lady named Nancy Ross was running it, and most of the speakers discussed the advanced concepts of Mormonism. A well attended meeting, presented by Randy Dalton, who at that point had been expelled from Harmston's TLC Church, brought the meetings to an abrupt end. At that time, the TLC was the subject of a lot of interest and concern. Two leaders from Church Security were in attendance. One of the regulars recognized them, and announced who they were. After that, the number of people who continued showing up was not enough to keep the group sustainable.
In all this searching, the only people I found with whom I felt a desire to establish an ongoing association and fellowship were one extended family by the name of Sharp (Will, Roxanne, Bob, Kelly, their spouses, and their children), most of them living in Emery and Carbon Counties. The Sharps were strongly pro-life, and pressed the issue so forcefully in their LDS wards that they had been excommunicated. Afterward, they adopted Fundamentalist Mormon beliefs and would protest the LDS Church's weak position on abortion at General Conference and the Manti Pageant. On several occasions I joined them in protest. I was living in West Valley at the time, so distance prevented me from regularly attending their home church meetings. Eventually the Sharps came to completely reject Mormonism, and became Roman Catholic. In October 2009, Utah news media reported that Will and his wife Charmaine had been murdered by one of their sons, who had suffered serious brain damage in an auto accident some years before.
Having come up empty in my search for spiritual fulfillment, I began to try to "find myself" in other ways. On my own at the time, these were some lonely years. I needed to go through these experiences, but by the end, I was glad to put that episode of my life behind me.
Today, I am back with the woman I originally married twenty years ago, I have reconciled with the LDS Church (mutually), and I disavow fundamentalism as simplistic and intellectually limiting. (I go into detail on my perspective on the general topic of fundamentalism in my 7 Nov. 2009 entry, and Mormon Fundamentalism specifically in my 9 March 2011 entry). My religious beliefs are now more in line with many in the Sunstone crowd (though politics are a completely different matter, note my 15 Sep. 2010 entry).
It disappoints me that I was never able to find anything better than the LDS Church. Following a radical out in the wilderness like Joseph Smith, doing his best to provide his people with an alternative to life in mainstream society, appeals to me much more than sitting in a respectable church on Sunday morning. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that there is nothing better out there to join, and that being active in the LDS Church is where I belong, at least for now. My career has advanced to the point where I enjoy a very cushy, low stress job, which pays sufficient to afford a modest but comfortable home, a few nice cars, and a few pieces of top-of-the-line equipment so that I can make the most of my hobbies.
I may not have ever done anything that has changed the world, then again, God grants the talents necessary to change the world to very few. What I can say is that I am at peace. That when the time comes to account for those talents I have been blessed with, I can honestly answer that I did what I could with what I had. My life cannot a characterized as a steady course, but then again, in my wandering I have been to places that the average person seldom sees, and have found opportunities for personal growth that only a rare few get to experience. A progression which is ongoing.