This week I am in New York visiting my family. I don't think of it as "coming home" because Utah is my home now (though hopefully not forever). It's a whole different world here and requires a subtly yet unmistakably different mindset. In Utah, unless you're in a bar (and maybe even then), the logical assumption is that a majority of the people around you are Mormons. In New York, unless you're in a Mormon chapel, the logical assumption is that none of them are. I had also forgotten that while driving here one frequently sees mirages of water on the road up ahead, which vanish when one gets closer but are replenished almost immediately. It's such a common phenomenon that I hardly gave it a second thought growing up, but on returning I realized that it doesn't happen in Utah, or at least not in northern Utah. Even though Utah is a desert and thus presumably a more suitable place for mirages. I should probably look into it.
I hadn't formed much of an opinion on Donald Trump until recently because most of what I knew about him was from old "Bloom County" comic strips, and I couldn't tell if he was really a slimeball or if people just hate him because he has a lot of money. I didn't look much into his political stances because he isn't going to get the nomination anyway and focusing on politics too much only depresses me, since my views have approximately zero impact on anything that happens in this country. But I found out recently that he thinks vaccines cause autism. And that's enough for me to dismiss him as not only stupider than dog vomit, but dangerous to society. I mean, our current administration is no Einstein either, but at least it isn't advocating against one of the greatest innovations of the modern age that has saved and improved millions of lives, on the basis of an unsupported and illegitimate fear that it will make their children end up like me and that they would be better off dead. It's hard to overstate the contempt and disgust I feel for anti-vaxxers, so I should probably leave it at that.
Here, from the "Why I'm not comfortable labeling myself 'conservative'" category, as well as the "Holy crap people like this actually exist" category (though if you have better things to do than read the whole thing, good for you, and I won't be offended if you skip past it. I didn't bother to blur people's names because this blog is no more public than the spot where they posted in the first place and it's not my job to cover for their bigotry):
Ugh. Though in fairness, about four of those fifty people stuck up for human decency. They're the ones with fourteen or fifteen replies telling them they're wrong.
Oh, and now that no one cares about him anymore, here's my take on Cecil the lion. Liberals were wrong for their disproportionate outrage, backlash and media coverage. Conservatives were wrong for acting like it was no big deal because only humans matter. This was hardly the apocalyptic atrocity it was made out to be, but it was still wrong. It's not that lion lives are inherently too sacred to take or that Cecil was a particularly sacred lion just because someone gave him a name. It's that lion population levels have decreased to two or three percent of their levels in the late 1800s, and will become zero percent in a few decades if nothing is done to prevent it. That is why there are rules and regulations in place to protect them, and those need to be respected. (Incidentally, hunting top predators like lions, tigers and bears just seems kind of perverse to me altogether, but I guess that's just an emotional bias talking.)
I read an op-ed from a Zimbabwean student in the US who pointed out that a. most Zimbabweans have never heard of and didn't care about Cecil the lion and b. Zimbabweans like him who grew up in rural areas fear and hate lions for the threat that they pose. I sympathized with him, but defensively killing the lion that was terrorizing his village when he was a child is altogether different than, and irrelevant to, deliberately luring a lion from a protected preserve where he was minding his own business for the purpose of killing him. Lions may cause problems, but wiping out their species will only cause bigger ones. Still, the way that dentist was treated by "compassionate" liberals was uncalled for and unacceptable, though hardly surprising.
On that note, here's a book recommendation: "Last Chance to See" by Douglas Adams of galactic hitchhiking fame. I'm re-reading it now in New York. It's the most hilarious take on critically endangered species that you're likely to ever find, yet still (mostly) tasteful and sobering.
I upgraded to Windows 10 and am mostly pleased except that suddenly my computer brightness settings are reversed but won't go as dim as I like them. Sometimes they're right but usually they're reversed. Does anyone know how to fix that? It's really annoying. Also, is there a way to make old 32-bit games like Math Blaster work on newer computers? Google seems unusually unhelpful regarding these matters. Oh, but speaking of search stuff, Windows 10's search thing is called Cortana. Despite having a name and a gender, she has disappointingly little personality, but she asked me what I want to be called and I said "Sweetie Pumpkin", so she does. Don't judge me.
Well, I'm supposed to be on vacation and I already conveniently took up a lot of space with those pictures (it's not my problem if you skipped over them), so I shall be signing off now and getting back to that book. Bonne nuit.
P.S. Speaking of French speaking, Marie is still around. I haven't written about her for a while so maybe you thought she just kind of disappeared. But she didn't. Here she is in all her redacted glory.
The Logan LDS Institute of Religion has a secret: a small but well-stocked library. This library contains hundreds of LDS books spanning several decades and several topics, as well as several non-LDS general works such as Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". The library is a secret because the door is sort of located in an alcove so that if you don't already know it's there and aren't paying attention to your surroundings (which most people usually aren't), you'll miss it. It used to be fairly common knowledge, but around the time the Internet took off, students stopped coming to it in large numbers, and it no longer has a budget for new books.
It has been very helpful with my research on black people in the LDS Church. When I say "research", I don't mean anything new or groundbreaking, but just an effort to read and synthesize everything I can get my hands on about it. (The results of that effort, still and probably always in progress, are here.) In this little library I found "Mormonism and the Negro," "Black Saints in a White Church" (both of which I was surprised and impressed to see there, owing to their controversial subject matter, albeit for entirely different reasons), and "The Negro Pioneer". This latter book is really amazing because it relates many positive experiences of black people in the Church, experiences that most people aren't aware of and LDS apologists haven't taken advantage of. They really help to balance the record. But enough of that tangent for now.
I was there recently just looking around to see what interested me, when I stumbled across an intelligent design book. I rolled my eyes. As Jimmy Smits' character said in "West Wing", "I believe in a designer, and I'd like to think that he's intelligent", but that philosophy which goes by the name "intelligent design" is a load of nonsense. Hence my eye-rolling. But then right next to it I saw another book called "Evolution and Mormonism". I was a bit suspicious of this one as well because one of its authors is surnamed "Meldrum" (Rodney Meldrum and his ilk are infamous to LDS scholars for trying to support the Book of Mormon with psuedoscience), but looking it over I realized it was legit, and checked it out.
I checked it out to see if it had any insights that I hadn't considered before and could add to my own treatment of the subject. I already knew I wasn't a part of its target audience: Mormons who are ignorant about and probably skeptical of evolution. The authors - two scientists and one amateur to help them relate to normal people - contend that science and religion are compatible and that the truths from both can be synthesized. They spend some time hammering home this point, and inevitably I found it patronizing since I've already known it for years and heard it proposed dozens of times. The first time I heard that science answers the "how" while religion answers the "why", I was awed at how profound it sounded. Now I'm just like, "Well, DUH!!!"
Of course, almost anyone will claim they believe science and religion are compatible, but in practice too many of them - like the author of that intelligent design book - actually mean that religion trumps science and that conflicts must be resolved by discarding the latter. If you're going to take this approach, at least be honest about it and don't pretend you respect science.
The authors also reviewed several quotes and documents to demonstrate that evolution is not against LDS doctrine. Most of these same quotes and documents are used every time someone tries to demonstrate that evolution is not against LDS doctrine, since there are only so many to choose from, so that part was also tedious. They departed from most such works in presenting a broader overview and including several anti-evolution quotes. I didn't think that was necessary since those are more widely known and often erroneously considered to be a doctrinal stance. Writings like this only need to present the other side of the picture. But whatever, no harm done.
The discussion of scientific evidences was far more interesting. Of course, no amount of evidence is sufficient for those who have already determined not to let facts get in the way of their opinions, so the prior groundwork was necessary (and was patronizing and tedious only because I wasn't part of the target audience). Actually, most of this stuff was old news to me too, but I still find it interesting every time. I dropped the Wildlife Science major because I don't love science quite enough to do painstaking experiments and write dry stuffy papers about them for a living, but I don't regret learning about biology and stuff because it's fascinating on an amateur level. And I did learn a few new things, although I probably learned them years ago and forgot.
The most interesting part was a brief chapter right at the end which offered exactly what I had been hoping for - a new insight. This one was regarding how we can be created in God's image if evolution is random. It cited a relatively new hypothesis and some supporting studies and chaos theory (made famous by Jurassic Park) to suggest that genetic developments are constrained by mechanical necessities. In other words, regardless of which mutations happen, the structure and growth of organisms is limited by stuff like the environment and laws of physics, so humans couldn't just become any random shape. They explained it better than I do. That was written fifteen years ago, so I attempted to look up the current state of that hypothesis, which they admitted hadn't undergone much testing yet. Apparently it still hasn't, but the current state is summarized here on Wikipedia.
I don't believe anything is truly "random" anyway. Just because we can't predict where a tornado will strike doesn't mean it hits one place instead of another for no reason whatsoever. There must be factors controlling it that we just can't measure. The same must be true of mutations. There must be some factors that cause this gene to be mistranscribed instead of that one, right? Just like when you make a mistake while typing, it isn't random; it's because for a fraction of a second you weren't paying enough attention. And there must be a reason for that too. There is truth to the annoying Mormon cliché "Everything happens for a reason". It's annoying because in context they're usually implying that God micromanages every slightest event in the lives of every person on Earth in order to bring about His plan, which I don't believe for a moment because it makes free will a joke and makes God pathetically inflexible. But in this context the cliché is true.
So, while I had mixed feelings about the book because it wasn't really addressed to me, I recommend it to Mormons who are curious about science and religion and looking for a place to start. And to those in the Logan area, I also recommend visiting the institute library and seeing what it has to offer. Help bring it out of obscurity even if its glory days are forever behind it.
Shout out to my fans in Menlo Park, California and Kensington, Ohio. I have no idea who you are, but judging by how often you've visited my site, you either idolize me or work for the NSA. Thank you for your support.
A few days ago one of my friends posted a Facebook status beginning like so: "Okay I have to vent. LDS peeps, you might want to scroll if you get offended easily. This is just to let off some steam."
Of course, with a preface like that I could no sooner stop reading than a river could flow upstream. It continued like so:
"Literally, the past five places that I have looked at have been perfect for me. Under 300 dollars a month, not too much utilities, close to school and work, but I absolutely HATE IT when they say, "Preferably LDS." or "We're looking for a fun LDS girl to live with us!" It's stupid, it's discriminating. Not all non-lds people are bad and not all lds people are good, either. Take a person how they are, not by their beliefs/faith/religion. Oh and just because they're not LDS, doesn't mean they're going to bring sex, drugs, and alcohol to your home or that they do any of those things at all. We respect your beliefs! Honestly, people, be more open minded about people not of the LDS faith. I'm tired of it. The end!"
I had to ponder it for a few seconds. I was confused. I had somehow missed the offensive part. All I can say to it is amen, amen, amen. I also can't resist passing along one of the comments:
"This is why I don't live in Utah. I strongly believe in the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ (I'm even an ordinance worker in the Atlanta temple), but I'm not interested in being as exclusive and divisive as the Utah Mormons I met when I lived out there. The scriptures specifically tell us to love our neighbor and don't judge, but a lot of them are quick to judge and NOT love; they veil it with "concern" because "they know better". Well you know what? These people you're discriminating against are responsible for their own choices. At judgment day, they will be held accountable for all their own decisions, good and bad. YOU will not be accountable for your roommate keeping the commandments, but you will be asked how you treated them. Did you treat them with love and respect? Did you set a good example? Or did you sneer behind their back and refuse to associate with them because they aren't making the same choices you are?
Incidentally, I've spent more than half my time in Utah with inactive or non-LDS roommates and I turned out just - oh wait, bad example. Also, it's a bit of a tangent but I can't resist mentioning the time when for some reason my non-LDS roommate from Ghana was asking about the law of chastity. I explained it a little and then his non-LDS wife from Cote d'Ivoire interjected, "What are you talking about? Before he met me, he slept with Mormon girls all the time!"
Speaking of offending people, I'm going to talk about Planned Parenthood now. I've been sharing articles about it on Facebook for weeks now and so far no one has started an argument with me. I appreciate that, and I reciprocate the favor. A couple people may have unfriended me, but they won't be missed. I would rather alienate a few fair-weather friends than suppress my conscience and remain silent about the greatest atrocity of my generation. So anyway, if you find it offensive, sorry not sorry.
I haven't heard anything about the Planned Parenthood scandal for several days, and for the time being a totally unbiased and impartial judge has blocked more videos from being released; but although its supporters wish it would just go away it is still ongoing, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a week ago that it was expanding its investigation. In the meantime, the Obummer administration still refuses to even watch the videos. What if they treated reports of police brutality the same way? (Credit to this guy for the photo.)
What a bunch of spineless tools. Fortunately, we aren't dependent on them for positive results. Florida's investigation has found illegal second trimester abortions going on at three clinics and improper disposal of fetal remains (aka mutilated dead babies) at one. American Express, the American Cancer Society, Coca-Cola, Ford, and Xerox have all denied/cut ties with Planned Parenthood, after which it took down its donor matching list altogether, presumably to avoid further embarrassment as more corporations follow suit. Louisiana and Alabama have joined other states that had already cut ties with the organization, and New Hampshire cut off funds to the tune of $639,000 while allocating funds for other family planning organizations that its supporters don't seem to think exist. Also, while the latest congressional initiative to cut off federal (aka taxpayer) funding predictably failed, more than half of the votes were in favor and it lost by a significantly smaller margin than last time.
So obviously, things are working out nicely and Planned Parenthood has taken irreversible damage even if certain parties continue to willfully ignore the scandal. I predict with confidence that it and other abortion companies will meet their overdue demise within a couple decades. The momentum has been against them for some time now, and it's never going to let up. But in response to the scandal, many of Planned Parenthood's defenders have repeated the same stupid things they always have. Here are the three biggest ones I saw:
Only three percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortions. Like many statistics, this one is "accurate" while at the same time being a total load of crap. It only makes sense if you count performing an abortion and handing out a condom (for example) as equal percentage-wise. It's about as logical as a bank giving out lollipops with every transaction and then claiming that fifty percent of its business is lollipops. Oh, and in 2013 it gave one adoption referral for every 149 abortions. In what universe does that make any sense coming from an organization with "Parenthood" in its name? The "pro-choice" universe, of course.
It's illegal for taxpayer money to fund abortions. Whoopty-freakin'-doo. That means the taxpayer money just frees them up to use other money for abortions. That makes me feel no better about being forced to give money to an abomination. It's like telling a German citizen circa 1943, "The Nazis aren't using your money to kill Jews, they're just buying food and supplies with it." Yay! (I am aware that comparing people to Nazis is usually inappropriate, but not when their organization kills innocent people on a huge scale and was founded by an outspoken eugenicist.)
Planned Parenthood provides vital services for women's health and without it, they would all shrivel up and die. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but sure seems to reflect what they think. Is Planned Parenthood really the only place to go for those services? I think not. (For some reason I'm recalling the time Obummer lied about them giving mammograms.) Even if it was, there's no reason to think no one else would step forward to fill the void when it's gone. If there is a need then people will fill it.
None of these, by the way, acknowledge the violations of federal law or explain why we're supposed to turn a blind eye to it. Granted, some federal laws are stupid. I know people who smoke marijuana and I have no intention of ratting them out because it's none of my business and I couldn't care less. So are these regulations stupid, too? Is that why abortionists are too good for them? Because any sort of regulation on the killing of human infants is "anti-choice" and must be ignored? Apparently so, because that's how Kermit Gosnell got away with his butcher shop for so long and who knows how many others continue to do so. Funny how they say abortion has to be legal to prevent unsafe back-alley abortions, by making it safe for everyone except the baby being killed; but if it were just legal with no regulations enforced, how would that be any better?
Now on a lighter note, here is a song that I heard last week and have had intermittently stuck in my head since then. Apparently it wasn't a megahit or anything but I like it. The fan-made video briefly shows old footage of a guy in blackface, which begs the question, is it racist to include a guy in blackface in a montage of old footage? Like, in old cartoons, declining to edit out the racist bits isn't racist so much as it is just being honest about American history. But if you create a montage, then you make active decisions about what to put in, not just what to leave in. But it still is authentic footage and it's not like you created it here and now when people know better. Hmm...
Bomb the Bass - Megablast
I got a site visitor from Casablanca, Morocco. It's so weird and so cool that my libertarian-ish Mormon self can freely reach people in oppressive Islamic theocracies. Not sure about China, though. I'm sure they wouldn't even take enough notice to block me specifically, but maybe they have a thing that does it automatically. I think they're a lot stricter than the theocracies. Oh well. This too shall pass.
In the news recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released photographs of Joseph Smith's seer stone as part of the next volume of the Joseph Smith Papers project. I'm not sure how many people besides Mormons and Mormon critics actually noticed or cared, but it happened. The stone is very pretty, isn't it? To me, it looks like a big polished wooden marble.
The stone has been kept in a vault by the First Presidency for quite some time. I certainly never expected to see what it looked like. Of course, a lot of people didn't even know that it existed. And so I think now is as good a time as any to build off of a post I made a couple months ago that ended up being one of my most popular. Obviously that's not saying a lot, but whatever. Not everyone can be Matt Walsh.
To recap, although the post jumped between several topics as I too often do, one of its main points was that nothing in history either proves or disproves the LDS Church (or any other religion). The facts never speak for themselves; one way or another they are always interpreted by someone with a bias and can fit into various paradigms. (This isn't why I'm bringing it up again, but I'd like to add as an aside now that humans are not rational creatures. Reading about confirmation bias is enough to convince me that all my opinions on everything are probably wrong and doomed to remain so. Also, memory is inherently unreliable. Your brain might seem to record stuff like a camera, but in reality your memories are reconstructed from sense fragments and emotions every time they're accessed, and the way they are constructed has a great deal to do with what you've experienced since then.)
The post was true, and I'm glad people liked it, but I was dissatisfied with it because time and tangent considerations prompted me to touch so lightly on what I personally consider to be the elephant in the room that most people wouldn't even notice. I am rectifying that now for my own peace of mind despite the fact that very few people will care nearly as much as me. The elephant is this question which someone might sincerely ask: "If this stuff isn't inherently a threat to the Church, then why have they been covering it up?"
This person may have grown up in the Church, served in several callings, and never heard about certain strange or uncomfortable aspects of church history until one day an innocuous Google search for a Sunday School lesson brought them to an anti-Mormon site. Here, those facts were presented in a faith-destroying paradigm. The person experienced an almost physically unpleasant sensation of cognitive dissonance, and perhaps worse still, a feeling of intense hurt and betrayal that the Church never told them these things. They realized they faced a choice. They could, of course, take the facts out of the faith-destroying paradigm and construct a faith-promoting paradigm around them instead. But they would mostly be on their own in doing so. The Church didn't offer such a paradigm ready-made because it wasn't forthcoming with those facts in the first place. And they weren't even sure if they should trust it anymore anyway.
On the one side there are the critics who say things like, "The Mormon cult has swept all its uncomfortable history under the rug, but now that it's all being exposed by the internet, the gig is up!" Then, on the other hand, plenty of Mormons say things like, "You didn't know about that? I thought everybody knew about that. The Ensign devoted a whole sentence to it twenty years ago. If you didn't know about that, it's your own fault for not reading everything the Church has ever published."
To be perfectly honest, notwithstanding I am a Mormon and intend to remain one, I actually empathize far more with the former group. I can actually grasp why they feel that way, whereas I'm incredulous at the latter group's incredulity (not to mention annoyed by their self-righteousness and lack of compassion). But both groups are wrong. The Church has not actively hidden its history, but that certainly doesn't mean it's been candid or transparent, either. That gradually started to change around the 1970s with the efforts of Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington and others like him to bring about more modern and responsible scholarship (albeit with no small amount of opposition from members and leaders alike who thought they were wolves in sheep's clothing), and now it's changing at a much faster and more widespread pace in the hopes of stemming the tide of such faith crises. Virtually everyone is happy about this shift, and I am no exception. But I struggled for a long time to wrap my head around why it was necessary in the first place.
Of course, there are plenty of legitimate reasons why the Church's approach to history was less than candid. Perhaps the best one is that it was largely following what used to be standard practice for American history writing in general, which has obviously changed quite a bit in recent decades. Christopher Columbus used to be just a swell guy, and now he's a genocidal creep. But of course, the Church is not just any American institution. Its claim to fame is being led by prophets, seers, and revelators. And if that is the case then why, I've wondered, didn't they foresee that this approach would cause problems, and change it earlier, before so many people were adversely affected?
The answer that gives me the most peace of mind came from one of these prophets, seers, and revelators himself: Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of my favorite Apostles because he is so clearly a thoughtful and intelligent man with a great respect for secular learning and members of other faiths. General Authorities are often more candid outside of General Conference or similar contexts, and this was one of those times; it was an interview with PBS in 2006(?). Elder Oaks said:
"It’s an old problem, the extent to which official histories, whatever they are, or semi-official histories, get into things that are shadowy or less well-known or whatever. That’s an old problem in Mormonism - a feeling of members that they shouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that this or that happened, they should’ve been alerted to it. I have felt that throughout my life. There are several different elements of that. One element is that we’re emerging from a period of history writing within the Church [of] adoring history that doesn’t deal with anything that’s unfavorable, and we’re coming into a period of 'warts and all' kind of history. Perhaps our writing of history is lagging behind the times, but I believe that there is purpose in all these things - there may have been a time when Church members could not have been as well prepared for that kind of historical writing as they may be now.
"On the other hand, there are constraints on trying to reveal everything. You don’t want to be getting into and creating doubts that didn’t exist in the first place. And what is plenty of history for one person is inadequate for another, and we have a large church, and that’s a big problem. And another problem is there are a lot of things that the Church has written about that the members haven’t read. And the Sunday School teacher that gives 'Brother Jones' his understanding of Church history may be inadequately informed and may not reveal something which the Church has published. It’s in the history written for college or Institute students, sources written for quite mature students, but not every Sunday School teacher that introduces people to a history is familiar with that. And so there is no way to avoid this criticism. The best I can say is that we’re moving with the times, we’re getting more and more forthright, but we will never satisfy every complaint along that line and probably shouldn’t."
It would seem that the risk to payoff ratio has been evaluated for some time and only recently has shifted enough to justify overhauling the system. This transitional period will probably make more sense in a few years. Though it seems like a big deal now, it's important to remember that the Church is really still in its infancy, at less than two hundred years old, and some growing pains are inevitable no matter what precautions are taken. We just happen to be in a spotlight that no other religion has dealt with so close to its founding era. The major issue, really, is those many faithful members who have sincerely lost their faith during this transitional period when they otherwise wouldn't have. Are they just inevitable collateral damage? Perhaps, but I'm certain that in the long run the God who knows their hearts will make everything right.
Of course, while each one of those people is important, their actual numbers have been greatly exaggerated as well. Elder Marlin K. Jensen referred to this as the greatest period of apostasy since Kirtland, but what is usually overlooked is that during the Kirtland era the percentage leaving the Church was in double digits and included several high-ranking leaders. It isn't nearly that bad now even if it's the worst it's been since then. (Of course, the percentage of membership that actually self-identifies as LDS and attends church could be a lot better, but that has a lot more to do with people outside the US being baptized as quickly as possible and then falling away almost immediately, not being disturbed by church history.)
I love history, especially church history, and I am very excited about the changes going on and I hope that we can all accept it, own it, take pride in it when we can and learn from it when we should. In closing, I will reiterate what I said last time, that nothing in history stands as definitive proof or disproof of this or any other religion, because supernatural events and personages cannot be tested except by individuals seeking their own communion with the divine. And now I'm going to stop before I come across as any more pretentious than I probably already have. (Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens can say stuff like that without being pretentious because they're way more educated than me.)
It's a very pretty stone, isn't it?
(About the title: I finally watched that movie, on the same day the photographs were released. I thought it was decent but not great, and some parts were a bit shocking for a PG movie, owing to the lack of a PG-13 rating in 1984. It was much less of an Indiana Jones ripoff than I anticipated, but that was actually kind of a disappointment because Indiana Jones is awesome.)
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
C. Randall Nicholson
This is where I occasionally rant about life, the universe, and/or everything. I'm a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate me without guilt, but I'm also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual.