I kind of thought that once I got a Masters degree, people would be lining up to offer me jobs. But no. Most of the college-level teaching or tutoring jobs I applied to ignored me. A few had the basic manners to tell me that they hadn't selected my application. I ended up in a K-12 substitute teaching job that any twenty-year-old with a high school diploma and a clean background check can get. I was kind of resentful about that, but I've tried to let it go because it won't help anything. Maybe God is still directing my life and maybe this is where I'm supposed to be.
I've gotten off easy so far. On Wednesday I signed up to fill in for a high school gym teacher, which seemed like a nice easy way to transition into this line of work. I knew there was nothing to stress about but I still stressed about it and got maybe an hour of sleep. When I showed up I couldn't find the lesson plan and neither could the main office or the other gym teacher and I went back and forth for half an hour trying to figure things out, but then it turned out to be even easier than I expected. The gym students just bounced basketballs around for an hour while I made sure none of them died. I wished I wasn't wearing slacks and dress shoes (as per the substitute dress code) so I could participate. I did have an actual classroom class as well, but an older student was assigned to it as a mentor and he did everything and that was nice.
On Thursday I filled in for a middle school science teacher for half the day. I showed up at noon like I was supposed to, but he was still there for another hour. He constantly joked around and (gently) teased the students. He was the kind of teacher I want to be, the kind that every student would love to have, and I could imagine his later classes' disappointment at coming in to find me instead. The lesson plan here was also simple enough, as the kids just needed to do get-to-know-you stuff on their laptops and then show me so I could check them off, but the stress level increased in one class with a couple of troublemakers who made barking noises and kept getting out of their seats. That's the sort of thing I'm afraid of because I don't know how to handle it at all. I just kept asking them if they'd done the assignments yet, and they kept apologizing and going back to their seats and not doing the assignments. Oh yeah, and a student told me to my face that I seemed really nervous and I would be more successful as a teacher if I pretended not to be, so that was appreciated but also ouch. The big perk at this school was the teachers' lounge that had massage chairs that touched me in ways I've never been touched before.
On Friday I signed up to be a resource/intervention specialist for a teacher who wasn't absent. I had to look up what that is. It's supposedly like a social worker. So I thought that despite having no training along those lines and being told over and over not to do so, I would be the one responsible for intervening if a student got violent. Actually, I sat in the classroom and did nothing. I just needed to be there because the teacher hadn't passed her Utah background check yet. She went over the same syllabus-type stuff in all three of her classes and it was pretty dull, but I was intrigued by how she started off cold and intimidating in her first class and transitioned to cracking jokes by the last class. I had also wondered how long in this job it would take for someone to mention the elephant in the room, and she was the one who did so. She said that in her previous school district in Idaho, one of the schools had two shootings in three years, and the students couldn't have backpacks and the classroom doors had to be closed and locked during class. Greatest country in the world, ladies and gentlemen.
So this happened, really, I swear.
It was a nice surprise. I haven't made any money off my writing since 2014 when I worked for the USU campus newspaper and made, if memory serves me, five dollars per article. I suppose I could be trying harder to actually publish stuff that isn't blog posts. But I just want to say that everyone is more than welcome to follow this person's example. If you're considering it, do it fast before I offend you and change your mind.
I was going through the stash of old papers that I've hoarded for nostalgic reasons, weeding out the ones that I can now bring myself to part with, when I found this comic that I drew for a class in 2018. I posted it on my blog once, but I couldn't get the scanner to not cut off the edges, so I just took a picture of it that was probably impossible to read on a mobile device. This time I got a better scan with a better scanner and decided to crop each individual panel, and on top of that to offer the commentary that both people who read it the first time have undoubtedly craved since then. Through the miracle of modern technology, these scans bring out every wrinkle and smudge on the paper in high definition. (Believe it or not, in person it actually looks white.) The context of this comic was that it had to be about some aspect of American culture because the class was about American culture. (Mostly it was about racism.) So I made it about American political polarization and mud-slinging because that really ground my gears. (It still does.)
I got in arguments about politics at the school lunch table, mostly over whether or not I was racist, and when my parents got over their concern about me being kidnapped by strangers from the internet and let me get a Facebook account in 2009, I made a photo album entitled "Obama Sucks!" I really and truly believed he was an anti-Christ trying to destroy the United States and take away all of our rights. If he were president today, I would probably be "Meh" toward him like I am toward Biden. At least both of them can go five minutes without lying or globally humiliating this country.
The class in question was Honors U.S. Institutions, which (spoiler alert) initiated the slow process of my political views becoming more nuanced. Nowadays it must be the "heterosexual cisgender white males suck" class. The girl behind me, who I think underwent a similar process even though I don't purport to know her thoughts and only purported to here as an attempt at humor, is the subject of my essay "Chasing Kelsey."
This was my initial reaction to this quote, but now I try to live by it. Until recently, I displayed it on my homepage, but after leaving the church I cancel cultured Oaks because of some less admirable things he's said - "It's wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true," "I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them," and a number of homophobic statements unequalled by any other LDS leader still living. Last November during a Q&A at the University of Virginia, he straight-up lied that BYU didn't practice conversion therapy on gay men during his tenure as president, which is so impossible to rationalize that the church's apologists haven't even tried. So he's not someone I want to promote as a spiritual leader. Nonetheless, I appreciate the glimpses of political nuance that I've gotten from him (he's obviously conservative but not a fan of Trump or what he stands for) and I still like this particular quote. I had an extra incentive to cite it in this comic because my professor was new to Utah and I wanted to convert him.
Saskia and I were both admins of a Facebook group called "The Awesome Mormons' Secret Society of Awesomeness" that furnished an embarrassing percentage of my social life in college. Someone pointed the irony that the admins tended to be liberal while the group membership tended to be conservative. Someone, probably Saskia, said it was good and then clarified, "That we are liberal, not that all these conservatives are here." I said, "I take it I'm not welcome then?" And then Saskia said this and blew my freaking mind. The group is dead and most of the admins have left the church by now.
My first real exposure to Donald Trump was a Bloom County storyline where he gets hit on the head with an anchor and has his brain transplanted into Bill the Cat. That was also my first exposure to Bill the Cat, so it gave me a weird first impression. Bloom County's portrayal of Trump wasn't altogether flattering, but I figured whatever, maybe it's just making fun of him because he's rich, so that didn't give me much of an opinion on him one way or another. And then suddenly in mid-2015 I heard that he believed vaccines caused autism, and that was a wake-up call. And by the end of that year I thought his misogyny was so self-evident that I didn't understand why his "Grab 'em by the pussy" recording came as a shock to anyone. In fairness, when I attended one of Utah's Republican caucuses in 2016 the entire discussion revolved around stopping Trump from becoming the nominee, but of course as soon as that failed Utah decided that having principles was overrated. Yeah, I'm more liberal now, but my objection to Trump has always and will always have far less to do with politics than with the fact that he's an absolute garbage excuse for a human being and I'm sick of people kissing his ass and trying to gaslight me that he's the Second Coming of Christ.
The narration is poorly phrased. The "impossible concept" here is not being mindlessly devoted to one of two political parties. I still get this crap from strangers on the internet who assume I'll be traumatized by them insulting Biden after I've insulted Trump. And yes, even though George Washington owned enslaved people, he had some good ideas.
I stand by the first sentence in my speech bubble one thousand percent. A lot of people in this country are going to burn in hell for deliberately preventing us from solving this problem that the rest of the developed world has solved. For God's sake, America, stop pretending it's normal for your children to live in fear of being gunned down at school. The second sentence, I'm not sure about. It's complicated. The issue, notwithstanding how liberals constantly misrepresent it, is not one of just refusing service to people based on their sexual orientation - which I unequivocally oppose - but of refusing to participate in a practice (same-sex marriage) that the business owners believe are wrong. Nowadays I think such beliefs are wrong and harmful and I'm not sad to see them rushing to extinction, but the constitution protects people's right to not only hold beliefs that others find offensive, but to act on them within reason. Liberals now argue that this protection doesn't cover people when they're providing goods and services to the public, and I can see the appeal of that reasoning, but I don't think it's supported by the constitution. Not that I claim to be an expert. Also, yes, Germany conducted its 2017 election like adults.
I now have the answers to my questions posed here. They are "It was inevitable as soon as we ignored George Washington's warning and created political parties in the first place" and "We don't," respectively.
Here it is, folks, the most holier-than-thou thing I've ever written or drawn. The ZB on my shirt stands for Zaphod Beeblebrox. Get it? Nowadays, "snowflake" seems to have declined in favor of "woke." I've seen two people in my life claim to be "woke" and at least two hundred people derisively accuse other people of trying to be "woke." Not by coincidence, the latter group is much, much, much more annoying.
Okay, so both of my blog's regular readers could tell you that despite my best efforts to live by the Oaks quote and be eclectic in my political views, if I were to draw this comic today and be honest with myself, I would be standing further to the left, that is to say my left, which is the reader's right. As much as I try to be critical of both sides and blame both sides for the dumpster fire that is the United States of America - and both sides are to blame - I am forced over and over again to conclude that one side is a much bigger problem than the other. One side is a haven for bigotry, ignorance, conspiracy theories, censorship, and a uniquely American brand of narcissism. One side is constantly an obstacle to social, scientific, and environmental progress. One side simply denies the existence of obvious crises (e.g. climate change, systemic racism, a global pandemic) that it doesn't want to have to deal with, and openly mocks the other side for acknowledging reality (e.g. by calling it "woke"). And I've just been reading Peter Carroll's history of the 1970s, It Seemed Like Nothing Happened, and I'm equal parts fascinated and consumed with rage at how little has changed in fifty years.
I mean, just last night I saw Deseret News readers bitching because California is going to provide free school lunches for all students. Yes, geniuses, we know that "nothing is free." We know that taxpayers are going to pay for it, just like they've been paying for the kids to be forced to go to school in the first place for a very long time. If you're so damn concerned about taxes, maybe instead of complaining about children getting food, support police reform so that cities don't have to keep settling for millions of dollars because cops can't figure out how to stop abusing and murdering Black people. Just a thought. Also, speaking of cops, more children at school are shot dead in this country than cops in the line of duty, and since you're hell-bent on not letting that problem be solved, the least we could do is not make them pay for their own food. Anyway, this is the sort of thing that makes me want to scream to the heavens, "Why, why, why are Republicans so ------- stupid?" But I'm trying to be fair and balanced, I swear.
Oh yeah, and as a bonus just because I happened to find it in the same stash of papers, here's my preliminary sketch of the layout of the comic, with some marginal notes related to other aspects of my life at the time. It's garbage now, but future historians will be all over it.
My belief in God has long been based on a personal relationship and not on anyone else's arguments about why I should believe in Him. I've prayed every night for years, and I've recently been managing to pray in the mornings too, after years of failing at that because my brain is a pile of mush when I wake up. God seemed to answer some of my prayers and to guide me at certain points in my life. Atheistic assertions that this was all in my head, that all spiritual feelings and impressions came from one's own mind and not any external source, were as laughable as claiming that all my co-workers are imaginary. But in recent months I've had to evaluate them more seriously after certain events in my life threw me for a loop.
First, something very important to me didn't turn out the way God had led me for a long time to believe it would turn out. It still could, but that would take a miracle and I'm afraid of being delusional if I stake my hopes on one. Of course there have been many times when God didn't give me what I wanted, but this was the first time I felt that he'd deliberately and repeatedly misled me. Second, I stopped believing in the church that taught me to have a personal relationship with him and let him guide my life in the first place. And third, I watched a video of people from several faith traditions bearing emotional testimony that they know their religion is true, including a plural wife in a polygamist sect and members of the Heaven's Gate cult a few days before they killed themselves because their prophet told them to. So it seems like "God" is giving different people mutually contradictory and sometimes terrible answers. And because these things are so personal and subjective by design, I can't say with much confidence that mine are more valid than anyone else's, or why.
I had already made a list of some of my alleged communications from God within the last three years or so - not all of them, but ones that I felt certain couldn't just be products of my own mind. I've found it useful to write these things down when they happen, before memory fades and I second-guess them. Now I decided to evaluate them and become even more certain - or not. I harbor no illusions that this was a scientifically rigorous analysis, but that would be impossible with something so subjective anyway. I did my best. Here are my results:
Items in green are less likely to be products of my own mind. Items in red are more likely - though still not necessarily likely, in my opinion - to be products of my own mind. In case you're colorblind, let me point out that there is significantly more green than red here. Let me also point out that the atheist straw man of all spiritual experiences is "You pray about something and get a warm feeling that confirms what you wanted to hear," but only one of these nineteen experiences (#16, the one all in red) falls into that category. Since this isn't scientifically rigorous, though, I'm not concerned about exact percentages. I will now explain the opaque terminology I used.
Unsolicited (green) - I got something that I didn't ask for when I wasn't praying.
Solicited delayed (green) - I got something in response to prayer, but hours or days later. I don't think it's likely that my subconscious would play such a trick on me. If it would, then there's really no point in me trying to accurately perceive reality at all.
Solicited immediate (red) - I got something as soon as I prayed about it.
Pro-bias (red) - I got something that I wanted or expected to hear.
Anti-bias (green) - I got something that contradicted what I wanted or expected to hear. The importance of this can't be overstated. Atheists always forget or ignore the fact that many people have reported God telling them things that go against their biases. For example, in #3, I was feeling frustrated and impatient that the something very important to me wasn't progressing very fast, when I got an impression that I can only describe as a gentle rebuke for not accepting the Lord's timing. I didn't expect this impression and I certainly didn't ask for it. Now, if something is what I wanted or asked for but goes against everything I know about how my emotions work, I still count it as anti-bias. For example, in #17 I was severely depressed about the something very important to me and I prayed for comfort and I got it. I know damn well that I don't have the power to make myself not depressed just like that. And to be honest, I usually feel little or nothing when I pray for comfort. So I felt like this situation was special.
From someone else (green) - In most cases, this means someone gave me a priesthood blessing and said stuff that ostensibly came from God - solicited (red) if I asked for the blessing, and unsolicited (green) if the guy offered it. I no longer believe in the LDS church's claim to exclusive priesthood authority, but I still see priesthood blessings as one way for God to communicate with people. Of course, the guys who give the blessings are also limited by their own biases and by whatever information I give or don't give them beforehand, but their input still provides a comforting check and balance on my biases. The exception to the priesthood blessing thing is #6, wherein I was thinking long and hard about the something very important to me and what was I supposed to do about it, when a friend texted me "James 1:5" and I was like "How did you know?" and she was like "Know what?" and she said she had been prompted to send it. Of course, I was well aware that this verse existed and of what it said prior to her message, but her being prompted to send it in this context meant something to me. I took it as God trying to boost my confidence in my ability to discern his communications on this subject. Which made me all the more bewildered when it didn't turn out like he led me to believe it would, but that's a whole other subject not suitable for public consumption.
Unknowable (green) - In both of these instances, #11 and #13, I followed a prompting to change my route and crossed paths with someone very important that I didn't know would be there. I almost never bother to change my route once I've decided which way I want to go, so this isn't just confirmation bias highlighting two instances out of several others where nothing happened. (Incidentally, if the person who followed a prompting to send me "James 1:5" were to make her own list following my criteria, that item would be "unknowable" for her.)
This is enough to restore my confidence that a higher power exists and communicates with me, though I no longer feel like I know much else about them, their character, their motives, or how I can trust them. I do feel like God cares very little about what people believe. That's a big shift from the emphasis on objective truth that I was raised with and clung to so hard for so long. But if there's one true religion that God wants everyone to join, he's failed spectacularly and appears to have not even tried. If there's one true religion that I have to join to escape from eternal damnation, then billions of people have already failed and my own chance of success is so low that I may as well not bother and instead contemplate how to make hell as cozy as possible, which I've had a lot of practice doing since 2020. I think God wants me to do the best I can with the circumstances and the advantages and disadvantages that I've been given. I hope that's all he wants, because otherwise I'm screwed.
TW: sexual assault of children
I distanced myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few months ago, but I haven't given much serious consideration to removing my name from its membership records until now. This is actually old news, but Michael Rezendes with the Associated Press, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for exposing the Catholic Church's sex abuse cover-ups, just published an in-depth report that blew it up. Basically, for seven years this guy frequently raped three of his children, including at one point a baby, and posted videos of it to the dark web. He confessed at least some of his misconduct to his bishop, who called the church's abuse hotline, where the church's lawyers told him not to report. And then the next bishop excommunicated the guy and still didn't report. And then the guy was arrested after someone in New Zealand was arrested for watching one of his videos. Fortunately, he killed himself and is currently facing real justice instead of living on taxpayers' money. His three victims are suing the church for not helping them, and the church is trying to get their lawsuit dismissed because it thinks it did nothing wrong. The Associated Press has also obtained 12,000 pages of documents from another lawsuit about how the abuse hotline works.
In 2020, church attorney William Maledon said this in a statement: "As clergy, the bishop was required by Arizona law to maintain the confidentiality of the father’s limited confession." But in 2022 Michael Rezendes wrote this: "William Maledon, an Arizona attorney representing the bishops and the church... told the AP last month that the bishops were not required to report the abuse." Those of you who understand English may notice that these are two different claims, and may further notice, after reading the Arizona law, that the first one is bullshit. This is what the Arizona law says: "A member of the clergy, a Christian Science practitioner or a priest who has received a confidential communication or a confession in that person's role as a member of the clergy, as a Christian Science practitioner or as a priest in the course of the discipline enjoined by the church to which the member of the clergy, the Christian Science practitioner or the priest belongs may withhold reporting of the communication or confession if the member of the clergy, the Christian Science practitioner or the priest determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion."
There is no conceivable way to interpret that passage as legally forbidding clergy from reporting confessions of abuse, and any lawyer who interprets it that way is so incredibly freaking stupid and/or dishonest that he should be a police officer instead. But maybe he doesn't have enough anger management problems. He also said, "These bishops did nothing wrong. They didn’t violate the law, and therefore they can’t be held liable." Once again, the second part may be true, but the first sure as hell isn't. Now I won't be too hard on the bishops yet because it's unclear how much they were actually aware of. Not that I consider Maledon a reliable source, but in the same 2020 statement where he lied about Arizona law, he claimed, "It was not until law enforcement made an arrest of the father that the bishop [sic] learned of the scope and magnitude of the abuse that far exceeded anything he had heard or suspected." If either of them were aware of or even suspected the scope and magnitude prior to that time, then here we have a disturbing example of members being conditioned to place obedience to the church above their own most basic grasp of morality.
There's also this gem in an affidavit from Paul Rytting, the church's director of risk management: "If members had any concerns that their disciplinary files could be read by a secular judge or attorneys or be presented to a jury as evidence in a public trial, their willingness to confess and repent and for their souls to be saved would be seriously compromised." What exactly is he implying? Granted, there's a bit of a catch-22 if declining to grant confidentiality discourages people from confessing their crimes in the first place, and I see no reason for bishops to tattle about illegal acts that aren't actively harming anyone, but the salvation of a child rapist's soul is one hundred percent the child rapist's problem, and anyone who thinks for a moment that it's a legitimate consideration to balance against the victims' needs can fuck off into the sun.
I was consumed with rage from the moment I read the story. And then the church went and made it worse the next day by releasing a vague, tonedeaf, and absolutely pathetic damage control statement with little more substance than "Nuh-uh, we care about abuse victims so much, this article is wrong." It addresses zero, I mean zero specific details of the cases described in the article. It doesn't refute any of the facts that Rezendes reported or provide any additional context to make them less damning. It doesn't even repeat any of Maledon's arguments. It just expects members to believe that "The story presented in the AP article is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts" because the church's anonymous PR employees say it is. And of course a lot of members do. A lot of them, starting from the a priori assumption that the church is perfect and always right, are knee-jerk defending it because its reputation and their fragile fundamentalist faith matter more to them than child rape victims do. I shudder to think that I might have done the same a few years ago.
Of course, while depressingly widespread, that's not the universal response. A lot of members with a basic grasp of morality are unequivocally condemning how the church handled the situation. And I don't doubt that most local and global leaders are good people who abhor sex abuse of any kind. But if the church as an institution was serious about it, if it really meant the pretty words in its damage control statement, this is the minimum that it would do:
1. Apologize for failing these victims. Of course, this would set an awkward precedent because the church has never apologized for anything. But it's about damn time it did.
2. Commit to evaluating the systems it has in place so it can fix their shortcomings and make sure this never happens again. It doesn't help anything to just insist on how great the systems are when they clearly didn't work in this instance.
3. Compensate the victims out of basic decency whether it's legally obligated to do so or not. The church could give each of them fifty million dollars without scratching the surface of its financial resources. (One of the church's knee-jerk defenders told me, "You don’t know that the Church isn’t trying to compensate them. You have ZERO insight into the discussions that are going on behind the scenes." To which I said, "If the church was treating the victims fairly, I doubt they would have felt a need to complain to the media about how much the church sucks. In fact, doing so would severely jeopardize any potential settlement the church was considering. So I do have some insight in the form of basic logic." Yeah, I'm rude.)
Oh, and minor detail, it would do all these things before it was slammed with negative publicity.
I don't know how much of an abuse cover-up problem the church has and I don't have the expertise to try to estimate it fairly. I don't know how much abuse occurs, how much of that is reported, and how many of the reports are handled correctly. I do know that this is far from the first time a bishop or other leader has gotten a report and done little or nothing about it. The church has been sued for abuse multiple times before, and multiple people on the internet have shared their experiences with being abused in the church and not getting the help they were entitled to. Sometimes local leaders are unduly concerned about the victim forgiving the abuser, about not harming the abuser's reputation, about not preventing the abuser from serving a mission. Sometimes, of course, the bishop is the abuser, though I know situations like that are very rare. But I knew someone whose abuser was her father and the bishop and nobody believed her because bishops are good men. So anyway, whether or not this problem is on par with the Catholic Church's problem or the Southern Baptist Convention's problem, it ought not to be tolerated. However effective the systems in place may be for most situations, they can always be improved, and the church ought to improve them instead of acting like it's being persecuted.
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- 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."
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.