When I was about twelve I decided to read the Bible all the way through, and I did, except for a few chapters of Leviticus that bored me beyond my capacity to endure. I learned pretty quickly that there was a lot of stuff in the Old Testament besides the usual stories I'd heard eight billion times. If I recall correctly, the first time I thought "What the $#@%?" was during Genesis 19. This is not an obscure chapter. It includes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but I never had and still never have heard the parts before and after discussed in Sunday school. At the beginning of the chapter, Lot invites a couple of angels or holy men to have dinner and spend the night at his house.
4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:
5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know [have sex with] them.
6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known [had sex with] man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
Lot doesn't exactly sound like a contender for Father of the Year. Fortunately, the would-be gang-rapers aren't interested in his daughters, and it becomes moot when the angels smite them with blindness so his family can escape before the city is destroyed by a meteor. He flees with them, his wife gets salty about leaving their home behind, and his daughters have their revenge.
31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.
Biblical scholars now believe that "wine" should have been translated as "margarita", because it sounds like Lot was wasted away again in Margaritaville, searching for his lost pillar of salt. Eh? Anyway, you can imagine that by the end of this chapter, twelve-year-old me was like
Muslim apologists have suggested a few creative and possibly legitimate interpretations of the first passage that don't actually involve Lot offering up his daughters to be gang-raped. So far as I can tell, the Christian approach to the passage, besides ignoring it, is that yes, Lot did offer up his daughters to be gang-raped, but this action was simply wrong and unjustified, even though neither God nor the author of the text shows the slightest hint of disapproval. Here's one area where Joseph Smith's revision of the Bible comes to the rescue. In his version of Genesis 19, the mob demands to have sex with the angels and Lot's daughters, and Lot refuses on both counts. (And the number of angels is three, not two, because that matters for some reason.) So maybe that's what really happened, or maybe the Muslim apologists are right but Joseph Smith figured that was too complicated to try to explain. He also interpolated that Lot's daughters "dealt wickedly" and "did wickedly" when they raped their drunk father to get themselves pregnant, removing any ambiguity as to whether the Bible endorses that sort of behavior.
If only that were the only issue. To modern readers, the Old Testament is full of weird and disturbing stuff that requires a lot of contextual knowledge that most people don't have in order to be of any value whatsoever. In my experience, instead of providing that contextual knowledge, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and most of its members - like most Christians in general - go out of their way to cherry-pick around the stuff in question and pretend the authors and characters of the Old Testament were just like us. Yet the Church exhorts people to study the scriptures, including the Old Testament, without so much as warning them about what they'll find. That sounds like a recipe for atheism to me. Third-party sources, including some by Latter-day Saints, are of course available to make sense of these things, but I sure think the Church should take a more proactive role in explaining one of its own canonical texts that it wants everyone to read.
It doesn't help that the Church's curriculum writers lean conservative and anti-intellectual. Of course, it does help them with their assignment to dumb the curriculum down so it can be translated into dozens of languages with relative ease and used by used by a convert of two weeks to teach a class, but it has its obvious drawbacks. And my faith in them was shaken a little more last year when the Come Follow Me manual for the Book of Mormon included a racially insensitive quote from Joseph Fielding Smith about dark skin. It was, admittedly, pretty tame compared to most of the things he said about dark skin, but I still find it concerning that the curriculum writers didn't realize it would be a problem. And the Old Testament institute manual that hasn't been updated in forty-one years devotes quite a bit of space to quoting a Seventh-day Adventist anti-evolution tract. Based on these facts, I half-expected that the Come Follow Me Old Testament manual, in addition to continuing to cherry-pick around the weird and disturbing stuff, would strongly denounce evolution even though the Church has quietly but unmistakably moved away from ever doing that in the last decade or two.
The manual is already out, so instead of paying attention in Elders' Quorum one week, I skimmed through it (specifically the one for individuals and families because I'm an individual and/or family). This was by no means a thorough reading, but here are a few things of which I took notice.
An introduction called "Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Reading the Old Testament" gets off to a promising start. It says, "These writings come from an ancient culture that can seem foreign and sometimes strange or even uncomfortable. And yet in these writings we see people having experiences that seem familiar, and we recognize gospel themes that witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His gospel." Vague, but a most useful and necessary warning. It continues, "If you wonder whether you and your family can find personal meaning in the Old Testament this year, keep in mind that Lehi and Sariah's family did. Nephi shared stories about Moses and teachings from Isaiah when his brothers needed encouragement or correction or perspective." I'm not sure this is a good comparison when Nephi was at best a century removed from Isaiah, immersed in a similar cultural background to the Old Testament writers, and not dependent on a seventeenth-century English translation of their writings.
"Don’t expect the Old Testament to present a thorough and precise history of humankind. That’s not what the original authors and compilers were trying to create. Their larger concern was to teach something about God - about His plan for His children, about what it means to be His covenant people, and about how to find redemption when we don’t live up to our covenants. Sometimes they did it by relating historical events as they understood them - including stories from the lives of great prophets. Genesis is an example of this, as are books like Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Kings. But other Old Testament writers did not aim to be historical at all. Instead, they taught through works of art like poetry and literature. The Psalms and the Proverbs fit in this category. And then there are the precious words of prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, who spoke the word of God to ancient Israel - and, through the miracle of the Bible, still speak to us today." Boom. Here the manual acknowledges that the Bible is not historically accurate in all respects and that its books are written in different genres altogether. Many people will be learning these concepts for the first time.
A note at the bottom of this introduction says, "These [first five] books, which are attributed to Moses, probably passed through the hands of numerous scribes and compilers over time. Still, the books of Moses are the inspired word of God, even though they are - like any work of God transmitted through mortals - subject to human imperfections (see Moses 1:41; Articles of Faith 1:8)." This is a short and sweet attempt at reconciling Moses' traditional authorship of the Pentateuch with the scholarly consensus that it has multiple authors. While church curriculum doesn't need to address every academic controversy or criticism in detail, it needs to engage with them instead of promoting a bubble of ignorance, and this is a good start.
Moving on, I was gratified by the lack of evolution-bashing. The manual remains as vague as possible about the methodology of creation. It says, "While there’s a lot we don’t know about exactly how the world was created, ponder what you learn about the Creation from what God has revealed in Genesis 1:1–25; Moses 2:1–25; and Abraham 4:1–25." I'm still going to nitpick a little because that's what I do. I would have said, "While there's a lot we don't know from the scriptures about exactly how the world was created..." (emphasis added) God has allowed us to learn a lot about how the world was created through the scientific method, and while this knowledge is beyond the scope of the manual, I kind of hate when we act like it doesn't exist and any speculation on the subject is equally valid. Just because the scriptures don't tell us how old the planet is or how its current diversity of species came to be doesn't mean those things are mysteries.
The manual does acknowledge at least one little controversy. "What does it mean that Adam was to 'rule over' Eve? This passage of scripture has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that a husband is justified in treating his wife unkindly." It kind of sidesteps the actual issue here - normal people in the twenty-first century are repulsed by the notion of husbands "ruling over" their wives at all, not just unkindly. A husband who "rules" benevolently, while of course preferable to an abusive one, is still an insult to any grown woman with a functioning brain. I think this is a more subtle example of the writers being out of touch. Within the memory of many people still living, the Church taught that while he should be kind and considerate and involve his wife in decision-making, a husband had final say because he held the priesthood and God had chosen him to preside in the home. His was the tiebreaker vote if the couple couldn't come to an agreement. I suspect that some of the manual writers still subscribe to this way of thinking on some level, and that while they would never use the wording "rule over" themselves, they can't bring themselves to denounce it either.
"In our day," the manual continues, "the Lord’s prophets have taught that while a husband should preside in the home in righteousness, he should see his wife as an equal partner (see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” [ChurchofJesusChrist.org])." It gives no reason for the obvious discrepancy between this teaching and what the passage of scripture says. One cannot "rule over" an "equal partner," and the only reason one can "preside" over an equal partner is that we've redefined "preside" to no longer mean what the dictionary says it means or what we obviously meant when we said it fifty years ago. The only persuasive argument I've seen for this passage - supported by the original Hebrew and better translations - is that it isn't saying how marital relations should be, it's warning about how they will be in a fallen world. But then, since the passage itself has been used countless times to justify the very thing it warns against, it seems like God should have just not said anything.
In a note on the historical books of the Old Testament, the manual says, "When reading the Old Testament, as with any history, you’re likely to read about people doing or saying things that, to modern eyes, seem strange or even troubling. We should expect this - Old Testament writers saw the world from a perspective that was, in some ways, quite different from ours. Violence, ethnic relations, and the roles of women are just some of the issues that ancient writers might have seen differently than we do today." Like true historians or anthropologists, the manual writers don't assert that these views on violence, ethnic relations, and the roles of women were wrong, just different. That's fair. We want future generations to be patient and understanding with us too. And it's still a big deal - for many readers, this will be the first indication they've ever gotten that people in the scriptures were not just like us and didn't get their entire worldviews straight from the mind of God, let alone that the scriptures themselves contain unenlightened ideas we should reject.
The note also says, "Sometimes the passage may be like a puzzle piece that doesn’t look like it has a place among the other pieces you’ve already assembled. Trying to force the piece to fit isn’t the best approach. But neither is giving up on the entire puzzle. Instead, you may need to set the piece aside for now. As you learn more and put together more of the puzzle, you may be able to better see how the pieces fit together." I think the manual underestimates the number of pieces that don't appear to fit, but still, acknowledging them at all is a big and much-appreciated step. This manual isn't perfect but it is a breath of fresh air.
I've brought politics up quite frequently in my class, because I'm teaching critical thinking and constructive discourse and looking at multiple sides of issues instead of constructing an echo chamber, and the way politics are conducted in the United States of America offers plenty of examples of how not to be like that. I also told my students multiple times that it's their civic duty to vote, and that writing in a vote for Mickey Mouse is better than not voting at all. Of course I've been very careful not to push any particular views or candidates and to maintain an illusion of neutrality. In contrast, this week I've openly discussed with several of my colleagues the self-explanatory fact that we didn't want Trump to win. I conveniently neglected to mention that I didn't vote for Biden either. Things might get ugly if they ever find out that I'm not liberal enough for academia, let alone an English department.
Of course, knowing that my candidate didn't have a chance because something something stupid self-fulfilling prophecy, I spent most of the week rooting for Biden, watching the electoral map and silently begging states to turn blue. I rejoiced with one of my colleagues from Georgia as we watched Biden close the gap on Trump and then surpass him, and along with other colleagues I sincerely congratulated her for her small role in making that happen. This wasn't like 2016 when, although I didn't vote for Trump at that time either, I actually thought he was a sliiightly better option than Hillary and was relieved when she lost. I'm not sure how I would have reacted ten years ago if you had told me that someday I would be elated to see a Democrat win the presidency. Life is funny. Of course, I meant to un-register from the Republican Party and re-register as Independent four years ago after it flushed its few remaining principles down the toilet, but I was unable to do that because I was too lazy. Now I've finally rectified that since I had to update my registration address anyway.
I started paying attention to Trump in mid-2015 when he said that vaccines cause autism and I decided he was stupider than dog vomit. From that moment on I've opposed him less because of politics per se than because of the kind of person (I use the term loosely) that he is. For five years I've had to watch a substantial number of people delude themselves and try to gaslight me that he's some kind of humble, God-fearing man and selfless civic servant; that the things he says and does are normal and acceptable. These people know as well as I do that he's a stain on humanity, but their mindless devotion to a political party has required them to pretend otherwise. As relieved as I am to have him gone, he still got elected once, and he still got almost half of the votes this time around. He's set a very, very bad precedent. There are essentially no standards of character, integrity or morality left to which we can hold future presidential candidates. If I had a son who talked and acted like Donald J. Trump, I wouldn't let him live in my home, but in the White House anything goes.
Hence my response to a self-righteous Facebook post by one of my friends who, though generally a great guy, is also yet another cultist (they're very common in Utah) who thinks the Republican Party is ordained of God. He said, "God instituted government for the benefit of mankind. Sadly, the majority have chosen a government that is leading us away from God." So I said, "I don't think Mr. 'Grab them by the pussy' was getting us much closer to God either." He was not amused.
My bad. I don't know why I jumped to the silly conclusion that electing a president of character, integrity or morality would have any relevance to whether a government leads us toward or away from God. And I'm sorry that Trump's words that I quoted were highly inappropriate. Fun fact: as vulgar as I can get sometimes, the only time I ever use the misogynistic p-word is when I'm quoting or paraphrasing the president of the United States, at which point censoring it to soften the impact of his (not my) statement seems disingenuous. I actually don't think his boasting about grabbing women's genitals was as bad as his proposal for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", but the latter statement holds no shock value for most conservatives because they agree with it. Again, of course, I'm not saying Biden is the most stellar guy in the world, but I am calling out the hypocrisy of people who live in an alternate reality where Trump is second only to Jesus. (Or is it the other way around?)
I'm not the slightest bit concerned about Trump's legal challenges to the election results, even the minority that haven't been immediately dismissed. I don't think for a moment that this will be a repeat of the 2000 election where Al Gore won until Florida did a recount. For one thing, the race isn't nearly that close. It doesn't hinge on one swing state. Biden has 290 electoral votes to Trump's 214, and that's not even counting the 16 additional electoral votes that he'll probably get from Georgia after its mandatory recount. For another thing, Trump isn't making these accusations and lawsuits because he has actual evidence of widespread voter fraud. He's making them because he can't accept the fact that he lost, which everyone who knows anything about him at all saw coming a light-year away. He's desperately throwing out claims all over the place in hopes that something will stick, and his supporters are desperately trying to back them up. He's going full-on creationist here.
He'd have quite a time pulling together the support or infrastructure to carry out investigations in all these states, even if much of his own party looking at this and going "Ehhhh, dude, you should probably just get over it." On the grassroots level, though, his supporters have been circulating all kinds of stupid conspiracy theories and flat-out lies that can be debunked in less than a minute if you know how to use Google. If they had actual evidence, they wouldn't have to make up nonsense like "vOtInG mAcHiNeS cAn'T rEaD sHaRpIe." I certainly hope none of my students have any part in spreading these falsehoods, because I've taught them better than that. Trump is finished and he knows it. But I'm not even mad that the 74-year-old baby is throwing a temper tantrum. I hope he continues his temper tantrum up until the very end and has to be dragged from the White House kicking and screaming. Let him bring his four-year humiliation of this country to a spectacular finale.
Voting on state, county, and city officials is important too. I'm sorry to say that I left most of those blank on my ballot because who on Earth has time to research all those people? All the Republicans won anyway so it's fine. I did weigh in on most of the proposed constitutional amendments. All of them passed. Amendment A, which changes all mentions of "men" to gender-neutral language, seems at least fifty years overdue. Amendment C, which removes a clause that allowed "slavery or involuntary servitude" as punishment for a crime, seems at least one hundred fifty years overdue.
Some good news: the guys who flipped over a police car in Salt Lake City and set it on fire are now only facing community service and fines. They were previously facing life in prison, but after public backlash, the powers that be realized that punishing them worse than most rapists or murderers for destroying a generic, replaceable inanimate object isn't a good look. Of course some bootlicker on Facebook interpreted my statement that they shouldn't go to prison for life as saying that they shouldn't be punished at all, and said something stupid along the lines of "So your [sic] okay if we [who's "we?"] send you the bill for the car and the damage to the asphalt?" Not surprising, since these are the same people whose underdeveloped brains are incapable of making a distinction between "this person should be punished for breaking the law" and "this person deserves to be killed on the spot by police". And I was scared of what these people might feel emboldened to do if their president no longer had to worry about re-election.
I'm thinking back now to the Black Lives Matter protest I attended in early June. It was entirely peaceful except for a handful of conservatives (easily recognizable as the only people not wearing masks) who showed up to start arguments. And at one point a stereotypical redneck in a loud truck drove past, shook his fist out the window and yelled, "Four more years!" This despite the fact that our protest had nothing to do with Trump, which says a lot about the mindset of his supporters if they feel threatened by the radical leftist concept that police officers shouldn't be allowed to murder black people. I'm not going to go on gloating about this for a long time, especially since I didn't vote for Biden either, but I'm thinking of that guy now and I'm hoping that he's miserable.
Some bad news: As USU president Noelle Cockett mentioned in an email the other day, "Rising cases of COVID-19 in Utah are severely stressing health care systems, which is impacting the quality of care that sick individuals receive." In other words, the reckless behavior of selfish idiots who think science is a hoax is actively screwing other people over. I've already had to make the decision that if/when I get infected, I won't go to the hospital, even though I'll probably need to because I already have an inflamed throat that makes me cough for no reason when the temperature fluctuates. I won't go to the hospital because that will just burden them more and make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. I have to make this decision because a majority of the people in my state are selfish idiots, and I don't appreciate it. I'm sure it won't get better in the foreseeable future either, since I know thousands of Utah college students were out having Halloween parties with upwards of fifty people and few if any masks. Naturally our soon-to-be ex-governor hasn't done jack to actually enforce his public health mandates.
Yesterday was a very good day for me, the second happiest of this craptastic year from hell. But Trump is only the most obvious symptom of everything that's wrong with this country. We may have gotten rid of the bleeding, pus-filled lesion, but the cancer remains. And I only foresee it getting worse every four years. I'm seriously contemplating moving to another country after I graduate in 2022. I feel kind of drawn toward Germany. My German is steadily improving, and I've heard good things about Germany, like its election debates aren't painful and embarrassing to watch and it doesn't have the worst healthcare system in the developed world and it actually trains its police officers. The only issue is I'm not sure how many jobs would be available for me as a teacher of English composition and/or creative writing. Until I get that figured out, I will try to remain true to my eclectic views and be an equal opportunity offender by criticizing Biden. It's going to feel weird after so long and I'm sure he won't furnish me with as much material as Trump, but I'll see what I can do.
Also, I saw my neighbors' dog the other day and it turns out they didn't get rid of him after all, they just stopped leaving him in the backyard all day every day. I was happy to see him. I think he is a good dog at heart despite being really annoying when left in the backyard all day every day, and I worried that they might have just abandoned him somewhere. So that was nice.
Me: My ex-neighbors who sent the police after me were really dumb and immature.
This girl's roommates: Hold our root beer.
Also Me: Police officers are the least qualified people on the planet to deal with mental health crises.
This landlord: Hold my root beer too.
I say root beer because this happened in one of the highest-percentage Latter-day Saint cities in the world. I don't know for a fact that the roommates and/or landlord are Latter-day Saints (nor, in any case, do I consider their actions an indictment of the majority of Latter-day Saints, who are as outraged as any normal person), but I'd bet a few bucks on it. Also, in making these comparisons I'm still not letting the police off the hook for their impressive track record of murdering mentally ill or disabled people. But this is a new, special kind of evil that just blows my mind.
Ventana Student Housing seems like kind of a sketchy establishment to begin with. Its Facebook page has 65 likes and has posted once this year, twice last year, and zero times in 2018 or 2017. The pretentious legalese bullcrap in this eviction notice, though standard procedure, is somewhat undermined by the landlord's illiteracy ("other tenant's", "recklessly endangerment", "undo stress"). There are some complaints in Google reviews about the management's greed, apathy and insensitivity, and of course every apartment complex has a few negative reviews from disgruntled ex-tenants but these particular ones seem very credible right about now. And management have not issued a statement on their side of the story. Their response to inquiries from the media and everyone else has been nothing, zero, zip, zilch, nada. They won't even answer the phone. It's almost as if they realize how rightfully screwed they are and just want to implode in peace.
I wasn't planning on taking time out of my day to contribute to making their lives hell, but I consider it time well spent. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I don't want to be someone who insults people and/or swears all the time, but this is one instance where I have no regrets and would do it again.
Mine is at the bottom. Yes, I liked my own question because someone had to do it. In fairness, someone named Lilly responding to one such question claimed that the girl's roommates had actually offered her help multiple times, that she had talked to a police officer (you know, one of those incredible mental health experts), and that she had threatened one of her roommates. I told Lilly that I'm not buying it because none of that is mentioned or even hinted at in the eviction notice, which explicitly gives "vocaliz[ing] suicidal tendencies" as the sole reason for breach of contract, nor has Ventana Student Housing bothered to mention this alleged side of the story to anyone despite having more than ample opportunity to do so. Lilly also claimed that this girl "just wants attention", a common accusation against suicidal people, which seems quite incongruous with her choice to remain anonymous. Both Lilly's response and my response to her response have been removed.
I also sent Ventana Student Housing this message through ventanaapt.com:
"Hi, I checked a website and it said you don't have any vacancies, but I know you just evicted a student for having the audacity to open up about her struggle with suicidal thoughts, so you do have a spot open, right? Could I come look at it soon? Full disclosure: I have had suicidal thoughts before, like 9.3 million other adults in the United States every year, but if they come up again I promise to keep them to myself. Worst case scenario, I'll just kill myself instead of asking for help, so you don't have to take your precious time writing an eviction notice. Thanks!
"Sarcasm aside, I hope you sick [redacted]s know that you more than deserve every bit of the public relations nightmare you're currently experiencing. The pleasure of watching your sick twisted excuse for a company crash and burn won't erase the hell you put your tenant through or the long-term trauma you inflicted on her with your colossal middle finger to everyone who's ever been depressed, but it's all I can do for now. I wish I could sue you on her behalf since it's unclear whether she's going to. You know as well as I do that you would lose in a heartbeat. I suppose I just have to be patient and content myself with knowing that someday you'll stand accountable before God, who's undoubtedly even more pissed at you than I am.
"With overwhelming contempt and disgust,
I was frustrated that the victim is undecided on pursuing legal action, but I later read that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is going to regardless, so that's nice. I hope Ventana Student Housing gets sued out of existence. The automated form said someone would get back to me soon, but I don't think they will.
The stigma that mentally ill, even suicidal people face in this country remains alive and well despite nobody in 2020 having any excuse not to know better. The stigma needs to die. So many of us pay lip service to the idea of accepting people for who they are and encouraging them to seek help when necessary, when what we actually want is for them to keep it to themselves and suffer in silence because popular culture bombards us with the lie that mentally ill people by definition are dangerous and scary. Now this girl is traumatized and will be terrified to ever ask for help again, as will others who don't want to go through what she did. But would the world have taken notice, would the world have become as outraged, if her roommates and/or landlord had found some more typical and less blatantly illegal ways to mistreat her after they learned of her problem?
Ventana means window. Eyes are windows to the soul. Yet Ventana Student Housing has no soul, and my prayer is that soon it won't have a business either.
RIP Richard Tenace
On a completely unrelated topic, I feel compelled to note the passing of Richard Tenace from my childhood congregation in Potsdam, New York, on October 13. I wasn't super close with him but his death came as quite a shock to me, as it did to everyone else, because he was only in his early fifties and exercised more than most people. He was a magician, mentalist, clown, wrestler, author, and landlord, but not the evil kind. I first met him at a delightful magic/mentalism show he performed at SUNY Potsdam. I thought it was very clever how he deliberately flubbed a simple card trick at the beginning of the show to increase the tension at the end when screwing up his final trick would have ostensibly been fatal. Shortly afterward he became a member of the Potsdam branch presidency, and if I understand correctly, he was the main driving force behind the congregation's participation in the Ministerial Association of Potsdam. He was a big advocate of interfaith gatherings and service projects while some branch members who will remain anonymous were kind of furious about having a Muslim read the Koran from our pulpit.
There was a lot of festering political tension in that branch. Brother Tenace was solidly in the liberal "faction" and my family was solidly not. One evening I got into a bit of an argument on Facebook with him about something Glenn Beck had said about some firefighters who had let a house burn to the ground with dogs inside because the family hadn't paid the tax to support the fire department. He said something like, "Here we see the conservative mindset in action: if someone can't afford something, they deserve to suffer." I said something like, "Actually, the conservative mindset is that if someone can't afford something, it's not the government's place to force other people to buy it for them." And things continued for a bit but he deleted his initial comment, acknowledged that it had been somewhat contentious, and tried to smooth things over and explain his viewpoint less abrasively. And then that evening I was at the church for activities and he was there and he made a remark to someone about how awesome I was, like we hadn't just been arguing, and I thought that was real classy.
In more recent years, of course, I drifted further to the left and found myself agreeing with most of his political posts. But he also balanced those out with memes and things that were just funny and lighthearted. And photos from his workouts. He took staying in shape very seriously, which, again, makes his sudden death all the more shocking. It goes without saying that he will be missed.
Last weekend, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, "In my video message, I invited all to join in fasting on Sunday, March 29, 2020. Many of you may have seen the video and joined in the fast. Some may have not. Now we still need help from heaven.
"So tonight, my dear brothers and sisters, in the spirit of the sons of Mosiah, who gave themselves to much fasting and prayer, and as part of our April 2020 general conference, I am calling for another worldwide fast. For all whose health may permit, let us fast, pray, and unite our faith once again. Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic.
"I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized."
I'm not sure now why I didn't bother to mention that in my little recap of personal General Conference highlights. Fasting is whatever for me. I do it and I believe it enhances my pleas to heaven but I've rarely found it to be a super profound or uplifting experience. It drains me so much physically and mentally that I usually do little more than sit on the couch until I can eat. Sometimes I eat an hour or two early. I'm skinny, okay?
Certainly I gave no thought to the seemingly superfluous fact that this invitation had been extended to "those not of our faith". Of course they would be welcome to participate, just as they are always welcome to watch General Conference or attend the meetings and activities we used to have before the you-know-what, but I implicitly assumed that few would have cause to notice or care about this invitation, and that their participation in the fast, however welcome and appreciated, would be statistically insignificant.
Well, what do I know about anything? That very weekend a few missionaries made a Facebook group for the fast, which swelled to over half a million members by the time Good Friday rolled around, at least in my time zone which is the only one that matters anyway. It swelled to over half a million members despite Facebook's mindless algorithms freaking out over this rapid growth and blocking many if not most of us from adding our friends because something something spam. I tried to add people at least eight times with no success. That would have been impressive enough, but reading through the posts absolutely blew my mind. Post after post from people who stopped participating in the Church years ago, or actively disaffiliated from it, but now wanted to join with us in this fast. Post after post from people who had never been part of our church, including Catholics, various kinds of Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, pagans, and even atheists, who wanted to join with us in this fast.
I've never seen anything like it before. Interfaith cooperation, sure, but not on such a grassroots and global scale. I also noted that the contempt for Muslims and/or LGBT people which I've witnessed from scores of so-called Latter-day Saints elsewhere on Facebook was nowhere to be seen in this group when Muslims or LGBT people posted to identify themselves as Muslims or LGBT people. This group seems to have brought out the best in virtually everyone. I can't help thinking that if it were to serve as a model for the human race going forward, if the pandemic brought us all together and made us forget our petty differences and live as a harmonious global community, it would be a net positive for the human race by far. Of course that won't happen or won't last more than a couple months but it's a nice thought regardless. At least within this group I hope bridges that have been built that will last lifetimes, especially as it is now being transitioned to the more generic "Worldwide Inspiration".
Today my Easter celebration has consisted of joining a Zoom devotional with my old ward, hiking a couple hours out to a secluded spot to pray, and eating Cadbury eggs. I wish my religious community and society in general made as big a deal out of Easter as we do Christmas, but it is a little harder when it's observed on a different day every year because something something moon phases. Regardless, I believe that because of the hope embodied in the message of Easter, everything is going to be okay in the long term no matter how many people are killed by the you-know-what and whatever else. Each and every one of them will live again. And I'm not afraid to join their numbers. If it were up to me, I would much rather just get the you-know-what and take my chances than be stuck at home alone for God knows how long. But I don't want to cause more avoidable deaths either because that's still wrong even if they are temporary. So whatever. Happy Easter!
I'm rather overdue in mentioning this. I've gotten sidetracked by things in my personal life, some nice and some positively hellish. Anyway, this guy some months ago added me on Facebook for something clever I wrote on a Salt Lake Tribune article. I don't remember what; I write so many clever things on Salt Lake Tribune articles. And I'm cool with friending people I've never met as long as they're not obviously fake profiles inviting me to look at nudes on another site, which this guy wasn't. And he laughed at my funny posts and praised me for being a genius and it seemed we would coexist in harmony despite him turning out to be a Trump supporter and me being obviously not one.
But it was not to last.
One day he shared a post from a conservative page listing several infringements on the civil rights of Muslims by the government of Japan:
It was just the list with no commentary, but seeing as this was a conservative page, the intention was pretty obvious. The last time a conservative page said something positive about Muslims was, well, never. And if it hadn't been obvious, the comments on the page itself and on my friend's share of the post would have made it so. They more or less unanimously felt that Japan was doing a good job that the United States would do well to emulate. Now of course, being that this was a conservative page, I suspected that most or all of the post was bullcrap, and I was right. Japan does not treat Muslims the way American conservatives think it treats Muslims. I have to wonder what it is in the psychology of so many American conservatives that compels them to swallow and repeat easily debunked lies over and over and over and over and over and over again. Here's a hint: when the makers of these memes don't cite a source it's usually because the source is one of their own orifices.
But unfortunately, the falsity of these claims doesn't change the issue that American conservatives want their government to persecute an unpopular religious minority. That's one of the reasons they elected Trump instead of jeering him out of the 2016 presidential race after he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States". I jumped in on my friend's post and rhetorically asked if the Founding Fathers made a mistake when they didn't exclude Islam from the First Amendment. I said something about the hypocrisy of people claiming to revere the Constitution while supporting abuses of government power and civil rights like this. I said I love my Muslim friends and would stick up for their rights against any asshole (and I shouldn't have said "asshole", but I'm only human) who tried to take them away. I thought it was a compelling argument, but this guy proved me wrong and preserved the sanctity of his echo chamber by unfriending me. Ah well. It's nice when the trash takes itself out. You know what really makes me sick though? He was a member of my church.
Right-wing hatred of Muslims is not rare. It is not a loud minority. On my more cynical days, I would go so far as to call it one of the chief defining traits of conservatism. It's possibly the single biggest factor in my decision to distance myself from that ideology, and has prompted me to unlike dozens of its pages over the years, up to and including this past week, though admittedly there were a few that I unliked for science denial first. Islamophobia is a cancer, though that's an imperfect metaphor because real cancer doesn't know better. And it's a cancer that more than a few right-wing American members of my church have chosen to infect themselves with, and yes, I hold them to a higher standard and get even more disgusted at their hypocrisy. I don't consider myself a judgmental person for the most part. If you get involved in drugs, prostitution, gambling, armed robbery, or listening to Nickelback, I will with you the best. If, however, you are directly responsible for perpetuating prejudice against the most hated demographic in America, I'll tell you to your face that if heaven is full of people like you, I would rather go to hell.
All other forms of right-wing prejudice take a backseat to that one, but there is an astounding lack of empathy at play. Migrant children being separated from their families and abused by the government? Their parents shouldn't have broken the law. White police officers scream and swear and threaten to murder a pregnant black woman in front of her child? She shouldn't have stolen underwear if she wanted them to be nice to her. High school students removed from the football team for posting a video of a burning rainbow flag and saying "all gays die"? That's a violation of their free speech, and also they wouldn't have gotten in trouble if it had been an American flag, and also why isn't there a Straight Pride Month? God forbid we have a shred of compassion for anyone who doesn't worship, speak, look, or love exactly like us. That's not the American way. Also, addiction is a choice and addicts deserve to have their lives ruined.
Look, this crap just depresses me, all the more so because I don't see it getting better anytime soon. Lord help us all.
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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.