Saturday, April 21, 2018

Thoughts on Mormonism and Same-Sex Marriage


Will the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ever support or allow same-sex marriage?

Despite the rampant assertions of patriarchy and sexism, Latter Day Saints bear the unique distinction of being the only mainstream Christian religion that believes in a God and a Goddess. If you read the Proclamation on the Family, which is an official piece of doctrinal material released in 1995, the official position of the LDS Church is that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. 

This is not such a unique view when you get into more Eastern religious philosophies. Ancient Chinese paintings in the tomb of Fan Yen Shih depicted a God holding a square and a Goddess holding a compass entwined together.


 The ancient Egyptians had a King and Queen deity, Osiris and Isis. Even certain sects of Jews held the belief that a goddess accompanied God, at least as an aspect of God, called the Shekhina. The late Leonard Nimoy did a photography project about the divine feminine and described his first exposure to the idea of the Shekhina at an Orthodox synagogue in his youth. (The “live long and prosper” sign of the Vulcans was Nimoy’s suggestion, it was the sign he had seen the rabbis do during synagogue for the Shekhina.)

Why a man and a woman? The answer to this is also in the Proclamation on the Family: gender is an eternal characteristic. Latter Day Saints also believe that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are the Father and Mother of the spirit of every human being. So in Latter Day Saints’ belief system, it is that union between the male and female that is the source of all creation. Other unions may be ordained by earthly institutions or by people, but only a sealing of a man and a woman can create life in the world to come. Based on these beliefs, I don’t think that same-sex marriage will ever be sanctioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

There are a lot of people who don’t agree with this belief system. But that is the great thing about living in a country that allows free speech and free thought. If the Latter Day Saint view of God and marriage doesn’t fit for some people, they can choose another religious or social group that does fit. Diversity doesn’t mean that we all change to a different viewpoint and tolerance doesn’t mean that others conform to our thinking. Diversity means that we allow a lot of different viewpoints and tolerance means that we learn to peacefully co-exist with people whose views may differ from our own.

What about the LDS Church’s ban on blessing and baptizing the children of same-sex couples?

Um, why would it be ok for total strangers or your neighbors or extended family to teach your child values you disagree with and then make them a part of their organization without the parents’ consent? Why would that be OK? It’s inappropriate for schools to promote a particular lifestyle or family type and it’s inappropriate for religions to bless and baptize minor children against their parents’ wishes. 

The LDS Church has placed restrictions on proselyting and baptizing people in other circumstances such as Muslims in certain areas of the world and certain countries like Israel and mainland China. In Russia, LDS missionaries have to comply with certain legal requirements about what they can do and who they can work with. Latter Day Saints may only perform baptisms for the dead and temple work for Jews who are their ancestors. To effectively navigate a world of social, political and legal complexities, the LDS Church sometimes puts restrictions on how and when missionary work can be carried out. 

Josh Weed’s assertion that the Church may refuse to baptize his youngest two daughters may or may not be entirely accurate since their mother still has legal rights—unless she relinquishes custody— and could be a party to deciding (along with Josh) whether their daughters should be baptized. If Josh and his ex-wife are both in favor of their daughter being baptized, it may be a non-issue, especially if their children are members of a ward with one or more active parents. The policy is more about ensuring overzealous families or neighbors don't interfere with the parental rights of same-sex couples over their children (adopted or conceived through surrogacy or sperm donation) than barring Josh Weed’s daughters from baptism if he is in favor of it. These cases are to be decided on a case-by-case basis by local leadership. In the event that local leadership is uncertain about baptizing any of Josh Weed’s children, he and his ex-wife could likely present their case to General Authorities by writing to them and asking for their wishes to be carried out.

Being Proud

I have a son with spina bifida. It does have a major impact on his life and the things he can do. Some day, whether in this life or the next, I hope that he will have a body that allows him to run and jump and be free from a VP shunt. But at the same time, his condition is a part of who he is, and I am proud to have a son who handles his challenges with a great attitude. If he wants something, he just goes after it and doesn’t think too much about his condition holding him back from what he wants. He brightens people’s day when they see him in his wheelchair or walker with a smile on his face. In some way, I think this experience is part of his contract for his mortal life and mine, something he needs to learn from and something he can teach others, including me. I would not trade the experience of having a child with spina bifida for anything. It has blessed my life and helped me see the world as a more beautiful place. I would suggest that everyone, whatever side of the debate they fall on, come to that place where they can be proud of something that is hard or different and embrace the fact that somethings are not meant to be changed in this life, but rather learned from. 

The LDS Church’s refusal to allow same-sex marriage is emotionally damaging

People can be awful when others don’t conform to their worldview. That’s everybody, not just Latter Day Saints. Much has been said about suicide among Latter Day Saints with same-sex attraction. Pulling from some of my public health studies, we could look at the issue of emotional harm as a quality of life issue. In the context of same-sex attraction in the LDS Church, many have asserted that the lack of support for people with same-sex attraction leads many Latter Day Saints with same-sex attraction to feel deeply depressed and suicidal. In a bioethics setting, feelings of depression and suicide are criteria we look at when we evaluate how we should approach a case where there is the potential for suffering, such as a seriously disabling or terminal condition. 

The problem with blanket statements and criteria for any quality of life issue is that everyone reacts differently. Faced with quadriplegia, some individuals opt for physician assisted suicide, citing the inability to do most things they enjoy while others continue to live life adapting as needed and pursue careers or higher education. Some people faced with terminal cancer choose physician assisted suicide, citing pain and loss of abilities and the pain of family members in watching a slow death. Others opt for hospice care. 

The large numbers of Latter Day Saints who suffer from depression and suicidal feelings should be deeply concerning to all Church members, though this should hold true for Latter Day Saints who have depression or feel suicidal who don’t have same-sex attraction. (And for anyone who isn't LDS. OK, basically anybody who is feeling seriously depressed and suicidal, we should be concerned about.) Latter Day Saints with same-sex attraction have a specific set of needs to be addressed. This is part of bearing one another’s burdens and living in a consecrated manner where we are prepared to live with God among us.

I do think that people on both sides of the debate need greater tolerance for others and their decisions. If an individual  chooses to live a life that involves same-sex sexual activity, it is not our business to change the other person’s behavior. Only they can make that decision. My first responsibility is not to influence how others act or what they choose, but rather to govern myself in a godly manner. On the other side, proponents of gay marriage need to be tolerant of the choices that others with same-sex attraction might choose. If someone with same-sex attraction chooses celibacy or marriage to a person of the opposite sex, that is their decision and it should be respected. 

An interesting parallel to this (in my opinion) is couples with infertility. We are often presented with a vision of the family that involves a husband and wife (who are both active in church) and have several children. For couples who can not conceive, it can be extremely difficult to “fit in” to a family oriented organization like the LDS Church. Couples who do not have children are frequently judged and stigmatized for their status of childlessness. Every couple’s story resolves differently. Some spontaneously conceive after a while, some adopt, some undergo fertility treatments and some never end up having any children of their own. 

A second cousin from my family and her husband struggled for years with infertility. They tried for adoption, but their prayers were not answered with a “yes” and they continued to remain childless- at least in the legal sense- despite their righteous desires and dreams of a family Eventually, the wife was called to a prominent position in the Young Women’s organization and served as a mentor to many girls maturing to adulthood. Their home became a place where children from all over the neighborhood come and visit. 

Their prayers were not answered in the way they anticipated, but this couple was given a chance to fulfill a parenting role. Why were they not blessed with biological or adoptive children of their own? I don’t know. I do know that God knows their hearts and their circumstances and I need to work on living my own life worthily first. I think that people with same-sex attraction (members or non-members) will have less depression and suicide if they have the lack of judgement from people both in and out of the Church to choose their own path.

Should the LDS Church fight same-sex marriage? 

I think this is a matter of personal opinion. However, the bigger question for everyone on both sides is “How do you handle it when someone has a viewpoint opposite of yours?” Do you use name calling, shunning, shaming or even vandalism? Or, do you understand that not everyone has to agree with your view and respectfully disagree? I think that the Eleventh Article Of Faith applies here: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

When it comes to marriages, Latter Day Saints and same sex marriage proponents actually have quite a bit to learn from each other. In the 1858, the American government sent armed soldiers into Utah to deal with— among other things— polygamy. Church leaders who practiced polygamy were jailed. Some left to set up colonies in Mexico where they could practice this part of their religion without persecution. Latter Day Saints should treat those with differing views on marriage as they wish their ancestors or early Church leaders had been treated. And those who have deeply held convictions in favor of same-sex marriage should be willing to stand by those convictions without the approval of others.


What if it were your child?

In my opinion, this is the worst argument both ethically and emotionally for supporting same-sex marriage— or other issues for that matter. Ethically, I don’t believe it is right to decide our moral viewpoint based on our children’s characteristics or choices. I see a lot of potential problems within this point of view. I have seen people defend things like child molestation and adultery because it was their son or daughter who was doing it. I think that how a person feels about same-sex marriage should be determined by their beliefs about same-sex attraction and marriage. 

But an even bigger reason not to link your love for your child to your stance on a political or social issue is that it doesn’t send the right message to the child. As parents, our responsibility to our children is to love them no matter what. (Note: Love does not equal approval and love does not equal indulgence.) If your child decides to get married to a person of the same sex, the response should never be, “That’s ok, because I love you.” The response should simply be, “I love you”— no matter what you think about same-sex marriage. I think our kids need to know that they are loved whether we agree with their choices or not. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Trek Continues


After Elder Ballard’s talk “The Trek Continues”, I saw the largely female community of LDS energy healers hit a faith crisis. I saw women stop doing energy healing, stop teaching energy healing and question everything about energy healing. Personally, I think this talk was very much needed. A couple of the women who have been most prominent in the recent LDS energy healing movement are not the type of people I personally think we should be looking to for spiritual help. 

One popular energy healer started out as a health blogger catering to LDS women. The catch is that she isn’t LDS any more. Though her website focuses on the Word of Wisdom, she’s actually a member of an online ex-Mormons group and says that she left Mormonism because of her issues with polygamy. (She used to display a picture and her full name on this profile, but has since taken down the picture and only displays her first name. A very sensible move since her business of selling health food and products is targeted largely to LDS moms.) 

I saw a Facebook group of LDS women interested in essential oils and energy healing raving about an upcoming podcast with this energy healer. I asked what the health food blogger’s credentials were for energy healing and whether she had certified in any energy healing modalities. Nobody knew where this health foods blogger had gotten her energy healing expertise from, but she had developed a quiz that was telling all these women they are empaths, so that was enough. Someone went on gushing about how the health food blogger was a psychotherapist. 

Having known her personally I will attest to the psycho part, but not therapist. She displayed symptoms of borderline personality disorder and/or narcissism. There was an undercurrent of contention to much of her healthy eating information. She often lamented that husbands and children don’t want to eat healthy foods and emphasized the divisive nature of healthy eating. The other half of this energy healing duo is a style coach who also is self-enlightened about angels and has developed her own energy healing certification.

I don’t think that Elder Ballard’s talk is incompatible with the many healing methods that are termed “complementary and alternative”. An enormous amount of research shows that meditation improves our mental health, a growing body of literature points out the benefits of hypnotherapy for pain control, and essential oils for killing off bacteria. We are encouraged to use therapies that are medically sound. Like most talks in general conference, there are multiple ways that it can be interpreted. It could be an admonition against many dubious healing strategies, from rhino horns to marijuana, depending on the particular challenges people are facing in their place and time. Just make sure that whoever you invite into your inner circle actually has the capability to help you.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Podcasts That Made My Year Better

You can find all of these on iTunes!

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

This was the year I discovered Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. These podcasts always take a while to get through because he’s so thorough. (Each episode runs about 3-4 hours.) I also have to wait until the kids are out of my hair like in the early mornings or at night to listen to these podcasts because Dan Carlin doesn’t try to whitewash or side step anything about the subjects he’s addressing. One of the amazing things about his podcasts is that he really tries to understand all sides in these conflicts. He’s very real about the fact that human history is full of violence and brutality, and yet at the same time he has a magnificent gift for helping you to understand both sides of these conflicts and the people behind them. That’s what really hooked me. 

The episodes that I listened to this year that opened my mind were Shows 50-55 "Blueprint for Armageddon" about World War I and Show 59 "The Destroyer of Worlds" about the arms race during the Cold War. Also good is Show 49 "The American Peril" about the Spanish-American War and the American conquest of the Philippines. I had so much more understanding and compassion for these periods of history and the people involved in them after listening to these podcasts. You’ll weep over World War I, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief over the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And you’ll roll your eyes over the role of sensationalistic media and its role in the Spanish-American War. (The more things change, the more things stay the same.)

LDS Perspectives

Wow, wow, WOW!!! This is one of my new favorite shows! If you are LDS or have been or are somewhere in the middle, I can not recommend these strongly enough. They really have a gift for exploring a lot of hard questions from a faith-based perspective. Many of their guests are BYU professors and others who have intimate knowledge of Church History or ancient scripture. It’s past Christmas, but I still recommend Episode 13 “When Was Jesus Born?” A must-listen for anyone is Episode 27 “What Is LDS Doctrine?” with Michael Goodman, a BYU professor of religion. Episode 30 “Jewish Holy Days” with Gale T. Boyd is eye-opening for understanding Judaism and the Old Testament. Gale was born into a Jewish family but joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints later in life. She and her family spent several years living in Israel as well. Also amazing is Episode 31 “Tithing and the Law of Consecration” by Steven T. Harper. Suffice it to say, most of us have gravely misunderstood the Law of Consecration. I wish EVERY Christian would listen to Episode 45 “Misunderstanding the Bible” with Bible scholar Ben Spackman because it would help us all get out of the rut we’re in with our understanding of the Bible. (Didn’t feel warm fuzzies while you were reading Leviticus? That’s FINE. That book wasn’t meant to open the heavens and provide answers to life’s big questions.) If anyone has ever told you that dinosaurs can’t exist within the Creation story, listen to Episode 50 “A Religion of Both Prayers and Pterodactyls” with BYU science professor Steven Peck. And if you have ever felt like you just can’t have the “patience of Job” during adversity, listen to Episode 52 “The (Im)patient Job” with literature professor Michael Austin.

The Tim Ferriss Show

If you are trying to get in shape and are busy, these two podcasts could change EVERYTHING for you. Check out Episode #237 "Exploring Smart Drugs, Fasting and Fat Loss" with Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Ph D. She's a biochemist who has done research on aging and cell health. She has some simple actionable strategies on how to start developing resistance to the biological stresses that cause aging. Some of the stuff like saunas might be harder for the average person to do frequently, but her advice on the benefits of fasting, adding more vegetables into your diet and which superfoods are the most important are applicable to anyone. Everything she recommends is based on the research she has done herself or found through other scholarly publications. Also check out  Episode #217 "The One-Minute Workout Designed by Scientists." with Dr. Martin Gibala professor of kinesiology at Hamilton University in Ontario. The idea that I could use intervals to up my game was an epiphany for me. Holy cow, I don't need to devote an hour or two straight to exercising!!! I can use interval training to take the moments I have and add them up into something bigger! If you're a busy person with an unpredictable schedule this podcast could change everything about your relationship with exercise.



Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It's Christmastime- Be Careful How You Help

“I want to give back and help out and investing in biotechnology for rare diseases sounds great. But my friends tell me that won’t be a good investment because it only helps a few people. They’re saying I should use my money to buy mosquito nets because then I can save millions of people from malaria.” 

I wanted to scream “For the love of all that is good in the world, DO NOT WASTE YOUR GOODWILL ON MOSQUITO NETS!!!”

 This isn’t a post on malaria, so I’m going to refer you to this article and this study on why sending mosquito nets to Africa will not change the world. But I see this a lot. People want to help and they get some cause in their head and become a champion of an ineffective remedy. The more I find out about successful (and failed) public health programs and charitable efforts, the more I think that we need to re-think charitable efforts. I’ve personally noticed a few a pitfalls in charitable efforts:


Misunderstanding the problem 


People see a problem but the solution doesn’t fit the whole picture. For example, it’s Christmas time and I have no doubt that everyone reading this post has heard the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” at least 864 times since Halloween. This song came out in 1984 as a charitable effort by several platinum artists like Bono to alleviate the famine in Ethiopia. They assumed that the problem was money. The song raised millions of dollars. People felt really good. But Ethiopians weren’t dying because of a lack of money. Yes, there were financial problems and a drought that started it. But the real reason the famine went in so brutally is that the government withheld food from parts of the country that supported a rival faction- think a real life version of the Hunger Games. Much of the money from relief organizations- including the Band Aid Trust that brought us "Do They Know It's Christmas?"- was used to arm Mengitsu's regime and slaughter more Ethiopians.

Another example: Bill Gates has a goal to eradicate polio. Sounds like a great problem to solve, right? Gates isn’t thinking big enough. (Yep, I just said that.) Yes, polio causes death and paralysis, but so do other enteroviruses- including the particularly nasty emerging virus EV-D68. On top of polio you have cholera, dysentery, cryptosporidiosis, rotavirus, hepatitis A, shigellosis and a host of other serious pathogens. Take India, the developing nation that is held up as a model for polio elimination. India declared polio eliminated in 2011, but that hasn’t significantly changed the burden of disease there. India still ranks 120th out of 122 nations for water quality. 65 million Indians suffer from a crippling condition called flouridosis, which is due to overly high levels of fluoride in the water. Five million suffer from arsenic poisoning from the water. And 1.2 million children die every year in India from waterborne diseases. On top of that, the rates of nonpolio acute flaccid paralysis have actually increased. So Bill Gates basically put one brick back into a huge tumbling wall with polio elimination. Gates and others see the problem of disease in developing countries and focus on one or a few illnesses when the larger problem is things like sanitation and access to clean water.

Solutions that hurt more than help

Intensive farming (agricultural practices that try to get the maximum yield through chemicals and high tech equipment) is ruining our soil. The idea behind these crops was that we would end world hunger by finally having enough food for the whole world. Of course these crops haven’t ended world hunger because it’s more than just a supply problem. (See Ethiopia above.) So we have these high yield crops the wreaking havoc on our land and not ending world hunger.

DDT is another one. When I took environmental public health, we had a discussion on DDT. DDT has been unfairly credited with eliminating malaria. The reality is that while malaria was a major component of the CDC’s efforts to control mosquitoes and malaria, it was probably the least effective element. Draining swamps and sewage and water level control were also part of the American mosquito control program efforts. When DDT was outlawed because it was found to affect animals, plants, soil and water, the mosquito population and malaria were still controlled. In fact, mosquitos started to develop DDT resistance. About ten years ago, bleeding heart pieces started appearing in major newspapers about how we need to bring back DDT to save lives in developing countries. American opinion pieces decried the selfishness of the DDT ban in the face of malaria in Africa, Asia and South America. But many of those nations that used DDT recently still have high rates of malaria even after DDT. India is a prime example because it has had an enormous usage of DDT and persistent malaria. and many farmers have lost their livelihood because their crops and livestock have been poisoned by the supposedly lifesaving insecticide. The crazy thing is that none of these arguments swayed my classmates who remained committed to the idea that DDT would save people from malaria. I think their hearts were in the right place. They wanted a solution- even if it was ineffective. It bothers me that this sort of blindness could carry over into the public health profession.


If you watch Poverty Inc., you’ll also find many instances where sending free things like clothes, food, and other things to developing countries undermines people’s ability to make a living. With a glut of free clothes, shoes and food, people aren’t willing to pay farmers, tailors and shoemakers, keeping them further in poverty. And what about emergencies? People who have lost everything don’t need a lot of secondhand stuff. With no house, they have nowhere to put things like stuffed animals, formal wear and housewares. And people in Florida and Haiti don’t need fur coats. (True story.) And be aware that after a major disaster, people who fly in asking what they can do actually create more of a burden because then disaster relief workers have to find food and lodging for them too. 

Not understanding how it affects the the people you’re trying to help 


Back in the days before on-demand TV, I’d find myself in the middle of a commercial break when pictures of children in Third World countries would flicker across the screen and a spokesperson would tell me that I was turning my back on these impoverished children by not giving money to their charity. (Never mind that I was 14 and didn’t always have enough to eat myself.) These exchanges typically focus on the charity, the donor and the children, but leave out a crucial part of the equation: the parents. More so than having free meals for their children, most parents in developing countries want to be able to support their children. These free meal programs miss the big picture. Children need their parents to provide for them- not a charity. 

Adoptions are another one that can run into problems. This is another issue explored in Poverty Inc. Often the children in these orphanages are not abandoned or unwanted, but their parents can't provide for them and turn to adoption as a solution. There is an EXCELLENT blog post here from a woman who is both a biological and adoptive mother who found out that some unethical practices took place when she and her husband adopted their daughter from Ethiopia. Some of this even spills over to how we try to help needy families in America. It's Christmas and many people will pick out a family in their ward who is struggling and give them Christmas- presents, stockings, dinner, the whole shebang. It's a wonderful gesture. But here's something no one thinks about: when you are a parent who is struggling financially, you want to be the one to give your child that special gift. What would really make the parents' Christmas is to be able to walk up to the check out stand and buy that special gift for their kid. Yeah, there are some parents who are total deadbeats. But most of us are actually pretty decent people who love our kids and want to give them the world.


The end justifies the means


I'm about to channel a little of Kant here. Kant believed that a desirable outcome should never be achieved through dishonest or cruel means. For example, the Humane Society started a big campaign claiming that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus abused its elephants. They claimed to have photos, video and testimony. Turns out that the photos and videos were of elephant abuse- but not at Ringling Bros. And they paid someone to testify as a witness. The Humane Society was successfully sued by Ringling Bros. for racketeering. Another thorny issue with the Humane Society is their fundraising history. At least in the past, most of their funds go to salaries of their high-up officers- not to actual animal protection efforts

The creators of Blackfish used similar methods. They showed footage of orcas being captured from the wild- but it wasn't Sea World doing the capturing. They interviewed people who had worked at Sea World, claiming they were trainers or employees who worked closely with the animals- they weren't. On a recent trip to Balboa Park, I saw a very serious young lady at a booth trying to spread the world about Sea World's supposed mistreatment of animals. She had no background in biology and wildlife management, no firsthand experience with orcas and no knowledge of the false information in Blackfish. All she had was a desire to be a social justice warrior and a helmet that would supposedly show you what it's like to be an orca in a tank. (I'm not kidding about the helmet.) Those were supposed to qualify her as the "real" expert on orca treatment.

So I guess this is my message for this time of giving: Give wisely. Make sure that the people you want to help are actually being helped.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Of Science, Religion and Faith: My Declaration of Faith

I recently got slammed on a LDS homeschooling moms group for recommending some materials from FAIR for questions about teaching science. I was told in no uncertain terms by a couple of women that LDS apologetics is dangerous and not in harmony with Church doctrine.  (I find this hard to believe since they have a regular slate of BYU professors as contributors.) They said that my belief that science and religion don't conflict is against the scriptures. There were two other members of the group who were nice enough to stand up for me though, which I very much appreciated. I posted links from the Old Testament manual which states that the scriptures should not be used  as a method of dating the age of the Earth and the recent video where Elder Nelson (a former heart surgeon) and a LDS molecular biologist talk about science. Those materials were also rejected by several of the group members.

Well, after listening to scientists, reading several science magazines and medical journals and reading and listening to many of the materials from FAIR, this is what I believe:

I believe that we have a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother who are the parents of our spirits. I believe they are exalted beings who progressed to a state of divinity through their righteousness. I believe that they have a view of time and space that far exceeds our own. (Perhaps they have access to the event horizon of a black hole and can see the future of the universe? But Stephen Hawking disputes that black holes in the traditional sense exist. But he might be wrong. But it's an interesting idea.)

I believe that the Earth was formed and progressed over a course of billions of years, grace to grace, line upon line. I believe that the use of the word "day" in the Bible meant a period of time. I believe that the 7 is used for the Hebrew symbolism of "perfect" or "complete"- in other words, a perfected and complete creation. I believe that first the Earth and solar system and galaxy were organized from existing elements (the nebula of older stars). Once the Earth and solar system had formed to a point where life could exist, life started in the great oceans of the Earth, progressing through each stage of plants and animals in preparation for God's crowning creation, humans. I believe that the Earth was created as a "school" for us to obtain physical bodies and challenged to reach our divine potential.

I believe that a loving Heavenly Father prepared a Savior for us to repent of our sins. I believe that Savior to be Jesus Christ and that only through His atonement and out continued striving can we reach a state of exaltation.

I believe the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price (one of my all time favorite books of scripture) contain the words of God. I believe that these books of scripture contain many different and inspired documents that have different purposes in our spiritual education and development. Some, like Leviticus, are manuals or handbooks, others like the Four Gospels are firsthand accounts from different perspectives of Christ's ministry, some like the epistles are letters on how to deal with specific concerns from an ancient Church administrative and doctrine standpoint, others are works of literature or poetry like Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. I do not believe that everything in the scriptures is meant to be taken as historical accounts or scientific fact. I think Mormon's repeated admonition that the Book of Mormon was an abridgment which contained not even an hundredth part of the writings and history of his people should inform our reading and interpretation of scripture. They are not meant to be read as historical documents, but rather as materials to inform our spiritual and moral development. Jesus never said the parables were fact- based accounts of actual happenings. That doesn't mean they aren't important and valuable in our learning.

I believe that God has prophets on this Earth and their stewardship is to lead the general body of the Church and give general warning and counsel to the world. When they speak with authority from God, they are giving commandments. I do not believe that prophets are infallible. I know our Heavenly Father has put us each here to learn, so He never gives everyone all the answers to everything. His prophets have a calling to receive revelation for the Church, not to get involved in matters of politics, medicine, historical accuracy, or quantum mechanics. If I want to know about the implications of a new law, I would ask someone familiar with the political and social background of it. If I want to know about the latest developments in the human brain and body or medicine, I would ask an appropriately trained physician. If I want to better understand something from history, I would ask a historian with training particular in the question, and if I want to understand the latest thoughts on astrophysics or timespace, I would ask a physicist trained in those areas. I look to the General Authorities to hear information on God's commandments to us, His children.

I believe that my Heavenly Father is more concerned with how I use my time on this Earth rather than if I believe the Earth was formed in 7 days, 7,000 years or 7 billion years. I believe that God is more concerned with whether we are listening to the commandments and warnings of His prophets rather than if we believe in a global or local flood in the days of Noah. I believe God is more concerned with how I carry out my role as a woman, wife and mother and support my husband in his roles rather than if I believe Adam had one more rib than Eve.

And lastly, I believe that the warning against learned men who think they are wise, applies to everyone  and not just those who have advanced degrees. Everyone who believes they have had all the knowledge they need and rejects wisdom is in danger of this pride. I believe that faith means keeping God's commandments even when you don't know all the reasons why, not that you stop asking questions and never examine an issue or idea from a different perspective.

 So there you have it. The declaration of faith of one who has been corrupted from reading "Discover" magazine, watching The Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Contact, and yes, listening to lots of FAIR podcasts.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Inaccurate Things About Big Love

Supposedly the creators of the series spent years in Utah researching it. The first few episodes were pretty good. They seemed sincere in understanding the characters' desire to worship God in the way they see fit. And it was an interesting exploration of the difficulties of families and relationships in a culture that is little understood by most Americans.

 But the whole series started going really far downhill about season 3. It quickly devolved into a soap opera of wild side show freak storylines with zero character development.

 Now, you might be saying, "Oh but it's just a TV show."

True.

It is just a TV show.

Though I wonder how the creators (who are gay) would feel if Latter Day Saints took their culture and beliefs and reduced it to a series of inaccuracies for entertainment. And many of the mistakes were just plain lazy...

And the writing got really bad after season 3.

Geography 

Bill and Barb's old bishop makes several visits and invites them to come to their old ward, even though have moved. In reality, it's pretty difficult to become a member of a ward unless you actually live within the geographic boundaries or go to a local branch or ward that serves a different need like young single adults or conducts meetings in another language.

Mormons and polygamy 

Contrary to Bill's assertions, there is no evidence that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with any of his wives other than Emma. It's possible that he may have fathered other children, because some of the women he was sealed to did have children while he was alive, but it's hard to know for sure. The ones who grew to adulthood and had their own children do not carry Joseph Smith's DNA, so we know he couldn't be their biological father. There were a couple of infants that died though. Since they don't have any descendants for us to test DNA, we can't establish paternity one way or the other. The LDS Church has an essay on Mormons and plural marriage here. One of FAIR Mormon has an extensive research on Mormons and polygamy, I recommend it. Looking for something from non-Mormons, but based in history and scholarly study? I recommend the PBS documentary The Mormons.

Missions in the Middle East 

In Episode 1, Tina Majorino's character says she wants to serve a mission in the Middle East when she turns 21. There are no LDS proselyting missionaries in the Middle East. In the 1990's, the Church officially established a policy of not teaching, proselyting or baptizing any Muslims planning on returning to the Middle East in order to respect the laws of Middle Eastern nations that prohibit proselyting of the LDS faith.

Mormons and Gays

The portrayal of gay Mormons isn't entirely inaccurate- but not entirely accurate either. While there are many Latter Day Saints who deal with hostile families in relation to their sexual orientation, others choose to marry a spouse of the opposite sex- even while openly disclosing their sexual orientation. Many gay and lesbian Latter Day Saints who choose to be active and get married have their children the old-fashioned way through sex, pregnancy and birth. (See Josh Weed.) The episode where Sarah interviews a LDS couple seeking to adopt where the husband is gay and the wife is mentally ill is not an accurate representation of LDS couples seeking to adopt. Most LDS couples who are seeking to adopt are struggling with infertility (a painful struggle on its own). 


Chastity literature

This is no pamphlet called "Satan's Thrust" as depicted when Bill's son confesses his sexual activity to his bishop. There is a pamphlet called "For the Strength of Youth" that covers sexual purity and other topics. I am doubtful that his old bishop would intervene in this if the family had moved geographic boundaries. (See above.)

Surrogacy

The LDS Church does not encourage the practice of surrogacy for infertility. So the Henricksons' neighbors asking Margie to be their surrogate is not impossible, but unlikely. Latter Day Saints do not generally espouse a belief that their children's spirits will go to a drug addict if a couple is infertile. Many Latter Day Saints who adopt after infertility express a belief that their child was meant to come to them, even through adoption. One celebrity example of an LDS mother who has adopted children is Marie Osmond who has said that she feels her children were all meant to come to her.

Laws and politics

The LDS Church does not run Utah. Some people have a hard time understanding how a state that is largely LDS could have laws that are so steeped in Mormon traditions. These people have an extremely difficult time understanding cause and effect. Oh and it was just so progressive how Barb suddenly becomes an intern after Bill is elected. Sleeping with a politician gets a woman into political roles. That's just so feminist. Portraying the LDS Church as some dark puppet master became a more frequent motif in the last two seasons of the show. Every time the writers were faced the fact their protagonist did some pretty morally questionable things (like violating his own standards of chastity, making his friend take the fall for him on polygamy during his run for office, "marrying" his third wife when she was still a minor), they would quickly turn the episode to a "LDS puppet master" plot line.

Help For Those Fleeing Polygamy

"Big Love" consistently displayed a picture of Utah as a place where little help exists for those seeking to flee polygamy. In one episode they even go so far as to portray a legislator as threatening to have all "Lost Boys" tried as adults. (This is a legal inaccuracy since trying a juvenile as an adult is dependent on the violence and nature of the crime, not the background of the offender.) Utah does not typically prosecute "Lost Boys" as adults. During the 1990's, leaders of the FLDS church began taking many more wives and the problem of exiled boys began to steadily increase. In the early 2000's the state of Utah began funding groups that help exiled boys transition into the outside world. Tapestry Against Polygamy was one of the earliest groups in Utah that was formed to assist women and girls in leaving abusive polygamist sects, others have formed since.

The Temple Ceremony Episode

Oh this was a good one. Let's just say that there are maybe 5 minutes of accuracy in the whole episode. And by the way, Mormons don't believe that being excommunicated will send someone to outer darkness. Outer darkness is a concept about which Latter Day Saints have little revelation. However, its residents are theorized to be people the likes of Judas Iscariot, Cain and Satan and his angels. FAIR Mormon has written an excellent article here.


Oh yeah, and freeways

I have lived in both Utah and Southern California. It's pretty obvious where the show's creators and actors hail from. In Utah, people say "I-15" or "I-215" not "the 15" or "the 215". Only in SoCal do people use "the" before a freeway number.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Have Holy Envy For Atheists

You may have heard the term "holy envy". It's having a healthy admiration for the good things in other faiths and even incorporating some of those good things into your own life.

I have found many things to admire from other faiths. But lately, I have been reflecting on the things I admire about atheists. Many of the atheists I have met have a deep dedication to living an ethical life and doing good to others. Because they don't believe that any being is coming to save us, they act as if the world depends on their actions to make it better.

I feel like it really embodies that Young Women's value of choice and accountability:"I will choose good over evil and will accept responsibility for my decisions." I contrast this with the behavior I have seen from some Latter Day Saints who use forgiveness and the atonement as reasons why they shouldn't have to suffer unpleasant consequences from their decisions.

I do believe that God is there and interested in our lives and the world. But I believe that as a highly developed moral being Being, He expects us to do our best in the world and not rely on Him to shield us from the consequences of our actions.

And so, I have holy envy for atheists.