Friday, February 25, 2011


I used to be somewhat obsessed with perfection. Perfection is the stated goal of members of the church for the eternities and it is often thought of in terms that are measurable and achievable through everything done as taught by the church. For some reason I never really gave much thought to what this really means. So now I wonder, can perfection ever be really achieved?

What I have realized is that perfection has multiple meanings. There is the meaning that is used to define when a principle, or set of parameters, has been fully realized (such as describing what a perfect circle is and then being able to create a perfect circle on paper according to all the known definitions of what a perfect circle would be) and the other means without flaw or defect. Yet another meaning for perfection is the constant striving for a target. Many people combine the idea of being without flaw or defect and moving towards a target. I think when people do that they find that the target will probably move as one get's closer to the ideal. Which causes me to wonder, if we get closer to being god-like, will our idea of what being god-like is then expand? It seems to me that it should and that the possibility exists that this expansion would occur until the possibilities for growth literally become infinite. Perfection is often thought of as a state of being that can someday be achieved, not something that can never be fully understood, let alone realized.

I don't think we as human beings are capable of achieving perfection in our current state. What is a perfect human being anyway? Does such a person exist? I would say that people can only be perfect in very limited ways. Even the people we might identify as the most perfect today will still have physical, emotional or mental flaws that will forever keep them from being perfect in one area or another. It is funny to watch Hollywood or Madison Avenue place people on a pedestal as being very nearly perfect only to later find out they have some addiction, some relationship problem or physical flaw that would indicate they are not really perfect at all.

I think we want to have perfection, but we can never really achieve it, so we pretend that there are perfect people out there and we imagine that people are perfect when the reality is they are usually very far from it.

In thinking about this I tried to imagine what would happen if I could alter something about myself and there were no boundaries on what I could do. I would definitely want to fly, but what would be the perfect flying instrument? I guess it would depend on the kind of flying I wanted to do. Would flapping wings serve my purpose or would rockets built in to my feet? I would also want my flying mechanism to be extremely portable and not make me look like a freak. Would a suit like Iron Man fit the bill? If so, could perfection in the suit ever be achieved? I guess in one very specific and limited way, perfection could be achieved according to the desired parameters, but can it be achieved in more than one area without compromising perfection in some other area?

If I could alter my appearance, what would I change to become perfect? Can God change his/her/its appearance at will? Actually changing physical characteristics, personality or strength/agility? Is God a perfect arm wrestler? Does that mean He always wins or always loses? Does the very definition of God restrict God in his/her/its ability to be what God wants to be, in order to be considered perfect, or will God always be everything we are not? Does perfection have an apex when it comes to humanity? Does being perfect at some point mean you give up on those things you can't ever change?

I know Christians (probably Mormons more than anyone else) are very fond of calling Christ perfect. He was the perfect example, they say. But what, exactly, was he perfect in? Was He perfectly good looking? That would require that He was a shape shifter so no matter who beheld him, he would morph into the perfect looking person. That would mean in some cases He was a woman and other times He was a man. Then perfection becomes simply a matter of each individual's tastes and there is no universal rule of what a perfect being looks like. Can perfection be subjective like that? Is it perfection if it is according to my tastes but not according to yours?

Was Christ perfectly obedient in all things known as commandments from God? No. Unless, of course, you make excuses and rationalize Jesus' behavior in all the recorded instances of the New Testament. Supposedly, Jesus was the author of the 10 commandments. One of which says, "Thou shalt not kill", but Jesus cursed and killed the barren fig tree. LDS like to cite very limited examples of obedience and they call it "perfect" obedience. However, who do we have to confirm that Jesus was "actually" obedient as claimed? Where is it written all the ways that Jesus was perfectly obedient and how can we corroborate those statements with the historical record? Where was the clear standard of obedience Jesus had to fulfill, that was written prior to his appearance on the scene? If it wasn't written in clearly spelled out guidelines, aren't people just making stuff up after the fact? If I say, "Ooh look I discovered a perfect fundangle!" and then went on to describe the item I discovered in great detail, how could anyone know what a perfect fundangle was except what I made up, there on the spot, to describe the item I had in my possession?

I guess in a very limited way Jesus was possibly perfect, but they never say, "Jesus was perfect in this one thing", they like to apply his perfection universally without giving thought to the implications that such a state of perfection is impossible to achieve in a universal way.

So then there is the standard of "perfection" those in the church believe they are striving towards. What does this mean exactly? I asked my co-worker (devout LDS) what achieving perfection means and he said, "I don't know, but I am a perfect tithe payer." Is he, though, really? I mean what is the definition of a perfect tithe payer? Does that mean he pays 10% of his gross or net income? Does that mean he pays tithing right at the time he gets paid or at the end of the year? The problem is, nobody in the leadership of the church will claim any of these parameters to be at all important. They usually say this is all left up to the payer of the tithe. How convenient! People are supposed to be striving for perfection in living the gospel as they understand it, but the parameters are not even clearly defined!

I hope all members of the church realize that they could say they are perfect in paying their tithing if they only pay $1 per year. Anyone could do some fancy math to show that $1 is 10% of their income (or increase) if they throw in all their expenses, money set aside for retirement and savings, etc., etc., etc. Why don't members of the church do that? Maybe many do, but most of the folks I used to talk to about such things in the church had very strong feelings that it was on their gross income paid regularly. Why? Well, because the impression is given that they are being perfectly obedient by doing that. So what does being a perfect tithe payer mean again? Apparently they can't say for anyone but themselves. What kind of answer is that? It causes my reason to stare.

LDS like to talk about the idea of them becoming perfect at some point, like God is perfect. How is it they expect to ever be able to achieve perfection? What does that even mean? Perfectly obedient? If that is the case, how can one possibly be perfectly obedient when commandments come into conflict with each other? For example, was Nephi perfectly obedient when he killed Laban? No way. He broke one commandment (thou shalt not kill) so he could attempt to keep another (honoring his father - and mother). Is that a rule we can use as a guide to perfection? When the commandments come into conflict with each other will one always trump the other or does it depend? If so, what does it depend on? If God is perfect would he be capable of giving a commandment that He later advocated should be broken to serve a higher purpose? Shouldn't people be made aware of the higher purposes of the laws up front? Shouldn't we have a priority assigned to each commandment?

It seems like Jesus came up with the answer, that we love everyone (or just our neighbor, I guess) the way we love ourselves. But then I am left to wonder how one can ever possibly perfect in this rule? Jesus was asked who is considered to be our neighbor by giving the parable of the good Samaritan. So, I guess our neighbor is our social outcast or enemy, then? Will mankind ever be perfect in treating their social enemies like themselves? Well, good luck on that one. I think the chances are slim to none that this ideal is ever achieved in any time period. It certainly hasn't happened anywhere since Jesus made this proclamation.

I want to think that LDS could claim that while there is no way they can ever be perfect in this life, that striving for perfection is all that can be expected. But, if striving for perfection is all that is needed, then the very minimal effort will be rewarded just the same as the extraordinary effort. In those terms, why would anyone put forth anything close to an extraordinary effort?

This post is full of questions and, therefore I am pretty sure, very far from being anywhere near perfect. I guess I still have a long way to go.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Salt and fairy tales

I am subscribed to the LDS Living newsletter and I sometimes peruse the Family Home Evening lessons that catch my interest. A recent one I just got was on the topic of personal revelation. I decided that since I need some of that, I would read further. You can read it here if you are so inclined.

So the lesson starts out making the statement, "As Latter-day Saints, we have testimonies . . . given to us by revelation, assuring us that this religion and its doctrines are true." That's nice. So, I have a question; What is it that makes LDS testimonies true more so than any other proclamation of belief by an adherent of any other faith in the world that is declared to have been received by revelation from God?

I'll read on...

Boyd K. Packer starts out a story to illustrate the idea, apparently, that revelation is different than something we can measure or be sure of in any logical or philosophical sense. He says, "Although a testimony of [the] plan is of crucial importance to us, we must not count on winning many debates on the plan of redemption versus the prevailing theories and philosophies of men."

Besides being everlastingly unfortunate that Boyd is admitting that church goers will never be able to win any arguments using reason and sound thinking with reasonable minds of the day, it is funny to me that people can never have a forum to question leaders of the church. If such a forum were available, I would ask, "Why is a testimony of God's plan of such "crucial" importance to me?" Alas, I may never receive an answer from the insulated LDS hierarchy.

The lesson continues with Boyd Packer's incontrovertible argument for the individual knowledge that is known as a testimony of the truthfulness of his beliefs. From his book published in 1997 "Memorable Stories and Parables" he tells of his chance encounter and conversation with an atheist on a plane. He says that the atheist ridiculed him and so he bore his testimony to him saying, "There is a God, I know He lives!". After much more ridicule (Boyd describes the atheist's words as "sneering" and "condescending") the atheist responded with something along the lines of, "Tell me how you know it?" Note, the atheist did not ask for Boyd to tell him what the knowledge was based on or to describe the attributes of the knowledge. He simply asked for him to tell the atheist how he knew what he claimed to know.

Boyd was stumped. He wasn't sure how to respond to the atheist's question. Finally, a flash of revelation comes to him. He decides to liken the experience of receiving a testimony of God's existence to salt. Boyd asks the atheist if he has tasted salt. To which the atheist responds, "Of course, I had some with my dinner on the plane just a bit ago." Then Boyd goes on to ask the atheist to describe what salt tastes like. The atheist can't do it. He can only describe what it isn't. Then Boyd triumphantly declares that his knowledge of the existence of God is just like tasting salt and since the atheist can't describe with words what salt tastes like, Boyd must be correct and there must be a God. Since Boyd has so confounded the desperate and miserable atheist the only comeback the poor atheist can muster is uttered under his breath as he slithers away in defeat, "I don’t need your religion for a crutch. I don’t need it." (Boyd actually used the word "mutter" which means to mumble, grumble or murmur, gotta love it :P

Of course, aside from all the derogatory characterizations of the atheist, Boyd will insist that his analogy is perfect and the failure by the atheist to be able to describe what salt tastes like is proof that he must be right. But let's take another look. The atheist asked Boyd to tell him "how" he knew it, not what exactly it means. The atheist didn't ask Boyd to describe what God looks like or where he lives or even what his favorite color is (which every good Mormon knows is white, by the way). Boyd responded by showing that the atheist couldn't answer the question of what he knows, when this was not the same question posed to Boyd in the first place. Remember, the question was, "how he knows", not "describe what it is he knows". If Boyd were to play fair and remain consistent in his point, he would have asked the atheist "how" he knows what salt tastes like. The answer would have been simple, "I have tasted it. I have felt the exact same sensation on my tongue that I have come to interpret, according to my experience, as the taste of salt." In order for Boyd to have the same experience and "know" what salt tastes like, the atheist could have offered him some salt and then Boyd could know right then and there what salt tastes like (if he did not know already - which he probably did, which made the comparison even more incompatible with the original question because the atheist genuinely did NOT know how Boyd knew God was real). After tasting for himself, Boyd's question of what salt tastes like could then be answered to everyone's satisfaction. Mutual knowledge and experience could have been enjoyed. Unfortunately, in this case, the poor atheist had to go on, in his miserable existence, not knowing what Boyd claimed to know or even how he knew it. What a kind and gentle man Boyd must be! Even talking with the poor atheist must have been such a sacrifice for him!

The difference between the two questions is that salt is real and it is something we can all agree exists. The existence of God (or, at least, who God communicates his will to), on the other hand, is something the world is very far from agreeing on. We can discern salt from any other white granular substance we may encounter through taste (as one means of identification). As for describing it, just because we can't describe what it tastes like (which is more a shortcoming of our language than anything else) doesn't mean it doesn't exist, which is the point Boyd is trying to make...just because we can't describe what the feeling/testimony/personal revelation confirming the existence of God feels like, doesn't mean it is any less real. No one can refute the reality (to the individual) of what they think they have personally experienced. The analogy of salt, however, fails because it does not endeavor to actually answer the question being posed.

Aside, from not being an accurate comparison of the question, I think there are additional problems with the analogy, even if we assume the comparison of the two questions were valid and that it does mean that Boyd can't describe how he knows that God lives (which is essentially what he is admitting to here);

While society at large can agree that salt exists, and can largely agree on what exactly it tastes like, independently confirming the existence of God is impossible outside of an individual's subjective experience/belief. In other words:

taste of salt = near universal agreement through objective means,

existence of God = individually determined through subjective means.

Some in the church proclaim that this is a wonderful attribute of personal revelation, but I think it is a recipe for disaster. The impression is given that the person, who is seeking to validate what others have said is real (in this case, the existence of God), is coming to an independent conclusion based on what they have personally experienced. However, this independence is an illusion because it is solely based on what one party (who claims to have a knowledge of the existence of God) is claiming to be true. Once this knowledge is proclaimed to be attainable by the individual, the party who is claiming the knowledge exists is actually the one dictating the terms of its existence. I'll illustrate this point with an example;

If I am walking, despondent through life, and I bump into you and for some reason I divulge to you that I need help with my love life. You say, "Oh, your fairy godmother should be able to help you out with that." I respond with, "I have never heard that I had a fairy godmother.", but, since I really want help with my love life, I inquire further, "How do I summon my fairy godmother?" Then you respond, "Well, it is different for everyone, but I can summon mine by ripping my clothes and kneeling down and crying and saying 3 times, 'Fairy godmother I need your help!'. That works ALMOST every time." So I ask, "What do you mean 'ALMOST' every time?" Then you say, "Well, it actually only worked for me one time, but I am sure it is the same for you...besides, if you really need help, she will appear for sure."

So I take your advice, rip my clothes, get worked up into an emotional state of need (just for good measure) and run outside, kneel down and tearfully exclaim, "Fairy godmother, I need your help!" repeated 3 times. Then I wait. I wait a very long time and nothing happens.

The next day, I come to visit you and say that I tried to summon my fairy godmother, but nothing happened. So you say, "Well, I guess you were just not desperate enough." At this point I am really frustrated, but I really want help with my love life so I ask if there is anything else I can do. To make a long story short, I try everything you can possibly think of to recreate the experience you had when you said your fairy godmother appeared, but she still does not appear for me. The question is, what should I conclude? I can conclude one of a couple possibilities, A) My fairy godmother exists, but she chooses not to come and help me, but if I do enough, at some point she will eventually show up. B) My fairy godmother does not exist, but if I imagine her to be real, and just believe enough, she will be real enough for me and that would be enough. Both possibilities assume that I really want to believe that my fairy godmother exists.

What I am trying to point out with this example is the control that is exerted by the person who claims to know that the fairy godmother is real. Whether intentional deception or not, the person claiming to have knowledge of something can exercise (and is exercising) some measure of control over a person who wants to have the same experience of their own. If a person wants something to be real bad enough, they will do pretty much anything that the person, who claims to have the knowledge, will tell them to do. It is only when a person can be mature enough to accept that the existence of a fairy godmother is a question that is not important, that one can get on with their life and find answers to questions about their love life that are proven to work in many documented cases - without the need for a fairy godmother to be real. One important thing I would point out about this is that it is not necessary to say there is no fairy godmother that is real to be able to solve real problems. We can still allow for the existence of the fairy godmother, but just choose not to exert so much effort in attempting to summon her to solve the problem.

This is what gets really irksome with the church. The church tells people who are found to be in some state of need (physically, emotionally, financially or otherwise) that there is a being (a "Heavenly Father") that could be labeled as a generous and loving heavenly being who really wants to help people out. Then, the person with the need is told that all they have to do is believe hard enough that this heavenly being is real and the heavenly being will start telling you important stuff and even reveal truths that you could not have otherwise discovered. The problem is, when a person asks how this all will happen they are told it is like trying to describe what salt tastes like, there is no way to independently confirm what the leaders of the church claim you will experience. In fact, they can't even begin to accurately describe how it will happen or even make any sort of guarantees that it WILL happen the same as it did for them (since they can't describe exactly "how" it happened without being extremely ambiguous). They just continue to assure that it will happen, on an individual level, if you just believe enough, without even describing what it is like when it does happen. The individual is left to create their own definition of how the knowledge will be confirmed and then decide when the definition has been fulfilled to their satisfaction. It is all defined by what the individual wants and how bad they want it.

Of course, the church then places conditions on the meaning of the experience you, yourself, have defined and determined that you have experienced to your satisfaction. These conditions include mandatory church attendance, mandatory service and acceptance of callings and mandatory payment of tithes and offerings...and all should be given only to the church that claimed to be able to let you define your own experience! It is just like all the stuff the person who told me my fairy godmother was real would tell me to do to be able to summon my fairy godmother. Rip your clothes, say some words, kneel down, these were all conditions given to assist in bringing about the manifestation. However, when the appearance fails to occur, the believer is told that they just aren't doing enough or have been negligent in their faith. Is the church capable of anything besides blaming the person who has not had the desired experience when the knowledge is not revealed as the believer hopes it will be? Unfortunately, I don't think so. By the way, to anyone that has experienced a visitation from their fairy godmother, I would love to hear about how it happened. Anyone?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

O Ye Hypocrites!

The object of this post is to outline what I see as a very large problem among believers in the LDS church. I have a couple of relatives that I know first hand have engaged in (or attempted to engage in) illegal and dishonest practices. Both of these relatives are staunch LDS and both have told me that they feel I have chosen the wrong path by denouncing belief in the LDS church. The really sad thing is that the wife of one these relatives even made a comment to me on Facebook that her husband said to her, regarding some statements that might indicate I had a hard time with some things about the church, "Which commandment was I not able to keep?" (The obvious implication being that I had a hard time, not with what the church taught or did, but with some commandment I had a hard time keeping). This question came from the person who actually asked me, about two years earlier, if I would be willing to help them break the law to save some money on vehicle registration fees in their state (since vehicle registration fees are cheaper in my state, he asked me if I would be willing to register his vehicle with my address while he kept the vehicle in his state so he could save on the high cost of registering his vehicle).

This is really bothering me right now. How can people who claim to be so devout actually be so willing to compromise in areas that, according to most law abiding, god-fearing people, are dishonest practices? I kind of understand the thinking, I guess. As I think back to the kind of person I was when I believed in the church, I found myself thinking along those same lines in many things. For some reason I was not able to make the connection that proclaiming to be honest in all my dealings with my fellow men in a temple recommend interview every 2 years meant that I was "actually" living that ideal. I'm really not sure how I did it, but I rationalized a lot of dishonest things in my business dealings (and life in general) even while firmly believing that I was doing well in being able to say I was on my way to the Celestial Kingdom. (Not that I was guilty of any "major" sin, of course, Joseph Smith and I could only be accused of levity, nothing more (◕‿-) The thing I also find interesting is, believing members of the church will read this and say that this double standard is really what led me out of the church and that the church can't be blamed for my hypocrisy. Of course, I don't think this is true, but what I think doesn't seem to matter to those who want to label me with contempt. When one realizes that these arguments are coming from people who have knowingly engaged in dishonest acts themselves, it becomes so ironic.

The problem with that thinking is that, after coming to a place of non-belief in what the church teaches, now is when I have been able to come to terms with this issue and be honest about it. I don't see how anything would have changed were I still a believing member of the church. Somehow I would have felt justified in thinking that it was OK to do things I knew were dishonest and still answer the recommend interview question about being honest in the affirmative...every 2 years like clockwork.

I know all the rhetoric that faithful LDS will cite in response to what I am saying here. They will say, oh, those are just a few examples of people doing things that are wrong and it surely doesn't reflect what the majority in the church do. Or they would just point out how screwed up I am and chalk it up to a demented individual (with demented relatives) drawing wild conclusions about most people in the church based on my screwed up morality and warped sense of right and wrong. Both of which could very well be true. However, I know that I value honesty and integrity more now than I did when I believed in the church and I really wonder why this is.

If I had to try and explain the source of this phenomenon I can only think of two possible explanations. 1. Maybe because people do so much stuff in (and for) the church, they feel like they are entitled to be able to do a few things wrong here and there. This doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but I think if people are suppressed in a lot of things, a natural tendency is to rebel occasionally. Feeling justified comes from just being so pent up with a need to satisfy the "natural man" from suppression for so long in so many things. I know that when I rationalized engaging in a behavior that I knew was wrong, I felt entitled because I told myself that I had done so much that was good and I felt I just needed to be able to "enjoy" something worldly. When it got to this point, I simply did not care about what the church taught me because I just had to act out. I felt that the consequences would be well offset by everything I was doing that I was told was good and righteous, so I just didn't worry about it so much.

2. The only other possible reason I can think of to explain why people act contrary to what the church teaches (while pronouncing they maintain strict belief in the church) is that they suspect deep down that the church engages in the very same behavior. The reality is that this IS the case. One example of this is Joseph Smith saying, "...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411) Joseph Smith made this statement preaching from the stand to the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo on Sunday May 26, 1844. At the time he had secretly taken at least 25 plural wives. Perhaps people know this hypocrisy exists in the church and know that it can be found throughout its history. When people realize this they then just feel justified in lying or engaging in dishonest acts themselves saying, "If the church does it, and past leaders have done it, then it is surely OK for me."

One thing I realize when I think back on the possible reasons for my justification of immoral behavior when I was a believer is that I was aware of teachings in the church that seemed to make punishment for wrongdoing relative. I knew that "eternal" punishment was explained in the D&C to not really mean "lasting forever" but that it is just a title meaning "of God" since God is eternal. I was also aware of Joseph Smith's attitude towards the laws of the land at his time and that he felt justified breaking the law if he believed that he was acting while directed by the mandate of a higher power. I was aware of the difficulty presented in the story of Nephi killing Laban in the Book of Mormon and how a moral dilemma was created by two conflicting commandments given by God that Nephi was expected to keep and yet had to choose one. (i.e. break the commandment to not kill or not fulfill the request of his righteous father to obtain the brass plates - as an aside, I wonder how heavy the brass plates were?)

One other possible reason I see for people engaging in dishonest and immoral acts is the simple fact that the church never stops talking about the things people are not supposed to do. The fact is general authorities in the church bring up pornography at least a few times a year at general conference time. Guess who leads the country in porn consumption?...Utah. The church says, don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal. What is the white collar, mortgage fraud capitol of the country?...Utah. Could it really be that LDS just do what they are told to do...and what they are told not to do? I don't know. As for my personal experience, I am certainly less enticed by porn than I used to be as a believing member of the church (when I was reminded that I shouldn't look at porn at nearly every boring meeting I sat through where I only had my imagination to entertain me...). I think it is just like if I tell you to not think of the color blue. What color are you thinking about right now? We think about the concept of what is presented and even if we are told to not do something, we have just thought about it to some degree or another and thinking about things eventually leads to action.

Again, I understand that my tendency here has been to grossly state a problem as a large one which may not be that large, really. I am just trying to work through what I see as a problem among some LDS that I realized I was guilty of myself. The other thing I am wondering about this idea is whether or not there is something inherent in the teachings of the church that make this sort of behavior inevitable. I wonder if the church is really the best vehicle for overcoming this tendency? These are questions I certainly do not have enough data to be able to answer qualitatively, but I do believe that for me (and, I think possibly, many others) maintaining belief in the church did not allow me to come to terms with this problem. It took a discovery of fallibility in the church and a realization that I am my own best prophet and spiritual authority to be able to recognize and deal with this tendency in myself. Being honest with oneself is a very important step in being able to weed out conflicting ideals in a belief structure and achieve total integrity. I am still not to a point where I feel I am 100% capable of this, but at least I am willing to acknowledge that and deal with it openly. I think this makes all the difference.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Feel Special

Actually, I don’t feel special anymore. That is a tough thing about leaving the church. The church has so much in its foundation that is designed to make people feel special. Of course, it is a sort of feeling of specialness that becomes conditional on your obedience and acceptance of what the church says is the way things are. That message is very appealing and extremely difficult to walk away from. Everybody wants to feel special. People who are well adjusted in society somehow feel special inherently (I’m still not sure how myself – maybe they just don’t need to feel more special than everyone else). People outside the church, I believe, have a general distrust of those who come along and proclaim that they are special in order to get them to join a group or follow a specific program of beliefs. However, there are many that find this message appealing and latch onto it because of what it does for them. It is also very hard to admit (if only on a subconscious level) that one is not special anymore (at least according to what the group has said makes one special), which makes leaving such a group all the more difficult.

This is actually one of the things that led me out of belief in the church. Even though the idea of being special is a very appealing one, I could not accept that so many who did not do what the church teaches are not special, for no other reason besides the fact that they are not members of the church. The idea that I am somehow special (for doing so little in comparison to what I see others doing around me every day) means that others must not be special in the same way I am. I cannot accept this.

The church has a variety of ways that it told me I was special. To begin, it said I was a child of God. Who would possibly not like the idea of being the offspring of the penultimate being who is the creator of the universe and has all control over it and knows everything that goes on in it? It means that you too, can achieve this ideal yourself. To tell a person otherwise is like telling them that they are not the rightful heirs to all that their parents have accumulated over the years. It is inherent in our understanding that a loving parent would never deny their child the power to become like him or herself. Of course, this idea is followed up with a condition. In order to be able to fulfill your destiny as a child of the master of the universe, you have to do what the church claims are his commandments for you. This only enhances the feeling of being special when a person decides to adhere to the teachings of the church. We can relate to this teaching because there were many times, as children of our earthly parents, we were made to feel special and we want to have that on a larger scale. This message is not bad in and of itself, it is just something that is used as the first step in buying into the LDS idea of specialness.

I once knew a man in the church who had many children and I was present in their home at dinner when he proudly announced to all of his children that none of them would get any of his money when he died. Rather, he said, he was going to donate all of it to the church. In this case, I wonder if he felt that doing that would make him more special in God’s eyes or if it was because he felt special and wanted to give back for that? Either way, I think he was wrong (but that is just where I am at now).

Another way the church reinforces the idea that members of the church are special is by telling them that they belong to the ONE and ONLY true church that is fully authorized by God to do his will among his people on the face of all the earth. If you belong to the church you are special indeed. Everybody outside the church may become special if they join the church, but the only way they can enjoy being so special, and so chosen by God to be His personal emissary, is if they belong to His church. Members of the church are told that sometimes the road may get rough, but being a member of God’s one true church can be a comforting thought when those times come. For many it is.

The church also maintains that people in this generation are even more special than any in all the previous generations of the earth. Young people now are told that they were the most valiant, and the most choice, spirit sons and daughters of God that were saved to come forth in the most special time in all of human history. This teaching used to be reserved for whites, and the colored were the less valiant ones, but now it means all the kids born recently (especially those born in the church) as opposed to those born in previous generations. The message has morphed into one that is more socially acceptable, but, I think is still dangerous nevertheless. How sad is it that people who worked so hard, but happened to be born before any of the children of the current day, have to be belittled by such a vain and purely speculative teaching? I think sometimes children nowadays need to hear that they are just losers until they can prove that they are not. I’m just kidding, of course, but I think this idea of being chosen to come forth in the latter days can lead to being critical of those who actually deserve more respect, but don’t receive it, because of the simple fact of when they were born. People of all generations are capable of doing great things and one generation is not entitled to feel more special than any other because of when they happen to be born.

Another way the church promotes a feeling of extra-specialness is in the bestowal of the priesthood on the men in the church. Now, maybe men do have a greater need to feel special than women, but I suspect it is more likely a carryover from days when women were not seen as being capable of having rights to vote or participate in a male dominated society. It is interesting to me that such social revolutionary thinkers such as Jesus and Joseph Smith both had much more progressive views of women than what happened to survive them.

Callings also contribute to a feeling of specialness because the adherent is told that the calling was extended especially to them for their specific benefit. Whether or not this is actually the case can obviously be determined by the person who accepts and labors in the calling, but many will dedicate a lot of time in callings where they are miserable because they are convinced the calling was extended especially to them to meet some specific spiritual need they had at the time. Not only is the believer special, but their calling was made special for them.

Finally, one other thing I think the church does to promote feeling special is in the progression from one level of special to higher levels. People are kept in the program by constantly expecting to feel more special once certain milestones have been accomplished. New members, who are made to feel special in the attention shown by missionaries, are invited to be baptized, which will make them feel more special. New members are given the gift of the holy ghost which is regarded as a special gift, that recipients ought to feel special to receive. In addition to receiving the priesthood, going to the temple will REALLY make you feel special. You belong to an elite club if you have made it that far and being in the club is what makes temple endowed and married members the most special of all.

Of course, believing members of the church would say that all this specialness is an indicator of the truthfulness of the work of God they are promoting and believe in. The problem is, right now, I can think of no good response to this argument. They may be right. All the special feelings people get when they do what the church says, may actually be the result of divine approval of the church and what it stands for. God may actually be smiling down on all the good Mormon folks and cause them to feel special because they really are. So maybe my ramblings here don’t have a great point, but my feeling is that a lot of the good feelings people get from following what the church teaches are by design. They are setup to appeal to a part of the human psyche that needs to feel special. In my opinion, this is an unfair manipulation of an area where people are susceptible to desire and are therefore more willing to conform because they like feeling special. When people feel special, they tend to overlook things that would be considered signs that manipulation is being practiced to gain and keep followers of a set of teachings or a group.

I think what I said earlier is true. When people are made to feel that they are more special than others because of their conformity to a group, that is when the line is crossed. When the needs of the group are supposed to come before just doing the right thing, that is when it has gone too far. I don’t think God is one to go around holding out this carrot of you feeling special and that he is dangling it in front of you to get you to act a certain way. Doing the right thing should be what makes you feel special for the sake of doing the right thing, not doing the right thing within the confines of a what a religious institution says you should be doing to get that feeling. So, what makes you feel special?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Latter Day Ramblings

Several weeks ago I got to fly to the land of zion on a business trip.

I woke up in the hotel and was flipping channels to see what Utah TV had to offer. As I was flipping, I came to a lecture being given on a public access channel that I found somewhat compelling. At first I thought the lecture was on ancient archeology and I was intrigued. But then I started to notice some things. For example there were no other textbooks sitting in front of this professor-looking-dude except for an open bible. I could also guess by the thickness of the book (and the fact that I was in Utah) that this was a seminary or institute instructor. I really don't remember much of what was being said except that he was talking about cultures that may have existed prior to Noah and the flood.

Then things got really wacky. The guy on TV then says something like, "I have held for a long time the following view and no one has ever proven me wrong so I will continue to teach it until someone proves me wrong." Then he proposed that the people that existed before and during Noah's time in the bible were actually extremely technologically advanced and may have even had space travel! The funny thing is, I probably sat through similar speculative dissertations all through high school seminary and college institute classes and didn't give it a second thought - except to be glad I actually got fed some meat of the gospel instead of all the milk.

The TV professor then went on to say that these people had all these wonderful technological advances and yet they lacked one thing. They lacked the spiritual maturity that they needed to be able to see their world endure past the condemnation of the world through the flood. (Of course, I had to wonder, if they had space travel, why couldn't they just get on their space ship and fly into orbit until the flood waters subsided? I guess they just weren't THAT technologically advanced...)

It is just amazing to me how some people can get away with such wild and extremely non-evidence based speculation! Not only that, but people eat up everything they say. First, you have to accept the existence of a world wide flood, and if you accept that, then the sky is the limit as far as what could have existed because all the archaeological evidence got wiped out during the flood! How convenient.

I was proud of myself when I eventually changed the channel for two reasons; 1. I don't buy crap like that any longer and 2. I found myself saying to myself, I wish I could ask this guy for his evidence. If there is very little to no evidence for what is being proposed than I will not be likely taking much stock in what is being said, but will categorize it with all other baseless wild speculation that goes on in the name of religion throughout the world. Better than the past where I would have just eaten it all up and felt that I had truly been spiritually fed.

The funny thing to me is that this kind of wild speculation goes on all the time and people hardly ever get called on it (at least in religious circles anyway). In fact, Joseph Smith Jr. played on this a lot of times. One thing that I recall in particular had to do with the Egyptian language. Joseph claimed to be able to interpret and translate Egyptian papyri. Now, Joseph was a pretty smart character because he knew Egyptian was then considered a dead language and that it presently could not be translated by the archealogists of his day (at least not any in the US at the time could interpret it). He was able to make up all kinds of gibberish because no one could say with any authority that he was full of it. I am amazed that he did so plentifully and often to the delight of so many looking for the deeper meaning in all things. Take a look at the following image of some of the translation of the Egyptian Papyrus that Joseph came up with:

Notice that each character is given several sentences to a paragraph of text next to it. People that understand any language can probably deduce that a simple character of a language is not likely to result in several sentences or paragraphs of text. However, Joseph asked everyone to suspend common sense to accept his translation. Feel free to look into this further and you will discover the truth of what I am saying. The problem is, people would rather just accept the word of a man who is making the wild claims while the voice of reason and common sense is boring and largely ignored. I guess the snake oil salesman continues to live on through the TV in Utah...

Friday, February 4, 2011


I have been thinking recently about happiness. What is happiness? Is happiness laughter? Is happiness physical pleasure? Is happiness derived from social interaction or a sense of belonging? Does happiness come from knowing that you are in a social majority? Does happiness come from a belief in God?

I will endeavor to answer each of these questions. Is happiness laughter? I feel happy when I have a good laugh. I believe laughter is good for the soul. However, unless I can forget about everything else in my life, laughter does make me happy and it probably contributes to my overall happiness, but it is not the sole source of happiness itself for me. I do know that I could use more laughter in my life.

Is happiness physical pleasure? This is one area where I obviously must hesitate to share as much as I would like to, but I will say that, being a man, seeing a lovely woman does make me happy. The more I get to see, the happier I become. However, while this may be a source of much happiness, I cannot say that I would be able to enjoy a full measure (like my mo jargon?) of happiness if my life consisted of nothing outside of this (although I would be willing to give it a shot, for the sake of science, of course ;)

I have also discovered that I feel loved when I am touched. Touch, to me, is the ultimate form of feeling love and happiness. It has been difficult for me to come to realize that others feel love and happiness through means other than touch. My wife feels love through what she sees. Others feel love through what they hear. The words, "I love you" are the most meaningful to them. We tend to give the most in the area of love that we want to experience because we want to receive that form of expression in return. In my opinion, this is a common area of discontent in intimate relationships (i.e. communicating that you love your partner in a different fashion than they would like to receive).

I'm also pretty sure that love and happiness are two different things, but I think one cannot have happiness without feeling loved. I also realize that many like to break up physical pleasure and love and claim they are two different things, however, I would argue that physical arousal and pleasure is such an important part of love that it cannot be taken away and still be considered love. Love is a hard word to nail down though. It is a huge umbrella of emotion that is much too broad to tackle in this post.

Is happiness derived through social interaction or a sense of belonging? I really think this is one area where I have suffered somewhat since I have stopped attending my regular Sunday meetings. I really enjoy my time at home during that 3 hour stretch on Sunday, but I do feel somewhat selfish. I think selfishness can contribute to happiness, but I also think it comes with a price and can be hollow. The best advice I have heard given to post-LDS is that we go out and give of ourselves to diminish selfishness (*Not that I am ready or willing to do this so much right now, because I am selfish, but I can spout it with the best of them - I am at least trying to be sincere). But I also wonder if there can come a point where we are giving so much that it doesn't bring us happiness anymore. I don't know if this is an excuse I use to not give so much or if it is the way it is. I know there have been times when service became a drudgery and stopped being fulfilling. The trick, I guess, is to get out (of the service project) just before (or maybe just after) this feeling comes. I also believe strongly that we can be happier when we are doing what we enjoy. And doing what we enjoy can sometimes be viewed as being selfish, but that is OK.

Social interaction and feeling of belonging is the major reason that religious people in the US, it is claimed, are noted to be happier than the non-religious. I think there is something to this. We are social creatures and need social interaction to not only survive, but thrive.

I am really not sure that I know what true happiness is. Maybe I am not capable of feeling as happy as I would like. I thought I knew what happiness was when I was a believing member of the church, but now I'm not so sure. I think it came from having everything about my existence packaged in a nice little box I was handed at church. All the answers were in the box. There was never any need to venture outside the box. Now that I have ventured outside the box, the world is so big and kind of scary, but really not so much all at the same time. I feel tentative and like I am looking for happiness but not really finding it. I almost think that I am not as happy as I once thought I was...or was I really that happy? Maybe ignorance truly is bliss and bliss is truly happiness? I guess I would rather be smart and unhappy than ignorant and happy, but sometimes I have to wonder. Happiness feels to me right now like it is fleeting and I cannot grasp it. But I also understand this is likely more due to my current circumstances, which contribute to insecurity, than a belief in the divine would cause. I wonder if my definition of happiness has been warped and permanently damaged by my disaffection from the church.

My dilemma as of late is that I see many people in the church who appear to be genuinely happy. I wonder why this is? I know they are trapped in a delusion, and yet, they seem to be OK with that. Many seem to be more than OK with it. The one thing they have in common, though, is that they either don't know much about the history of the church (outside of the correlated history that is) or they know some of it but refuse to fully acknowledge it or pursue it. Is having a mental roadblock to certain information a key to happiness? It appears that it can be.

Sometimes I find myself wishing that I could put the genie back in the bottle and just go back and forget everything I now know and have decided about the church. Things would be so much easier for my family, for my status with those that I see as my peers in my community. However, I can't just forget. I can't just flip a switch and make it all OK. Why did I have to question? Why did I have to insist on finding the answers I thought I wanted? Why can't God just answer my friggin' prayers and make everything right again?!

I have been very fond of the quote that says that happiness is not a destination but a mode of transportation. I used to think this quote was great, but I feel like it has lost some meaning. I have heard some say that happiness is a decision and it is as simple as that. That may be true after all, so what am I deciding?

Does happiness come from knowing that you are in a social majority? This is a very interesting theory that comes from studies that show that the happiest people in the world are found in Denmark. In 4th place (for overall happiness) is the Netherlands and in these northern European countries the religious are not in the social majority. It could be drawn that the correlation between happiness and religion in the US may stem more from the idea and comfort of being in a social majority (and having ready made avenues for social interaction through church) than from anything contained in the teachings of religions themselves. However, it may also have nothing to do with religion and more to do with the fact that the governments in this region place more emphasis on providing and taking care of the social needs of the people (such as health care, unemployment, vacations and retirement).

Finally, does happiness come from God? Honestly, I have to say that I do not know the answer to this question. However, I do not believe that believers in God can really answer it with evidence any better than I could. They would have to acknowledge the constant presence of guilt that a belief in God creates and I think guilt is a destroyer of happiness. I think this is why Jesus is so popular, He can remove guilt. Just wipe it all away. It's all gone. Jesus is so nice.

This goes back to what I have said about subjective evidence in an earlier post. I don't think any objective evidence can be found that definitively places God as the source of happiness. For all I know, God may be the source of all happiness in the universe, but this same God hasn't given me enough information (that I can classify as objective) to be able to say so one way or the other. For some, the studies that say religious people are the happiest is enough. And it may just be that simple...or it may not be. The problem with being a skeptic is sometimes you just don't know stuff, but I am OK with that and regardless of what any believer may say, I am happy with that conclusion. I wish I could convey that thought in a way where people who believe in God could actually accept it, but here we are, just trying to get along and pursue happiness wherever we may think it is found. I wish we were more tolerant as to allow this (speaking of myself as well as those who may disagree with me).

As I have thought about the source(s) of happiness, and my happiness in particular, I am convinced that happiness may not be experienced all the time. But that we may be genetically disposed to the level of happiness we have. Happiness appears to come from lots of different sources, but the biggest indicator of happiness is how well we listen to ourselves to figure out what will bring us the most happiness. I think even those that claim to receive that insight from God, are actually receiving it from themselves (and they would claim that I am actually receiving it from God), but it does not matter which of us is right. It only matters that we listen and not give up seeking, and recognizing, our best happiness possible. Stay happy my friends.