Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tithing and multi-level marketing

I really wish people would think about what they are saying to themselves and others when they pay tithing to the church. I don't care what church it is. I don't care what charity it is. Tithing is about giving to those organizations or groups who reflect your values and in whom you have confidence in to spend the donations they receive in a prudent and accountable manner that will mostly help those intended. I do not believe in paying any tithing to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for these reasons. OK, now that you know where I stand (and I have lost all credibility as one expressing my opinion to the faithful members of the church), please bear with me and consider what I am about to say;

Paying a tithing in a manner that is based on faith, and not on practical principles of prudent money management, is a completely unreasonable approach.

Let me explain what I mean by this with an analogy: I know there are lots of multi-level marketing organizations out there. Some have been around a long time, others are fairly new and many have come and gone. I am not trying to knock the potential for earning an income in these types of organizations, what I wish to point out is the magical thinking that tends to cause problems for people who do not exercise common sense when it comes to their amount of investment and hope for reward participating in them. Participants may anticipate earning certain amounts of income based more on the promises of others and not so much on a realistic approach to their likely investment to reward ratio.

Let's say you get recruited into _____ (insert the name of your least favorite multi-level marketing organization here). Your friend has a meeting at their house where you are introduced to the product/service and you are impressed by what you see. You think this is something you could see yourself at least buying for your own personal use. Then you are introduced to the business aspect of the organization which, you are told, requires further investment in business management materials, larger or more frequent subscription levels of the products/services, and efforts in recruiting others to join the organization. You realize that you enjoy talking to people, and you think you know lots of people so you figure this could be a good business opportunity for you.

Swayed by the expressions of confidence by this person you thought was your good friend (who you thought had your best interests at heart), you decide to sign up and determine to make the financial commitment you are assured will result in the success you are hoping for financially. Unfortunately, you haven't taken the time to examine your real financial situation to be able to determine whether or not you will realistically be able to afford the anticipated investment. Once you take a more critical look at your finances you realize that you just do not have the ability to spend the kind of money (or time) that soon it becomes apparent is required to have the success you are hoping for. The question soon comes to your mind; How much should I continue to invest in time and money on something that is not turning out as I hoped it would? Sure, maybe you are not doing enough in terms of investment. Maybe you are not patient enough to see the fruits of your labors, after all, it takes at least a year to cultivate a crop to be able to finally enjoy the harvest. Maybe you didn't think through enough of the obstacles that would come your way. Not only that, but you also begin to see some problems with the service of the organization and perhaps even the desired results advertised are not really as great as promised. The soap kind of starts to smell annoying after using it for so long. Maybe a lifetime commitment to one brand of soap isn't what I want.

The point is the doubts creep in. At some point, in this consideration of the difficulties encountered in keeping up with things the way you hoped you would be able to, you begin to seriously question whether or not you can really afford this investment to be able to see it pay off. You decide to start charging the cost of participation to credit cards. You soon find yourself unable to even keep up with the monthly payments on those cards. You are really in a crisis now. This investment is actually ruining your finances and you determine that you cannot continue this endeavor in good conscience.

You decide to talk to the friend who introduced you to the business in the first place. You tell him your concerns, but he seems un-fazed. He says you are just experiencing a little buyers remorse and that in order to have the success he has enjoyed you just have to keep up on buying the products and inviting people to the meetings. He again assures you that if you will just run with the plan you will soon have success. The promises are never really quantified, however. There really isn't any way to gauge the success you are being promised will come. You are pretty much told that if you just continue to buy the products, at the level required, every week, the success will come.

A few months later, you are really suffering. The collections calls are becoming more frequent, the bills are piling up and many are going unpaid. Regardless, you continue to be steadfast in the plan you believe in. If I can just get one more person to the meeting this month, it will start to turn around. If I can just reach the next level of achievement with my weekly product purchase (or even just increase the amount of my order a little bit), I will finally start to see the income I deserve. I will soon have the success I desire and the financial independence I so believe is possible. I get re-assured that I can succeed at the weekly meetings for the company. They all testify to me of their successes and I really believe that success will soon come for me too, if I just have faith in the business and the plan set out by the leaders of the company.

So what is wrong with the thinking here? It must be simply that the person is lacking the faith necessary to succeed, right?

Wait a minute! Who is screaming the obvious right now that the person in this situation needs to stop living beyond what they can realistically afford IMMEDIATELY! They need to be able to admit that they simply cannot continue the purchases each week and need to severely curtail them or even eliminate them altogether until they can have the funds to invest IN A BUSINESS- that they treat like a profitable BUSINESS venture. They should not be encouraged to spend money they do not have under any pretense of a get rich scheme.

We all are susceptible to this magical thinking. The belief that we can just get what we want if we have enough faith in those people or institutions that promise us untold successes and blessings, is sometimes a trap we easily fall into. We fall into these traps because we are greedy and because we want to believe people when they promise us a way to obtain what we want most. It is not that we are not smart or that we don't really have the potential to understand and gain control of our financial situations, it is just that we get caught up in the hope presented to us. Our minds naturally fill in what is missing from the advertisements.

There is a commercial on TV that advertises a guaranteed issue life insurance policy to seniors. They make it seem like such a good deal by saying that the cost of the coverage will never go up. They also say that it is guaranteed issue (meaning that you can't be turned down). These kinds of promises make it sound like a pretty good thing (and it may very well be for the right candidate), but there are also some things they don't tell you which could make a very big difference in your decision to purchase the coverage. They don't tell you that the policy will exclude certain health conditions and not pay out if you happen to die as a result of an excluded health condition. They also don't tell you that the policy is really for only a very small amount of money and likely would barely even be able to pay for your casket, let alone your funeral should you need it. They deliberately and intentionally leave these things out of the advertisement. Is that right or just or fair? I don't know. Obviously we should all proceed under the mantra of buyer beware and try to get answers to the questions the sales person is not asking for us. In my opinion, we need to be coming up with our own questions and not settling for unresponsive answers from sales people when we ask them the tough questions. Preparing yourself with challenging questions, to ask of those trying to sell you something, about the potential weaknesses of a product or service should be something to remember.

This is all abandoned as unnecessary, for some reason, when it comes to religion. When promises are made (surrounding the ultimate success that is, or blessings that are, promised to come for living as taught by the church) and don't come, why do we abandon the obvious questions we should be asking? Why do we suddenly abandon our skepticism in favor of this faith that might actually be asking too much of us? Why is it that if someone decides to question the faith, they are encouraged to remain silent as to not discourage the faith of others in the group? Shouldn't these things all be warning signs?

Unfortunately, for many, these signs are just not enough. Unfortunately, the lure of magical thinking and the belief that there is an afterlife where all of these things will be made known, and justice equitably meted out at the judgment bar, is just too enticing of a thought-if you feel your actions are in line with the judgment being delivered. It is the hook that keeps us thinking if we just can get through this trial, which-we are constantly reminded-is only 'but a small moment', everything will be right again and I will be so much better because of it. It may not be money we are necessarily focused on, but the things money can buy is sneaked in every once in a while to keep it interesting. Streets paved with gold and glorious mansions on high are mentioned just enough to keep the carrot clearly dangling in front of us to condition our behavior and thinking.

Tithing is such a huge example of this. The church will not come out and clearly say how the members should define the payment of a full tithe. I believe they are deliberate in this. Tithing is talked about in terms of the faith required to pay it and not in terms of what exactly it should be paid on. I believe the design has had the intended effect. In the LDS Church, especially, the conversations among believers tend to center on whether or not members should pay 10% of their gross or net income. Nobody ever seems to mention the idea that income isn't increase or interest at all! Income is the exchange of your labor for monetary units (by the hour or a fixed amount per year) that can be used to live and put away in investment. Increase, or interest as it is referred to in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, is the amount your monetary units have increased due to investment in the marketplace (or bank or whomever you trust to earn you a return on your money).

From this new understanding of WHAT tithing should be paid on, we can derive a few things;

1. Tithing isn't really expected of the poor. However, the church likes to tell the story of the widow's mite and how even the poorest widow can give 10% of what she has to the church. Perhaps the widow is entitled to her faith, but the widow should also be told by a responsible church leader what exactly tithing is expected to be paid on. It should not be expected that we give 10% of our estate (i.e. the sum of our earnings and investments) every year. If the poor are doing this, then they deserve to be taken care of by giving back to them a 10-fold increase of what they put in. While she may be expected to pay, the lesson should be focused on the desire to help and serve others and not on the amount of money paid to the church. Unfortunately that is the focus of too many sermons on tithing.

2. Tithing IS expected of the rich. People who have healthy investment portfolios that represent a sizable income should be paying 10% of THAT income (interest/increase). That income IS actually interest. It is the earnings on the principal. Do you think the wealthy should give 10% of their principal sums in tithing every year? If they did that, they'd be near broke in about 11 or 12 years (obviously depending on the size of the investment). Tithing is not meant to diminish our estate or principal holdings. It is meant to be taken from the fluff that comes once our estate is secure. When we pay tithing on our principal (the monetary units gained for the exchange of our labor), we are actually causing a significant diminishing of our estate. While this diminishing may not be immediately felt by some, it is very real (and, I would submit, dangerous).

3. Tithing is not expected to support a large multinational corporate structure with massive real estate holdings and a diverse portfolio of large investment holdings. Tithing is meant to help the poor among us...period. It may include support of community projects, that are as transparent as possible and, that directly benefit the community the donations are coming from. Perhaps there are cases where groups may decide to reach out to more impoverished parts of the world, but those are decisions that should be made at the local level by those whose money has been contributed. A centralized collection system and distribution by a corporate board of directors in charge of the for-profit investment holdings of the corporation, on the other hand, does not sound like the way tithing should be handled to me.

The real poison of these teachings, of paying tithing on income instead of interest or increase - in my opinion, is the actual increase of poverty due to the pervasiveness of these ideas. The church should do the responsible thing and come out and give clarity on this issue, but they choose not to.

I humbly submit that the LDS Church is so caught up in the support of it's corporate structure and survival that it is really not concerned with the harm its teachings are doing to society. People are having to make due on less and less nowadays and the church is continuing to emphasize the number of gaudy, under-utilized structures (temples) it is building all around the world. Does anyone see what is really going on here? The church is more interested in increasing the size of it's real estate holdings than it is in helping people in ways that are community based and directed by the ones making the contributions.

Sure, the defenders of the faith will point to the amount of aid the church has given to devastated areas around the world. While this is a good point, it would be even more poignant if the church would release more information about how much it is actually giving in comparison to what it takes in. My guess is that the amount spent by the church in these efforts is meager and paltry compared to what it takes in. I welcome being proved wrong on this point. However, I think my challenge will simply fall on deaf ears. Of course, it really could be that the church understands the principle of tithing even better than the members do and they only pay out to charitable causes 10% of the interest they earn on all of their holdings. This is an interesting possibility...

It is simply unconscionable to me that these ideas (I would actually rather refer to them as heresies) are allowed to persist in the church. When I have asked faithful members why this is, or even how the amount of tithing paid should be calculated, I am told it is always up to the individual. However, when I press them or ask what they pay on, they will usually answer with 10% of either 'net' or 'gross' income. The idea that the amount to be paid is based solely on the thoughts of the individual, when coupled with the idea that we WILL be judged based on our works creates a very lucrative self perpetuating cycle of thoughts leading to behaviors that cannot be broken in the members of the church. Many, at least in my opinion anyway, will continue to follow this concept even though doing so represents a huge and unnecessary sacrifice to their families. Putting them deeper and deeper into poverty as they pay their estate away to others in the church and the government. Well, I don't really want to get started on that subject. Suffice to say, I feel it is very unfortunate that those who are best in the position to fix this problem (church leaders) are the one's least having the incentive to do so. This is a problem.

The way I think most members of the church justify this, clearly irrational, way of thinking about their large overall contributions to the church is to think in terms of the blessings they will get if they pay as they think they should or the loss of blessings they will experience due to not paying enough in tithing.

Let's think on that for a moment. If you ask the member to identify the specific blessings they can clearly associate with the payment of a full tithing (at least according to their faithful and overly generous interpretation), what will they say? Usually the member will be quick to point out that paying tithing is not a get rich quick scheme. In other words, you can't expect to be blessed financially for the payment of tithing. (To this, I just want to say, well self respecting financial planner would advocate giving away 10% of your farm, or land, every year to achieve financial independence. But that is exactly what members of the church believe, and actually feel bad about falling short of, when they do not diligently practice the payment of a full tithe.) So what, exactly, are the blessings that come from paying tithing? If financial abundance is off the table, what is left? And why is it that the church seems to choose only those that are financially well off to be called to positions of leadership? It seems awfully convenient to attempt to preach that the payment of a full tithe will not lead to financial abundance and then tend to call only the financially abundant members to enjoy the great blessings of serving in high capacities of responsibility in the church and kingdom of God on the earth! Perhaps I am just jealous I was never called to be a high ranking leader in the church. No, actually, there is no perhaps about it. I was told in my patriarchal blessing that I would be called to sit in the councils of the church when I got older, gosh darn it, I was expecting that to be the case and fully expecting to be called to be in the Quorum of the 12 apostles. Why did I think such a thing? More magical thinking on my part most likely.

Whatever the faithful member comes up with in terms of blessings that they believe have come because of the payment of their overly generous tithes and offerings to the church, for each one of them, they are likely forgetting an instance (or more than several actually) where that blessing did not come.

Why do we pick and choose to see as consequences, aka blessings for obedience to a principle of the gospel, only those times or instances which happen to support our views? Why do we block out all of the dis-confirming evidences for our beliefs? Sometimes, the dis-confirming evidence even shows up in the very scenario the believer is using to bolster their faith in the payment of a full tithe. These are actually somewhat humorous to think about when they are encountered. Of course, one has to then grapple with whether or not such thoughts should be spoken out loud. Usually they aren't, but they cause a chuckle or two anyway.

I'm pretty sure Jesus said something along the lines of, 'Let those who have ears to hear, hear and eyes to see, see.' I hope someone will hear and see what I am saying here.

While I freely admit that I may have some things to learn in terms of my attitude of giving to those causes that will support my community, I think that I also need to feel that the financial security of my family simply must come first. When I feel comfortable that the security is there to some extent, I believe I will then be more likely, and able, to look to the ways I can best contribute generously to those causes I desire to support. I honestly do think giving is important, but I think I must feel it is OK to give to the support of my family's security first. I'm OK with that and you should be too.

Just like Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, I need to be sure my needs of survival, social interaction and financial support of my family are met first, before I am capable of stepping up and into the need of giving back to others outside those in my immediate care and contributing generously to my community.

Of course, I do feel the need to address the fact that many self development guru's do advise listeners and readers to practice the payment of a tithe in donations to charity. I believe this could be due to the incentive a generous tithe gives to be motivated to work harder. I guess it could be thought that the more painful the offering to charity, the more diligent one will work to be motivated to earn more. We likely all could benefit from being less selfish. I'm sure I need it more than most.

However, I almost wonder if these kinds of positions are motivated more by political beliefs than religious ones. Conservatives, I believe, tend to be more about tenets that encourage a rugged individualism and support those ideas that motivate humans to behave in ways that encourage taking care of themselves. This view of paying generous, and substantial I suppose, offerings to charity could be a necessary component of getting radical conservatism to actually work over the long term. If people don't give generously and voluntarily, however, the government will necessarily come in and ask it of us. The liberal corollary, thus, would be that since we have shown that it is not really in our nature to voluntarily give substantially of our wealth to support the poor among us, in a way that is meaningful, someone has to take care of these things. If churches are falling down on the job, someone has to pick up the slack. And, unfortunately, as inefficient as we all like the claim the government is, it actually does the job of cutting out the middle man in terms of those who would seek to profit off the donations intended for the poor and otherwise afflicted whom we have an obligation to support.

I feel like I can only begin to scratch the surface of some of these issues. I feel sometimes like I can come across as angry in what I am saying. Maybe I am a little angry. Maybe my anger isn't really anger. Maybe I am actually just very hurt that I see now that the church was not all I was told it was my whole life. Maybe I am now just a half-full kind of guy. Regardless of my personal issues, I think what I am saying here has some merit. Please stop to consider what motivates your actions before putting your family in jeopardy by paying tithing on your gross or net income. Think that it is OK with God if you actually use that money to take care of the needs of your family first. There are plenty of people who earn plenty on their dividends and investments to take up the slack. Tithing is not really a sacrifice that is expected of you without consideration of your family and their needs to be taken care of. It is not about sacrifice really. It is just a practical method of taking care of people that is meant to be painless and sort of ancillary. At least, this is my opinion anyway.

To put it in simpler terms; if you are a person who feels very strongly that tithing should be paid to the church as 10% of your gross OR net income, think of it this way. Each month you write that tithing check out to the church, you are literally taking 10% of your house payment and giving it to the church (since you are taking it out of the money you earn to make your house payment or rent). You are taking 10% of your car payment and giving it to the church. You are also taking 10% of all of your other bills and household expenses for the month and giving that to the church. Do you really think the church wants this? Do you think God wants this? Do you really think that if you just keep up in this silly behavior that you will actually be better off for it? Sure, if you want to say, well, we eat out at fine restaurants a lot or we take really nice vacations or we put a bunch of money in savings every month and therefore taking 10% of that and giving it to the church would be OK...fine. Then reduce the amounts you spend on these luxury items by that same 10% and give that to the church. I personally still feel like this is a bit generous, but that's OK. Do what you want but, please, stop acting foolishly and then beating yourself up about not giving enough or it not being a 'full' and 'honest' tithe! Don't give what you can't realistically afford. If you have to borrow money from savings to get through the month, it is OK to not pay tithing that month. If you are even worse off and have no money in savings, but feel like you need to charge purchases on credit cards to get by, go ask the church for some assistance with food (since that is all they will really give you), but, by all means, do not pay tithing. The Lord doesn't expect it and you shouldn't either. If you feel bad for some reason about your new outlook on the law of tithing, think on the atonement. It was done so you could forgive yourself about your misunderstanding of the intent of the law of tithing. Forgive yourself. Stop hurting yourself and your family. Give to them first and then things will take care of themselves. Be kind. Love one another. Love yourself.

I'm going to step down from my soap box now. Perhaps I'll come back and have more to say sometime soon. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!

On this day of celebration I wish to add my contribution of gratitude for all of those who have served our country in the defense of our freedoms! I also wish to add my support and well wishes to all of those who are fighting that same fight today.

In addition, I am especially grateful for the patriots who have come along at various points in history to remind us that we have allowed control of our lives to be given up to others who would wish to exercise control over us without our full understanding and consent. The founding fathers were initially seen as traitors to the established government in their day. They had to act because they simply could not stand by and watch any longer while tyrants took, what they saw as, those freedoms rightfully belonging to the people away and replaced them with permissions and privileges.

I'm not sure why it has happened, but what I know for sure is that it has happened. What has happened is our inherent rights have gradually been usurped and replaced for benefits and privileges. We have surely become convinced that these are necessary for us to maintain our freedoms. HOGWASH! Our freedoms have existed prior to all of these and do continue to exist to this day. Unfortunately, however, we all pretty much feel that to stand up and speak out in defense of our inherent freedoms will land us in jail. It is this fear that keeps us all in line for the most part.

What is so amazing is the complete and total lack of any organized effort to do something about the wrongs we all know exist, and talk about with such regularity, that make us so disgusted with our current government and elected representatives. For some reason we have it in our mind that to do something patriotic would just require too much effort, too much sacrifice and there is little chance that it would all make much difference. Of course, we are all probably right about this and we will all likely have to wait for things to get much worse before we actually decide to do anything severe about it. But my question would be; How much worse can things actually get?

Here are my disconcerting observations, which I will follow with a few suggestions of little things we might be able to do to actually make a difference:

Disconcerting observation #1:
Way too many people are in prison in this country! Not only that, but our prison populations are represented by a majority of those who are in poverty or are in racial minorities. The United States actually has the largest percentage of it's population in prison compared to any other country in the world! Of course, a common response I hear frequently to this is that we are the only country in the world that has the patience to put people in jail, while most other countries just execute their wrongdoers. While I suppose this may be true in those countries ruled by tyrannical dictators (or regime's that don't have much regard for the sanctity of human life), it is not the case in those countries that are more progressive than the United States. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are potentially some other reasons this is the case and I think it has something to do with money. I also believe that the ability of our systems of incarceration in this country to actually reform those who have committed crimes is woefully insufficient. Not only that, but the number of people in prison for victim-less crimes (such as traffic code violations, drug possession - not using mind you - just possession and weapons charges - again not actually using the weapon, just carrying or having in possession without the required permits or permissions) is unacceptably high.

So, what can we do about it:
1. We can advocate, and lobby our elected representatives, to do away with any jail time for victim-less crimes. Violations without an actual victim should never result in time in jail. Instead, we should advocate a sort of 3 strikes and you have to pay a fine type of system. Too many families and otherwise potentially productive lives are destroyed because of jail time (not to mention court fees and fines) over a mere infraction which does not have any victim or harm actually committed. This would result in police having to document 3 warnings given out to code violators before they can actually issue a citation where the person could incur a fine.

2. We can also advocate for additional resources (saved by not incarcerating code violators) to be devoted to actual mental health assistance or counseling for inmates to allow them to actually receive needed help in achieving reformation. We should also be advocating for more mental health resources devoted to the private sector to hopefully eradicate the problems that could result from those that suffer from various levels of mental health issues, who may be more likely to commit actual crimes.

Disconcerting observation #2:
The rich are getting richer, the middle class and poor are getting poorer! I don't think I really need to say anything more about this, but I will anyway. Obviously, it is not the observed outcome we tend to have disagreement on, but it is the possible solutions that we can't agree on that stifle our action on this front. Unfortunately, I think this problem is the result of apathy on the part of all Americans. We have let ourselves get in a position of ignorance as it relates to what money is and how it works in this country. We have allowed ourselves to be told by others how things work and what we must do about it. This is the main reason the wealthy have so much wealth; most achieved it through knowing something that others didn't and the disparity of information was capitalized on to their gain. The government is doing the same thing to us. I suspect they have a few secrets they have kept over the years from us as it relates to our money. This information is keeping us all from enjoying the abundance we all know is possible if we could just gain a little perspective, information and responsibility in this area.

What we can do about it:
I really like the universe of Star Trek as an inspiration for a potential solution to this problem. In the world of Star Trek there is no money. Everybody understands two things in the world of Star Trek; 1. There is no medium of exchange besides your contribution to the society at large and 2. That everyone's contributions to the society as a whole allow everyone to have more than they would ever need in terms of stuff they might want (as well as some advanced technology that make providing for basic needs of life a mere command to a computer system somewhere). Obviously, there are those who take more than they contribute in the world of Star Trek, but in that world I think they have figured out that this is OK, as long as the cultural conditioning remains intact that keeps most people convinced that these kinds of selfish behaviors only result in a drag on the system and are not ultimately worthwhile for the good of the whole society.

To take a cliche from John F. Kennedy, we need to ask not what government can provide to us, but instead ask what we can contribute to society. I don't know if this small shift in thinking is actually possible or not, but I think if we all could begin to see the potential of this kind of attitude shift, it could result in magnificent changes occurring very rapidly to our economic situation here. I also think a big part of the problem is not knowing what we don't know. I am hopeful, however, that as technology becomes more advanced, and less expensive, education will only increase and we will hopefully begin to learn the things we didn't know before and decide to be more responsible and contribute more than what we take.

Disconcerting Observation #3:
God bless the USA! I don't know if anybody else in this country feels the same way I do, but this phrase just rubs me the wrong way. I know many of the reasons for the belief that the America's are some sort of promised land go way back and are rooted in religious teachings (obviously since most sentiments involving God are religious in nature), but I wonder why would God love us, or choose to bless us, more so than other countries in the world? My wife says that people are not supposed to compare their blessings to anybody else's, but if you only choose to see the good things that happen to you as blessings and ignore any of the bad things (those are apparently not blessings, after all) that happen, I don't see how this is productive. I tend to see it as all a matter of consequences. If we make good, informed choices, we will likely have good consequences and if we make poor, or mis-informed, choices we will likely have unfortunate consequences.

What to do about it:
We need to let go of the belief that God chooses to bless our country any more than any other country in the world. If you must maintain a belief in God, just remember that God is God of the whole earth and not just your little section of it. God loves all of us no matter what color skin we have, what we prefer to eat or where we happened to be born or choose to live. Why can't we be more willing to say that God loves all of the children of the earth equally and not stand by when other countries treat their inhabitants as second class citizens or slaves. I guess there are those that see the USA as being blessed first and therefore owing a duty to the rest of the world, I guess that is OK as long as the perspective includes the added sentiment of "Now God needs to bless the rest of the world through me (or us)."

Of course if we insist on that belief, we have to understand that other countries may not see things the same way we do. We can't be arrogant enough to think that we must be the world's police. We have to seek first to endow other countries with their sovereignty and then seek to defend ourselves from those who would actually represent a credible threat to our borders. I believe, however, that if we were less defensive in our posturing that other countries would not be so quick to respond in kind...but I acknowledge that I may just be naive in this thinking - but I can't let go of the thought that disarmament has to start somewhere, why not with us? I think we need to treat other countries more like our neighbors and less like strangers from a strange land with strange beliefs that we are quick to blame for our problems.

Obviously, this tends to bring to mind the problem of our age known as terrorism. While I can't say with any level of certainty the reason the terrorists choose to do what they do, I think it might be because of our arrogance in times past in treating other countries as subjects to us rather than the sovereigns they should be treated as. While I can't claim to be any kind of expert on this, it is my suspicion that there is more to the story of what motivates terrorists than we are often told in the media. There really isn't any incentive in this country to tell the story of what led up to the terrorist decision to act. Of course, it could just be as simple as an un-diagnosed or untreated mental health condition as well.

Overall, while I think some things continue to need improvement in this country (and the world as well, obviously), I am fairly optimistic. I am encouraged by the prospect of patriots who stand up for what is right when they see wrongs being committed whether domestically or internationally. I am also encouraged by advances in technology and what it is doing for our ability to access information and have answers to difficult questions or situations we encounter that we may need help with. To be better informed can only be good in terms of helping us get beyond the problems we face. These advances in technology will only continue to benefit countries with more serious problems than we face in terms of poverty, civil war or education. I really think that advances in understanding and communication can lead to monumental changes. Perhaps in that sense, the pioneers of modern technology can be seen as the patriots of our day.

So as you go out and have your barbecue and light off your fireworks and have your time with family and friends, please remember to give a little salute to the patriots. To those who stood against those things that most others were unlikely to stand up for because it was unpopular or unconventional, even (and especially) when it meant the potential to lose their life in doing so. They are the hero's. The one's who go before and lead to accomplishing real, significant and monumental changes, that afterwards, we can't imagine what life would have been like without them.

Happy INDEPENDENCE Day! Please enjoy any alcohol, fireworks and other pyrotechnics responsibly.

Monday, March 25, 2013

If women had the priesthood

I have seen some buzz lately surrounding the idea of women being able to hold the priesthood. My initial reaction is that they should be able to hold the priesthood, and be able to hold any calling men do in the church. However, after I think about it for a while I come to realize that it actually may not be such a good idea.

The reasons I can think that it might not be such a good idea to give women the priesthood is because it would likely result in some pretty major changes in the church. For one thing, if girls got the priesthood at 12 years old, as the boys do,  then boys and girls would be passing the sacrament together. This would encourage more interaction between boys and girls and would only result in more teen pregnancy. I also think it would lead to girls feeling equal to boys and, since girls are superior to boys intellectually and emotionally, boys would quickly feel inferior to their superior priesthood holding counterparts. This feeling of inferiority would only serve to denigrate those boys that may already have low self-esteem to begin with.

Also, since holding the priesthood requires wearing dress slacks, white shirts and ties, and girls would look kind of silly in white shirts and ties (not to mention they are not allowed to wear pants), this would just not work.

If women held the priesthood then that would mean they could give priesthood blessings. I don't know how women would be able to come up with the same kinds of things that men are able to receive from the spirit when it comes to giving blessings. Again, all of their blessings pronounced would probably be far superior to what men have been able to muster up so this would only lead to further feelings of inferiority by men.

I'm trying to imagine if women were also able to hold the high and responsible callings in the church like bishop and stake president. I can't even begin to imagine what that might be like. Women conducting meetings?! I'm not sure they would be able to handle such a great responsibility. They would probably want to make drastic changes to the way the meetings are held and the current meetings would just end up wholly unrecognizable in comparison. This would obviously result in more women giving talks and prayers and such and, well, this would just make more men feel left out.

There might also be very big changes to current programs such as home and visiting teaching. The good news is, men would be able to phone their families and have it count as a home teaching visit, the bad news is meals and/or treats would likely be mandatory as part of the message to the families when they were visited. There might also be more prayers uttered to Heavenly Mother and her sacred name and position would just become common and ordinary and not special and completely sacred as it is now.

Then there are the changes that would likely occur if women were to eventually be called to the high and holy callings in the church as apostles or prophets. This would just simply not do. How could women be expected, or even able, to devote the time needed to such callings? With all their housework, cooking, cleaning and taking care of children and grandchildren, they simply would not have time to engage fully in such callings. This would ultimately lead to a downfall in the quality of the revelations received and the whole church would likely suffer as a result. The members might actually decide to leave the church in greater numbers than they already are and the church may not actually survive such a change.

Of course, all of the reasons listed above do not take into account the effect such a change would have on the membership of the church almost immediately should such a change be instituted. When the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ) made the change to allow women to hold to the priesthood they lost nearly 60-70% of their membership almost overnight. The modern LDS church would likely not be able to survive such a loss to their membership numbers.

For all of the reasons listed I don't think allowing women to hold the priesthood would really be such a good idea. Of course, I am writing all of this tongue in cheek. Women should hold the priesthood simply because it is right for such a thing to happen. Yes changes would occur, but all of them would only be good.

What do you think? Should women be able to hold priesthood callings and, if they were, what sorts of changes do you think would be the result?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Letter to Believers

In the course of losing my faith, there were, it seems, some who wanted to continue to correspond with me to try and convince me otherwise. I have pretty much lost interest in attempting to communicate with these people much anymore. However, I do understand the need to have information shared by others in a similar situation when one is going through this enormous paradigm shift. Sometimes it can seem like you are all alone, especially when surrounded mostly by those who seek to maintain their faith at all costs – even to the destroying of the individual who is questioning their faith.

In this spirit, I present a response to a true believer that I came up with when I was more inclined to do so. I had gone over much with this person and this was the latest round of attempts to reason with this person that I sought to share;

So, if the church is completely true as I understand it, then the church claims to have the answers to the question, "What is the purpose of life?" Correct?

The Sunday school answers I was given to this question is that our purpose is two-fold. One purpose was to come to earth to receive a physical body. As far as why this is important, we are told it is because we need a physical body to be able to become like God who has a body of flesh and bone. The other purpose of our mortal existence, we are told, is to see if we will do all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded us. In other words, we are being tested on our faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God.

So my question is, if a purpose of our existence is to be tried and tested, then we should be able to assume we will all receive a grade of some sort depending on our individual performance in these tests administered while in mortality? Is that a fair assumption? Otherwise, why say we are being “tried and tested”? Both of these have meaning to us here. To be tried implies that there may be some sort of trial to determine guilt or innocence. If guilty, then a punishment is affixed. If innocent, than freedom and advancement are presumed to be the consequence. Tests are also something we are very familiar with from school. Tests imply being asked questions, we give our answers to see if we have retained the knowledge previously given in lectures or readings. If that is true, then is it also safe to assume that some people will fare better in these tests/trials than others?

If that is true, can we also assume that the significance of these tests is pretty heavy as far as it relates to our standing in the eternities and that our performance here on earth may have eternal (and possibly unchangeable) consequences as far as our reward (or punishment) in the eternities is concerned? Now, I admit, this may be a pretty big assumption, but the alternative is that this life is actually pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things, which seems to go contrary to everything leaders of the church have to share when discussing such things. The message seems to be that this life is of paramount importance.

This is my understanding and a reason that I used to believe that I had to do everything in my power to make sure I was passing the tests (keeping all the commandments possible, including all of my church duties and assignments and callings, etc.) so that I could assure a standing in the eternities that would allow me to have the greatest opportunities afforded me in the eternal hereafter. I really believed that if I wasn't doing everything in my power to try and achieve obedience (and thus pass the tests) that I could fail and end up in eternal misery and damnation (i.e. being cut off from eternal progression, stuck forever as an angel or ministering servant in heaven). I certainly did not want to end up in eternal misery. That would suck.

So if all this is true (at least as far as I understand it), then there is a very real chance that people will end up separated from each other in the eternities due to their performance in this life. Is that a correct understanding? Is there anywhere that I am off so far?

If it is true that people will end up in different "kingdoms" due to their performance in this life, is it not also possible that people from the same families will end up in different places? Including being in kingdoms where one family member will be prohibited from going and seeing other family members (in higher kingdoms) because they are stuck in a lower kingdom? If that is true, then how can the church preach the significance of being with your family for eternity when that will not be the case for everyone?

When I asked one person this sort of question, the response was that we do not know how everyone will be judged. Their feeling was that we cannot say with any degree of certainty where someone will end up in the hereafter, because none of us is entitled to judge anyone else. However, if the church is true as I understand it, should I not be concerned about what I have been taught that I WILL be judged on? The fact remains that I WILL be judged at some point. Just because you can’t say how I will be judged, I HAVE TO make sure that I perform in the areas that I am surely going to be judged on (as does, according to what the church teaches, everyone else who has the same understanding). I think that is a fair assumption. So even though this person, nor anyone else, will condemn me (or, at least, they are told not to) and sentence me to eternal misery (except The Lord, of course, and possibly my Bishop), I WILL be held accountable for what I have been taught (and decided to ignore or deny or whatever) and the consequences for which WILL BE very real to me.

I am of the feeling that as it pertains to me individually and my overall accountability for my behavior and ultimate judgment, I have come to the conclusion that any judgment of my behavior or belief (or lack thereof) would not be suitable based on the limited amount of knowledge I have been given thus far in my life (as far as the certainty of, or ability to know for certain in the secular sense of obtaining knowledge) as to whether or not what the church teaches contains all the answers I need to be be adequately judged in the hereafter. Therefore personally, I can rest soundly at night knowing that if I die, and if it is true that I will be judged based on my behavior, that I will be able to confidently say that since I was placed in a world where I was introduced to tangible matter and concrete logic and reasoning, with no memory of any former existence, that I did the best I could with the information that I was able to obtain within the realm of reality that I knew existed for certain. I will also be able to confidently say that if I chose not to follow the dictates of a religion, it was because evidence for its truthfulness was not able to be obtained according to a sufficient measure of truthfulness within the sphere of reality I was familiar with in the circumstances I knew to be real (and verifiable) in mortality.

The problem with this, of course, is that even though I can rest at night (even if I choose to ignore what the church teaches and not go and not concern myself with all of it) members of my family and loved ones are not so fortunate. They continually are kept up at night worrying (even though it may not manifest itself in everyday communication, the reality of it is certainly extant) about me and whether or not I will be allowed to be with them in the eternities. According to the church, if I maintain my present course and beliefs (or lack of) than I will be sentenced to eternal misery in a lower kingdom and they will have to figure out how to go on without me around. How does this worry allow people to get on with life and enjoy all that life has to offer? I don’t think it is possible for family members to be sufficiently assuaged in their grief over my possible eternal circumstances. That’s why mothers of wayward children say they feel like a failure. That’s why believing spouses and children look on apostates with sadness and sorrow when they don’t accompany them to church and I think this is the ultimate reason that many, many couples that marry in the church (or temple mostly) who experience a spouse that questions, and ultimately leaves the church, end in divorce. The value of endeavoring to maintain a lasting relationship with the person that is loved becomes irrelevant and meaningless when one’s eternal prospect for a lasting relationship is possibly in jeopardy. Some believing spouses cling to the hope that what Paul said in 1 Corinthians (7:10-16) is really true that the non-believing spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse and that they will somehow be able to give their spouse a hall pass (because of their faithfulness and performance in the mortal tests and church adherence) to be able to enter their kingdom of reward with their spouse. However, it seems to me that this as a source of hope can tend to wane in the face of all the other things being said by church leaders. The ramifications of non-belief are extremely hard to ignore. Those that can choose to ignore them ought to be highly regarded, but the non-believing spouse may have a hard time believing that the eternal consequences of their behavior actually can be ignored by the believer.

Sometimes the non-believing spouse can’t help but wonder what will happen when the believing spouse decides to stop ignoring the possible ramifications? What about the children of such relationships? I know people that love me will never really give up on me, but the thought has to occur to people at some point, “What if Facsimilogos never changes his ways and never decides that the church is where it’s at?” People who face this sort of question find discomfort in it and tend to largely ignore it. But the question remains, nevertheless. What answer can the believing spouse come up with?

I think most believers simply choose not to answer this question. Instead choosing to say “I don’t know” or “who can really say what will happen in the hereafter?”. But, if pressed, how should people really answer this question? I think it is just too painful to think that someone you care about will not be around in the hereafter. Which is funny to me because the church is supposed to provide so much comfort through answers to life’s difficult questions. Unfortunately, however, where it is supposed to provide the ultimate comfort, it falls flat on its face. I think that’s why you get general authorities saying over the pulpit that wayward children WILL come back into the fold at some point (if not in this life, then most assuredly in the hereafter). My question is, what is their scriptural basis for that teaching?

I guess D&C 76: 110 could be used to justify that because it says that everyone who only achieved a telestial reward, after they have suffered eternal torment, will all bow their knee and confess that Jesus is for real. Isn’t that special? After your loved one has suffered for what seems like an eternity (or possibly for all eternity...not sure which one), they will eventually decide that the suffering just isn’t worth it anymore and then decide to come around. It seems to me that our eternal reward is just that, eternal.

I gather from D&C 76 (verse 33 for sons of perdition and verse 105 for the not so valiant or ignorant) about the assignment of kingdoms that there WILL NOT be any upgrades. No matter what the situation, no matter how much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth occurs, you will not be eligible for eternal bliss if that is not what you are entitled to based on the grade you get for your performance on the tests administered during mortality. I wonder why those who believe sometimes don’t seem to take things more seriously? It really is that serious, isn’t it? If so, this is what continues to keep me from being able to believe in it.

Anyway, I look forward to your thoughts. Thanks for your ongoing concern and consideration for me and my situation. You have been very kind where others have not and I do sincerely appreciate your kindness and efforts to keep lines of communication open. You certainly deserve to be commended for that.