Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dr. Pharisees or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lack of Prescriptions.

"Well if they can [do that], then I should be able to drink coffee," said during a conversation I had about church members who do things contrary to counsel given by church leadership.
Religious Reason has made a series of posts that got me thinking about why the gospel is prescriptive in certain places and not others. I have also seen terrible attempts at explaining these "gaps" in the gospel. The problem lies somewhere between what is considered to be doctrine, policy, or culture. The Millennial Star blog shared a fantastic parable I suggest you read.
Now, about the Pharisees. The Bible Dictionary states:
In the New Testament, a religious group among the Jews whose name suggests being separate or apart. The Pharisees prided themselves on strictly observing the law of Moses and avoiding anything associated with the Gentiles...Their teachings reduced religion to the observance of rules and encouraged spiritual pride. They caused many Jewish people to doubt Christ and his gospel. The Lord denounced the Pharisees and their works in Matthew 23Mark 7:1–23; and Luke 11:37–44.

The Pharisees prided themselves on laying out exactly how to act in any given circumstance. If there was a question, there was a definitive answer. If you didn't abide by their laws properly, you could be stoned. In our day, there seems to be a thirst for someone, similar to the Pharisees, to tell them what to do in any given circumstance. "Do I tithe on my net, gross, or surplus income? Why exactly is coffee, tea, and alcohol bad? What about cooking with alcohol?" They feel like there should be more revelation given to the body of the church. They want someone else to make decisions for them. That sounds strikingly similar to the plan that the adversary had for us before he was cast out for rebellion.
Herein lies the beauty of the gospel. It does not care about those things. Anywhere the doctrine is unclear, or seemingly misinterpreted, it is up to us. How will we learn and grow or make decisions by ourselves if everything is so prescriptive? Each individual's situation is unique. They learn at different paces. Some may not have a problem with saying the occasional swear word. Others may choose to tithe on their net income or surplus for any one of a thousand reasons. Does this make them not observant of gospel laws? No. The lack of prescriptions allows each person to make their own life choices while still living the gospel.
There are relatively few commandments. There is a basic standard of worthiness to enter into the temple or take part in priesthood ordinances. However, the questions asked in a temple or baptism interview are yes/no questions. If you can, with a clear conscience, answer those questions, the rest doesn't matter. 
Always remember not to compare yourself to other people. If you look to others and say, "Well, that family watches R-rated films, and this family swears in their house..." you're going to be able to justify doing almost anything.
The key is to not push your own ideas on gospel living onto others. Worry about yourself, not your neighbor. Remember, It is, and always will be, between you and The Lord.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Unless you have been there, Shut up.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams. Many people, including co-workers and others, have reacted to the event calling it "an earthquake," "devastating," and "a great loss."

"The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic," is a quote often misattributed to Joseph Stalin. Regardless of the source, it illustrates what I see as flawed logic in our society. The earthquakes in Haiti, China, and Chile. The tsunami and subsequent reactor meltdown at Fukushima. The invasion of Crimea by Russia. The deaths of christian children in Iraq at the hands of ISIS. Those are "earthquakes," "devastating," and "great losses." The Williams family deserves peace, silence, and compassion. Not hate-filled rhetoric on social networks regarding the subject of suicide.

Which brings me to my topic. I have been hearing cruel words of judgement regarding those who take their own lives. I have seen everything from "coward" to "idiot" used, often together, to describe people who have been to the darkest place humanity knows. Are these words of compassion? I am appalled that even those who consider themselves christians have the gall to point a finger at someone who left this world in sadness and speak as if they know. If they knew, they would have more compassion than that. Dieter F Ucthdorf had this to say:

"I imagine that every person on earth has been affected in some way by the destructive spirit of contention, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps there are even times when we recognize this spirit in ourselves. When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment."

Yes, it is exceptionally easy to stand off in the distance a ways and hurl vitriol in the direction of those who we disagree with. It is easy to stand up on a wall and judge others for the things we don't like. But, as a person who has been down that path, cowardice and ignorance have nothing to do with it. It is as if someone has replaced the marrow in your bones with sorrow and anger. When your joints refuse to move because of despair, it physically hurts. It has everything to do with wanting the pain and agony to stop.

Jesus Christ himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, begged the Father, "...Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me..." (Mark 14:36). In modern revelation we hear, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— " (D&C 19:18). Now, I do not mean to say that those whose pain and suffering because of depression or other problems is equal to that of the savior. I mean to say that as mortals, as normal children of God, there is no worse pain than feeling despair, sorrow, and anger in the very core of you.

You who would condemn those who have suffered should take a step back and remember these words:
Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.
Uctdorf continues,

"We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy — to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?"

So, seriously, if you have been there, it is joyous that you found your way back. If you are there now, I hope and pray that you can find your way back. If you have not been there, shut up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's not just what she is wearing

I have heard and read much about the "rape culture" we supposedly have in the US. Is this something that has been created because of "men behaving badly"? Or, is this something that the feminist movement has had a hand in forming? 

I was raised by a single mom who taught me how to be a real man. She taught me to respect women and to do all the chivalrous cliches of holding doors, chairs, and even purses. She taught me never to yell at, let alone hit, a girl. She taught me what a strong woman was and how women can do nearly anything men can do. In a sense, she turned me into a feminist. However, the feminist movement of today only denigrates men and undermines the integrity of the woman.

Scout Willis posted topless photos of herself walking around downtown New York in protest over Instagram's Terms Of Use policy that prohibits photos of that nature on their system. She then wrote an article in XOJane describing and defending her actions saying that it gave her a sense of empowerment. Good for you Scout, I'm happy for you...that something as shallow as topless photos gives you a sense of self-worth. Atticus is rolling in his grave right about now.

She says she was empowered by doing this. However, what was she empowered to do? To empower means to give authority or power to do something. It would seem that her empowerment actually happened before her modo nudus walk in downtown New York. Or, is she saying that doing this gave her power to do something else? If so, what would she have gained power over? What would she use that power for? The only things I can think of to answer those questions is men and control.

Only 1 in 4 men can successfully control their arousal state. Some data shows as high as 1 in 3. They also said that this level of success directly relates to regulation of emotion. The men best able to control themselves physically could also control themselves emotionally. Still, that is a staggeringly low number of men able to control their bodies!

Clearly, an attractive female walking half-nude down the streets of New York is going to gather some attention from between 2/3 to 3/4 of the male population within line of sight. She is using her physical influence to control her environment. This is not uncommon. From the beginning of recorded history, women have been doing this. Even fifth-century comedies were written about it. It has been a well-known open secret that it is easy to control men through sexuality. 

Now, is this the kind of empowerment you really want? I would hardly think that most feminists believe their self-worth is only measured through their sexuality. Yet, recently, the dialog has shifted from self-improvement and societal contributions to the idea that "I should be free to wear/act whatever/however I want and men just have to deal with it." Does this not undermine the entire premise of feminism? of equality?

Should you not be starting your own businesses? Running for public office? Going to school and getting an education? Focusing on a career? Being a stay-at-home mom? Or, maybe you want to travel and see the world? Feminism at its core should embrace everything and anything women can do. Is not the essence of female empowerment simply being free to pursue anything?

Now, I am not justifying the actions of men who are unable to control themselves. No victim is to blame for heinous acts committed by criminals. I merely want to point out a few facts: 

1) Just in the US, 1 out of every 5 women report experiencing rape in their lifetime.
2) Studies have shown that a staggering high number of men are unable to control their arousal and emotional states.
3) Pornography, which typically portrays women degrading themselves, is shown to fundamentally alter young men's perceptions and expectations of relationships and sex.
3.a) The Unites States spends as much money on pornography as it does the NFL.
4) In countries where attitudes toward sex are more liberal, the instances of reported rape are higher. In Sweden, rape occurrences are 3x higher than the US
5) Feminist advocates are promoting empowerment though sexualitypornography careers, and even abortion.

Do you believe that all of those things do not assist in the creation and maintenance of the "rape culture" in the US? The proof is in the pudding. When you look at trends across the world since we have been recording data, the more liberal and casual we are about sex, "rape culture" gets worse. If we want to change that, we need to start by rejecting things like pornography and radical feminism. Only then will women like Shoshanna Stern be able to think of themselves as not a "woman" first, but as an individual.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The math isn't the problem.

Over the last few months I have seen the picture on the right hit my Facebook wall almost every day. People sharing this and commenting seem to have drawn a consensus that can be boiled down to a single sentence: "I'm excellent at math and even I don't understand it!"

The first issue is illusory superiority. Almost everyone views themselves as smarter than everyone else. Obviously, this is impossible. Most people who think they are "good at math" are good at the math they use day-to-day. Everyone is good at that math. However, they are not good at complex equations. When people are given a new way of doing things, very rarely do they give it five minutes. They immediately disregard anything that does not fit their current world-view.

The second issue is that this is a very easy-to-understand solution that has been used by computers since, well, forever. And, if you ever purchased something with cash, the cashier most likely counted back your change.

It comes down to efficiency. For simple calculations, like 32-12, the "new" way is more complex, the "old fashion" way is much simpler. But, when you introduce number borrowing, the "old fashion" way rapidly becomes much more complicated.

As you can see, in my very scientific drawing, the complexity curve for the "new math" is flat.

Most of these people are upset with the implementation of the Common Core curriculum in their local schools. Instead of attacking the real problems of common core, they seem to be attacking the arithmetic, as if that somehow invalidates the entire Common Core program.

I can get behind the basic idea of Common Core. Much like the LDS Church's programs (no matter where you go to attend services, the same meeting formats and lesson materials are used), the original intent of the program is to create a unified basic structure for learning fundamental principles.

One of the reasons behind Common Core is the ever-increasing number of student transfers. Most of those transfers are due to things such as the economy and the divorce rate. Students go from one school that is teaching them to solve problems one way, to another school that teaches them to solve problems in a different way. This creates confusion and factors into declining test scores. Common Core attempts to solve these problems in a noble way.

However, Common Core also includes an entire array of standardized tests, and there are many problems with standardized testing. There are movements in many countries that are pursuing dismantling standardized testing in favor of personalized education. Standardized testing creates an environment for students where being wrong is one of the worst things that can happen. Divergent thinking is being educated out of our children and replaced with groupthink.

Sir Ken Robinson once said, “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

The next time you want to attack Common Core, attack it based on the actual problems it presents. Not the math you don't want to understand.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

No, you won't get the priesthood. You aren't black.

There is an interesting movement within the LDS church to ordain women to the priesthood. Some women feel they are being oppressed by not being given responsibilities that the men in the church have. 

Dallin H. Oaks rebuffed them at the priesthood session of the most recent LDS General Conference. His speech is now being compared to Apostle N. Eldon Tanner's from 1967 regarding blacks and the priesthood with this photo:

Four years after Elder Tanner's speech, the LDS Church formally lifted the ban on blacks in the priesthood. After that, many people viewed the original ban as a mistake, a view I would consider shortsighted. If you look at Christian history, Jesus Christ flat out ignored people in need because of their ethnicity and the time not being right for their ministry. However, the Gentiles were promised that their day would come.

Brigham Young and other prophets had promised that, one day, black people would receive the priesthood. One of the conjectures surrounding the ban on blacks having the priesthood was Utah gaining statehood. I don't believe this to be too far fetched. If Utah, as a political body, had given rights and privileges to blacks at that time, it could have further damaged rocky relations with a government which once ordered the extermination of Mormons. This could potentially have continued persecutions against the membership and stifled efforts to build up the Kingdom of God here on the earth. In 1896, the Federal Government overturned a law signed in 1870 granting women in Utah the right to vote. Moreover, women were never promised that they would one day receive priesthood keys. The Church has never barred them from holding leadership positions within the church.

Regardless of how badly the Ordain Women movement misinterprets scripture to dubiously support their viewpoint, their mission statement says, "We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer." That is a daring proposition. Do they believe the church leaders have not prayed about it? If they did, and the response was already given, would they accept it? I doubt it, especially considering it already has been answered on multiple occasions. The intent of their organization is not to ordain women to the priesthood. They only plan on validating their own self-worth, while perverting the Doctrine of Christ, similar to how the adversary attempted to during the grand council in heaven. To paraphrase their line of thought, "I think I know better than you do."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Autism and Broken Eggs

Almost everyone knows someone with autism. 1 in every 88 children have it. Countless studies have attempted to explain the sudden and dramatic rise in autism cases. But, could autism, and broad spectrum disorders, simply be the direct result of humans pushing evolutionary boundaries?

There are some who believe the cause is vaccinations, even though the original report about the MMR vaccine and its link to autism was dismissed as fraud and retracted. Others think there is something in the water. However, correlation does not imply causation. XKCD illustrates this invaluable piece of information. Just because two trends happen to run parallel does not mean one is causing the other. In contrast, bad science causes me to want to slap scientists.

Juan Enriquez has given a few speeches at TED about his Homo Evolutis theory. Technology has a tremendous impact on how we learn and interact with others as a society. In the last 30 years we have made exponential growth in technological advancements that have forever changed the way we think, feel, behave, and even love. Humans have never before been bombarded with information as we do now. We are even altering what we decide to commit to memory because we can just look it up. Need to perform emergency surgery? Google it. Have a rash that looks suspect? Convince yourself you have a terminal rash with WebMD. Everywhere we look, there is new content, information readily available.

We are learning faster than ever before. Humans are capable of learning more in a single day that we did in a year just a couple centuries ago. And guess what? Our physical brains have to cope with increased neural activity. We are essentially pushing evolution of the human brain beyond what it has ever experienced before. Recent research is even showing us that we need to slow down.

Biological Evolution does not create perfectly adapted beings and is also messy. Since evolution in general typically spans multiple generations, could we reasonably assume that as evolution is taking shape, a few proverbial eggs are broken?

Geniuses and children with autism display similar characteristics. Specifically, both groups of children in that study had better than average memories. We also know that Homo Sapiens are intellectually superior to our ancestors. Ray Kurzweil suggests that machine A.I. will eventually exceed human intelligence. In order for humans to maintain their place on the evolutionary chain, we may have to adapt our own intelligence. Kurzweil believes we have to merge with machines to achieve this. I would suggest that we are capable of evolving naturally and the evidence is presenting itself before our very eyes.

Now, whenever I meet someone with autism I will think to myself, "you are probably the first glimpse we will get into the next chapter of humanity..."

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's not about you. Its about the Irish.

Saint Patrick's Day is one of those feel good, fun time holidays. Even employers across the U.S. are sponsoring Saint Patrick's day themed activities. Mine, in particular, is hosting a breakfast and a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt consisted of questions related to Saint Patrick, his life, and Irish tradition. We were encouraged to research the list of a dozen questions online and submit our answers.

While doing research for the questions I ran across several articles about the parade organizer's decision to pull invitations from certain advocacy groups. Guinness also decided to not be a sponsor over it. The silly part is that those people aren't even banned from marching, just marching with intent to advocate their cause.

So, what's the big deal with letting advocacy groups march at Saint Patrick's day parades? It's not about you. It's not about your cause. It's about the Irish, their traditions, and clearly about getting completely sloshed.

To advocacy groups: Stop trying to make things about you and let other people have their day. You can always march tomorrow.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!